Posted by Karen Degen on 20th December 2017
One client told me that on Christmas day her family would arrive and want to moan and complain and tell her all their problems. She said this always negatively affects her and drags her down for the day and asked me advice on how to handle it. The first thing to look at is your beliefs about your ‘role’ in this, i.e. do you feel pressure to help them, give advice or solve their problems? If you put this responsibility on yourself of course you will feel pulled down as that’s a lot of pressure that YOU are putting on yourself. They usually aren’t putting it on you, they are just telling you what is wrong for them and what they are feeling. Look at what you tell yourself you are supposed to do with this information. If you tell yourself that you have to solve their problems and you can’t, then you have just made yourself wrong. Depending on how good you are at making yourself wrong, you will then feel bad for anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
I suggest three things:
- Listen to them and let them vent. Don’t assume any responsibility for their situation or their feelings or for the solution. It is not your responsibility!!!!!
- Although it is not your responsibility, you may choose to offer support or help, however this may not be wanted. Not everyone wants advice or help, sometimes they just want someone to listen. Here’s one sentence that is invaluable: “How can I best support you?” Then be quiet and wait for the answer. This is really important – ask them what support they want rather than assuming what it is. They might say “nothing, just feeling listened to is enough” or they might say “tell me what you would do” or they might say “help me out by looking after the kids”, as an example. If you don’t ask you won’t know, and chances are they want nothing from you. If they do ask for support you can’t or don’t want to give just say “I’m not in a position to offer that type of support right now”. Remember, its not your responsibility to help.
- Limit moaning time. If family members have a tendency to moan a lot I suggest light-heartedly telling everyone there is a limit to the time we talk about negative things. Don’t make it sound like you are setting the rules (even though you are). Say it with a smile, something like “Lets all talk about what’s going wrong for us for five minutes each. Then after we’ve all had a turn, for the rest of the day we can focus on what is going right and have a positive day”. “Who’s going first” (or) “These are my moans and problems ….” After everyone has had a turn I would say something like “Great, what’s going right for you Bob?” to start of the positive conversation. Of course if you have many family members in attendance you will not want to do five minutes each as that will take too long. Use your initiative. If people forget and start moaning later in the day simply re-direct the conversation to something you know is going well for them. For instance, if they are moaning about their money problems and you know their child has done well at sport you might change the subject by saying “I hear Jane is doing great at tennis”.
Remember, like chocolate, families can be better in small servings. May you enjoy your time with them these holidays.