We all have one of these types in our lives. The relatives who are naysayers. The friend who picks apart all your decisions. Those who act interested in your plans and goals, only to cast doubt and skepticism.
You try and try to get along with this person and they never change. Maybe you have spoken with them about it and they deny it. Maybe they promise to work on things. Maybe they even apologize but are not truly penitent so they repeat the dirty deeds again and again.
At a certain point, you have to decide if this person is worth keeping in your life. If your decision is YES, you have to learn to get along with this person. There are some strategies you can use to protect yourself by controlling how you respond. Remember that we can’t control others but we can control ourselves.
If you’re like me, you might feel like you have to respond every time someone addresses you. It could be over email, text, Facebook, or in person. Doesn’t matter, I feel like I owe it to the person to reply. This all changes when someone is on the attack. Simply ignoring their nasty remarks can shut down any potential escalation before it starts. This is ideal for little offhand comments said in person or avoiding a subject brought up in a digital message.
The downside to this is that for some topics (and some people), you can only ignore it for so long before it ends up needing to be addressed. Like a festering wound that has gone untreated for too long, this tactic can lead to big problems, so use your best judgment.
Change the Subject
A quick redirect pairs well if ignoring a comment or question becomes awkward or obvious. Have a mental list of subjects you could bring up naturally if the conversation veers into an area you’re uncomfortable with. For example, your single cousin asks if you’re done having kids, in a tone that could only express disapproval. Maybe you could ask how their job is going or bring up one of their hobbies. This tactic works best if you can be quick on your feet, so you need to think fast.
Being prepared ahead of time really helps but is not always feasible since a lot of times, comments come out of left field. But I’m not above bringing up the weather if necessary!
If you can’t get out of responding by ignoring or changing the subject, don’t let them see you squirm. Some people like to poke the bear so if you don’t become that angry bear in the first place, they might just move on to another target. Answer truthfully and matter of factly; always put a positive spin on things. After you reply sufficiently, go back to #1 or 2 and change the subject or ignore any future commentary.
Some people have a response for everything so be aware of this. It can really get under your skin. If you feel that anger starting to rise, you could start talking to someone else in the room or better yet, in another room, in order to keep your cool. Never show that their comments are hurtful or that they caused you anxiety or anger. They need to think their words and actions don’t get to you, which means you have to stay calm.
(Politely) Put Them in Their Place
I don’t mean this in a cruel way. But sometimes a topic will come up that necessitates you defending yourself or someone else (perhaps one of your kids). A lot of times this happens when your character is impugned or a main aspect to your lifestyle is attacked. You can make a stern statement that the topic is off limits, that you don’t need their opinion. If they keep on or want to start a fight about it, firmly repeat that this topic is not up for discussion and to move on. If your character is being brought into question, dismiss it entirely and don’t play into their hand. Don’t be afraid to walk away or leave if you feel they are not letting up in their attack of you, especially if your kids are being exposed to this behavior.
Sometimes, the only thing you can do is get on your knees and leave it at the foot of the cross. Some people will always stir up strife for you and how you handle it goes a long way in how positive or negative each interaction ends up. Pray for being slow to anger. Pray for patience. Pray to see that person through the lens of Jesus. Ask for God to give you peace about that person or that specific interaction. I have realized that dwelling on each conversation or occurrence makes the next interaction so much worse, so letting things go is good and sometimes only God can see us through that. You don’t have to let them abuse you, but not allowing their petty comments to hurt you, for example, is something you can work on with God’s help.
Bonus tip: There is a strategy called “gray rock” that can help you avoid some of this. The gist of it is to become, in their eyes, like the most boring person on earth. If you and your life seem uninteresting, they have less fodder for their attacks. You don’t talk about trips you’ve taken. You don’t bring up homeschooling or hobbies or the kids, and if you do, don’t mention the super fun stuff you’ve got going on. Don’t seem excited about things. I realize this is not the ideal way to act in general but if you can keep up this boring appearance when you’re around the person, it can save you big time. Eventually they will move on and you won’t have to worry about it, at least for awhile!
Do you have someone in your life whom you can’t avoid but can never seem to get along with? What strategies do you use to keep things civil?