Around the holidays, therapists hear their clients voice versions of these common complaints: “My mother-in-law will try to take over the kitchen,” or “My know-it-all sister always has a better way to do things,” or “My relatives ask pointed questions about my job/relationship/finances.” Sound familiar?
The holidays offer mixed blessings. On the one hand, it’s a time to get together with one’s extended family, catch up with family news, and reconnect over a meal. On the other hand, we often find ourselves trapped indoors with people who are rude, critical, controlling, nosy, and insensitive.
When you’re surrounded by family, don’t let yourself become a battered target of unsolicited advice.
Here are six ways to handle the situation.
1. Tell them you’re not seeking advice.
A good way to stop a bull who’s charging at you with unsolicited advice is to fend him or her off with a simple statement such as “Thanks, but I’m not looking for advice right now.” If the person continues, lovingly say it again. And again, if necessary!
2. Acknowledge their good intentions.
Mention that you appreciate the person’s support and concern, and that this type of caring and attention is welcome. If you want, tell the person you might love his or her advice and input later, when you’re ready to ask for it.
3. Firmly stand your ground.
Sometimes, especially with particularly pushy people, it’s necessary to tell them it’s not helpful for you to receive unsolicited advice. Say it lovingly, but if they persist, tell them that you’re starting to feel angry and you’d like them to stop, please. Keep repeating this like a broken record. Don’t back down. If you do, you give them the message that if they just keep harping, they will prevail.
4. Realize that it’s not about you.
When people feel compelled to tell you what you should do, it’s good to remember that what they’re saying and what’s unconsciously motivating them has little to do with you. The reality is that they have unexpressed anger, and have forgotten that their job is to find their own happiness, rather than believe they’re entitled to nose into someone else’s life without permission.
5. Catch them being good.
Appreciate them when they’re not giving advice. If you notice that a critical or pushy relative is being empathetic or listening with sensitivity, be sure to give them kudos for being so wonderful, caring, or attentive. Praising what you do like may subtly sink in and help to change their behavior.
6. Let out those pent-up emotions.
After a long day of fending off critical, over-controlling relatives who’ve tested the boundaries of your patience and politeness, you need to get all that anger and possibly sadness out of your system. Find a private place to pound your fists, stomp your feet, growl, and cry. You’ll feel better instantly, and be ready to face them all over again tomorrow for the holiday brunch!