Though family members are often our biggest supports, it can be trying to interact with our loved ones. Because family roles are most often developed during childhood, adult interactions with family members can be difficult. Family members are aware of our triggers and often use these triggers to provoke us. I am often told that individuals get agitated with themselves because they have a plan to remain calm during a family-get-together but instead find themselves upset. Clients often ask for help to learn how to deal with difficult family members.
When I work with adult clients, I encourage them to let go of the expectation that all family members take ownership of their behaviors and change how they communicate. The first step I address with clients is to help them accept that they cannot change another person or get anyone to agree with their perspective. Then the client and I discuss how often they want to interact with family and develop ways to set and establish boundaries. I help clients identify why they are triggered in certain family interactions and then I assist the client set boundaries. Those triggers often activate feelings we have about ourselves. Once an individual understands why they are triggered and their resulting feelings, I then talk about why that family member may intentionally trigger us. I remind the client that they cannot change a family member, but they can change their interactions. People often find once they change how they respond to a difficult family member and accept they cannot change that person, they are then able to develop more meaningful relationships with those individuals.