Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Wide Lawns Guide to Dealing With Your Pain in the Ass Family (or friends or coworkers or whomever)

I got home Friday (baby was great on the plane both ways) and on this trip I had a fair share of personal revelation, which is a good thing, and I realize that in the past year I've been undergoing a sort of metamorphosis. Where once I was a wooly bear caterpillar (you know, because they're cute) who cared what my family members thought and worried like hell and tried to please everyone all the time and was devastated when I didn't, I am now a butterfly who does not give a flying shit.

I've learned that ignorance is not bliss but apathy is.

And that's the secret to dealing with annoying family members, or really difficult people in any situation. You just have to stop caring.

I've got crazy coming at me from all sides and for the past thirty-seven years I've been fighting it and raging wildly against it and all that did was make me tired and depressed and defeated and I finally just got it. You can't fight it. In general, people don't change. They're not, for a variety of reasons, capable of giving you what you want, and you have to mourn that briefly, get over it and move on. People are disappointing and the most disappointing are usually those to whom you're related.

I view the family as a little microcosm of the world. You're thrown together with a bunch of people with very different personalities and ideas and you really have no choice in the matter and you have to live with them and figure out how to get along.

My problem was that I wanted to make a bunch of people, who were all very different, happy all the time and it wasn't possible. My other problem was that I wanted people to change and to see the err of their ways. I wanted them to understand how their behavior was harmful or unhealthy or how their lives would be better if they stopped doing something or started doing something else. I believed very firmly that they should be called out on their bad behavior and suffer consequences for it and that that would eventually cause them to stop, but sorry, it never worked. All I did was cause more fights and more strife by behaving that way and then I would cause myself vast amounts of suffering by then trying to analyze the situation and the person and their weird behavior. I was trying to make sense of crazy. The number one rule is this: You can't make sense of crazy. There is no logic to it. Reasoning doesn't apply. Don't waste your time. 

I finally came to understand that when dealing with difficult people you have only two choices. You can ignore them or you can leave. Period.

There is only one consequence for bad behavior and to some difficult jack asses, it may not even be a consequence. You have to distance yourself from them if you can't deal. Maybe they'll get the message that you're not coming around them because they repeatedly acted like an idiot, but chances are they won't. It may even make them angrier. Continue to ignore them. Continue to stay away. There is nothing else you can do.

People can only change themselves and nothing you do or say is ever going to make someone change. It's one of those annoying cliches, but change has to come from within.

So since you can't change other people, you have to change yourself. Stop worrying about everyone else and all the stupid things they're doing and focus on yourself.

Recently I've been working on doing the following things:

1. Not caring what people think or say about me.
2. Ignoring demanding or annoying family members.
3.Not caring what ridiculous unhealthy, toxic or just plain stupid things other people are doing.
4. Practicing being detached from drama infused situations and their outcomes.
5. Other people's behavior doesn't reflect on me.

This is all extremely hard but it's like exercise. The more you do it, the stronger you get and the healthier you'll be. It simply takes a tremendous and seemingly impossible amount of self control.

I used to care a lot about what people close to me thought about me. I didn't so much have this problem in any other situation, but with my family, their opinions really mattered to me. It was as if I derived my identity from what they said or thought about me, but I finally got it. What other people think or say about you isn't who you are and it may not even be accurate and it really has no genuine bearing on your life. Here's what I mean. For years certain family members have called me lazy and it has driven me insane and I've tried over and over to convince them that I'm not lazy, though nothing has ever changed their minds. I have no idea why they call me lazy or why they won't see me differently, but I gave up trying to understand and this is the conclusion I finally came to: I'm not lazy. I know I'm not lazy and who cares if I AM lazy? What if I actually were lazy? What if I did nothing but sit around and watch" Teen Mom" and eat Domino's Pizza right out of the box? So what? Another family member has alluded to the fact that I don't work and that I went to grad school and wasted a bunch of time and money and that I now leech off of my husband and it enraged me for a long while that someone said this, but who cares. It isn't true and just because someone says it doesn't make it true. They could just as well sit there and say "Victoria is a big, pink, elephant" but no amount of saying that would ever make me turn into a big, pink, elephant. So people can say whatever the hell they want about me. I have my truth. They have theirs. It doesn't matter what other people say about you.

Next, I've been working on ignoring the pains in the asses. Usually the best bet is to stay away from them, but it isn't always possible and when you're forced to be around difficult relatives the only thing you can do is ignore them. Who cares if they're morons and do dumb shit? Who cares if they try to create drama and make themselves the center of attention? Ignore it. When they bait you and say outrageous things and try to pick fights, or try to get you to gossip with them, stop them in their tracks. Don't feed into it. Be aloof, polite and breezy and go find something to do in the kitchen. Never let a single negative word exit your lips because if you do your difficult relatives will seize on it and use it as fuel to their fire and before you know it, you'll be sucked in.

I have some relatives who turn into monstrous idiots when anyone tries to make plans. I think, though I'm not sure, that they do this, that they become particularly difficult about making plans, because they want everything to revolve around them and because they want to exert control over the situation to feel powerful. Whatever. Best way to handle them? You say here's the plan. This is what I'm doing. Then you stay firm and don't change the plan. If they like the plan they can go along with it, if not, they won't and you have to let yourself be ok with that and go on and do whatever it is you planned to do. For instance: Hey difficult relative, we're going to Olive Garden at six. If you want to come, you're more than welcome. You don't like the Olive Garden (me neither)? You have to drive an extra five minutes to get there? Your new diet says you have to eat at seven instead? Sorry. We'll see you another time. The. End. Works beautifully.

For my whole life I've had a beautiful vision of how great my family members would all be if they were completely different and I mapped out all sorts of life plans for each of them and I'd try to give them advice. I did this from a place of genuine caring without realizing that I was meddling, condescending, insulting and intrusive. I didn't understand that I had become a different kind of annoying, pain in the ass relative myself. But now I do. I never changed anyone. I never made a difference in anyone's life. All I ever did was put people off and get on their nerves and make them feel badly about themselves, and chances are they already knew what I was telling them anyway. Nothing ever changed. I had to give up caring. So now I don't care whose house is cluttered. I don't give a shit what you dress your kids in or how much butter you slather on your food or how high your blood pressure is or if you drink 64 ounces of Mountain Dew per day. I don't care if you discipline your kids differently than I discipline mine. I don't care if you can't keep a god damned job to save your life or if you want to be a bartender instead of a teacher or if you live with and support your boyfriend who's ten years younger than you. I do not care what other people do. At. All. People are on their own paths in life. They have to learn their lessons their own ways and in their own time (or not at all) and I can't interfere even if I really do know what's best for them. The only exception is if someone is in danger and then you have a moral obligation to intervene as best you can.

I also used to get involved in family drama (see the situation with the cats) and I'd become very invested in things that truly didn't have much to do with me and get really upset about situations. I'm working on being detached from it all because who cares? What difference does any of it make? Getting involved only makes me miserable and I can't fix anything.

Another problem I always had was that I was embarrassed of certain family members and the ways they acted. I would feel shame as if somehow they reflected on me, but they really, really don't. People's behavior only reflects on them and if someone says otherwise, see rule number one again. I have this relative whose appearance actually offends me. I have no idea why. It may be my OCD, but I would truly obsess over how this person looked, which is certifiably crazy on my part. It really bothered me that this person looked this certain way and I would let it get to me but I had to let it go and I have. This person can look however the hell they want and it doesn't matter. Not one little teeny tiny bit. I have another relation who saw fit to wear wrinkled, smelly jeans and a tee shirt to a black tie wedding and I was all in an uproar over this. It really bothered me at the time but I was being so stupid. This fool doesn't represent the whole family. He or she only represents his or her self.

Other people's behavior doesn't reflect poorly on you. What matters, and what does reflect on you, is your reactions to others.

That's it. I've saved you years of therapy and thousands of dollars.

Ignore people's stupidity or leave. Worry about yourself and being the best you can be instead of trying to get others to change. They're most likely not going to and you have to learn to be ok with that if you want them in your life at all.

That's the end, but I'd also like to add that this applies to blogging as well and how bloggers deal with negative comments and trolls. A lot of the very famous bloggers address and engage the negativity way too much. I heard that Heather Armstrong is going to be on a panel at some blog convention somewhere about dealing with mean commenters and internet bullies or whatever you want to call them. I should be on that panel. It would be a short discussion.

Unless someone is actually stalking you or threatening you and your family, ignore it. It doesn't mean anything. Rule number one is especially pertinent on the internet. Just because someone says something about you doesn't make it true and Jesus Lord, who cares?

I hate when famous bloggers talk about their mean comments too much because it gets in the way of their writing and I guess I feel like they should have more class or more understanding of the situation. It's basically a numbers game. They get a lot of readers. They aren't going to be able to make everyone happy. In their large numbers of readers there are inevitably going to be a bunch of nut cases. That's pretty much all it is. I once said that no matter what you do (in reference to putting your creations on the Internet or out in public) a third of the people will love it, a third will be indifferent, a third will hate it and then a teeny fraction of the last third will be completely batshit and go off on it. It's not even personal. It's just the odds. So ignore it. Ignore it. Ignore it.

I'd also like to state that I am guilty of not always ignoring it myself. I got myself all in a state because someone called me a snob a couple weeks ago because I had PMS and you know what? It was stupid of me to have been upset about it and I should have ignored it, although the person did apologize. Apology accepted, by the way.

But I'm a work in progress. Like I said, this is hard. It works but it takes a lot of strength and I'll keep on trying.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that the plane ride went well, especially since you were so worried about it beforehand.

Congratulations on learning these life lessons comparatively early in life (compared to me, anyway). I didn't learn these particular life lessons until after the a**holes in my life had bothered me to the point that I was suffering actual physical ailments. I've learned to ignore them, FINALLY, but only after paying a very high price. I got so ill that I had to quit my job. Then I had all the time in the world to reflect on the situation, and I realized too late that I never should have given those mean, selfish people so much power over me. So, again, congratulations on using your good sense and coming to the right conclusions while still young enough to really enjoy life -- long before you're over the hill like me.

Headant said...

You shouldn't have to take anything from anyone, including family! Or should that be especially family?

You are the unlaziest (okay, that's not a real word) I can think of.

Mary Giannone said...

I'm glad you feel this way! I can't speak for anyone else in our family, but, I'd be willing to bet that people think you're fantastic just like I do. Even when we disagree. For example, we disagreed about the orb picture. It made me mad. For like 15 minutes. Then I was over it. And you know what? It didn't change how I thought of you one ounce. I always thought you were great. Maybe I should go out of my way to say that type of thing to you more so that you know think that way. Some people don't need that kind of thing said to them. HAH! IN FACT! Some people think way too much of themselves already, and they need to get knocked down a few pegs! HAHA! :-) But you aren't that person. Please know that I'm an up front person and what you see with me is what you get. What I say is what I mean. There is never any underlying meaning to what I say, there is never some unseen drama that I'm insinuating with my actions or words. Not one bit. I make the effort to come down and see you when you come up to visit because you're my sister and that's important to me. We're different, and we have different styles and opinions and thoughts and entire lives. And yet, that never bothered me. I hope it never bothers you. And even though you say you don't care anymore (and good! you shouldn't!) you should know that you HAVE made a difference in my life, and that you *do* make me happy. :-) All the time! EVEN when we have differences! I always thought that you struggled with one thing or the other (what I mean by this is simply that you've TOLD me the things you struggle with; I don't mean that I look at you and make baseless judgments on what I think you struggle with lol) and maybe I didn't struggle with those same things, but, that I struggled with plenty of other things. And I liked that about us. Going out on a limb here, but, maybe other people in our family feel the same. I can't think of anyone who doesn't like you and isn't happier because you're around. Sure, maybe various people have various issues with you (I don't know of any, but, you gave plenty of examples in the blog) and maybe you have issues with them too, but, at the end of the day, I really truly think everyone still likes you!!! A LOT! I don't mean that they LOVE you the way you're obligated to love family but you really can't stand them. I think they love you too. But I think everyone LIKES you. You're a likable gal. I dunno. Maybe it's just me. :-p But that's how I feel at least, so, there is one vote from a family member whose life you have touched. And I'm really happy that you are a butterfly who doesn't give a flying shit. :-D It's great.

FreeDragon said...

I had to start ignoring family when I was a teen. My mother lets her family drama rule her entire life. It's difficult to be a teenager and trying to stay away from a drama inducing parent. Every time she started talking about it I would leave the room. I got involved in after-school activities so I wouldn't be home as much. She finally got the message, and while she still lets stupid things run her life, she no longer bugs me with it.

A Girl said...

"You can't make sense of crazy. There is no logic to it. Reasoning doesn't apply. Don't waste your time."

It's as though you are typing into the depths of my soul. You know...if I had one.

Jen said...

It took me years to figure it out but I finally started living my life by "don't worry about what you can't change". I seriously don't anymore. I also realized that I feel a lot better if I just try and focus on the positives about people and mostly ignore their annoying bits. If they're too annoying, I give up. I just don't have the time or will to care about it.

I'm much happier now and a lot less anxious.

kerry said...

I've done this for years, thought not necessarily with family. Friends, acquaintances, generically people I know. You're right - it works like a charm.

It's one thing to care about your family, and to want them to like you, but when it gets in the way of other things you want? Maybe some of it needs to go. And the thing you say about, 'we're going here for this thing, at this time, and I'm sorry you can't make it' - oh, definitely. I have used that forever, though usually not for avoiding someone hijacking my event, more like it's me not waiting around for anyone to decide that my cool thing would be fun if they came along.

I hope this new attitude helps you be happier, and enjoy time with your family more.

Anonymous said...

Moving across the country helped me with ignoring what I can't change plus I could no longer participate in family gatherings, so those situations could no longer make me crazy. But, there are still times things relatives say that get me all twisted up. It is terribly hard for me to deal with their stupidity or idiocy. My husband is great at walking away, forgiving their bad judgement or mean words. Me, not so much. Oh, I wish it was easier. Like you, I am working at it. As you said, it really doesn't matter. I can't change them, so I need to stop. Just stop! Thanks for the reminder.


Dawn said...

Good for you! It's so liberating, isn't it, once the crazy can't hurt you anymore.

JoeinVegas said...

Sounds like you had a complicated visit.

Slowpoke said...

I agree with Anonymous. So great you found apathy as a way of dealing with family so young in life. It will save you so much emotional (and physical, eventually) wear and tear with your mind and life. Wish I had learned it earlier and dealt with issues before
death did and some things still remain to niggle at me or affect my behaviour even now. I think I need to re-read your insights several more times. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

My mother in law needs this post so badly. But it helps me to not care about her busybodiness and concern trolling, or her immense need to believe that she and her family are better than everyone else.

Miss Kitty said...


I'm so excited to read your post! So true: You simply cannot reason with crazy (or hatred, or whatever). So glad to read about your progress. This caterpillar/cocoon year has benefited you in so many ways. And that grad school education has, too; you're reaching out with your wonderful writing to so many people that your ignorant-ass busybody relatives never will be able to do.


BretonWench said...

OMG Vic, you have met my Mother in Law !!

Seriously, it took marriage, moving to another country and staying away for a decade for my OH to reaise that her dramas are not part of his life. He too can now practice the Art of Blissful Apathy.

Heather said...

Hurrah for you dear! So happy you are allowing yourself this freedom. See, you were meant to have children and pass on your wisdom and caring to someone open to receiving it. ;-)

Please do get in touch, we'll be your way again in Nov and we have to try at having a coffee or something one more time.

Tricia said...

This post spoke to me for a variety of reasons. Thank you : o ) I too quit my teaching job after this past year. Just felt that I needed some me time to work through some things. My biggest critic is myself, and I find that the most difficult critic to deal with. I like how you draw the lines- and you are so right when you say that the only thing you can control is your reactions.

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