Help me stop mentally rolling my eyes all the time.
December 14, 2009 1:34 PM   Subscribe

How can I get over my continual annoyance with a family member?

After a number of years apart, I have been living again with a family member who gets on my nerves at the drop of a hat. Even now that I've come to recognize my emotions as (quite often) irrational, I find that I often have trouble maintaining civility in everyday, mundane interactions. I do get irritated at other people I know from time to time, but usually that is in isolated occurrences when I am under lots of stress or they are really being boneheaded.

I'm aware that many of the things we tend to find irritating have more to do with ourselves than the person committing the irritating act. I'm also aware that people do actually do annoying things, or get into irritable moods. This situation seems to go beyond those things.

How can I make this relationship less frustrating for myself and start treating said family member like a normal human being who deserves politeness, cordiality, etc...? Bonus points if it doesn't involve further overly-sanitized, let's-think-of-ways-to-get-along mediation, and allows us both to relax around each other more in general.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Is this annoying family member providing you with a place to stay at a time when you need one? If that's the case, then when you are feeling annoyed I would try to remember that this is someone who is providing you with shelter when they don't have to, and deserves your gratitude and politeness.

Also, I would stay out of this person's way. Just because we are related to someone doesn't mean we have anything in common with them other than blood. Just don't spend any more time together than you have to.

Finally, just control yourself and be polite. Think before you speak. Remember The Golden Rule.
posted by amro at 1:46 PM on December 14, 2009

I just read today on a Christmas Card something like 'Be kinder than necessary, everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle in their journey' so I have plans to keep that in mind as often as possible in order to rise my levels of tolerance. I don't know if that is something you could use or apply.
posted by 3dd at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

treat them like a coworker. you know how at work there's that woman that if you had to spend your free time with her you'd probably murder her in her sleep, but somehow in the context of a boring day her stories about her grandkids are actually cute? pretend your family member is that woman and try to find the good. and i don't mean in some sort of kumbaya sort of way, but actually trying to find the good and ignore the bad.

a journal could help with this. every day write down something good about the person, no repeats. then when you feel like you're at your wits end, read those things. don't keep track of the bad, just the good. for me, with family, it's a matter of focus. it's easy to see why people are shitty, it's harder to remember why they're not.
posted by nadawi at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

You can look at human interaction on a sort of continuum:

[nice] A - B - C [not nice]

If you want to behave like B but you're behaving like C, over-correcting will normally help you reset your attitude. In other words, work very hard on A - humble yourself. Make a point each day of doing something nice for the person; make time to listen to them or engage in an interest of theirs; offer to make dinner or run an errand or help them out in some way. Putting someone before yourself can, over time, help you to correct your perception and see them as equal to you when you are not necessarily starting from that point of view.

Or, on preview, what 3dd said: Be kinder than necessary.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:56 PM on December 14, 2009

I think it would help if you could tell us what exactly it is that they do.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:20 PM on December 14, 2009

Put a rubber band around your wrist. EVERY SINGLE TIME you find yourself annoyed at the relative, thwack your wrist with the rubber band. Probably won't help you like the relative any better, but you will avoid these particular negative thoughts about them.

Or, be nicer than you want to be.
posted by eleslie at 2:27 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite quotes to live by: If you have the choice between being right and being kind - always choose "kind".
posted by rocket88 at 2:28 PM on December 14, 2009 [16 favorites]

The best solution is not to control your emotions but to change them. Think that this person is a gift - an opportunity to learn a really valuable life-skill - how to stay calm without irritation or anger when dealing with people who push your buttons. The key to realize that you can't change their behavior but you can change your response. How would you like to respond? Rehearse that in your head. Then instead of mentally rolling your eyes, focus on your desired response. throw in a couple of deep breaths and maybe some of the other ideas above and you are on your way to not only a better relationship but also more internal calmness and self-control.
posted by metahawk at 2:28 PM on December 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

I have that annoying family member! You are correct in all cases. It is mostly about how you react to their habits - but people do things that just grate on the nerves... I realized this about two months into my stay at my relative's house. And they are providing me with a place to stay while I'm in college, so to help myself remain calm and polite I remind myself of that every day. I also stay out of their way as much as possible - I spend a lot of time in my room or out of the house.

It also helps me to remember that I will be moving on eventually, so their "annoying" habits are just a temporary thing that I have to deal with. If you know that your stay with your relative is not permanent, that might help...
posted by patheral at 2:31 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

My sister-in-law annoys the hell out of me. She's a misinformed know it all who considers herself an expert on most things. She makes bad decisions that end up affecting not only herself but those around her who end up bailing her out of her messes. That said, she has a kind heart and she means well, even if she's incapable of having a conversation in which she is not the star.

So I just keep reminding myself that yes, while she's an idiot, she is generous (to a fault) and nice and not conniving or controlling and that while she might drive me absolutely crazy, she'll never outwit me. I try hard to focus on her good qualities and when it gets to be too much, I excuse myself and go in the bathroom and send my own sister (who of course is perfect in every way) a text message telling her how much I love and appreciate her.

I'm determined that my SIL will never know how much I dislike her and out of respect to my husband, I try to act interested in her nonsensical babble. Until I can't take it anymore. I doubt this helps much but you have my sympathy.

Just keep focusing on your family member's better qualities and concentrate on putting on a good face. And when you have to, walk away until you can unclench your teeth again.
posted by Kangaroo at 2:33 PM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

My grandmother drives everyone in my family absolutely crazy, but whenever she meets a family friend, she's a lovely, wonderful, funny, charming lady. We joke that they just can't see past the charm to the evil nougatty center, but it's true - from an outsider's perspective, she IS all of these things. As I've grown up, I've been able to deal with her more successfully, simply by treating her exactly as I would wish to treat myself. I have the benefit of not living with her, of course, but a lot of the conflict between Grandma and my family involves her having expectations of behavior that we don't follow through, or even start. It turns out the way to resolve this is to explain to her exactly how I would have liked the situation handled, were I in her position, so she sees that it's not that we were being rude, but that she wasn't communicating clearly.

We have to establish once in a while that our mutually annoying behavior actually stems from the fact that we respect one another enough to treat each other as we would like to be treated. This makes her actions feel like they are coming from a good place - which they are, they just tend to get lost in the translation - and they make my actions and words feel like they are thoughtful enough to treat her like an equal.

This all started when I took her to task for insulting my brother, claiming he was going to have a heart attack at 21 because he was a little overweight at 17, to his face, as he was eating a piece of cheese. As I pointedly dug into her for being mean to my brother under the guise of "advice", she finally began to understand that we weren't just kids to be told what to do, but actual autonomous beings who deserved consideration.

Your question is very vague, but maybe my experience can help you a little bit.
posted by Mizu at 2:38 PM on December 14, 2009

If you have the choice between being right and being kind - always choose "kind".

I feel ya. I've been in closer contact with family members the past 12 months because of hospice and it hasn't always been pretty. But what other people have said rings true. It really can be a chance to humble yourself and see that some of the irritations and grudges carried against relatives are ridiculous in the larger scheme of things. The experience has helped us to talk more openly and move past some of our disagreements. It's been an amazing weight off of everybody's shoulders. Seriously, I can now see my mom as somebody who did her best under the circumstances (and whose parents weren't nearly as nice to her as she was to me). It's so much healthier than being bitter and carrying around lifelong resentments (which hurts me, not her).

Also "everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle in their journey" is a great expression. It doesn't mean you have to be a pushover, but what it does mean is that sometimes we need to get over ourselves.
posted by gov_moonbeam at 2:44 PM on December 14, 2009

Are you giving yourself enough personal space and time? Consider dedicating an away place within the home where you can be alone without intrusion for a time. It doesn't have to be a big deal, just casually communicate that you need some space for an hour.

Are you stressed in general? Do what you can to take that down a notch. Reduce specific stressors. Practice relaxation and breathing. This doesn't have to be a big meditation, just relax your muscles and take a deep breath whenever you notice you're tensed up. If you're not exercising daily, consider adding that in, if only in the form of a morning walk.

What are you saying in your head, when you're feeling irritable? What are you saying about your relative or the situation? Either challenge your thinking, or do something about the situation, or both.

Stop. If you feel irritability spike, keep your mouth shut for a few seconds and consider what you're about to say, whether it's fair, and how you'd feel if it was said to you. It's best to not say anything if you're feeling at all irritable. Wait for the emotion to die down, then consider whether or not it's an issue that needs to be addressed.

Which brings us to issues that need to be addressed. You don't have to have deep, long, warm, fuzzy conversations about getting along, but sometimes, something will need to be discussed. That's a part of human relationships, particularly when you're living with the person. Pick your battles, and keep it brief, non-accusatory, and non-defensive. Work out something that works for both parties.

Your triage mantra: "Let it go."
posted by moira at 3:01 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have lived with a family member for the past two years and probably will be there at least another year. They're kind and generous and loving and sweet, yeah, yeah, yeah and some times I fear my head will burst from irritation. To make me feel even worse, this family member really, really loves me and wants to spend as much time as possible with me (I'm that damn entertaining, I am).

Deep breath.

I mind my manners as best I can. I call them out (humorously, lovingly) on annoying behavior that might cause me to shake them til their brains rattle. I socialize with my friends and pursue my interests separately as much as possible. I remind them of our mutual need to do things apart to maintain a good relationship. I am mindful of their loving kindness to me and mine. I tell them, often, how very grateful I am and why I care for them. I try to maintain the common areas (as well as our personal areas) as nicely as possible. I try and sometimes that has to be enough.
posted by Allee Katze at 3:04 PM on December 14, 2009

Oh, I just caught the "rolling eyes" bit in the title. Yeah, not good. That indicates you don't hold a lot of respect for this person. What other said above about focusing on the person's positive qualities is a good idea. Consider looking at what this person is doing to trigger your contempt, and then look at it to see if it is really contempt-worthy, or if it's something you can find yourself understanding another perspective on. The goal is to be able to disagree in your head or otherwise, but accept.
posted by moira at 4:35 PM on December 14, 2009

How are your boundaries with this person? Are you in a situation where you feel like you have to let them have their own way all the time? That could be the root of your annoyance with this person.

Personally, I've realized recently that a lot of my irritation with people--and w/ family members in particular--stems from me letting those people stomp all over my boundaries. Once I manage to set healthier limits and remember that I'm allowed to say "no" once in a while, I stop feeling so irritated and resentful.

If you are classifying your own annoyance as "irrational," it might be something to think about. I think some irrational feelings could be more accurately categorized as "rational feelings with hard-to-see causes."
posted by colfax at 5:10 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Easier said than done, but try to remember that you can't control (insert annoying relative here)'s actions, but you can control your response. Disclaimer - I have to admit that this only works for so long or if I am already in calm mood with my annoying relative. But I hope that with practice, I'll get better at it.
posted by kaybdc at 5:57 PM on December 14, 2009

Something that helped me as a teenager (when I was dealing with, well, irrational feelings of annoyance/irritation/anger) was practicing mindful acceptance. The idea is that when you have to do something, instead treat it as something you've chosen to do - actively decide, "Yes, I think I will do that." Take your relative's craziness as something you've chosen to respond to kindly. I always felt like it was just a moment away from slipping in to condescension (and I think that's part of the power it has - it's a reminder that you are the one who has power over your actions, even if you're choosing to go along with someone else's wishes) but it kept me sane and even cheerful. In some ways it turned 'work' into a game I played with myself - Mom's yelling for me to sweep the floor, okay! Let's see how helpful and quick I can be about it, even though my first instinct is to pretend I'm not here.

The usual advice about getting enough sleep/food/water applies as well - even a little bit of sleep shortage can really take the cushioning off your mood.
posted by Lady Li at 5:59 PM on December 14, 2009

Whenever we are very annoyed it is because of something we are saying to ourselves. There is an inner dialog that you are having that you are perhaps not aware of..because it is so automatic. It probably goes something like this: "oh, there they go again! I can't stand that! They always do that! How stupid--how pathetic!" You are disturbing yourself with these thoughts. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy teaches us that our disturbed state always (always!) follows thought. It is not the event that disturbs us...but rather what we think of the event. REBT employs the ABCDE method to get you through any difficult and upsetting situation life has to offer. You need to learn some of the irrational thought patterns so that you can identify precisely what your thinking distortion is. It may be black and white thinking. Here is a sample of the ABCDE method (normally, you must write it all out so that it sinks in):

A= (Activating event)--what happened? (she's popping her gum!)
B= (Belief) --what thoughts did you have about it? (she SHOULDN'T do that!--I can't stand it!)
C= (Consequence) --what happened as a result? (I had to leave the room, I was so upset)
D= (Dispute)-- (using methods learned in REBT/CBT, here is where you challenge your demandingness, overgeneralizations or black and white thinking):

Well, where is it written that she "shouldn't" pop her gum? Is there a law somewhere that states that gum popping is not allowed? Who am I to demand that she not pop her gum? Of course I can "stand it". I have stood everything, and it is totally untrue that I can't stand it. Where is the EVIDENCE that she shouldn't pop her gum and that I can't stand it? There is none whatsoever!

E= effective new thinking:
I would much prefer that she not pop her gum. It frustrates me that she does, however, I certainly can "stand it." In reality, her behavior, though annoying, is not anything that I can't handle. I wish that her behavior were different, but I am only inconvenienced by this and this I can "stand it".

This ABCDE thing, though somewhat time intensive, always results in your feeling better. When you challenge your twisted thinking, it will get you through any upset. To learn about REBT read anything written by Albert Ellis. This book is a good one.
posted by naplesyellow at 12:44 AM on December 15, 2009

I'm with Nadawi, as usual. I've never gone as far as the journal thing, but that exercise in finding something good/interesting/non-annoying to talk about is a classic workplace survival technique. You turn the situation around: instead of expecting them to be good/funny/interesting, you take on the responsibility yourself to seek it out. It's the same thing one does when stuck beside someone very boring at a dinner party, or when sharing a stalled elevator.

Because I am a bit of a sponge for useless and random information, I sometimes turn this into a bit of a game, a "What can this horrible person teach me?" puzzle. Everyone knows something interesting, I figure.

But can I find it?
posted by rokusan at 5:19 AM on December 15, 2009

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