Last month, in O Magazine, Martha Beck wrote in her column, “Free yourself from dysfunctional people by refusing to try to control them.”
This idea came back to me over the weekend as a friend described the various crazy people she expected to encounter over the holidays. It was like the entire dysfunctional universe was holding a convention at her house: There was the constant criticizer. There was the chronically unhappy person who spread gloom with every step (like an emotional Pigpen). There was the problem denier. And that was just for Thanksgiving.
Now besides moving and leaving no forwarding address, I know of no way to keep such dysfunctional people away. But we can control how we think about them.
Imagine this scenario: Aunt Adele starts to give her (always negative) opinions on (pick any of the following) the way you raise your children, the fact that you have no children, that you spend too much money on cell phones, that your turkey is too dry, or any of the hundred things that Aunt Adele can complain about before dinner.
You can think, “Oh, Aunt Adele is so horrible. Why must she always pick on me? She’s ruining our holiday.”
Or you can think, “Oh, that’s just Aunt Adele. She actually looks a little like Abraham Lincoln when her jaw clenches that way. It’s kind of cute.”
In the first instance, you have accepted Aunt Adele’s request to dance, and you’re twisting and sweating and feeling your blood pressure rise. In the second, you just let Aunt Adele dance by herself out in the middle of the floor.
Dysfunctional people will come into our lives; we can’t control that. But we can control how we react to them.