Linda Lewis Griffith

How to deal with pressure from family members

Detroit Free Press/TNS

We often feel demands exerted by other members of our family.

These pressures can take many forms. A mother-in-law may hint to her son’s wife about how she should handle her preschooler’s tantrums. A man may have heart-to-heart talks with his aging mother about relinquishing the keys to her car. A father may demand that his teenage daughter stop dating a man who is outside their faith.

Family pressures occur most often when there are imbalances of power in the relationship. A hierarchy is inherent between parents and minor-age children and is implied between adult members of the clan and its less senior members. Certain folks assign themselves authority because of their status, profession or length of time in the family. Even married couples often try to dominate their partners and alter how they think or behave.

Sometimes family pressures are real; members definitely want to influence the choices of their loved ones. At other times, pressures are simply perceived. A sensitive person can be hyper attuned to others’ wants and expectations and go to great lengths in an effort to please them.

Regardless of the source of the pressures, the impact on recipients is surprisingly similar. They invariably feel stressed into conforming to others’ standards or wishes, even if the demands are impractical or contrary to their own beliefs. They’re angry that someone is telling them what to do. They see it as a reminder of their personal shortcomings.

Recipients feel the pressure most acutely when they’re unsure of what they should do. They’re already waffling on an issue, and they resent others’ interference. The insecurity sometimes causes them to overreact in the opposite direction, creating further problems and conflict in the family.

Of course, when we’re raising children or caring for elderly parents, we have the legal and moral responsibility to keep them safe. We are required to oversee their actions, even if they disapprove. Even so, it’s wise to do so with prudence. Family pressures can easily backfire.

Linda Lewis Griffith’s column in special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.

Tips for coping with family

  • Don’t get defensive. Hostility projects insecurity and weakens your stance. Stay calm and in control.
  • Consider the validity of what the speakers are saying. They may have a good point. Don’t be too quick to dismiss it.
  • Thank the speakers for their concern and input. Appreciate their interest in your well-being. They undoubtedly have your best interests at heart, even if their interference is unwanted and annoying.
  • Make your own rational decisions. Take your time. Consider all the data. You have the freedom to do what’s right for you.
  • Avoid making knee-jerk responses. Never do something just to spite family members who are pressuring you. You may make a very bad decision that has far-reaching negative consequences.
  • Kindly relate your own plan. Use a calm, respectful tone to tell them exactly how you’ll proceed. The clearer you are, the more convincing you’ll be.
  • Repeat your plan as often as necessary. Family members may not understand your decision and may continue exerting pressure. Be patient but persistent. Remember, you are in control.
  • All bets are off if you’re still living with your mom and dad. If they’re footing the bill, you have to play by their rules. Only when you’re financially independent can you call the shots.
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