Holiday Jitters? Nine Ways to Handle Controllers, Critics, and Unsolicited Advice

Around this time of year, we all hear friends and acquaintances voicing dread about their upcoming family visits. From the sister-in-law who can't stop offering advice about how to raise your children to a father who has something negative to say about almost anything. Fueled by too much alcohol, the holidays are ripe for strife and discord.

This time of year offers mixed blessings. On the one hand, it's a time to get together with one's extended family, catch up with family news, and reconnect over a meal. On the other hand, we often find ourselves trapped indoors with people who are rude, critical, controlling, nosy, and insensitive.

Here are nine ways to handle people who can make your life less than joyful during the holidays and in general.

1. Practice acceptance.

Accept that people and things are the way they are. You can't change others, but you can change your own perceptions and expectations. If you're feeling your stomach clench up as soon as you hear the annoying person's voice across the room, you need to repeat this phrase over and over until it sinks in: "People and things are the way they are. I can't control them, but I can control my own attitude."

This phrase, which you can customize by putting in the name of the jerky person, works like magic to immediately dispel frustration and remove your emotional involvement with him or her. You'll quickly feel more accepting, calm, and less irritated.

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2. Sidestep their comments.

A good way to stop a bull that's charging at you, regardless of the negative form it takes, is to just let it go by. Ignore the comments or fend them off with a simple statement such as, "Thanks, but I'm not looking for advice right now."

If the person continues, lovingly say it again. And again, if necessary! Also, along the lines of sidestepping their comments, don't hesitate to calmly remove yourself from the situation with a loving smile on your face.

3. Listen to understand them.

Rarely does one feel truly listened to. We don't have to agree, but we can listen lovingly to the person who is saying something that is important to them.

There is no right or wrong position. We each are entitled to our own opinion. The trick is to suspend our own viewpoint and try to understand theirs.

Resist trying to convince them. Reach behind the words and look for what you have in common. And don't be afraid to assert yourself (maybe repeatedly if they tend to interrupt) and ask someone to just listen to your thoughts.

4. Acknowledge their good intentions.

Mention that you appreciate the person's concern, and that you recognize their caring and attention. Tell the person you might value his or her advice and input later - when you ask for it. If they can't seem to let go of a topic, you can always default back to the line, "You may be right, and I….” 

5. Remember that it's not about you.

When people feel compelled to tell you what you should do, it's good to remember that what they're saying and what's unconsciously motivating them likely has little to do with you. They may need to feel important. They may be looking for love or respect from you or others. The reality is that you are fine. They have unexpressed anger and are targeting it on you.

6. Courageously and lovingly speak up and say what's true for you.

Sometimes, especially with particularly aggressive people, it's necessary to tell them it's not helpful for you to receive unsolicited advice. Talk about yourself and the specific comment rather than finger-pointing or telling them what a drag they are. Lovingly say your "I" (what's true for you) about the specific event.

If they persist, tell them that you're starting to feel angry or frustrated and you'd like them to please stop. Repeat and repeat some more.

7. Appreciate their good behavior.

If you notice that a critical or know-it-all person is being empathetic or listening with sensitivity, catch them being good. Keep your eye open for good work, smart ideas, or even the occasional good attitude, and be sure to praise them when they do something well. Praising what you do like may subtly sink in and help to change his or her behavior.

8. Let out those pent-up emotions.

After a long day of fending off critical, over-controlling humans who've tested the boundaries of your patience and politeness, you need to get all that anger and possibly sadness out of your system. Find a private place to pound your fists, stomp your feet, growl, or cry. It will be easier to feel loving and keep a genuine smile on your face.

9. Focus on keeping the present joyful.

Keep bringing the focus back to the present when others attempt to divert attention to negative things and old unfinished business. Make a comment about what you are enjoying.

Make a genuine comment about the true meaning of being together and how grateful you feel. "Isn't it great to be here all together. I feel so fortunate. Isn't the turkey delicious."

'Tis the Season to be Jolly...

If you are diligent and consistent with practicing the above suggestions, you'll feel better, experience more joy and family connection, and be ready to face them again sometime soon!

©2016 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.

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Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

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About the Author

Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T., author of: Attitude ReconstructionJude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Word spread about the success of Attitude Reconstruction, and it wasn’t long before Jude became a sought-after workshop and seminar leader, teaching her approach to organizations and groups. Visit her website at

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