I am a 20-year-old woman and my aunt, Barbara, has been in my life for as long as I can remember. She’s a good person but has the tendency to be overbearing and share her opinions on everything (whether you want to hear them or not.) She’s also extremely sensitive and flies off the handle at any little criticism.
My parents and I live in the same town. About four months ago, she came to visit us and really started laying into me. I’m an atheist; she’s a devout Christian and disapproves of that. I recently got engaged to my boyfriend; she thinks I’m too young to be married. I left college two years ago to pursue a career as a writer; she thinks I should be doing “something more meaningful with my life.”
Since she left, she’s been calling me once or twice a week, as well as sending me a bunch of self-help and religious e-mails. It’s really starting to annoy me. And now I’ve found out that she’ll be staying with our family for a week for Christmas. I’m absolutely dreading this visit because I know she’ll be a thousand times worse.
How do I get her to mind her own business without offending her and making things more tense between us? Something has to change.
I will give you some thoughts on how you can cope with your aunt, but first, please understand that tension is a natural part of living in a family. Although we all want peace in our families, it’s the one place where we learn how to be better humans, which often requires us to stretch ourselves and take emotional risks. It sounds like you have a great opportunity for growth staring you right in the face.
When dealing with a family member who has big opinions but little tact, it’s helpful to immediately tell them the truth about your life when they put you down. Sometimes, in an effort to be socially appropriate, we will allow others to bulldoze us with their opinions. In most cases, all you need to do is say something back to her as soon as she makes unwelcome comments.
For example, if she says something about your career choice, you can stand in your truth and confidently respond with something like, “Aunt Barbara, I happen to love my career choice as a writer. It fits me well. I can’t see myself doing anything else more meaningful.”
The things she’s commenting on are not cold hard facts, but personal preferences. She’s allowed to have a private opinion, just like you’re allowed to direct your own life. While it’s rude and annoying to hear her thoughts on things that aren’t her business, it’s also a self-betrayal for you to remain silent and allow her to control the conversation.
You can end these comments by consistently standing up for your decisions with dignity and confidence. If you feel good about your life choices, then say so, especially when she calls you out in mixed company. You will have to risk feeling socially awkward, but you are more likely to reestablish the social order by speaking up for yourself instead of avoiding her.
This is your life and she’s not been given permission to direct it for you. You can respond with respect, humor, firmness, and confidence. Chances are, she’ll eventually get the message and back down.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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