How do we ex­plain why we avoid a fam­ily mem­ber?

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - GARY DIRENFELD Have a parenting or re­la­tion­ship ques­tion? Send it in a brief email to ques­tion@your­so­cial­worker.com. Due to the vol­ume of mail, not all ques­tions will re­ceive a re­ply.

Q: We have a fam­ily mem­ber who causes trou­ble for us. The prob­lem is that other peo­ple don’t see it, so we are the ones who look bad when we try to avoid this per­son. How do we ex­plain to other peo­ple why we avoid be­ing to­gether?

A: This prob­lem is far more com­mon than many peo­ple re­al­ize. The per­son in ques­tion may be a par­ent, cousin, aunt, un­cle, niece, nephew, brother or sis­ter or even grand­par­ent.

The be­hav­iour may be quite open or quite se­cre­tive. It may cre­ate dis­tress among many yet if it’s covert, the in­sti­ga­tor may not be no­tice­able.

In other sit­u­a­tions, the dis­tress caused may be aimed, more dis­creetly, at only your­self and/or per­haps your part­ner or child.

Ex­am­ples I have heard of in­clude a neg­a­tively in­tru­sive par­ent, an un­ruly child, a rel­a­tive with a drink­ing prob­lem as well as a rel­a­tive who may have in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual bound­aries.

De­pend­ing on the close­ness of the re­la­tion­ship, it may be dif­fi­cult for oth­ers to fathom how you could seek to avoid that per­son.

And when the be­hav­iour is covert and tar­geted, few oth­ers will ap­pre­ci­ate its toxic na­ture.

Such crazy-mak­ing sit­u­a­tions can cre­ate dis­tress among those who would oth­er­wise seek the com­pany of the per­son whose be­hav­iour you find ob­jec­tion­able.

When oth­ers don’t fully ap­pre­ci­ate or even be­lieve that the ob­jec­tion­able be­hav­iour is hap­pen­ing, or be­cause the re­la­tion­ship is con­sid­ered close or sig­nif­i­cant, it’s nat­u­ral that they will not un­der­stand or ap­pre­ci­ate your de­sire to main­tain your dis­tance.

If you choose to more fully ex­plain your need for dis­tance, you may be per­ceived as bad­mouthing that per­son as the oth­ers’ ex­pe­ri­ences don’t match your own. You may be com­ing across as the per­son with the prob­lem or who is cre­at­ing one.

In th­ese sit­u­a­tions, it is usu­ally best to try to rise above. If you choose to dis­tance your­self and take ac­tions to limit con­tact, do so with as lit­tle fuss as pos­si­ble — ap­pre­ci­at­ing that some peo­ple will ques­tion your ac­tions.

You don’t need to go into de­tail, apart from say­ing you are not com­fort­able with the per­son in ques­tion.

If you go on and on about that per­son, you may in­ad­ver­tently cre­ate more drama than what you had sought to limit.

The out­comes will be mixed, de­pend­ing on the per­son­al­i­ties of those who can­not ac­cept your need for dis­tance. The best you can do is apol­o­gize, if nec­es­sary, for the need for dis­tance and limit your ex­po­sure to the per­son of con­cern.

In short, it is rea­son­able to de­ter­mine your own bound­aries and to let oth­ers know about those lim­its. But you can­not con­trol their re­ac­tions or be­liefs.

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