Holiday season, apart from probably being the only time you’ll drink copious amounts of spiked eggnog, is inevitably the time you’ll be forced to hang out with family members you’ve spent the majority of your life trying to avoid. Maybe it’s the uncle who assumes the role of the “funny guy,” even though, to date, they’ve never actually made anyone laugh. Or maybe it’s the distant cousin who has a few drinks and suddenly believes they have a Phd in constitutional law. Make no mistake: Every family has one.
So to anyone with a family, here’s some advice for how to best deal with that one person in your family you wish was, like, less in your family.
Determine Their Value
There’s no Kelly Blue Book for a family member, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try and assess how much that unsolicited parental advice-giving uncle is worth to you. According to family psychologist Allen Wagner, said value can mostly be assessed through their loyalty. “Ultimately, we have to consider many things, but loyalty is a big one,” says Wagner. “A person needs to ask themselves what the real-life consequence of the embarrassment is, and how that relates to the relationship they have with the person in question. If the value of the person is much larger than the consequences of their embarrassment, then these are definitely things to consider.”
Ask A Trusted Family Member To Act as a Buffer
Once you’ve determined that your embarrassing family member is potentially worth his sudden outbursts of horrible takes, you have to develop a strategy. “If I had a client who was worried about a family member embarrassing them, I’d suggest they have a conversation with either a close family member, or a member of the wedding party, asking them to keep an eye on the person,” says Kristeen LaBrot, an event planner in Southern California. “They can step in to change the conversation if it’s their words that can embarrass.”
If it’s an alcohol-related worry, just ask said designated person to inform the bartender that Aunt Lydia, who wears Christmas sweaters in July and refers to her cat as her hubby, needs no more than two drinks. Generally speaking, Wagner adds that being aware of the type of event and the other guests is helpful in deciding the physical placement and role of a person who may cause embarrassment.
Disrupt Their Disruption
Since most family gatherings aren’t big enough to create a physical diversion, there are other ways to mentally subvert your embarrassing family member. According to Lifehacker, with a little “social engineering,” you can “hack the conversation”:
“In many cases, the most awkward questions can be defused by answering the question with a question. Return fire with ‘How would you feel if I asked you that,’ or ‘What do you think I’ll say,’ forcing them to answer their own question, or at least tip their hand to what they want to hear from you.”
In addition, Lifehacker suggests going on the offensive by initiating the conversation with the embarrassing family member in an effort to guide it. “Be careful, this can turn into a sparring match, but sometimes it’s better to approach the annoying family member with a smile and start the conversation yourself so you can direct its course,” writes Alan Henry.
Wagner, however, says that this tactic largely depends on the tendencies of the person you’re trying to manage. “This could feel condescending or controlling by the other person, and could lead to a negative effect and them digging in their heels harder to stay true to themselves,” Wagner explains. With this in mind, he believes that subtle seat placements or pairings with others is a more effective strategy.
Remember, They’re (Usually) Not as Embarrassing As You Think
Ultimately, says Wagner, you should maintain perspective during the moments when your dad starts ranting about chemtrails, or how 9/11 was an inside job. “For many of the things that embarrass us, they’re personal, and our humiliation is either more understood, or even invisible to others, not requiring clean-up or explanation,” says Wagner. “The people in our lives have to stand by their own statements and behaviors, and the practical or tangible impact on us is much less than we usually perceive.”
Furthermore, Wagner suggests that you shouldn’t overthink how the embarrassing person impacts the way others see you. “Hypersensitivity in this area can lead to loss of people in your life that you may find embarrassing but also serve value,” says Wagner. “Obviously there are circumstances, statements and behaviors that are truly serious and should be treated as such, but a person’s dress, language, political orientation or appearance shouldn’t be taken as seriously as some people take it, so try to have perspective.”