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Six Steps to Being Less Judgmental of Family Members

Judging a family member does not define who they are; it defines who you are.

Photo by Oren Atias on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Oren Atias on Unsplash

Family members have an uncanny ability of “pushing our buttons,” often making us unduly annoyed and judgmental. Maybe it’s your Aunt Sarah who is always late or your mother who asks you too many times when you’re going to get married.

Most of us have someone in our family who irritates us. But that doesn’t give us the license to lash out. Here are some steps you can take to be less judgmental, hopefully fostering more goodwill between family members.

1. Be mindful. Try to catch yourself before you make a snarky remark and do any potential harm. You can’t get your words back.

Pause. See if you can understand where your family member may be coming from. Try to rephrase your critical internal thought into a positive one, or at least a neutral one. After all, we really don’t know the reasons for someone’s behavior.

2. Depersonalize. When someone disagrees with us or somehow makes our life difficult, remember that it’s typically not about us. It may be about their pain or struggle. “Never underestimate the pain of a person," Will Smith said, "because, in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Some people are better at hiding it than others.”

3. Look for basic goodness. This takes practice, as our minds naturally scan for the negative, but if we try, we can almost always find something good about another person. For example, maybe the family member who is always late has a gift for spontaneity. Perhaps you secretly wish you were more like them.

4. Repeat the mantra: “Just like me.” Remember, we are more alike than different. When I feel critical of someone, I try to remind myself that the other person wants to be happy and free of suffering, just like I do. Most important, that person makes mistakes, just like I do.

5. Reframe. When a family member does something you don’t like, perhaps think of it as they are simply solving a problem in a different way than you would. Or maybe they have a different timetable than you do. This may help you be more open-minded and accepting of their behavior. The Dalai Lama says: “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost.”

6. Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Someone once told me that no one wakes up in the morning and says, "I think I'm going to be a jerk today." Most of us do the best we can with the resources we have at the moment.

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