How to deal with difficult people during a family gathering

by | Dec 18, 2023

By Karin Green and Mark Broderick

Anytime of year when we are gathering with family, we might be looking forward to seeing and spending time with our friends and family, yet at the same time, there are those difficult people we dread having to spend time with…

You know…

…the aunt who asks you “When will you start a family?”
…the uncle who talks at you, never listens and wants to push his politics on you.
…the cousin who compares themselves to you, and seems to always need to be better than you.
…the friend who makes stinging comments about your looks.
…the brother who ignores you and seems so uncaring.
…the sister who tells you what to think and tend to leave you out of conversations.
…etc. etc. etc.



Personality style

We all have different personalities and styles, and when we clash with someone it is often someone that has a personality style opposite of ourselves. In Shadow Work we look at the different personalities through the lens of the archetypes, to help us see the good intention underneath a person’s behavior. To be able to see this clearly we need to first recognize the Archetype we are viewing them from.

For example…

  • Someone who we judge to be very critical – might have more Magician energy than we do
  • Someone who we judge to be just too positive – might have more Sovereign energy than us
  • Someone who we judge to be way too much (emotionally) – might have more Lover energy than us
  • Someone we judge to be bullying and controlling – might have more Warrior energy than us

So how do you stay in balance and joy throughout the holiday season, while attending events that fill you both with excitement and also dread?


Recognizing archetypal behaviors

A good place to start is to recognize the underlying motivation for their behavior:

  • Someone with a lot of Magician energy is afraid and trying to prevent bad things from happening.
  • Someone with a lot of Sovereign energy feels they are not enough and is trying to compensate.
  • Someone with a lot of Lover energy feels unloved and is trying to get more connection.
  • Someone with a lot of Warrior energy feels unimportant and is trying to get respect.

Once you can recognize which Archetype you are coming from and your motivations, you might be able to identify which Archetype they are coming from and thus their underlying concerns.

As with most things, looking at your part in it is the place to start. What perspectives or opinions are you bringing to the situation and how are they coloring your view of this person’s behavior?

When we can recognize and get these parts of ourselves out of the way, we can begin to see the other person more clearly. We have the space to become interested in what is going on for them.




Curiosity as a tool

We like to use curiosity as a way to build bridges. When we notice that we are judging someone, or when we notice that we are getting really irritated or triggered by someone, we use that as an opportunity to switch it to curiosity.

To remember to think “they must have more of an archetypal energy than I do… which one can it be…?

To perhaps ask “When you said ““___” did you mean (what we assumed they meant)”?

Or, “When you said “____”, I heard “___”, did I get that right?”

When coming from a place of curiosity, the edges get smoothed, and the situation tends to be diffused.

Curiosity is a beautiful tool to dispel hurt, and get to a more open interaction. Curiosity allows for redirection – a sharp comment that sneaked out of shadow can then be examined in a gentle way.

And yet there are still some interactions that are better left alone, for the sake of your emotional well-being, sometimes the best thing is to remove yourself from the situation.



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