I have a cousin, 4 years older than I am, who lives alone, out of town, and both her parents are deceased. She has physical disabilities, as well as being treated for mental issues, due to her brain problems at birth. I heard from my parents that her mother (my aunt) had problems as well, so they fault the way she raised my cousin, and her parents’ divorce for the way she sometimes acts. She’s a very sweet lady, and I love her to pieces, but sometimes she gets stuck in her own stuff and asks me for advice – but it seems like it’s the same stuff over and over again. And I feel like part of it is her illness causing her to experience self-doubt. She also tells me stuff that happens, good or bad, and it sounds like she is exaggerating. She doesn’t call much, but, boy, when she does, she has quite a tale to tell!
She has been doing better recently, but sometimes I don’t feel like returning her calls when she calls to see how I am doing. And I haven’t initiated the calling much, either. Coincidentally, some of my friends remind me of her. I think some people I know are a bit insecure, and they have some mistaken notions about my boundaries and what I believe that they tell me. I can’t keep avoiding people, so help!
This is quite a conundrum you find yourself in and I’m sure that many of you reading this can relate to your situation as it is quite common. As I often tell clients, “You can pick your partner and your friends, but you can’t pick your relatives”. I’m sure that we can all think of at least one relative that is hard to deal with (I can name a few!) and there is no easy solution to dealing with this sort of person. Bottom line: difficult people are difficult to deal with. But even so, there are some straightforward things you can do to start feeling better about this situation.
For starters, something you probably already know but may be helpful to be reminded of: We have absolutely no control over other people’s behaviors; only how we react to them. Let’s face it- your cousin’s behaviours sound incredibly trying and hard to deal with. In all likelihood, she’s not going to change. But the good news is that you can change how you react to her.
I believe very much in being honest with ourselves about how we feel about people in our lives and examining in great detail how their behavior affects us and then acting accordingly by doing what we need to do to take care of ourselves while also showing our love and caring for the other person. You mentioned in your query that your cousin, as well as some of your friends “have some mistaken notions about my boundaries and what I believe that they tell me”.
My answer to that is that there must be a reason they are mistaken and that it is your responsibility to clear that up for yourself as well as them in order to become clear about where you stand. For example, in dealing with your cousin, you might decide that while you want her in your life, it needs to be in a more limited capacity and you may decide that speaking with her once a month is what feels right for you. Also, you may need to limit the length of the phone calls with her so that you don’t have to listen to the same stuff over and over again. I would also suggest pointing her in the direction of a therapist or other helping professional for advice when she experiences bouts of self-doubt as that is not your problem to fix.
As far as the exaggerating is concerned, that’s a tough one. Many people exaggerate and others downright lie through their teeth. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is truth or fiction with some people. Perhaps it has something to do with her mental health issues, or maybe not. Even if it’s genetic, knowing that isn’t going to help you deal with it better. If it really bothers you, I would suggest limiting the amount of people you surround yourself with who tend to have such tendencies. Again, the relatives you can’t choose but the friends you most definitely can.
Hope that helps!