How to Be Assertive with Your Family

Learning how to be assertive is a great tool for surviving family gatherings. It'll help you set limits and avoid those arguments that put you on edge and impair your peace of mind. You can truly enjoy moments of harmony with your family! Continue reading to find out how.
How to Be Assertive with Your Family
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Knowing how to be assertive with your family is key to your well-being. Why? This is because, whenever families come together for holidays and other celebrations, a series of events converge into a dynamic that can make you lose your patience and even your temper. A family gathering is, after all, a complex tribe with disparate opinions. It doesn’t always lead to a harmonious environment.

Everyone has the right to think differently. What truly counts is knowing how to respect each other to be able to cohabit. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. And it gets a little more complicated during the holiday season. Although it’s supposed to be a time for relaxation, yet you must prepare to be with the family. Perhaps you haven’t even seen some of those folks in a while.

Therefore, you travel a considerable distance to attend the family dinner. It’s been in your calendar all year. And yes, perhaps you’ve been very anxious about it because that cousin who likes to argue with you about everything you do and say will be there. Or maybe you just dread seeing your judgmental father. Or that meddling aunt who just can’t help inquiring about your personal life and plans for the future.

Moving from your comfort zone into hostile territory isn’t always easy. However, you’ll survive even though these gatherings are seldom harmonious, glamorous, and magical. In fact, you can come out unscathed and quite proud of yourself on the other side. Continue reading to find out how!

A group of people having dinner.

Strategies to help you be assertive with your family

Practicing assertiveness is one of the keys to applying it with your family. It isn’t enough to try to dodge and understand them. There must be other essential ingredients such as courage, along with the will to change and the self-confidence to put them into practice.

It’s often difficult to be assertive with a close relative. This is because the emotional component can be impairing. You may feel like you’re offending them in some way and opt for silence instead. It’s better to ignore them. However, this isn’t a good strategy because any trespass you ignore will put a dent on your self-esteem.

Be assertive, present, confident, and direct

The main purpose of most family reunions is to catch up, share quality time, and enjoy each other’s company. However, there may be some people around you that are conflictive and masters at breaking and altering harmony. As far as your well-being goes, just keep one thing in mind: you’ll be fine no matter what. Thus, try not to lose your temper with anything and nobody.

So, make it a point to be present because having your mind elsewhere won’t fix anything. Playing with your phone won’t make time go faster. Stay in the here and now, as this will help you get in touch with your emotions. Also, you should confront any conflict in a confident and direct manner. How?

  • Don’t be afraid to state what you want and what you don’t want. Say something along the lines of: “I don’t want to talk about this right now. We’re celebrating, so this isn’t the best time to do so”.
  • If someone’s trying to start an argument, deescalate it assertively. Say, for example: “I see you’d like to talk about some things that’ll only separate us. We’re not here to argue, we’re here to have a good time”.
  • Also, if an argument is escalating and triggering major disagreements or problems, you can try to solve it as soon as possible. Remind everyone that the main goal of the gathering is to enjoy yourselves.
A man wondering how to be assertive.

Don’t respond if you don’t want to

Keep in mind a very simple principle regarding exercising assertiveness in your family gatherings. You’re under no obligation to answer anything you don’t wish to answer. Nobody, regardless of their status within your family, has any authority over you.

Thus, if you don’t want to talk about something, don’t do it. Make this clear with confidence and respect.

How to deal with conflictive relatives

Every family has a person who seems to enjoy conflict and pushing everyone’s buttons. In fact, they’ll contradict anything you say just to annoy you. There are two options to choose from if you’re caught in the middle of these situations. Either ignore them or try to communicate with them.

Thus, keep the following in mind:

  • People who love to argue, contradict, and disagree just because they can, do so because they’re probably insecure and need to position their opinions and ideologies on top of other people’s. Thus, they’ll belittle everyone around them. In these cases, there’s only one thing you can say: “I understand and respect your position, but I’m not here to waste time but to enjoy it. You have your beliefs and I have mine, so let’s change the subject”.
  • Generally, these kinds of people attack without solid or logical arguments. So consequently, another good strategy is to ask questions. The more questions you ask, the better your position will be. Remain calm and even joke a little. Sooner or later, they’ll contradict themselves.

Your own well-being comes first

In order to successfully survive a family reunion that’s already causing you discomfort and anxiety, you must visualize it. Tell yourself you’ll be fine and know your limits. Therefore, work on the following:

  • Know what situations you won’t tolerate prior to attending the gathering.
  • Visualize those limits and assume they’re your safe space. Knowing what things and circumstances you won’t allow should give you peace of mind and comfort.
A gate to a garden.

To conclude, being assertive in your family gatherings will make a great difference in your life. You won’t only come out on top in any argument or disagreement but you’ll get better at it and be able to apply those techniques in any other context.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.