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How to Deal with the Nay-sayers & Negative Nellies in your Life?

Dear Desirée: In this week’s column a reader asks, what do you do about an overbearing family member who’s hellbent on putting you down? How do you maintain your cool and keep calm when a Nay-sayer puts you on edge?

Woman holding up a hand in the universal "Stop" motion

Dear Desirée,

I’ve spent a lot of time developing my Leading Lady energy and putting her into play in my life. I’ve had so much fun practicing being my most confident, feminine, and audacious self.

However, the Holidays are starting up and I am dreading going over to my Mother-in-law’s house. She insists on making snide comments designed to put me down, no matter how nice I am to her. If I’ve gone to Hawaii, she’s always hated it there and only vacations in the Bahamas. If the kids have gotten an award, their cousins have won twice as many!

She continually asks loaded questions designed to put me and our family down. Every other year we go home to see them, and every year I leave feeling angry, resentful and saddened. We really can’t cancel, the kids love getting to see their cousins and grandparents, and most of our visit is lovely, it’s just these loaded questions that hurt.

What can I do to stop this from happening yet again?

— Frustrated in San Francisco

Ah, family and the Holidays. It can be a mix made in both Heaven and Hell. But Nay-sayers, Negative Nellies, and other Difficult people can wreak havoc on our peace of mind and self-esteem anywhere, not just in our families or at the Holidays.

Even if we could avoid the Holidays and keep troublesome family members at bay, we'd still have to deal with the difficult people in our lives at work, the coffee shop, the PTA, or within our extended friend circles. We can run, but we can't hide (forever) from the people who seem to excel at needling us. So what do we do?

Most of us fall into the tempting trap of trying to control the offending person. They are the problem, right? So if we can just figure out how to make sure they never open their big mouths and insert their foot in there, everything would be just hunky dory. Maybe if we show them how hurtful their behavior is that will stop them. Cue the tears and heartfelt declarations made to someone who's expression makes it clear they think you're nothing more than a nutjob.

Or maybe, if we make it really ugly they'll finally get the message and will learn to zip it when it comes to slamming your kids. Cue the stony silences at the Holiday table where you have to ask Aunt Debbie to ask Cousin Tony to pass the peas, because you two are no longer talking.

It’s this kind of thinking that often sends us down a path we end up hopelessly repeating at every family gathering or meal.

Trying to get other people to stop being who they are and letting it rip, is never going to work. You can't control who they are or what they say, and the more you try, the worse it gets.

The more you react, even by running away from the worst offenders, the more these people will take it personally and pursue you. After all, in a weird way you’re often giving them exactly what they want: power. Any reaction, even a screaming one, or an avoidance one reassures these kind of people that they still have power over you. The power to make you react.

The fix? Stop trying to change these people or hoping they will magically decide to lay off the snark this year and take a little break from being drama-stirrer at this year's annual family gathering. Switch your focus to you and who you want to be -- that Leading Lady energy you've been diligently embodying, or as another mentor of mine puts it, your Future Self.

For you it’s the version of you who is Confident, Feminine and Audacious. Now imagine her at the Holidays. How does she show up in that room? What's her body language like? What has she accomplished in the last year? What goals is she close to accomplishing in the future? Use your imagination to make yourself proud of this future version of yourself you are creating.

Now ask yourself: Does that incredible woman *need* your Mother-in-Law to validate her?

Notice I said need, not want. Does she need her approval? Can that woman accept your Mother-in-Law for who she is, the good and the bad, without needing to change her?

How does that woman respond to someone trying to put her down? Would she fall for it? Would she take the bait? Or would she see through it? Could another person make her feel bad about herself or what she and her kids have accomplished?

With that in mind, how would she react to your Mother-in-Law? Would she smile and simply laugh to herself? Would she feel a little pity or even empathy for her Mother-in-Law feeling so insecure and needy? Maybe she’d take mercy on her.

Maybe she'd think to herself: "She's just being her, no biggie. I expected this." Then change the subject to something more neutral.

Or maybe she'd have fun playing along with her Mother-in-law's attempt to outdo her: "Oh, you know I heard the cousins won that award three times over! How amazing is that?! It's really inspiring for the rest of the family isn't it?"

Or maybe she'd finally speak her truth with a lot of love and dignity: “I love that the cousins did that, but you know, it’s still special that our kids did this, don’t you think?”

Or you could choose something else entirely. It's between you and your Leading Lady. You get to decide who you want to be and how you want to react. But changing how you show up, means you can find solutions you never would have thought of when you're stuck in that old pattern of reacting and hoping to change someone else.

And the amazing thing about deciding who you want to be, and showing up as her, regardless of who is around you, is that it changes everything for you, even when no one else is willing to change their behavior.

You don't have to change other people in order to have a completely different experience of them. You only have to change you.

I hope that helps and if you happen to need someone to hold your hand, and help you work through the Holidays and owning your own Leading Lady energy, I’m here to help!

A life coach can be a great cheerleader, accountability partner and can help you celebrate all those wins. Not to mention work through all those pesky fear-inducing thoughts.

If you’re interested in working with me you can contact me at: or use messenger here on Facebook or Instagram! I love helping people just like you!

And with that, I’m off! I will see you all next week in the meantime here are some other articles you might enjoy:

If you’d like to write in a question for coaching feel free to message me on Facebook or email me at

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