Dear Annie: At the family gatherings on my spouse's side, my brother-in-law "Albert" wants to loudly dominate any conversation by either talking about his life or showing his "great" knowledge and opinions on other subjects. He rarely inquires about how anyone else is or shows much interest in listening to us. He can be totally oblivious to what is happening with others.
A good example happened about a year ago. Four of us met at a restaurant to celebrate a birthday. A few weeks prior, my spouse had missed Albert's birthday lunch because my spouse was hospitalized for some worrisome medical problems. Albert sat down at the table with the three of us, didn't say "happy birthday" to the birthday person, didn't ask how my spouse was doing and didn't inquire about why I was on crutches. We spent most of the evening listening to him feel sorry for himself because only one person had been to his birthday lunch.
He has been very gradually getting worse over the years. I know he is lonely and wants to connect, but our listening to him just seems to encourage more of his annoying, one-sided behavior. Plus, no one in the gathering wants to get cornered by him and have to listen to him going on and on about the little details of his life. I have suggested counseling or finding a close friend when he's been going through one of his rough patches, but he's had excuses. My spouse and Albert's other siblings do not want to talk to him about this because he gets angry and defensive when they try to bring these sorts of things to light. It's as if his life details get pent up and he has to unleash it all at family gatherings. None of the family spends time with him except for holidays because a relationship with him is so one-sided and draining.
I keep trying to tell myself he is just a very lonely man who needs love and compassion. And at times, I can even feel a little of that. But when the family gathers, all that goes out the window, and I'm back to feeling annoyed.
If you could come up with a good solution on how I could change my attitude, I would appreciate it. If not, I have a small hope that he would read your column and see himself. — Annoyed by Brother-in-Law
Dear Annoyed by Brother-in-Law: I admire your empathy, and I commend you for focusing on the one thing you truly have control over: your attitude. Try to show yourself some compassion, and don't feel so guilty when your brother-in-law's behavior annoys you. Irritation is a natural response when someone is behaving narcissistically. Yes, he might act this way because he's lonely, but that doesn't give him carte blanche to act like a bully without consequence. You and the rest of the family shouldn't hesitate to put him in check. If he's dominating the conversation, redirect it by asking another family member at the table about something going on in his or her life. If he interrupts someone, politely but firmly stop him and say, "I don't think (insert name here) was done talking." If he corners you and monopolizes your time, excuse yourself after a few minutes to mingle with the rest of the guests. And do encourage your spouse to (again) let Albert know how his behavior is impacting the rest of the family. Maybe it would spur him to get help.
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