During the holiday season when family members are thrown together, meddling, criticizing, rebelling and bragging are as common as traffic, crowded stores and long check-out lines.

But Ashland naturopath Dr. Rick Kirschner offers tips for handling relatives. Kirschner is the co-author, with Dr. Rick Brinkman, of "Dealing with Relatives (Even If You Can't Stand Them!)."

During six months of research for the book, Kirschner and Brinkman interviewed hundreds of people, solicited stories and distributed questionnaires to get information about people's best and worst relationships.

Certain patterns of annoying behavior emerged.

Kirschner said it's important to think of those patterns as behaviors, not personality types, because behaviors can be changed while personalities are more fixed. Additionally, some people exhibit multiple frustrating behaviors.

"A general rule is to find the good reason behind the bad behavior," he said. "I believe all behavior is purposeful. If someone is meddling, they have good reasons. Become fascinated with it. Draw them out. Find out what's going on."

That being said, Kirschner said there are also quick tricks for dealing with different types of behavior.

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162; Meddling. A single woman comes home for the holidays, only to have her mother ask &

again &

when she is going to get married. She should respond, "When am I going to get married? When I find someone who loves me the way Dad loves you."

Kirschner said that answer can trigger two responses in the mother. If the mother likes how her husband treats her, she should be glad her daughter is willing to wait for an equally satisfying relationship. If the marriage is an unhappy one, the mother will again think it's best for her daughter to wait, albeit for different reasons.

Meddling grandparents can also cause friction. Parents should recognize that the grandparents are driven by a desire to help, and then direct that desire in a positive direction.

"Say, 'I'd really like you to help with this,'" Kirschner advised. "It's like giving permission to meddle, but in one area."

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162; Criticizing. A quick response is to simply say, "Well thank you for being honest with me/bringing it to my attention/caring."

A longer technique if a person criticizes by saying, for example, that you look like a mess, is to draw out the details.

"Say, 'I look like a mess? In what way do I look like a mess?'" Kirschner said.

The longer technique usually has one of three results.

The person realizes he or she was being critical, you learn something valuable about how other people see you, or the person who criticizes you because you hate it stops because you have taken the fun out of it, he said.

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162; Acting like a martyr.

"Ah, the martyr. Everyone's favorite," Kirschner said.

He said people acting like martyrs tie strings of obligation and invoke guilt as a way to try and stay connected. Of course, there are real obligations and commitments that you make, but don't take on ones the martyr tries to impose. Here's how one conversation might go:

Martyr: "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine"&

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You: "OK."

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162; Rebelling. Kirschner said rebelling is a natural response people have in order to differentiate themselves from their parents and gain independence.

But some people never outgrow the rebellious phase and continue to define themselves by what they are against. The key with rebellious people is to tell them NOT to do what you really want them to do.

For example, if you want a rebellious person to make a quick decision, say, "Don't make up your mind until you're ready."

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162; Bragging. Nearly every family has people who brag about themselves or their children. Their stories may even be fascinating to those who haven't heard these tales of accomplishment many times before, but the bragging person ends up dominating and controlling all conversation.

Kirschner said the key is to feed the person's sense of importance by asking for their expertise in a certain area and then steering the person away. If you have to face the bragger's belittling remarks, have a gentle confrontation rather than fighting or fleeing.

Kirschner recalled one man who went to Thanksgiving dinner and heard his uncle, a surgeon, listing his medical achievements. Trying to turn the monologue into a conversation, the man told about a person he met with a terminal illness who had recovered. In a condescending tone, the uncle said the person had simply gone into remission, a fairly common occurrence.

The man responded, "I'm surprised such a highly regarded physician as yourself is not curious about how people go into remission."

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