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How to Handle Relatives Who Are Hurtful

How to Handle Relatives Who Are Hurtful

Last week, a heartfelt plea for advice was posted on Circle of Moms by Kelina G. It began, "[My sister-in-law and I have] always had opposing views but lately it seems like she’s dragging my hubby into it too. Calling him names and belittling him…”

Her family's situation, all too common, makes me think of a letter I recently wrote to myself:

Dear Me,

This week was rough. People said unkind things to me and to those I love. I wanted to yell and say unkind things right back at them. But I didn’t. I wanted to lash out and confront them. But I didn’t.

I’m confused.

Am I letting myself down when I don’t react to their nasty comments?  Would I be seen as a bully if I said out loud what I was thinking inside?  Am I weak when I say nothing and let others get away with saying hurtful things?


Still confused

I think there are many others who wonder the same thing as me and Kelina: Why, when someone is rude or uses hurtful words without any care or concern for another, do we think our only option is to either have a full blown argument, which puts the relationship at risk, or stay silent and let the person get away with spouting nasty words?

I’m no different than any one else. I hate confrontation. Yet I’ve been known to angrily confront someone who said mean things to me. I’ve also silently walked away, truly hurt by another’s words, wondering if what they said was true.


Why Bullies Bully

Marianne Williamson once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. … Your playing small does not serve the world.”

I am empowered by her words. We all really do know ourselves. We all have internal radar that lets us know if someone is just speaking to hear themselves talk, or if they’re sharing painful, yet valuable information about something we’ve said or done.

Ask yourself this. Does the person who spoke unkindly usually speak that way to almost everyone? If so, ask yourself, why do they do that?

The truth is people who routinely make nasty comments are usually so unsure of themselves that they tend to attempt to elevate themselves by putting others down.

Once you digest that, you have to decide what you want to do next. Do you want to continue listening to what I call “garbage words?” Or do you want to stand tall and represent your true self, as Marianne Williamson advised?

I believe the choice is obvious. It’s not simple, but it is obvious. We have to stop being around people who speak unkindly, whether they’re family or not. It just isn’t emotionally healthy for us, or for our children.


Finding The Courage to Cut Off Contact

As soon as a decision is made to stop all contact with someone—fear arrives. We become afraid that we’ll get sucked into an argument as we announce, “because of the way you talk I can’t be around you.” One way to avoid getting sucked in is to phrase things by only speaking about you.

An example might be, “I don’t like the way you’re speaking to me and to the ones I love. If you continue to say things like this, I can no longer be around you. I’m not telling you what to do. It’s your life. I’m simply making a choice for myself. I know you’ll say nasty things about me now, and when I’m not around, and that’s fine.”

This takes tremendous courage. Ambrose Redmoon said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” IMHO, taking care of you and setting an example for your children is more important than fear in any situation.

In order to be successful you also need to know that when someone is known for using mean and hurtful words, they’re deeply wounded themselves. They were either treated that way as a child or they’re using nasty words as a defense mechanism, a personal shield to protect them from feeling their own pain.

It’s not only important to stop being around those who use nasty words, it’s also important to teach your children about life without using mean, nasty or hurtful words so they feel whole. I believe all children deserve that. Don’t you?

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting for ages 1-10. Receive 2 FREE tips from the book. Proactive Parenting is proud to announce the Online Skills Class. A class that any parent can attend, even if you live outside the US. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.

Image Source: pinksherbet via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

marianne1406553377 marianne1406553377 2 years

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MaryRoering1363625819 MaryRoering1363625819 2 years

How about your brother, sister in law and sister all ganging up and NOT telling me when my mother was dying!! Not a word, we were in the process of getting time off of work and she passed away before I got to the hospital!!!! I am BEYOND livid and full of hate for my so called family!!!! I am not the only one who knows they deliberately left me out for whatever selfish reasons they harbor!!!! They will have to answer to that when it's their time.......

janey62325 janey62325 5 years
I can totally see how family members twist things. I have an overweight sister who is extremely sensitive. I think she lacks self confidence and pride in her inner self. She takes EVERY glance, EVERY comment personally. If she is offended then that is the end! She is offended by things that I would have never considered offensive. She plots against me without my knowledge. I think because she does this that she thinks that I do this too. I really don't and am oblivous to such things. It is very frustrating. I feel like she has always wanted to be thinner or more successful than I am and this has been a monumentus chip on her shoulder. She has been jealous and resentful of who I am since we were very young. Sure, I really teased her as a kid and she still holds it against me. I believe that in her mind we are still those kids and I am somehow still picking on her even though we haven't talked in almost twenty years. She gave me the "OUT OF MY LIFE" cold shoulder years ago. As an adult I do not know her. She is unwilling to let me in. She is preventing my parents from uniting the family. They would so much like to have their children and grandchildren together. My parents have always babied her. The other siblings thought she needed more attention due to her lack of confidence. She has always fought for attention amidst our sibloings and our family dynamic. She wants her seperate special holidays and she expects my parents to be there. She can maneuver my parents to do whatever she likes. The other siblings are simply left out. I most often say nothing and do not get involved. When I do bring it up I find that I am the villain because I am causing controversy with our parents. I have difficulty trying to get on the same page. They are hurting me by blaming me. I have such difficulty trying to get my parents to break down the wall. I get frustrated and upset. I cannot tell them enough how my sister's actions have hurt me. To completely shut out a sister is very hurtful. Choosing one child over another is also very hurtful. I would like my parents to rectify the situation and unite our family. I have also recently learned that this sister has ousted other family members. It is very discouraging. I am unable to break down the walls or have a sister.
LaceyThompson65215 LaceyThompson65215 5 years
I am dealing with this issue and it is tuft. My mother in law puts down my husband constantly. She says mean things about his weight and makes comments when he is eatting. She says she is worried about his health but he isn't obese. He is just a big guy. Regardless my son is 2 and I can't allow her to talk this way in front of him. She is rude and insulting to everyone even insulting my mom at our wedding! She also tried to talk my husband out of marrying me days before our wedding! I confronted her via text message, which was a huge mistake. My words were taken the wrong way and she refused to speak to my husband and me for a year. I apoligized when I had my son for my husbands sake. I regret that now. I wish I had left things the way they were. Now I am faced with a decision that will hurt my husband and father in law in order to protect my so and myself. Family dynamics are difficult to say the least. Trust your gut and make the best choice for your family.
KathleenMcDougall KathleenMcDougall 5 years
Wow reading the responses below I can see I am not the only one who struggles with family. I struggle with my family talking about me when I am not present and jumping to conclusions. Then my sister sends me an email calling me names. I called her on the phone and she was quite taken off guard and so was my father. I confronted both on the phone, would've liked to do it in person but live 5 hours away. I just made up my mind that she was not going to send me a judgmental, abusive email and not be called on it. It's taken me a lot of years to get to the point in my life to do that and it hasn’t been easy. It was very hurtful that she could write those things to me and then say to me on the phone that it’s really none of her business and she’d like to stay out of it. My family will talk behind each other’s backs and every so often there is a blow up and someone goes off on someone else. I’m making a conscious effort not to gossip and call family members on it when they do. I know I will continue to struggle with this but I’m learning and getting better at it and growing everyday! Hang in there ladies! You can do it! Thank you all for sharing your experiences.
ClaudiaBeaudoin66906 ClaudiaBeaudoin66906 5 years
I, personaly, have not cut any family members due to problems. My mom in law always tells me that I do not have any problems setting out boundaries, and she respect me for that. ANd I believe that this is the most important poit. If you set your boundaries or people will respect or they will drift away on their own. A few months ago i went back home (Brazil) with my american hub and our two tots. Well in Brazil everyone stick their finger on your business, and my sisters (5) did not like the way my hub was correcting our 4 year old, and my oldest sister started going to reprimend him and I stept in and told her that I love her but my husband was the father and she would not reprimend him in front of our son. ANd I said that if I disagree with wim, and I am his wife not her, then I would talk to him later. After that none of my sisters stepted on our business again. Now if I had let her do it once, it would be harder to stop her at the second, third and so on times. Boundaries, if you don't like, is your choice to stay away. My family and friends are welcome in my life. I respect them and they respect me. Without respect there is no real relationship.
CoMMember13631161392481 CoMMember13631161392481 5 years
I am sure my grown daughter moved from Il to Tx to get away from relatives,when she was young one of her great aunts said something hurtful to her and she never got over it,now I am lucky I get to see her once a year,she calls me alot but it is not the same as seeing her,this relative is not around very often but I think she thought she would get so far away she wouldn't have to see her or any other relatives.
KellySchultz93771 KellySchultz93771 5 years
I have had to cut family members out of my life because of various reasons. The one I am struggling with now is my brother who I stopped all communications with before Christmas this year because once again everything was about him, even after the death of my father and step-father. He treated myself and my Mom like crap and felt it was ok and have only spoken 2 times to him since and that was only because of my Grandmother having a stroke. His best friend has just invited my family over for his birthday (and approval had to come from him) and I am so torn about whether to go or not only because of my daughter she misses him & his dog (sounds silly about dog but she ADORES him). I would really like to tell him no because I have had no I'm sorry yet but then I think life is so short should I just blow it off again??? We have such a small family and I would be devastated if something happen to him, but I really can not take the holy than thou attitude anymore and there is no way to communicate this to him without hearing basically I am a piece of crap in some form or fashion...anyone got advice??? Help I am so torn.
MelindaFrame MelindaFrame 5 years
I have read your advice and I do agree. My problem is my son. He is 23 and married. He and his wife both reacted badly when I chose to divorce my husband. My son has known for several years that I wanted a divorce and begged me not to until after his wedding, so I waited. Last summer I met someone who made me see that I am worth something and that I can have fun. That gave me the strength to make the decision. After that, my son changed into this person I didn't know. He was behaving like a young child when parents divorce. He and his wife have told lies and done everything they could to sabotage my relationship and my new life. Christmas was a nightmare and the New Year has been much worse. My son has said some very very nasty things to me that caused me to say enough. If he cannot treat me with the respect I deserve and continues to say such hurtful mean things, then I do not want to talk to him. So, I have stayed completely away from him. His wife has not helped the situation. The biggest problem is the money situation. Previously, I had the ability to hand them money whenever they asked for it. Now the money is not there and I can't. This is the only reason I can think of for their behavior. I feel I was left no choice but to stay away and avoid all contact unless an emergency arises. Do you have any other advice? Talking with him like an adult didn't work. He just becomes too angry.
DaphneDissel DaphneDissel 5 years
This is so true. I had to step away from a relationship with my husband who did not care two ticks about how and what he said to me or our kids i had to do it and know facing a future with them alone I realised everyday how bad it became. Maybe one day I will find the courage to trust people again. We had so much to "mend". But what I find very encouraging is that I do not allow anybody to speak in that way to me. I have found the courage to just lift my hand up and how quickly they stop and ask "What" and then I say softly but firmly I am not allowing ane person to speak to me in this way, so please go sort your issues out and come back and speak to me in a proper way" I have earned SO much respect that I can now respect myself again and I started liking myself again.
DianeNipel DianeNipel 5 years
thank you for the advice. I've, unfortunately, had to distance my daughter from her cousin (my niece) who has been doing nasty things to my daughter. Telling her things to purposely hurt her and trying to get my daughters friends to turn against my daughter. It has also caused problems between my sister (my nieces mother) and I. My sister doesn't believe what I have told her. My niece has been lying to her about it and she believes her over me. Unfortunately this has caused a devision in my family. I'm hoping and praying we can work it out but in the mean time I can not allow my daughter to communicate w/ or be around her cousin. I feel they need a break from each other and hopefully this will also make my niece think about what she has done and if she continues to be this way she will loose her cousin and friend. The only thing that makes me second guess myself is my daughter really misses the closeness her and my niece have had and has cried about it to me. She has forgiven my niece (which is wonderful) but I can not cont. to let my niece hurt her in this way. Sad situation.
JillBernstein JillBernstein 5 years
some relation ships are just toxic you have say when you no longer can handle it painful as it might be you have to prtect yours not anyone else
I have learned that when family members continuosly cause chaos/drama, I have chosen to keep them out of my life. Life,is difficult enough, I choose to stay away from chaos, even when it is a family member..and my life,has been very peaceful ever since! This works for my family :)
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