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How to Handle Relatives Who Are Hurtful

Last week I read a few posts about dealing with family members who were rude, hurtful, and gossipy. It’s all too common, and 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? Love to you, yet still confused

I think many have wondered the same things. Why, when someone is rude or uses hurtful words without any care or concern for another’s feelings, 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. 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’m empowered by her words. We all have internal radar systems letting 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. If you’re unsure, ask yourself, “Does the person who speaks unkindly usually speak that way to almost everyone?

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 accept 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 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 am 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.

One last point. When someone uses mean and hurtful words, they’re usually 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.

Not only is it important to stop being around those who use nasty words, it’s important not to use mean, nasty or hurtful words as you raise your children so they aren’t wounded either. 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 Online Skills Class. A webinar that addresses reacting, new ways to use teaching discipline, being proactive with outbursts and mistakes that you can listen to from anywhere in the world, and anytime it’s convenient for you. Receive 2 FREE tips from the book. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.

14 Responses to “How to Handle Relatives Who Are Hurtful”

  1. Rosary

    We've had things like this happen in our family. The best thing we can do is only look for the ones that look after you. The others we just stay away from.

  2. Adrienne gordon

    this applies to other people in life as well, not just family members

  3. Chavonne H

    It's really hard when family does these things to you, it makes it really difficult and causes extremely hurt feelings, I know from experience.

  4. Abby Kraynick

    I agree totaly ♥ I deal with this on a daily basis & You just have to be strong enough to rise above it & not let it bring you down.

  5. @lemonlaurie

    Sometimes my mom makes judgemental remarks,like <oh,it looks like you gained 10 pounds>instead of retorting with a quick and hurtful remark back,I try to remeber thats my mom and no matter how much you want a person to change ,sometimes you have to realize thats how they are and ignore the remark.Changing the subject to something happier helps too.

  6. Debbie Hogue

    I myself find it easier to distance myself from people who have nothing but bad things to say about or around me. To stay and put up with the negativity just makes me depressed and insecure as to my own self worth. I understand that some people have a hard life and can't find the good in the world and the people around them but to have to listen to the negative comments or the "woe is me" attitude just makes my day more dismal than before I speak with them. I have tried to get friends that are all about self-pity or hurtful to me to think in a more positive light but realize the best thing I can do is to stay away from these people so that they don't stain my outlook on life.

  7. Melody C

    I have been in a family bully situation. Unfortunately, I had to cut off ties with this person and after several years, other family members did too. This person was hurtful and negative to everyone and had no intention of changing.
    They died about two years ago alone and bitter. We all loved her, but it was so incredibly difficult.

  8. steve stone

    I have a dad that has never been in my life and he tries to come around every now and then. in some cases it is better to cut ties.

  9. Terry

    I found being around my Mother in Law was very hard and uncomfortable. I get a long with everyone and she seemed to have a real problem with me, and it hurt. It had nothing to do with her son, my husband, it was just me. Years ago I wrote her a letter expressing my feelings, which made me feel like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. She seemed better after this, but never said anything about the letter or my feelings. She past away years ago. I have been married to my best friend for 30 years and thankfully I didn't let her come between us.

  10. Amber S.

    I've had to cut off contact with my aunt and one of my brothers. I just couldn't deal with the snide comments (aunt) and the horrid things my brothers called me and said about me (because I couldn't give him money). Every now and then I feel guilty. I wish things were different.

  11. Janackeh

    That is absolutely correct sometimes you do have to cut contact even if just for a season. You teach people how to treat you and even family members don't know their boundaries at times.


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