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5 Ways to Cope with Family Bullies

Frustrated Woman

“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor Frankl

Bullies are everywhere. One of the most insidious and destructive forms of bullying is family bullying, because it’s often done in the name of love.

As someone who was bullied by family members for more years than I care to count, I spent a lot of time learning that most of the bullying going on was not about me or my failings—it was more about what other people needed to unload.

Family bullies often pretend to (or believe they can) help by offering criticism. But a majority of the criticism is usually designed to make the bully feel better rather than to help the victim.

In my family, bullying was the way my parents got rid of their feelings. After years of paying close attention to what was going on under the surface, I finally realized that the more emotions my parents were trying to deny in themselves, the more they put me down.

I also learned that there are ways to minimize the effects of relating to dysfunctional family members, and I’d like to share them with you.

1. Plan your responses ahead of time.

If you know what kinds of comments push your buttons, prepare responses ahead of time that allow you to hold on to your self-esteem.

For instance, if someone always comments on your parenting style, you can say, “I parent my kids according to my own values. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but that’s what I will continue to do.”

Use “I” messages rather than “you” messages, which means saying “I think” or “I feel” rather than “You always” or “You shouldn’t.” “I” messages keep the focus on what you’re trying to communicate, and are less likely to instigate an argument.

Practice your responses several times when you’re alone so they become automatic. When you’re in the midst of a heated situation, sometimes it’s hard to come up with a response that’s not habitual, so if you practice beforehand, standing up for yourself will begin to become a positive habit.

2. Stand up to the bully without hostility.

One tactic that often works to defuse criticism is to take a strong stance, look the person right in the eye, pause for a moment, and then say, “Excuse me?”

With this phrase, you’re letting the person know that you’re aware they’re putting you down or dumping on you, and you’re not going to take it. But the beauty of this phrase is that it’s not hostile; you’re not adding fuel to the fire or throwing your anger back at the other person.

You do need to take a strong stance, however, maintain eye contact, and say the words very clearly and distinctly. Sometimes this statement will stop the criticizer in his tracks as he steps back in his mind and hears what he actually said.

3. Remove yourself from the situation.

If you find yourself getting sucked into what the person says, take a break and go somewhere private. I used to go in the bathroom and scream silently, shake my hands, and shake my head. It helped to let the tension out of my body. Remind yourself that you don’t have to get caught up in the drama.

It can take some practice over time to remember to take a break, but when you step out of the situation over and over, you’re reminding yourself of your separateness and your awareness of the dysfunction, and validating your desire to stay out of the traps and become mentally healthier.

If you feel a need to leave the situation altogether, you do have the power to do that. People may get upset or yell or threaten you, but you’re not responsible for their feelings—you’re not responsible for calming them down, for solving their problems, or for ignoring your own needs in order to make them happy.

They’ll try to get you under their control again, but the more you pay attention to your own needs and act on them, the more respect you’ll develop for yourself.

4. Set boundaries.

Setting boundaries ahead of time can help you feel more in control of a situation. Tell everyone ahead of time that you can only stay for two hours at a family party, or that instead of cooking the holiday ham for the tenth year in a row, this time you’ll bring a salad.

You’ll need to be prepared for a backlash of “No! You can’t change! We liked you better when you let us control you!” But each time you stick to your guns, you’ll be growing stronger. Pay attention to your own needs and desires—they’re absolutely just as important as anyone else’s.

5. When you leave, leave it all behind you.

When you’ve just left a difficult situation, instead of rolling it around and around in your mind, set yourself a mental task of figuring out how to make it easier for yourself next time.

What would need to change? How could you respond in a way that helps you feel more centered and grounded? What kinds of boundaries could you set up before the next time you see them?

Ruminating over who said what and how awful it all felt for days afterward is a negative habit that reinforces old emotional patterns. Instead, remind yourself that the situation is over, and allow it to turn into a fading memory rather than constantly pulling it back into the front of your mind to relive over and over again.

People who are regularly criticized by others tend to be very critical of themselves, as well. Have compassion for yourself, and treat yourself with kindness. Most of us are actually doing a better job at everything than we think we are—no matter what anyone else believes or says.

Unhappy woman image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Katherine Mayfield

About Katherine Mayfield

Katherine Mayfield is the award-winning author of a memoir about recovering from emotional abuse in her family, The Box of Daughter: Healing the Authentic Self. She’s also written several books on dysfunctional families, including Stand Your Ground: How to Cope with a Dysfunctional Family and Recover from Trauma. She blogs on dysfunctional families on her website, www.TheBoxofDaughter.com. Twitter: @K_Mayfield

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  • Excellent points, all. I would also add that sometimes the boundary you need to set is not to have that person in your life at all, which most people are aghast to even hear as an option. The fact is, most of us who have had these sorts of relationships with family members are the ones who most often hear why it would be wrong to remove their toxicity from our lives. It takes a lot of unlearning, self-love, and strength, but the end result has, for me, been a deeper peace than I could imagine before I made some very difficult decisions about family members’ involvement in my life.

  • Sarah

    I agree. Sometimes complete detachment from the family member is the only option that rewards sanity and peace. I

  • Josephine

    I find what also works is when other people are around, I ask them to repeat their bullying remark in a way that isn’t defensive or aggressive. Something like “Sorry I didn’t hear you. What did you say?” And if they repeat it, I ask again. After the third time, they’re so aware that what they’ve just said is out of line that they become very self-conscious and will drop it. And I’ve found they’re less likely to do it again because they’ll feel the embarrassment of being called out on their behavior without being able to claim victimhood. Works like a charm.

  • Guest

    Earlier this year I did stand up to a bully with hostility which was wrong but after stuffing so much day after day, I exploded. Learned a big lesson in that. Last month my grandfather died. I had already stepped back from the family for my own sanity because of all the bullies. I was crushed and heart broken when I found out my grandpa passed because he was always my rock, even with our differences, he was the one person who went to bat for me when I needed someone most. He loved me and I loved him. He wasn’t just a grandpa, he was like a dad, the only one I truly ever had. Since his passing I have totally let go of my family, he was my last and only tie to them. I love what was said here,

    “If you feel a need to leave the situation altogether, you do have the
    power to do that. People may get upset or yell or threaten you, but
    you’re not responsible for their feelings—you’re not responsible for
    calming them down, for solving their problems, or for ignoring your own needs in order to make them happy.”

    I also love this,

    “People who are regularly criticized by others tend to be very critical
    of themselves, as well. Have compassion for yourself, and treat yourself
    with kindness. Most of us are actually doing a better job at everything
    than we think we are—no matter what anyone else believes or says.”
    So true and I soooo needed to hear this. Thank you! 🙂

  • NB

    Thank you for this article! I have had a very troubled relationship with my sister. I went through therapy to improve it because I yearn for that relationship, like in the movies, where the sisters are inseparable and best of friends. I never had that with my sister. In fact, she works towards hurting me and saying mean things that for 3 decades have really got me down. A reason my friend’s have always pointed out is that she is jealous, and honestly as a sister I would never be jealous of my siblings so I find it hard to believe that the hostility has been caused due to jealousy factor. My only solution to deal with her hostility has been to distant myself as much as possible to the point that sometimes months go by that we do not communicate. Of course, it’s hard to avoid family over the holidays, and with holiday season around the corner I always find anxiety building up inside of me. I have always tried to reflect on myself anytime she has said anything hostile or as referred to as “bullied” me, and thought it was perhaps something I had said or done that made her act that way. Reading your article makes me realize, that’s it her negativity that she is trying to channel it out on towards me. The fact is I still would love to know the reason WHY. Maybe, one day I will be able to resolve this…

  • Jules

    Love this and I plan to use it – thanks

  • Hi Katherine
    Great post and I loved all your points. The one about boundaries is really good. Ultimately, we can’t change people’s behavior, but we can set rules on how they need to be when they are around us IF they want to interact with us, and this might entail avoiding certain topics of conversation,etc.. I agree with Kirsten below that sometimes it is best not to interact with the person at all if the relationship is that harmful to us. This idea that we stick with family no matter what is a nice sentiment, but I am not a fan of absolutes, and sometimes, it is not the best approach depending on the people involved.

    In my own life, I have found the study of law of attraction to be helpful in my dealings with other people. While we can’t make people do anything differently, examining our own beliefs and feelings to see why we may be experiencing these negative situations with others, can be helpful in lining up with different ‘versions’ of people and reducing interactions naturally, such as happening to not be at the house at the same time as our sister,etc without any conscious planning of it.

    Great stuff!

  • Debbie Dubois

    I have had to distance myself from a sister who is both an alcoholic and someone who suffers from anxiety. While I feel compassion for her illnesses, I can no longer tolerate her nasty emails and comments and have chosen to limit the amount of contact I allow her to have with me. Unfortunately, she is not happy with these boundaries and every so often lashes out, but I now delete her emails before I respond as nastily to her. I don’t know what the holidays will bring with my family as this is new to all of us. But I refuse to act like one big happy family anymore after years of tolerating her behaviour to “keep the peace” for the sake of the family.

  • Rosemarie

    When I saw this, I clicked on the article right away. Glad to see attention given to bullying within the family. I feel almost embarrassed to admit it sometimes because the bullying is coming from people who love me. When they feel the need to control me (I’m the youngest), they do it, pushing all the buttons and poking holes in my boat. It has been a confusing issue for me because I find one sibling who is closest in age to me feels a huge need to control by eliciting a reaction from me on subjects she knows I’m sensitive about. I feel anger, but guilt for being angry at her. Other times I hear positive things, but when I grow or change too much, it makes them uncomfortable. I’m eager to use the points you mentioned. I can be loving AND protective of myself. I’ll never understand their world or why they do it. I can only work on myself.

  • Katherine Mayfield

    Good for you, Kirsten! Sometimes that is absolutely the only way to stay sane and keep your center. I totally support you.

  • Katherine Mayfield

    Excellent point. Thanks, Josephine! That can also help in future — the person may think twice before doing the same thing the next time.

  • Katherine Mayfield

    You are very welcome. And I’m so sorry for your loss. Perhaps you can find that “rock” inside of yourself….

  • Katherine Mayfield

    You’re welcome! One thing I’ve found that helps before the holidays is sending thoughts of peace ahead into that time, and imagining yourself feeling grounded and centered when you get there. You can also set a boundary on the time you’ll spend there — only 2 hours, or only an afternoon, etc. Good luck!

  • Katherine Mayfield

    I agree — it’s not worth your self-esteem and all the angst just to keep the peace. You could plan a number of ways to get away for a bit if you need to — like “I’m a little stiff, I think I’ll take a short walk,” etc. I also support you in deleting her emails and standing back when you need to.

  • Katherine Mayfield

    You’re right, Rosemarie — you can only work on yourself! Martha Beck once wrote about a form of love called “Spider Love,” which is essentially love mixed in with the controlling and bullying and draining. I wrote quite a bit about it in my memoir, The Box of Daughter.
    You deserve to do what YOU need to do!

  • Katherine Mayfield

    Hi, Kelli,
    These are great suggestions — thank you. I think we do have some effect on what appears in our lives, and using the law of attraction to influence your family experiences is a wonderful idea. Also, I’ve found it’s helpful to place white light around myself and the other person, both before we meet and while we’re together.

    I support you in keeping your distance when you need to. It can make all the difference.

  • Debrah Armstrong

    See my post, but I too have had to realise that we may never have a relationship again xxx

  • Dee

    To be fair, before I start my comment I understand that I have pretty strict behavior rules. My rules are: above all no lying, and don’t be hurtful towards people. You would be surprised how many people have problems with those two rules. I have also found that I am becoming more and more of an introvert. So read this keeping that in mind.

    I have a similar relationship with my sister, however I am the “negative” offender. In my situation…it is definitely not jealousy. I am not sure if things are the same as my situation but I will add my two bits, if only to give a possible different perspective. At no point in time am I suggesting you behave this way, this is just a different point of view in a different situation. Maybe food for thought, your point of view has definately been enlightening for me and I thank you for sharing it.

    What I am feeling is resentment, though not what you are thinking. Or better to say what I felt, because I actually do not contact her anymore, and she is much happier now and so am I. I am not, nor have I ever been, jealous of; her life, her chosen occupation, her living arrangements, her whatever. I wish her nothing but peace and harmony…and distance. I really do not want to live her life at all. I resent her not taking responsibility for her callous actions and words. She has said and done things that are…callous…borderline hateful. She does what she does, and says what she says without regard of the other persons feelings, or at least that is how I view it. In the past, I saw it as her not stopping to think about her actions, or take responsibility for her words, or even utter an apology. Many people labeled me jealous, and rather unpleasant names. I am far from jealous, and those names are far from accurate… well the names could be accurate 🙂 (I feel the are inaccurate). Again I wish her nothing but peace and harmony.

    Maybe if you looked at it from another angle, perspective, or somebody else’s shoes you might see what she is feeling. Friends are great, they are your friends for a reason, and true friends are loyal and might not see what your sister sees. OR she might just be UBER negative, and UBER jealous. “She is beautiful and talented – I hate that” – Alaska, Ru Paul’s Drag Race. But you will never know unless you investigate from another perspective. It appears you tried everything else.

    For what it is worth I hope you can work it out.

  • Dan R

    Thanks for this post!

    I definitely have troubled relationships with my mom and dad. It is almost hard to believe that family members, especially people who raise you can also try and sink you down as well. Anytime they feel the need to judge me or be critical they are not afraid to vocalize it. I feel upset but also ashamed for allowing myself to believe it. I think boundaries are so important, especially strong ones between family members. New boundaries provoke harsh responses, but I’m growing and that what matters.

  • Ryan Hackett

    Best thing to do, honestly, is get away from them. Everything else is emergency only.

  • Snowflake of the Month

    “I am not, nor have I ever been, jealous of; her life,”

    What bullshit, lady.

    Envy carries an extremely specific fragrance. You give it off in fumes and I’m not fooled. My sister’s much the same type of c-nt. It’s why you selected this commentator’s message, out of all others here, to respond challengingly to. You know what you are, how delicious her energy is to you, and what you’re up to. Deny it. I won’t back down. I feed off of fkfaces like you, frankly.

    Don’t like my being direct with you? Then come at me.

    LEAVE HER ALONE.

  • Snowflake of the Month

    “For what it is worth I hope you can work it out.”

    Ha ha ha.

    You absolute c-nt.

    Seriously. COME AT ME.

  • Cianna Johnson

    My grandmother is the family bully.

  • Douglas Gwinn

    I’ve been bullied by my older sister most if not all of my life and she hasn’t stopped yet. I began keeping a record of it about ten years ago and I was surprised at how many instances of abuse (incidents) there have been (more than 30 that I could recall). It got started early. When I was three years old, I was in the hospital for several weeks and almost died. My mother told me just two years ago that my sister (then age 5) had said at that time, “Isn’t it nice to not have Dougie around!” This was apparently not rebuked by my mother.
    When we had a Family Reunion to celebrate our parents 50th wedding anniversary 13 years ago, my sister really maximized opportunities to put me down. On the sixth and final night, she and my brother (unbeknownst to me and my wife) had planned a late evening video shoot interview (2nd such of the week) with our parents. It was a great idea, but they didn’t tell me about it. My wife and I went out earlier in the evening. When we came back, we saw that everyone (five people, my family) was in this particular cabin. So we tried to enter and join whatever it was. But my sister came from inside and met us at the door, blocking it, and said we could not enter because a shoot was in progress. That’s a lame reason because she was going to turn around and go back in herself. My wife had gotten to the door before me and she became so very upset that she cried for the next three hours. My sister blamed this crying on me (irrationally so). I was trying desperately to comfort my wife but she was inconsolable, hysterical. She couldn’t understand how her own sister-in-law could prevent her and me from entering a family event at a reunion. A couple of hours later, before my wife had recovered, my sister grabbed me by the belt on the back of my pants and dragged me out into the dark street. It was now 11 PM at night. My sister informed me that I am an abusive husband and that if I don’t shape up, my wife is going to leave me. Instead of arguing with her in the pitch black of that street (no street lights), I just hugged her and said “I love you.” She seemed surprised at this response. I think she wanted an argument, a fight. Unfortunately, she later erroneously interpreted this passive response as being my agreement with her that I was an abusive husband. Of course, there was never and never has been any evidence of abuse by me of my wife.
    In retrospect, I think my wife and I should have grabbed our stuff that evening, gotten in our car, and gone home. But that would have been an eight hour ride starting at almost midnight, when I was already exhausted, so that’s why we waited till morning and the reunion was finished.
    In the past 13 years, she has never apologized and never admitted any wrong-doing at the family reunion. She abused me again at our Dad’s memorial service five years ago.
    Her primary issue seems to be that she observes that I’m a happily married person and enjoying life and she doesn’t want me to succeed. She has never wanted me to succeed and I cannot remember any times in our childhood that she ever helped me with anything, only if she was ordered to by my Dad. Instead, she always wanted the attention of our parents’ friends. Like when I was MVP of the high school golf team (twice) she did not congratulate me, that’s just one example.
    Now, there will be a wedding of my brother’s son (our nephew) seven weeks from now and it’s only about 40 miles from our house. My wife (the ever-forgiving one) wants us to attend. Everyone will be there. Honestly? I don’t want to go. I don’t want yet another venue for my sister’s bullying. I’ve tried to forgive her time and again over the years but she cannot stop bullying me. I’ve told her several times now to leave us alone and have “no contact” but she just emailed me ten days ago to see if she could stay at our house around the wedding time. I wrote back and said, “no” and do not contact us any more.
    So, Katherine Mayfield, what’s your advice? Am I handling this as well as possible? Or do you have suggestions?
    – Douglas

  • Jeff

    This was so, so good. THANK YOU. Your simplicity and eloquence is beautiful, and it really helped me focus on solutions rather than reliving the experience. I’m bookmarking this page and coming back often to get a refresher.

  • Douglas Gwinn

    Katherine, if you are still out there, could you kindly respond to my post. Thanks, Douglas Gwinn

  • Katherine Mayfield

    Hi, Douglas,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I can’t really give advice, since I’m not a therapist, but I can say generally that the best thing for anyone to do is to take care of themselves, and step away to get some distance if possible when family entanglements become so overwhelming. I wish you comfort and peace.
    Katherine

  • Guest 10

    I hear you! It would be good if you could contact me?

  • Katkins

    I hate this response. Full of self-righteousness.
    My sister is like this- morally superior. No one will ever be good enough, she will always dictate and circle like a hawk, waiting to criticise. It’s claustrophobic.
    Your sister is an adult. You should be offering advice if and when she asks for it, not dictating. And if her choices are that bad, say your piece and step back, or signpost her to the right help. Don’t dehumsnised her with your apparent superiority. You sound like my sister, inflexible, legalistic and totally lacking in warmth.

  • Kat

    Douglas,

    I read your post and felt so sorry for what you are going through.

    Have you looked up the Gray Rock Method of dealing with such people?

  • Ak

    Loll idk why this mademelaugh

  • Robyn

    Thank you for such a great article. For years, I have been bullied by my mother. It started out as physical abuse when I was younger, but as I got older it was mental cruelty and literally sabotaging every relationship I had. It was out of pure spite and jealousy, and it took me years to finally come to terms that no matter how good of a person I am, how successful I am, she will never like me.
    It is so hard to realize that all these years were such a waste of time trying to love someone that I wanted as a real mom. I look at my friends, and they go to lunch and shopping and have “girl” time and they love being together. All my mother wants from me is to drive her around and take her shopping, but there is no comoradorie between us no matter how hard I try. Ever since my father died five years ago, it has gotten worse. Now she has my sister helping her manipulate and bully me too. One example would be, my father left me a car before he died so I would have no car payment so it eould be easier for me to pay for college. Not long after he passed away, my mother demanded his car back and told me that if I did not bring it back she would have me arrested! Her own daughter! I never asked for the car, it was a gift, and because it was from my dad it meant even more to me. I ended up giving the car back, and I forgave her for being so cruel. Many of my friends told me that they would never forgive someone so mean and vindictive, but my dad taught me to always be the better person.
    I could go on and on….it is never ending.
    There is so much animosity coming from her, it is difficult to even call her, but I do. This article points out some valid points and some great advice. I have even considered cutting all communication from my mother and my sister, but I don’t want to regret it later. I still have a lot to decide, but thank you!

  • Dee

    Interesting…. that is definitely thinking about the issue from another perspective than mine.

    Thank you for your comments. I will take them into consideration.

    My apologies for offending you.

  • Gabriela

    I found this post very helpful. I’m currently going through a situation in which I’m being bullied by a family member but I am bullying him too. I am taking responsibility for my side of things, however since we’re living under the same roof and I cannot be responsible for his actions, I am having trouble seeing how I can remove myself from the situation. At the moment, I cannot find a place of my own, so I’m stuck here for a couple of months. What do you suggest I do? What are some ways I can deal with the situation without hurting myself or others in the process? Thanks in advance.

  • houndmother

    Thank you, I need to read this to deal with my stepmother. The evil stepmother. I look forward to the day I can walk away from her.

  • Zebra

    What about when the bully has children? I am trying to advise and help my nieces, whose mother (my sister) verbally abuses them and tells them that they’re the worst thing that ever happened to her. Their mother is crushing their self-esteem. I have no idea how help them other then hug them and tell them that they’re awesome.

  • Pinky

    Really love this! Thank you! X 🙂

  • Bullyinglte

    As a bullying information activist, it is always hard to remember that bullying doesn’t just happen at school or work. I heard a story once where a boy’s dad made him fight his brothers and cousins while his dad and uncles watched. Whoever one from that group had to fight one of the adults. It seemed so unbelievable to me, until I heard stories that were even worse. Familial bullying can be more harmful, because these are the people you depend on to love you. Also, those that are bullied at home are much more likely to be the bully at school and in life. So, it’s a very important topic you are talking about. Thanks.

  • FumingSalmon

    An excellent article which helped me put a name to what I have been experiencing for years now. Few of my family members whever i meet them i feel i am being ragged, as if my each and every word and action is being watched and judged. My response to this was to silent myself or distance myself from them which created another uproar al together that i was being disrespectful. I try almost all the points you have mentioned in the post and yes they help. I need to implement the “Excuse me” point(would love to see that look on their face.

  • Kate

    Good post with actionable advice. Thank you

  • Meri Sundar

    I grew up in a family that was always critical of me,and even now they always find something wrong.The only way I could stop it is recently cutting them off of my life.But that hurts me too.How do I stop the hurt? Any advice,would be a big help.Thanks.

  • Ellie

    I’m in a relationship with a man who is part of a large family. I’m far away from my own family so was initially excited to be becoming part of this new family. But get togethers are tense to say the least. There is a lot of unspoken and old hurt within the members and this can come out in various ways when they are together. The last one was the worse yet, and I had to quietly move to another room as I felt so uncomfortable. There’s probably not much I can do in these situations as an outsider, but not attend them if I can avoid going. However, after reading this I think my partner is one of the bullies in his family! I don’t know how to raise this with him. He has a good heart, and I’m confused and sad that this isn’t shown when he’s with his family. Should I discuss it with him? And if so, how?

  • Lisa Foster

    I agree 100%. My husband and I have felt so much peace in our lives after blocking all communication from two very negative people in our family. There’s no reason to put up with negative or bullying people just because you are related, life’s too short.

  • Rstar

    Douglas,
    I have a solution for you. I learned from life coaching and MBA classes about better decision making: there is 3 ways to go about a tough conflict situation 1. Wrong way 2. Correct way and 3. the compromise way. The compromise here is to keep your sanity but still somehow participate in the wedding happiness. Invite your nephew and fiance at your home for dinner few weeks before the wedding. If they come, make friends with his wife, welcome her to the family, bond with the nephew, politely tell him you cannot make the wedding (job, surgery make up anything) but want to show them love without ever mentioning your brothers and sisters behavior. Invite them again over the summer too. If they don’t come to your home, you know your answer that you should not have to sit at a wedding where you don’t feel comfortable nor welcome. Good luck to you, my sister is the same way to me, but I maintain my relationships by going around her, and if I sense someone brainwashing of my supporters where they are no longer my well wishers, I no longer spend time with them such as your bro, you sis, your mom, keep your distance politely.

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    “People who are regularly criticized by others tend to be very critical of themselves, as well. Have compassion for yourself, and treat yourself with kindness. Most of us are actually doing a better job at everything than we think we are—no matter what anyone else believes or says.” THANK YOU for that REMINDER & sharing some great insights; this was quite helpful…:-)

  • Sarah

    true, but the hard thing to do is when they are close, in relationship, of course. like mom and sister.. and nobody else with you for some reason..

    This Article is very helpful to me. Thanks!

  • Anony One

    YES! I have begun to stand my ground as well. Now, though, I am much more subtle in my approach. Rather than ‘taking the bait’ and unloading, I am better at ASKING 😉 A pause, then a simple, “What do you mean?” has proven extremely effective. “Why do you think that is so?” “Why do you FEEL I do that?”

    Getting also that most of the times my most toxic family members are just angry people looking for something to allow them to ‘unload’. Their reactions are too much over too little. In no way does that excuse their behaviors, but it does allow me to have a better and more healthy perspective of why I no longer *have to* react. I can, instead, as a more healthy individual, choose to respond.

    After my contentious divorce, I actually had to tell my family that they had to put aside their thoughts and feelings about me aside for my daughter’s sake. It was my crisis, loosing access to my daughter, home, and shared assets. Yet they were the ones saying the worst things about me. I ended up having to move in with my mother after and during all of this. I learned boundaries very quickly as well as games my family have all agreed to play. All communications go through my mom who everyone accepts has difficulties in relaying information accurately and without creativity. No one asks me anything about my life and depends upon her for all the details of my life. Did the part where I said that everyone agrees that my Mom is creative in relaying details?

    Through all of this, I have been learning more and more about my-Self and those around me, what is of Me and what is of Them. I also get that they are really doing the very very best with what they have. THAT is the part that stings still. They really are doing the best they can and have no concept yet that their best is limited.

    When I get my daughter and see what SHE is exposed to by my continued living around my mom and her ways, I used to relive my own young life. I get my-self better seeing how my Mom is, how she is with my young niece and nephew, and how she old-school parents my daughter. When my daughter asks why she yells so much, I answer her. Honestly and as truthfully as I can without making my mom look bad to a little girl who thinks the world of her but also can be scared to the bone of her.

    Recently, my brother who has been helping me by having me on his cell phone bill, unloaded decades of anger upon me after a miscommunication. One of many things he fired to me via text was something about how I have no relationship worth speaking of with any members of our family. I panicked for a moment…Ok, SEVERAL, lol. Then, I got my clarity back. I told him in no uncertain terms that I did not care what he thought or felt about me. I get now that I could have worded that better, and also find some peace in communicating to him that what he thinks and feels about me as a person has no more power.

    I also have had to explain to my mom that I would not be going on a decades long traditional family vacation. I explained to her that it was not logical for me to agree to spend a week in tight quarters with people who fundamentally did not like me especially when there were untold numbers of people in my life that do not share their view of me. I also told her that everything that she and the rest of the family thought and felt about me was absolutely true. All of it. Everything. And, that I was done fighting it. They could have whatever perspective they wanted of me from now on. It hurt feeling as if I ‘had’ to say it, but has helped me in getting that I am free from ‘having’ to fight.

  • Hannah

    I’m a minor and my mother is often snarky, she bullies me. It’s not unusual for me to hide in my room and cry more than daily. She doesn’t bully my sisters, only me. Perhaps because I’m the oldest, and I used to voice whenever I disagreed with her, but am trying to stop. I don’t have friends or a trusted adult. I’m homeschooled and it will be at least another year before I can go to public. What do you suggest I do?

  • Hannah

    I forgot to mention–she hated her mother growing up and is now obese. I don’t hate my mother, but I can’t say I love her either (ouch) and I fine myself eating after her jabs sometimes. I can see it developing into a problem in the future.

  • Rooboo2015

    Perfect timing – i’m so grateful for your sharing this helpful perspective. Thank you,

  • penny

    my sister always uses something i realy want form her as a defence can someone help me i always end up crying ps when i posted this i was crying cus of her

  • Great points. I was thinking of writing something along these lines myself.

    They say you can pick your friends but not you family and this is true. I draw the line with bullies who are not family but in the circle called close family friends. When they act up, you set boundaries but if they do it again, you got to cut these toxic connections out of your life. It’s tough to do when they are intertwined with family but it will ensure a more stress and hassle free life.

  • On

    In my situation it’s my mom and sister and I that don’t get along. They gang up on me and say really mean hateful things. Last night we ended up on full on blows and my mom and sister treated me like some sort of criminal and pinned me down like I was attacking them. The only reason they stopped was because my dad got involved and pulled them off of me. I am not sure how to handle this situation. The only reason I haven’t permently left my home is because I love my dad and brother and all my animals that I have. So I’m not sure what to do. Any adivce? I relize that I can be a hot head but I can’t just change and I don’t know how they expect me to handle an upsetting situation. They can’t except me for my faults and the bad times always override the good. They blam for for mistakes I made over 10 yrs ago. when I ran off last night no one even bothered to come look for me or leave a house light on. I’m 19 so should I just leave and forget them? Or should I stay for the things I care about?

  • UnknownPerson

    My brother bullies me. It is terrible. My parents don’t believe me and he used to hit, slap, punch, and all that kind of stuff to me. Now he finds every little thing wrong about me (or something he makes me believe is wrong about me) and I can’t take it. It feels like my parents have him as their favorite because of this. I don’t know what to do. Man, I took quite a few breaks while writing this because I was trying not to cry but I did. Ha ha.

  • Meri Sundar

    .I certainly can relate to this topic as I too have a very critical family.I thought I was the only one with messed up family,but glad to see I am
    not alone.It feels good in a way knowing that you are not alone.Every one in my family always expected things from me,but no one ever offered anything in return.No one ever thought that I too needed support/help as we all do.There was always some excuse or blame for not offering me any support,not even 2 kind words.After years of running after them to get their approval I got tired and stopped my contacts with them.But am not sure if I feel happy about this either.But what are the choices:take their verbal abuse,blaming me for everything that happens?Or stop contacts?Because with my family there is no middle ground.

  • jdonna

    Hi there…. I am going through something similar with my sister. What I didn’t realize throughout my younger years, is my sister was never on my side although she appeared to be to me. My other sister passed away and my mother passed away. Do you want to see what brings out greed in a family? My sister has done nothing short of try to take everything away from me and other siblings because “she thought she deserved it.” Get over yourself. At this point, I literally am ashamed to call my sister, my sister. She talks about everyone behind their backs. Her mother-in-law helped bring up her two girls by babysitting them all the time, but all she does is trash her mother-in-law and then she goes to her house during the Holidays and acts like she adores her. She trashes her husband’s family. She thought she deserved her father-in-laws house when he passed away because her husband did a lot for him. She trashed her brother-in-law. I’ve never seen anything like it. I am uncomfortable around her and can not attend family gatherings; and, it pains me not to; but, it’s healthier for me to stay away than to go into a situation where I have to subject myself to her knowing what a trouble maker she is. She’s put a strain on all my family ties by talking crap behind my back. Know what? When my sister didn’t have money to buy clothes, I always bought her clothes; and, never EVER threw it in her face. Her girls were terrible to my sister that passed away; yet when she died they were there to take what they could. She has trashed my brother in the past to me, and he doesn’t know any different. She is arrogant; selfish and her girls are becoming just like her. I don’t know what happened in her life that made her change, or maybe she was always this way and I just never saw it and as I got older I became more aware. Today I was supposed to attend my Aunt’s 80th birthday party. I found out she’d contacted my sister’s husband that passed away to attend. Really? She has trashed him and never said anything good about the man but she calls him to attend a birthday party for an our Aunt? Not his Aunt? Three months after my sister died, we went to their house. He was with another woman, he’d met on Match. Are you kidding me? I always gave what I could during the Holidays; it was never good enough. I do not know how to get past it all. I don’t do much anymore because emotionally I can’t handle it – I stay to myself.

  • Lanette

    Sounds great, but not always possible. I am forced to live with an abusive relative because I can’t afford to live alone. I would leave the situation in a minute if I could. Of retirement age, unable to work, and SS doesn’t even cover the cost of renting a room.

  • Arte

    But what would I do if the bully is both my mother and sister? Just fifteen minutes ago we were all calmly watching a movie and then somehow there was a fight and it was all my fault, according to them? It’s difficult trying to swallow that the person whom I looked up to the most and my own mother hurt me so much with just words… I can’t afford to move out and the usual mediator, my father, is out of state to see my grandmother…

  • Arte

    I’m… not sure why I ever looked up to my sister now that I think about it. I can clearly remember a time when she attempted to strangle me after she got mad at me and I can even remember that she once decided that she wanted to see how flexible I was by contorting my body to painful shapes… I hate this feeling of realization… I just want it all to go away.

  • Sarahg

    I have a sister who bullies me I don’t know what to say or do

  • Lily

    NB, the same has happened with my younger sister. It’s been 20 years of toxic interactions. She has moved closer to us to be with the family. I now have a niece and brother who ignore me, and go out with her often. It’s as if she found the two family members closest to me and started a smear campaign. The greatest comfort I have is to realize that her actions come from a place of insecurity and I now have compassion for her pain. It has taken me decades of self doubt and pain to arrive at this place. It also helps that her twin sees her manipulative behaviors and offers such support and love. Know that our little sisters are sometimes misguided and embrace yourself with the Divine love that you deserve.

  • emily

    This is what i have had to do too. Ive kept very calm and not indulged into nasty confrontations or telephone calls. I actually did this by message. Some people will never see there own wrongs and try breaking down the one they feel is weak or two sensitive. There whole life is hidden behide a cloud of lies and for once i have found the courage to say ive had enough. Then they became so deep and in depth of there own twisted versions of events. Its all sounded so crazy. Im just so glad i can now live a healthy happy life without so many jealous people in my life..ive always had a motto of forgive and move on but i cant do that anymore its not healthy for me and ive found the courage to step out of what i feel was a negative family.

  • David

    This article would have been good, if it was more clearly defined. It came across vague and pragmatic, and so subjective that it’s hard to get any logical coherence out of it. For example What if someone’s parental style needs critical discussion? But then this article then gives said person a pass or even permission to continue on with bad parenting style. It would seem this article is playing right into the hand of victim mentalities. But if more clear and coherent It wouldn’t run into philosophical violations

  • LunaMoona

    I had to do this too, to try to limit the damage the bully in my family is doing to me personally. The last time she did something I had a scary physical reaction, I was so upset by what she had said and done that it felt like something actually popped or snapped in my brain, in my forehead area and I had such severe pains in my heart in the months that followed that my doctor sent me for a chest x-ray. Broken hearts don’t show up on x-rays.
    It hurts not to be part of the rest of my family, I love and miss them and I don’t think I’m coping very well with it but I’m also disappointed in them for turning a blind eye to the bullying and letting it go on unchecked for so long even when she was so physically violent towards me. I sometimes think they might even believe what the bully is saying, lying, about me. She is a frighteningly cunning manipulator and has been since she was a child.
    I often find myself tortured by these thoughts when I’m alone at night or first thing in the morning. It makes me feel so worthless that they wouldn’t believe or even listen to me when I tried to tell them about what’s happening.
    I haven’t been back to the family home in years, they barely keep in touch with me but not in a mean way, they’re just occupied with their own lives.
    It’s sad but I agree that there comes a time when you have to set a boundary for your own health and wellbeing even it means a really tough sacrifice like cuddling little nieces and nephews, watching them grow up and knowing my brothers better. Tears flowing too much, need to be stronger

  • LunaMoona

    Oh! Lily this is what’s happening to me too. I’m really sorry that you’re suffering this same situation but your words help me with mine. Infinite love xx

  • Marina

    Are you being mean

  • fillings

    i am coping with bullying.. and i’ve just realized that recently because ive never really thought about it… it’s different from what they teach you in school. cyber bullying isn’t an issue for me, it’s the easiest to deal with. on the other hand i, don’t bully other people.. i don’t see why i should. what im dealing with is family bullying, fortunately my bully is my twin sister.. she’s two minutes younger than me. always been stronger bigger and etc. she wasn’t always like this, but i think she just has very very short temper and basically will inflict harm on you if she doesn’t like you… and etc. me and my sister were born extremely violent, we got it from our dad. my parents are divorced by the way. sometimes i don’t know what i should do because i don’t think its completely her fault, i don’t think she’s a bad person but maybe she should go to therapy or something. most physically and verbally abuses me but the verbal part doesn’t bother me at all.. whenever she hits me it feels like the blood ran out cold and the meat inside my arm twisting, i cant really explain how it feels but maybe it’s because im weak. i was born with heart issues and im anemic. to avoid her beatings most of the time i stay quiet and comply to her demands. people close to me cant really hurt me with criticism but it just makes me mad. i don’t think i can avoid being bullied by her, either to wait for me to move out of the house or her changing her mindset or something. i don’t think that searching up how to deal with family bullying helps at all. i get really stressed out, i can tell that she holds her self back from hitting me most of the time but other than that she destroys my possessions… i always have some attachment to them so its hard to deal with. don’t ask about my parents and why they won’t help me or anything like that.. this is between me and my sister my mom isn’t a bad parent if i wanted something done or help then i would ask for it. other than that i understand my sister like she’s another version of me, but i cant really do anything about it. it only takes us about 15-45 mins to resolve a fight.. after getting hit by her she usually always tells me that she’s sorry after an hour or two and i always forgive her because i know she is. other than that our relationship is basically perfect i guess… she beats me up almost everyday, im not saying im fine with it but i don’t know what to do.

  • Sooiris

    Excellent tips and info. My mother jyst passed away and it seems each member of my family have agreviating reactions to what have and have had happened and the aftermath specially financially. Its our time to mourne for my loving mom but we clash everytime and every chance we get together. To the point of disowning each and everyone, digging past issues, irrelevant issues, cat fight, cutting support for my father, making emotional decisions over important things etc etc. It affects us deep inside uknowingly, in silence we buried our emotions, our feeling of needing each other than fighting. It continues nobody listens they hear what they want to hear. But it is so mentally draining everyday I am going thru this chaotic thoughts this toxic thoughts, until I can no longer feel the love of a family, I pull myself out, it feels selfish but I feel lighter, I feel like I dont need to give love and understand them. I felt sympathy for myself and for my mom, realizing life is too short after her passing, so easy to waste the life that my mom has given and cared for me. I realize then I have to pull myself out, I have to be responsible for my self now, that I have to live my life differently now with or without them, that I can create a life that is worth to live and not waste life with people who do not want to help themeselves, who keeps digging down to thay craziness. That I am not just a family member, that I am responsible for myself, I can create a world with joy and happiness. Thats the way to live, coz I am not dead yet. I can still make choices. I can make a life, choose to be happy. So that when the time comes I will be able to tell to my mom thank you I have lived well, thank you for caring for me I have lived my life well.

    It is so true that people, friends or family reacted on how they are, its not about me, its about them when they react. I know now how to be more responsible for myself and how I live my life. Such a joy of freedom to know this. And when my family will realize this coz this is something that they themeselves has to break through this negative emotions. So i will just wait for the time that they would realize we are family we need each other. If it wont happen, its fine thats their choice but for the meantime i wont lose hope.

  • JADE BASSON

    I am the second youngest of seven siblings. I have always been a very outgoing, bubbly person. I have an older sister and five other brothers. From the time I can recall, I have always been ganged up on. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, I was excluded. My sister enjoyed the attention she got from the rest of the brothers when they did this. If she picked a fight and I reacted to it, I was always the person who had started the fight and they sided with her. I was told not so long ago by my mother that my siblings do not see eye to eye with me because they can recall my father spoiling me until age 1, I do not recall it, she then added but after that he had a guts full of you and you were cheeky so you got the belt like the rest but the fact remains until a year old you got spoilt. Over the years nothing has changed. My parents are now both deceased. Now the sister in laws and brother in law has joined in and the nieces and nephews. I have always done everything in my power to maintain contact with them all, sent them cards on their special day, asked after them, I rarely get a reply. For the last twenty something years I lived in another town and yet they always find an excuse not to see me. On the odd time I have seen them my sister without any just cause will do all she can to raise a laugh by trying to humiliate me or question what I have said trying to make me out a liar and an idiot. I am a very straight forward person but not rude and I am very understanding and kind by nature. She is married, has never had children and has a husband who treats her well. I married and ended up with an abusive husband. I was a single mother of two sons from ages two and six. I had no support system and raised them alone in a strange town I was brought to by my ex husband and I was left there, they have turned out well my sons. Recently we hit a bit of a down fall and I was forced to move back to my old home town to get better employment. They stood by as wealthy as they all are and watched us struggle. We managed to get on our feet and then I asked if anyone of them would like to meet up. The excuse as to why non of them could ever see me was because I lived too far away even though each year I saved for a plane ticket to come up and see them, but then they were also too busy and I ended up seeing only my one aunt who is very controlling as well, although she can be kind. Then I would note on their facebook pages that in fact they had all been together and myself and my sons were excluded. I asked this year if we all getting together for Christmas as I know they did last year, I was met with abuse by my sister who stated I am selfish for asking, as everyone is tired and doing their own thing this year, I have found out via the aunt that this is not the case, they planned apparently ages ago to all go to my one brother. I have been here with my sons for nearly a year now. My one brother is a Pastor and each year their church holds an event and all family members are invited. I was excluded as were my sons and when I said I believe my aunt received an invite I was told the invite only came via my brother to her because another pastor had issued the invites and she had not been invited as she was not on their mailing system and neither was I, but she had got to hear of the event, my question then why not just asked myself and my sons then to the event if my brother is allowed to go ahead and invite an aunt. Its very hurtful, as after all these years myself and my sons know no person in this town anymore except family members, we had a rough year and we were so looking forward to spending time with family members. My sister has taken since I lived here to mail me each day and ask about what we doing but when I did see her at a relatives memorial recently, it was like I was a stranger, she ignored me totally and sat with the rest of them who did the same. No matter how much we tried to join in, we were ignored. Many people have said it would be best to cut all ties with them as they have made it obvious they want nothing to do with myself and my sons, who are well mannered children and have achieved in spite of coming out a single parent home. I did not think that i would end up with siblings like this and it hurts, but it hurts more to be excluded………………….

  • JADE BASSON

    I agree with what you have stated, perhaps it would be best to cut all ties with my siblings and relatives. I have given them no reason to dislike me but one cannot force people to love you. My eldest son has said that if I cannot take a hint that these people clearly want nothing to do with us, even though we fun to be with, well presented, well mannerd and kind, its best to stop hurting and walk away. I have recently started instead of sending them emails all of the time asking how they are, only sending if they send one, and with my sister who suddenly since moving back to my old home town wants to know all my moves but who I never see, I have started to give her no more info even if she asks………….. I can avoid reality but I can never avoid the consequences of avoiding the reality. They all are bullies and have been emotionally bullying me for years, its sad as I have tried so hard to get past it and kept on trying and they have continued to exclude me and now the in laws have joined in as well, its tough because they all family to me