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  • relationships

    Written by DiveThru Team

    Reviewed by Amanda Kobly M.Ed., Registered Provisional Psychologist

    How to Deal With Family Members That Disrespect You

    Published Jul 13th, 2022 & updated on Jul 13th, 2022

    Unfortunately, most people can relate to having that family member. You know, the one you avoid at family gatherings because pretty much every conversation leaves you fuming or fighting back tears. Maybe they’re dishonest, controlling, have problematic beliefs, or are just plain old rude. It’s hard to know exactly how to deal with family members that disrespect you, because it’s not something that should happen in an ideal world. 

    Dealing with conflict of any kind is tough, and being related to someone doesn’t make it any easier. So while there’s no one-size fits all way to handle toxic relatives, we do have some tips to help you get through those conversations. Let’s dive in!

    1. Keep Your Distance  

    Just because you’re at the same family gathering or event, doesn’t mean you have to sit and chat with them. And if you do find yourself in a conversation with someone you’d rather avoid, politely excuse yourself as soon as you want to. There’s no rule for how long you have to talk to someone! 

    If the family gathering is one where it’d be impossible to avoid them, remember you’re under no obligation to attend if it’s going to have a negative effect on your mental health. 

    And for those times you run into each other at the grocery store, don’t feel like you have to stand and chat in the cereal aisle. You might just be heading home to watch Netflix with your dog, but they don’t know that… so you can always excuse yourself because you have somewhere to be. 

    Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to avoid or cut short interactions with toxic relatives.

    2. Be Direct 

    When dealing with disrespectful family members, it’s best to be direct (if you’re comfortable and safe doing so). While awkwardly laughing off a comment or other passive-aggressive tactics can send the message that someone’s words or actions are unwanted, being direct is a clear way to communicate your feelings. 

    Using “I” statements centers your comments on your own feelings instead of attacking them. Even if you really want to fire back at a rude comment with your own attack, that’s only going to escalate things

    “I feel disrespected when you make jokes about _____.” 

    People don’t always express their emotions in healthy ways. Sometimes that relative who makes snarky comments is trying to bond with you, and isn’t sure how to communicate with you. Sometimes. Friendly banter, like boxing, is a two-party consent kind of thing; if one person didn’t consent to take part, the other person is doing something wrong! 

    Be direct and tell them you don’t appreciate their comments. By making it clear that targeted jokes aren’t how you want to bond, you can pave the way for more honest and vulnerable communication in the future. If there was no ill intent on their part, they should be able to understand without getting defensive. 

    On the other hand, if the disrespect isn’t coming from failed attempts to bond, and is just someone being an asshole—then being direct makes it clear that you do not appreciate their comments and leaves no space for misinterpretation. Insults or other personal attacks aren’t “just a joke,” and you are totally valid in being upset by them, regardless of what your disrespectful relative says. 

    3. Keep Your Emotions in Check 

    If someone is being insulting or preaching problematic beliefs, change the subject calmly without taking the bait. 

    “Glad to hear you’re keeping up on the news, Jim. Hey Sasha, I saw you just went hiking! How was it?” 

    It’s totally understandable if part of you wants to fire off an angry stream of filthy words then storm off. But that’s not going to help diffuse the situation. Keeping your emotions in check doesn’t mean you’re not sending a strong message, though. Think back to your teenage years—being yelled at by your parents was nothing compared to a calm “I’m disappointed in you.” 

    Not taking disrespectful comments personally goes a long way toward keeping your emotions in check. Okay, yeah, we know that’s waaaaaaay easier said than done… but think of it this way. Their words and actions say a lot more about the quality of their character than they do about yours. 

    4. Sobriety 

    If the family member dishing out the disrespectful behaviours is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, it can cause conflicting emotions. You’re still angry and hurt, but you also know there’s a reason for their aggression. Intoxication is not an excuse for bad behaviour; people are still responsible for their actions under the influence. However, if it’s a regular occurrence, it can be a sign of a substance use disorder

    There are a couple indirect ways to handle an addiction in the family. Planning dry events removes the accelerant for the problematic behaviours from the equation. It’s not treating the underlying cause, but it does reduce the chance of problematic behaviours. At events where people are consuming substances, staying sober yourself can help prevent conflicts from escalating. 

    If you are comfortable with taking more direct actions, you could work with other family members who are aware of the addiction to have an intervention. Prepare ahead of time by writing out your feelings and concerns for their well-being. Depending on the kind of behaviour, record a video of the person while they are under the influence. Even if the person knows they have a problem on some level, it can be jarring to actually see it. 

    Facing the consequences of addiction is hard for everyone involved. Give yourself space to process your emotions. 

    5. Set and Enforce Boundaries 

    Setting boundaries isn’t about telling someone else how to act. You can only control your actions, so setting a boundary is essentially telling someone what the consequence of their actions will be. Remember earlier, how we talked about being direct? That’s key when it comes to setting boundaries. 

    “I feel upset when you joke about my appearance. If you continue to make comments about my body then I am going to leave.” 

    By setting a boundary like that, you’re telling them how you feel about the situation and what the consequence is for future comments. 

    Just as important as setting a clear boundary is keeping it. That means being thoughtful about consequences, because you have to be willing and able to enforce them. 

    6. It’s Not Your Responsibility to “Fix” Them

    Not everybody has the same beliefs, and that’s okay. Agreeing to disagree with someone else’s opinion is totally fine. If a relative has a different favourite restaurant, cool! Go to one place this time and the other next time. No big deal!

    BUT there are certain things that just aren’t opinions. If your relative is making xenophobic jokes, sharing conspiracy theories about the COVID vaccine, or being abusive—that is not a difference of opinion. Do your best in the moment but pls remember it’s not your responsibility to fix them.

    7. Cut Ties   

    At a certain point, all you can do is enforce your boundaries. It sucks, because you never want to feel like you need to choose between a family member and your own mental health. But family is a privilege, not a right. Just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean there’s no consequences for disrespectful behaviour. 

    Cutting ties with a toxic person isn’t anything to feel guilty about (even though we know it’s hard—more on that in the next section). It’s the toxic person who ought to feel ashamed of their actions, even if they clearly don’t. We’re not saying that people can’t grow or don’t deserve second chances. BUT they need to show receipts to earn your trust back.  

    If you want to maintain relationships with other relatives in the same extended family, tell them you’re not interested in attending any events with that person. Depending on how overtly toxic/ disrespectful the person is, your other relatives may or may not be aware of the situation. Once again, setting a clear boundary is important. Make it clear that this is not up for debate to avoid anyone trying to guilt you into changing your mind. There may be hard feelings, but you can’t control how others will react to your boundaries. Your mental health deserves to be prioritized. 

    8. Give Yourself Permission to Grieve 

    It’s important to give yourself space to grieve the relationship. Even if you don’t choose to formally cut ties with them, you will feel a sense of loss. Maybe it wasn’t always like this, and you’re grieving the person your relative used to be. Or maybe it has always been like this, and you’re grieving the innocence and belonging that you never felt. 

    Talking through your emotions with a loved one or therapist can help. Some therapists specialize in grief or family issues, so keep an eye for those specializations when looking

    Figuring out how to deal with family members that disrespect you is hard work, but you deserve love and respect. Just because you’re related to someone does not mean that there are no consequences for toxic behaviour. Remember, family is a privilege, not a right.

     

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