There is a way to deal with mean family members. It may involve treating them like other people instead of family, which can help you disconnect from wanting to impress them or be loved by them.
This episode helps to prepare you to deal with the not-so-friendly relatives you may have no choice but do deal with.
(The following podcast transcript has been modified for easier readability and to benefit the Deaf and hard of hearing)
What I want to talk about today has to do with relatives, but other people can do this too: friends, family, romantic partners, spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, all of these people can show up in a way that makes it difficult to… function, in a way that makes us feel comfortable.
When somebody shows up in your life and they do or say something that makes you uncomfortable or hurts your feelings, makes you think less of yourself, and these people that are in your life that are like this, that make life harder. What do you do when they make life harder?
What do you do when they say the thing that they are going to say that you can probably predict, you can probably predict their behavior, you can probably predict when they’re going to be argumentative or resistant, or just mean. They just might be mean to you. They may not even know they’re being mean, or they do and they don’t care.
Those are the careless, selfish people I’ve talked about on other episodes. In fact, if you go to theoverwhelmedbrain.com, you just type in the word selfish. You’ll find probably quite a few references, but there are people in our lives that are just difficult to be around. This stems from an email that I got just recently, it’s pretty timely, with a person who is having difficulty with her father’s she moved far away from her parents because her father was physically abusive when she was younger and then emotionally and verbally abusive, when she was older, as an adult. She just couldn’t handle it anymore. She wanted to get away because she doesn’t want to deal with that wants to live her life.
This is what I want to emphasize today is that when you are no longer someone’s child, I mean, yes, you’re always your mom and your dad’s child in their eyes, but when you’re an adult, when you have moved on when you’re not living there anymore, and you have your own life, you don’t have that dependency anymore. You’re not their child. You’re an adult, you’re now living your life. You’re either at a job or raising a family or doing whatever you do as the adult that you are now because you’re not that child anymore. I think that’s important to remember when it comes to especially relatives that are difficult to deal with.
I have relatives that are difficult to deal with, like my stepfather when he shows up in my life. If he does anything that reminds me that I am not the full-grown adult that deserves respect and deserves at least some sense of kindness or even apathy. Even if he doesn’t like me, I would rather get apathy and respect than hurtful comments or behavior.
I would expect that from any adult in my life. It’s important to remember that you are an adult (unless you’re not. Most people that listen to this show are adults but if you’re not, when you are) it is vital to remember that you are now an individual, you are no longer the dependent child that you once were. This is most important when you are dealing with some sort of difficult parent or other difficult relatives because you deserve to be treated as another equal adult at that point.
Now I know there’s an argument to be made when a child has reached 16, 17. 18, 19, 20, 21… There’s an age where it seems that they’re still children. How they show up in the house, what their responsibilities are, are they taking responsibility for themselves? Are they making good decisions? Not all children do.
Of course, we are perceiving their decisions as not good. But then we think, Well, when I was that age, what decisions was I making then? That’s a good thought to have, that gives you some perspective and some sympathy and maybe even some empathy, of knowing how they feel. Maybe they feel rebellious because you’ve restricted them all their life. Or maybe they’re not rebellious, you’ve treated them wonderfully and they still want to do things that are against your values or you think that are bad for them. Yet, they’re gonna do it anyway. Even when they say they’re not doing it, they’re likely doing something that they don’t want to tell you about.
They don’t want to tell you about their first kiss. Or if they do, then you have a great relationship. But a lot of them don’t want to talk about sex with you. A lot of them don’t want to talk about all the experimenting they’re doing with drugs. A lot of them don’t want to talk about anything with the people in their life, again, unless you have a great relationship, and you have good communication between each other, but that’s what teenagers do.
When you’re a teenager, you’re doing all the things that you want to do because you think you should be able to do those things. You don’t want the restriction, you don’t want the oppression. You want to go out there and do what you want to do. So this is what kids do.
We have to remember that’s how some kids are. But there is a point when, yes, when they take responsibility for their own lives, and now they’re paying rent somewhere or a mortgage, they have bills, they have a job. They have maybe a relationship, they have their own life. At this point, it’s important to remember, if you’re a parent, that we now treat them as the adult they’ve chosen to be, or we’ve helped them become.
When they are out there doing their thing, we no longer have to impose restrictions on them. Again, if you’re a parent. If you’re not, this is just something to remember that when kids grow up to be adults, some of them don’t want to be part of the family structure, (at least the way it was) that you used to have. Some of them just want to grow up and be adults. Some of them want to hang out with a family and be a part of that family where we all love each other and everything’s great between us, and that’s fine.
Sometimes there’s the occasional fight, sometimes the occasional argument. But most of the time if it’s fine, then that’s a great, healthy family and we’re all good. But what about when it isn’t?
That’s what I’m talking about today is that you can be in a family situation or a family dynamic, where you have relatives that still treat you like that child. Of course, you’ll never grow up to them. Sometimes that’s cute when it’s not dysfunctional:
“Oh, he’ll always be my baby.”
That’s my mom. She doesn’t say those words, but she’ll say “Oh, you’re always be my wonderful son.” At least, I hope she says that when I’m not around. I think she does.
When I see her, she loves seeing me She loves hanging out with me and I love hanging out with her. And it does feel like we’re mom and son, and we love each other in a very healthy way. We have a good time talking to each other. But here’s the “but” (it’s not really a but. It’s not negating what I just said, but it is including what we have as a mother and a son): she knows I am a fully capable, independent adult. And we have conversations where we both listen to each other. We both talk to each other. We don’t talk down to each other. We don’t put each other down. She doesn’t insult me. I don’t insult her. She doesn’t offend me. I don’t offend her. We have “normal” adult conversations.
Yes, sometimes it’s about family, sometimes it’s about life, but they’re normal adult conversations as normal as it can be when the children leave the roost and now they live their lives and have a lot of life experience, and then they come back and have a conversation with people that knew them from age zero. What I’m trying to say is, the adults especially that are older than us, especially our parents, they might have a little bit more difficult time letting go of the fact that you are no longer their child and you are no longer under their wing or under their guidance or control.
Some parents, some older siblings, or older relatives still might see us as young and maybe incompetent, incapable, needing guidance. I’m thinking about one client I work with her mom still thinks that she needs her guidance. “I know everything because I’m older than you.” That’s probably her way (my client’s mom). But my client is fully capable. She’s fully able to take care of herself. She has no problem paying her bills and talking with people and getting along and having a job and having a house. She doesn’t have any problem. But she has a parent that wants to be controlling: Let me tell you what to do. Let me tell you how to do it because I’m the wise one, I’m the parent…
I got news for you. If you’re one of those parents that think you’re wiser in every respect with the children in your life, sometimes that’s not always true. You might be wise in some areas like, Hey, you know what, if you drink all night, you might get blood poisoning and die.
That could be a wise life experience that you lived through yourself, and you might have relationships experience, and you might have a buying a house experiencing and a buying a car experience. You have all this experience. So parents and older adults like to espouse their infinite wisdom on the younger generations, because of many reasons. A lot of it is because the older generation cares. A lot of it is because of that, and some of it is because I need to control you because what you do affects me and I love you so much, and I don’t want you to get hurt, so I’m going to make sure that you don’t do the wrong thing and I’m going to make sure that you take these steps and follow this course until you’re successful, on and on.
We have to deal with some people’s limitations, insecurities, lack of confidence in us. At 50, I’m a little older now so I’m one of those “older generation” people. But I was also brought up in a way, where I was trusted at a very young age to do almost anything with my life. That gives me a perspective that not a lot of people have, I think, because to be trusted by mostly my mom and sometimes my dad, to be fully trusted to make my own decisions to do things that were dangerous for children at my age, gave me a perspective that actually helped me learn faster because I failed faster.
It’s like that saying “fail fast” or something like that. “Fail fast forward”? When you fail, you pick yourself up, you learn a lesson. Hopefully, you don’t repeat that failure. Hopefully, you don’t repeat the accident or the mistake or whatever you went through. I learned a lot about that at an early age
Didn’t mean I learned everything, and I’m still learning. But it did help me with a perspective that when I grew older, it seemed like a lot more wise and sage advice to give a young person that they should just try and see if they succeed. If they don’t, that’s okay too. Because you learn from your mistakes, you learn from your failures. I was taught, at least in the last 15 years, that there is no failure, there’s only feedback. Something I learned in NLP many years ago, and I adopted that I loved it, because that means whatever you do is not a failure. It’s feedback! It just tells you, ah, this is what worked and this was what didn’t work so let’s try it differently next time.
The bad news about that is failure can hurt. When you fail at something, it can be painful, it can feel hurtful, you might suffer. Because you might suffer, you may not want to fail. I get that. I don’t want to fail. Yet the fear of failure, if you haven’t failed enough, can stop you from making decisions. “I don’t want to fail. So I won’t make any decision because I don’t want to fail.”
You don’t know how many times I hear from people that don’t want to fail so badly that they’re willing to stay in bad situations, because they don’t want to make a decision that might lead to failure. You need to drop that like it’s hot right now. Because that will keep you in a rut. If you’re in a bad situation right now, and you’re afraid to make a decision then you’ll stay in that bad situation and you’ll be like that dog on a stake in the middle of the yard that runs around and around making that deeper and deeper rut around his stake… A ten, fifteen, twenty feet radius where he can’t go anywhere except around in the circle, continuing to dig the same groove, never able to get out of it.
The dog wants to get out. And most likely, if you unleash him, he’s gonna run! He’ll probably just take off with “dogged” determination.
What a way to live your life. When you’re finally unleashed, you take off. You just want to experience the world. You want to get away from the oppressive stake in the middle of the yard. I want you to get away from the oppressive stake in the middle of the yard, if I may use that metaphor.
The reason I’m telling you all this and kind of sharing and rambling at the same time is because of what I brought up earlier, is that you can have older family members, sometimes parents, sometimes other people that think they know better than you and think that by controlling your decisions and controlling what you do, it will be best for you.
If they can prevent you from failing or repeating their failures, that you’ll somehow have a better life. When in reality, these people went through their own mistakes, and maybe they were oppressed by the older generation in their life too, and maybe they’re passing that on.
Or maybe they’re just making it up because they had all these issues in their life – They don’t want you to experience those issues – I mean, yes, often, there’s a lot of love behind the decisions and the guidance and the suggestions and the advice and even the control of older people in your life. There’s a lot of love behind it sometimes.
Sometimes it’s just control. Sometimes it’s a perspective of I’ve created you, therefore I control you. When they have that perspective, this is where we come back to the dependency of a child and a parent. When you consider yourself and believe yourself to be that same dependent child that needs to be guided by what you believe to be the smarter, more educated or wiser adult or older person, then
A. You don’t give yourself enough credit and
B. If the older person isn’t very wise, isn’t very smart or even worse, hurtful, narcissistic, neglectful mean or abusive in any way, then you’re being led down the wrong path and you might believe that it has something to do with you. You might believe that you’re not worthy or lovable. You might believe some false things about yourself.
I’m here to say that when you move out of the nest, when you are away from parents when you are away from older, well-meaning and sometimes not so well-meaning people in your life, then it’s up to you to say to yourself, “I’m an adult now, and I deserve to be treated like an adult, even if I make the wrong decisions. Even if somebody sees it and says, ‘Whoa, what you’re doing is gonna lead to bankruptcy. What you’re doing is gonna lead to divorce.’ Even if somebody else sees that they’re welcome to say it, but as long as they don’t say those things as a way to make me feel bad. They cannot use those things against me as a way to control me. They can’t do that to be superior. They are not allowed to attempt to make me feel inferior.”
This is where I go with this. You can say it. You can tell me what you see and I can either accept it or not. You can ask questions about it, “Hey Paul, do you think that’s the best direction for you?”
You can force me to think about things in a different way. But don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me how to do it. Unless I’m receptive, don’t tell me that I’m wrong and I should feel bad or I should feel guilty. Unless I come to that conclusion myself.
That doesn’t mean I’m 100% right. That doesn’t mean I’m 1% right. I could be 100% wrong about my direction, about my behavior, about the choices I’m making, but I might need to make those choices to find out if I fail or not or if I succeed.
If I don’t succeed, then I learn in a way that sticks. But if I never try, if I never make the choice, if I never decide that I’m going to do something because I fear the failure, because I fear that what some older well-meaning or not so well-meaning person told me then I’ll never learn if they’re right or wrong, I’ll just reinforce that it’s important to listen to other people instead of trying things myself.
In this segment, I’m talking about how to become more independent. I’m talking about how to start to trust yourself as an adult making the stupid adult decisions that we all make. Not all of them, in fact, very few of your decisions I believe are going to be stupid, unless they are stupid. You know what stupid decisions are. But most of the decisions that we make as adults are based on our educated guesses, our best guesses. They’re based on the resources that we have available to us. And we reference those resources to figure out if this is the best choice for us. But we have to be careful who we listen to, when it comes to making decisions for our own life. And also be careful of not falling into that parent child – child Parent trap, where we think because they’re older, because they may be our parent, that they must be wiser.
Sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re not. But even when you have someone in your life that seems to be wiser seems to be very intelligent, it doesn’t mean they’re right. It just means they have maybe more wisdom or more experience. It’s good to have a relationship where you can evaluate their experience and apply it to your situation and ask yourself, Okay, what they’re saying could be true. If it is, maybe I need to reevaluate what I’m doing here. If it isn’t, then I come to my own decision here and I’ll do what I have to do. But it’s harder to take advice or suggestion, or the apparently wise words of someone else when they’ve been hurtful when they’ve been toxic. Because even if they say the exact right thing, you’re not going to feel safe around them. You’re not going to trust them. You’re not going to be able to listen to them and you may even rebel against what they say, even though it could be the right thing to do.
That’s tough because now we have information that could be helpful, but a toxic person is telling us, and if the toxic person is telling us, we don’t want to listen to them, so we go in the opposite direction, and that might be the wrong thing to do.
Now, that’s hard, because, again, they might have the right thing to do or very good information, but what do you do when you can’t trust the information because you can’t trust the person or at least feel safe around the person. That’s what that email was about that I received, I’m not going to read it, but there’s a point where this person who wrote the email said, “I used to get the physical abuse and now I get verbal and emotional abuse. And my dad lied, and the police were involved in some incident…”
There was a lot happening in her life. And it sounds like even though she’s thousands of miles away from her family, because they’re having conversations and because her dad and mom wanted her to move back, she’s still dealing with it.
I’ve been priming you (the person who wrote the email) for my response to this by everything I just said that once you leave the home, you are a independent person, you are an adult. And if any other adult that wasn’t related to you, that wasn’t your mom or your dad, said what they said or did what they did, what would you do then?
I think that’s an important question even though it’s family. I’ve received messages saying blood is thicker than water and family always comes first. I’ve heard this but when the family is so hurtful and mean, and just doesn’t seem to have the best intentions for you, then family takes a backseat. Family isn’t part of the definition of what’s going on here anymore because family is supposed to mean a lot of good, supportive things.
Family is supposed to be there for you, to care about you, love you, and want to see you happy.
Those should be the most supportive people in your life, no matter how much you fail or succeed. Those are the people you can call any time. That’s kind of how I see family.
All my family isn’t like that. Some of them are, some of them are. Some of them I can trust with any secret, and some of them I can’t. Some of them I can trust will pay me back and some won’t if I ever lend the money. But the point is, I look at family as more of those who fit that outline, that structure, as opposed to those who don’t.
If you don’t fit the outline of caring, loving, supportive, and all that, then you’re probably just another adult in my life, that sometimes we’re friendly and sometimes we’re not. Or Yes, we’re related but I wouldn’t consider you family. I know I might be pushing buttons here, but this is how I see it. You don’t have to see it the same way. But I like to see it as when family no longer access family, they are no longer family.
Now, why am I saying this? This doesn’t have to be your belief, but it is mine. Because the family that showed up as loving and caring turned into monsters, I can only think of one right now, but when that person turned into a monster, he was no longer family to me. He was family, but now he’s another man in my life, an older person that I don’t want any relationship with, but if I happen to be in the same room with him, as long as he treats me with kindness and respect or minimum apathetically he can ignore me. I don’t care. As long as it’s not hurtful behavior or harmful behavior. Then we’re all good, just like any other adult in my life or any other adult in your life, as long as they treat you kindly or not treat you in any way, and as long as they’re respectful, they respect your space, they respect you as a person. They’re not hurting you, they’re not harming you, then great, you can have a relationship with them, you can be in the same room with them. It’s no big deal.
It’s when they crossed the line that you have to remember: I’m an adult, I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. I talk about that in my Love and Abuse podcast. That’s what I open up every episode with and what I close every episode with. You deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. This is what you deserve. It doesn’t matter if you’re their child or their sister or their brother or their cousin or their uncle. It doesn’t matter.
When somebody is being difficult or mean around you. You treat that person like another adult. You ask yourself, “Well, knowing that this is no longer family (assuming you agree with my definition of family, which is fine if you don’t), I’ll treat them as fully independent, capable adults, just like a lot of other adults in my life. And now that I see them that way, how would I respond now?”
I think this is where you need to go when you’re dealing with toxic people and difficult relationships like this. You need to go inward and ask yourself, “If this person isn’t family, (or just say “Now that this person isn’t family…”), how am I going to respond to then?”
When I think about my own situation, and if my stepfather shows up in a way that is harmful or hurtful to me, I’ll say “Hey, what’s the deal here? You need to back off. This is a problem, I won’t accept this behavior. I don’t know what you’re trying to do. But you need to back off.”
Of course, it’s taken me years to be able to build that sense of confidence and that feeling of integrity in myself that I want to stay in alignment with who I’ve become. I don’t want to be anyone else, but myself. If I’m getting disrespected, or someone is doing something that is hurtful to me, then I have to remember that regardless if they’re family or not, now they are choosing a path that puts them in the space of any other adult in my life.
I say “adult” because when a child acts that way, it’s a different approach. But most of the people in your life, when you become an adult are adults typically, unless you’re a childcare worker, again, different but when you’re dealing with other adults, regardless if their family, you deserve to be treated a certain way. So embody that, embrace it, know it, I deserve to be treated like an adult. I hear from a lot of people in relationships, where their significant other is treating them badly, is putting them down, is treating them like a child, treating them in an inferior way.
Don’t take that crap. Seriously. Don’t take it. “I’m an adult. You don’t have to treat me like a child. Don’t talk down to me. Let’s talk about this but don’t be my dad or my mom. Be another adult, be an equal in this relationship. Let’s talk about this. Let’s be adults.”
We can define that too right? Your definition of “adult” may be different from theirs. But I know that when somebody is having a temper tantrum, they’re not being an adult. I know when someone’s putting me down or insulting me or offending me, they’re not being an adult. They’re in some triggered state. They’re going back to some, I don’t know survival mode, coping mode, or hurtful mode because they want to control or they want to demean or just make me feel bad about myself.
I don’t want to feel bad about myself so I need to put a stop to that. I don’t want you to feel bad about yourself so you got to put a stop to it. I know with this person who wrote, her dad has been violent in the past. So she may not be able to be around her dad. She may need to make the choice that this person is dangerous.
Has he ever been anything but dangerous? Have you ever felt safe around him? I’m asking because she’s not sure how to handle this going forward. Remember, you’re an adult, you’re making adult decisions. You are in charge of your life now. You are taking care of yourself. You don’t need them to take care of you anymore. You are making decisions for you.
So when an adult comes in your life that maybe you consider family… Maybe he’s your dad and he has some sense of connection to you and that’s fine, I’m not putting that down. I personally go a different direction with it because once they cross the line, they kind of lose their parent privileges.
Once you cross that line, you lose, you lose your privilege of being in my family. That sounds arrogant. I know it does. But there’s a point where you get mistreated enough that you really don’t want to call these people your family anymore. It’s good to embrace that. I just, I’m just saying that as is good to embrace that just in case you’re unable to separate the idea that family should have leeway in mistreating you or causing harm to you, or being hurtful or whatever.
They shouldn’t have leniency there. They may have more leniency than other people. Because family can make up and as long as there’s love there in the foundation of it, and it’s just a one-off here and there that there’s a mistreatment or disrespect or hurt in some way, then yes, you can move past it. That’s great, but sometimes there’s no disrespect. Sometimes people are just unsafe or dangerous.
To wrap up this segment, all I want to say is that when you are around other adults, regardless if they’re relatives, regardless if they’re your parents, you have to remember that you’re an adult too, again, unless you’re not, but you probably soon will be if you’re listening to this show, because you’re probably at that age, but by adopting and embracing the fact that you are an adult now, and you’re going to make decisions that may be 100% right or may be 100% wrong, but own those decisions.
Just own every decision that you make, even though there could be risks, even though there could be failure, and take that failure as feedback so that you make a better decision later. So that when somebody comes along and says, See, I told you, I told you, you shouldn’t have made that decision.
You don’t have to say they were right or wrong. You can just say, Yeah, I learned from it. Yep, it happens. My next decision is going to be a lot better than that one. But you don’t have to address their righteousness. You don’t have to go into that at all. You just say, “You know what? Sometimes I make decisions that work. Sometimes I make decisions that don’t. Sometimes you’re going to be right and sometimes you’re going to be dead wrong.”
I want to thank this person for writing. I didn’t read the whole email, but I hope you got the gist of what I’m saying. Because I want you to own this. I want you to be the adult that you are, and stop being the child that keeps showing up in this relationship, having any fears that you might not be loved, that you might not be accepted. Because healthy parents want the best for their kids. Mentally healthy parents would want their kids to be happy. That’s the bottom line.
Mentally unhealthy people don’t want other people to be happy, they want to control them. They want to abuse them and they want to hurt them. They’re mentally unhealthy. Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, it just means that they’re probably not the healthiest people to be around. They’re not the safest people to be around. Which is why it’s important remember not to look to impress mentally unhealthy people, not to try to show them that you’re doing the right thing, or you’re trying to make them proud of you or anything like that.
You got to remember mentally unhealthy people, they’re often not looking for things like that. They’re often… How can I say this? They’re out for themselves a lot. They’re just, they may come from a place of love. They may think they’re loving you in a healthy way but there’s fear sometimes in mentally unhealthy people.
I’m gonna leave it at that because I think I’m getting my point across without saying too much that some people are just hard to be around, difficult to be around, and those are the kind of people that are more typically selfish, wanting to get their way and not really, unconditionally loving you and supporting you and wanting you to be happy, even if they know you’re going in the wrong direction. These aren’t the people that are typically there for you. They’re the type of people that want to control you, and make you do what they want you to do, so that you never learn so that you never get life experience. You only accept what they give you as their experience, which you don’t want to do because you want to live your own life.
That’s my final word on that in this segment. When we come back, I’m going to read a message from someone who is having trouble with their mother in law. So there’s another relative type of topic. I’ll be right back after this.
I received an email from someone who says my mother in law is an energy vampire. She’s a narcissist, incredibly selfish, an attention seeker and an envious person even with her son. She is rude and she has said inappropriate things to me a few times. I have serious anxiety when I know I’m going to spend time with her which is about twice a year because she lives abroad. Still, she completely wiped me out because I’m biting my tongue to be courteous.
I also feel I am very sensitive to other people’s energies. Fortunately, my husband has acknowledged a lot of her poor behavior. However, it’s such a painful experience for me to be around her and it’s really bothering me to the point where I wish to not have any relationship with her. But this would be horrible as it’s not ideal. I’m an only child and this is my husband. We are a small family as it is.
He recently had a conversation with her and confronted her about her behavior but it’s been over a month and she has not mentioned anything. No recognition. No apologies. Thank you very much. I think your podcast is helpful.
Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s a tough position to be in because you have a small family and it’s harder with someone else’s mom. That’s someone else’s relative. The direction I always go with this is that the person whose relative it is needs to be the one to deal with that person.
Meaning, you deal with your husband, and your husband deals with his mom. That’s where I normally go with that. I know that’s a simple, convenient answer. It’s so easy just to say, “Well, let your husband deal with it.” Because you’re going to be in the same room with her, he’s not going to be around. And maybe he doesn’t want to deal with it all the time. Maybe he appreciates you being around as a reprieve for him. I don’t know the whole story, but that’s where I normally go. And I still stick by that.
If my girlfriend’s dad was giving me a hard time, I would expect my girlfriend to say, “Hey, you know what, that’s my boyfriend. Back off! You don’t need to say that stuff to him. That’s kind of mean. Don’t say that.”
I would expect that. But at the same time, I’m the kind of guy that would say, “Hey, look, what’s your problem here?” Like I was saying in the last segment, “Don’t treat me like that. That’s not nice.”
I’m an adult! I don’t deserve to be treated like a child. You’re an adult too. You can say the same thing. I’m not giving you this advice, I’m just re-emphasizing what I said in the last segment. When you’re an adult, you expect to be treated like an equal adult. Like someone else should be treating you with kindness and respect.
But some people don’t do it. So the question is, If you were in the grocery store and you didn’t know this person, your mother in law for example (to this person who wrote the email), and she came up and was acting the same way she did with you at her home, or around you somewhere, how would you respond then?
Would you say “That’s so rude! That’s mean, don’t say that!”? Or, “I can’t believe you said that!” then just walked away?
Would you get into an argument? What would you do? That’s a legitimate question because it helps disconnect you from the family aspect of it.
A. I’d like you to think about how you deal with someone that’s in your family if they weren’t family. Ask yourself that question If this person wasn’t family, how would I respond then? What would I do? What would I say? And just kind of absorb that. Let that roll around in your head for a little bit.
And B. Accept that they’ll never change, and there’s no use resisting who they are. That feels like you’re giving up, that feels like you’re giving in. It’s really not about that at all. It’s really about knowing that this person has an emotional disability. They have a mental health issue. They have an emotional disability or an emotional challenge might be the politically correct word, I’m not really sure how to put this, but you get the point where someone is incapable of connecting with you at an emotional level. In fact, they probably don’t care about you or they’re selfishly motivated, and they’re just not emotionally available for you in the way that you’d prefer.
You do have to come to an acceptance. In fact, I want you to say this to yourself, if you’re dealing with anyone in your life anyone listening, that you hope their behavior changes, but it never has, then just tell yourself: I know this person will never, ever change. So I have to, even reluctantly, accept who they are.
I know this person will never, ever change. So I have to accept who they are.
Really soak that in. Just let that permeate your entire being. Be in that space.
“I have to accept that this person will never, ever change.”
You may not like that feeling. It may be uncomfortable. Or maybe you’re already there: Oh yeah, I’ve already accepted that this person will never ever change, that’s fine. But you have to believe it. Because if they change, it’s a miracle and it’s wonderful and everything will be great. But if they don’t change, then, because you’re not resisting it, because you’re not hoping there’ll be something different, you’re not suffering as much. You’re not suffering by resisting it.
I love to take out the resistance I have about people. Think about that: I resist the way this person is, therefore I suffer.
Repeat that to yourself: I resist the way this person shows up in my life, therefore, I suffer.
Again, you may have an acceptance about these certain people in your life and you just have to deal with it. But this person, she wrote to me and says I’m sensitive to other people’s energies. She’s probably one of those highly sensitive people that when this person shows up angry she feels the anger from her, she feels maybe angry herself or she feels attacked inside even when the other person, her mother in law doesn’t say a word. She’s already feeling like, oh boy, here comes the attack. Here comes the pain.
But this is why it’s important to really, fully embrace that the other person is incapable of change. They have some sort of emotional challenge that they can’t get past, and they will attempt to be hurtful. They will attempt to be offensive. In fact, you walk into the room knowing the offense is coming because that’s who they are.
It’s like seeing a lion and a gazelle in the plains of Africa and you really can’t blame the lion for attacking the gazelle because that’s who the lion is. And that’s an unfair comparison because the lion is in nature and is probably not being vindictive, he just has to eat
But I do kind of see it as a comparison because you take a selfish, unkind person, in this case, a narcissist – they’re the lion and they have to eat. What do they eat? They eat whatever is supplied to them.
What is supplied to them? The narcissistic supply in a narcissist’s life is typically the person they can pick on the most or they can gain the most from.
We have to be careful about what we feed mean people.
We have to be careful what we feed the toxic difficult people in our life. What are we feeding them? Well, every time I respond like this, she says that or she gives me that look or she says something mean. Every time I tell her of my accomplishment, she insults me she puts me down.
Every time I want to get a compliment from her. She is hurtful. Every time I smile at her she does this to make me frown, she does this to make me angry. On and on. We have to think about what we supply to the mean people in our lives.
When we have, in this case, maybe a full-blown narcissist, she’s not going to change. She’s looking for that supply. So it’s important to note that in your interactions with a person like this, you have to figure out what feeds her. This is the tough part, you have to act in a way that might be uncharacteristic of you in order to survive, in order to get through any transactions with her.
All that means is if you show up nice and you say kind words to her just to try to make her feel better so that she doesn’t insult you or hurt you, then that doesn’t work. That is her supply that feeds her that gives her strength that gives her energy to come back at you.
This is note-taking. This is where you figure out “When I do this, she does that.” Or anyone in your life, anyone who’s listening, “When I do this, this person responds this way. So perhaps I shouldn’t show up that way anymore. Perhaps I shouldn’t say anything nice because every time I do I feel bad about myself.”
Why is that?
Because the narcissist knows how to put me down and make me feel bad. So I better not say those things anymore. Well, then what happens to the relationship? That’s the next question. The next thought is, Well, if I do that, then what we had basically falls apart because it was all lingering on the edge of the way I showed up. It was all hanging by a string, because of the way I was behaving toward her. If I don’t behave toward her this way, then it’s all bad.
That could be true. I won’t deny that could be true. Your entire relationship could be held together by the way you show up and if you don’t continue showing up that way, it could all fall apart. But sometimes relationships kind of have to fall apart in my opinion. This is kind of on the thin ice part now. In my opinion, sometimes relationships have to fall apart so they can be redefined. So that you can find yourself again, be yourself again, where they’re no longer feeding off of you – They’re no longer getting their supply to be hurtful or offensive or mean.
To accept that the relationship could fall apart is part of the process of the breakdown before the breakthrough so that you can define something new and start to show up differently. Now, again, that’s not my answer. That’s not my advice. It could work with some people. In this case with the mother in law. It could be disastrous, it could be the worst thing ever because now you have kids involved and the husband’s now being told by his mom all the time that you should get divorced. Who knows? It could just be something you have to deal with.
I still go back to where the husband is related to his mom so he needs to be the one to say, Hey, Mom, you need to back off. You need to stop treating my wife like that because this is the one that I spend the rest of my life with. So I don’t care if you like her or not, but she is my wife and if you want me around, she’s part of me, she is with me, and you better treat her nice. That’s all I have to say. If you can’t treat her nice, you won’t see me anymore.
That’s my personal opinion, somewhat professional opinion, is that the relative has to take care of the relative. Or in this case, the husband has to say this to his mom, because he should be damn proud to be married to the one he’s with and to be able to stand up for her and defend her and whatever it takes, so that his mom doesn’t interfere Because this is what it sounds like is happening is that there’s an interference going on and her husband isn’t standing up and saying you need to back off.
Now, again, this is thin ice stuff because I don’t know the dynamic of the relationship. I don’t know what’s involved. I don’t know if the grandkids will no longer see their grandmother and that’s a big problem. Absolutely all valid. But at the same time, we have to be really careful what kind of people we let into our lives, into our children’s lives, and what they’ll get from those relationships.
Again, thin ice stuff because should you take a grandmother out of the kid’s lives? I can’t answer that question. It depends on the grandmother. It depends on how they treat the kids, certainly a different thing. But you might have to create a relationship where only the kids see the grandmother, only if the grandmother is not feeding the kids with lies about their mom. That’s an entirely different thing. We have to be careful with that too because if that’s happening, I have no problem saying Well, you can’t see the kids anymore. That’s mean it sounds so cold. It sounds so cold to say that. At the same time, I don’t want my kids growing up to be influenced by lies from someone we know, is not a very healthy person. So there’s that aspect.
Let me finish by telling you another aspect. I had a client once, I worked with him for a while, who his mom was a total narcissist and very hard to deal with, very difficult, but he wanted a relationship with her. He wanted a relationship with both his mom and dad. But in order to have one, he had to take her emotional abuse He had to take her bad behavior. So he was estranged from her for years, until he decided that he was going to define the relationship and this is what I was talking about earlier, is that sometimes you have to hit the breakdown.
His breakdown was, you know what, No contact. I’m not going to talk to you. Don’t call me I don’t want to deal with you. Because every time I do I just feel bad and you put my wife down and you want her to feel bad about herself and I just don’t want that in my life. So he went no contact for a while. But then he decided, you know what, I do want a relationship because I love my dad and I love my mom. But I want it to be a relationship that doesn’t go in the direction it went before, that’s not emotionally abusive.
What he decided to do was call her up one day and say, You know what, Mom, I want a relationship with you. I really do. I love you and I want to be with you and dad, but here’s how things are gonna go down.
He defined the rules. He probably didn’t use those exact words. But that was the vibe. That was the feeling when he was describing it to me what he said. I was just like, “Wow, this is amazing. This is exactly what needs to happen” because the mom wanted to see her son. He wanted to see her and they all wanted to see each other, but his mom wanted to show up in a way that was not healthy, so he needed to define their relationship. He needed to control the parameters – the boundaries – and say, “If you say this, or if you do that, I won’t talk to you anymore. I’ll hang up on you, I won’t visit anymore. This is how it’s gonna be.”
I’m kind of putting this on the husband of the person who wrote this email. “This is how it’s gonna be, and this is how it has to be in order for this relationship to work because I want this relationship too. But if you decide to put my wife down or insult me or my kids, if you decide to do any of that, I’m going to call you out on it. And I’m going to say, ‘I’m sorry, if you do that one more time, I’m leaving, and you have to comply. If you don’t comply, this won’t work.'”
That’s what my client told his mom. He was dead serious. And his relationship with his parents did change. He now actually has a relationship as opposed to having none at all.
It was a difficult transition, because you can tell the mom really believed she was right. She didn’t think she was doing anything wrong. But this is all part of the emotional challenge that she was going through. She didn’t know she was toxic. She probably still believes that she is right. But she wanted a relationship with her son. So she decided to comply with his rules.
It worked. And it continued to work because he set the boundaries. He set the parameters, and he would not back down, he wouldn’t settle for less. If she did anything that made him feel uncomfortable, like, uh uh, here we go again. Then he was able to pull the plug and say, “Nope.” He did full accountability, no problem.
I’m telling you this because this is what might need to happen in a relationship. When you have mixed parents, mother in law, father in law, and different side of the family, uncles, aunts, and people like that. Hopefully, the person that has those relatives can set those boundaries, can define the relationship so that you don’t get into a situation like this person wrote to me and said she’s having.
She wrote It’s a painful experience to be around her and it bothers me to the point where I wish to not have any relationship with her. Yes, it might lead to that, it might lead to no relationship. It might lead to her saying, you know what, honey, you go visit your mom, I’m not going because she doesn’t treat me nice and I don’t like how it feels.
Then I think myself, if I was that guy, I would be like, “Mom, you need to back off. That’s my wife you’re talking about. And if you have anything to say, you say it to me. And if you have a problem with her, then you have a problem with me.”
Why am I talking like that to my mom? Who would ever do that?
Because I’m an adult and so is she. And we can have a conversation like this because a family shows up as caring, supportive, and loving. But if you can’t be family, then I’m going to have to treat you like another adult and we’re going to have to have this adult conversation instead.
That’s my two cents on that. I hope this helps the person I wrote Thank you so much for writing. This topic can go on and on. We could probably talk about it forever. But I wanted to give you some of my thoughts on this.
I’m going to leave you with some questions that I’ve talked about in other episodes. But I want to reiterate here because when it comes to dealing with difficult people or mean people, I think it’s important to find out where you stand with them, as far as them wanting you to be happy or not.
Like one of the questions that I like to have you ask someone who might be mistreating you or putting you down, is asking them Do you care about my happiness?
That’s a good question. Do you care about my happiness? Do you care if I’m happy? Do you want me to be happy?
It would be really interesting to get an answer to that because if they say No, then why the F are you wasting your time with them? “I don’t want you to be happy”
If they don’t care… if they don’t care about your happiness, excuse my language, I try to keep it clean here, why in the heck are you even bothering? Lt’s just get that on the table. Do you even care about my happiness?
Because if they don’t, then don’t bother. Don’t bother trying to keep the relationship, maintain it, make it something that isn’t, because it isn’t.
That’s one question I like to ask. Another is if you ask that question, “Do you even want me to be happy? Do you care about my happiness?” If they say “Yes, of course!” Then the next question is, “Then why are you doing behavior that causes me to suffer?”
You don’t have to ask it that way. But it can be similar: “Then why are you doing this when you know, it hurts me? Why?”
It’s a good question too because you want to find out the answer. They may say, Well, I just want to protect you or I’m just trying to help you see the best choice so that you don’t make the wrong decisions like I do. Or maybe they have some sort of answer like that.
But you bring it back to the hurtful aspect of their behavior. You can ask a question like, Do you see the way you protect me is hurtful? Do you see the way you’re trying to teach me the right thing is hurting me? It’s causing me pain, do you see that?
If they say No, no, I don’t see it… Hopefully, they’ll go, Wow, I didn’t realize it was causing you pain. I’m so sorry. But if they say, I don’t care if it’s causing you pain, this is important, then why the heck are you with them? If they don’t care if it’s causing you pain, then this is again, you evaluate the relationship and you’ll ask yourself, Is this even worth maintaining? If they don’t even care if their behavior causes me pain?
That’s good to know. These are good foundational questions to ask if you are in a situation but you can’t seem to fix or improve in any way. You might even go further and say Can you see that the place I want to feel the most safe, I cannot?
In other words, I want to feel safe with you, but I can’t. I want to feel safe in this room and in this house. And I want to feel safe with you, but you are not allowing me to feel safe because of what you’re doing.
You don’t have to say it with this inflection, but you can say it any way you want. Because when somebody makes you feel unsafe, it affects your whole life. I would even ask why do you want me to feel unsafe around you? I think that’s a great question. Why do you want me to feel unsafe around you?
“Well, I don’t want you to feel unsafe.”
But you are. Your behavior is causing me to feel unsafe. I don’t want to be near you. I don’t want to even share things with you because I feel unsafe. I feel like you’re going to attack me.
Do you want that? Do you want me to feel attacked?
That’s another question. We were talking about the parent-child relationship earlier. By saying these things, by asking these questions involves you letting go of the fact that you are no longer a child. You are an independent adult that can take care of yourself. You let go of the dependency of wanting to feel loved by them or wanting to show them that you are special, or hoping they’ll be impressed by your accomplishments. I’m repeating what I said earlier, but this is all part of the process of really embracing that you deserve better treatment. You do deserve to be treated at some level as an equal adult.
You are willing to treat them just as kindly and respectfully as they treat you as long as they’re treating you with kindness and respect. When someone doesn’t treat you kindly, just ask those questions.
You can ask them one of the most important questions which is, “Now that you know your behavior is hurtful, will you please stop doing that behavior?”
I think that might be the most important question because you want to find out exactly what they’re going to do next now that they know their behavior is hurtful.
A No or a Yes is all you’re looking for. If they say, “Yeah but… ” then that’s not good. You have to bring it back to the question: “Knowing that when you say that it hurts me, will you stop saying it?”
This is causing them to agree that what they’re saying is hurtful. When they acknowledge that, they have to admit to you if they’re going to do it again.
Imagine if somebody said, “Well, yes, I know it hurt you.”?!
I heard that from someone once. They wrote to me and said, “I asked my boyfriend that, and he said, ‘Yes, I do know it hurts you.'”
Wow. I didn’t even have to tell her, “Why the heck are you even trying to make this work?” Because she told me “I left him. I had to leave because he knew he was hurting me and he didn’t want to stop.”
You don’t deserve that. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment. So remember these questions.
I hope this helps wrap up what we talked about today and give you something to ask people that might be in your life that are causing difficulty for you. Because you do want to find out if they even like you, if they even care about your happiness if they even want you in their life!
These might be questions you have to bring up before you even get into their actual behaviors. Because if their behavior all stems from them not wanting you to be happy, then anything you say or do from that point on really doesn’t matter because they have an agenda. It means they see things a lot differently than you do. And it might be time to accept that they are who they are.