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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
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Hi I have a question about dealing with family members who

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Hi I have a question about dealing with family members who can sometimes make malicious comments or try and "cut me down" at family occasions.

In particular my Mum and my aunty can be quite “bitchy” and derogatory toward me at times, in front of my brothers and cousins. It has been like this for many, many years and I have only recently started to see it clearly and truly recognize that there is nothing wrong with me, rather they are the ones that have issues!

This is an ongoing challenge which I have tools to work on and am working to build my overall self-esteem.

However I am yet to really develop good tools to deal with the situation in the moment at the actual family events. A recent (seemingly petty) example, occurred recently at my grandma’s 95th birthday. One of my brothers couldn’t come to the lunch on the day, but my grandma told me he had called that morning and was taking her out for a special on-on-one dinner the following week, which she was really looking forward to. A few minutes later my cousin gave my grandma a gift that she unwrapped, and it was a fancy scarf. Gran was looking at the scarf, and I said “wow gran you will be able to wear that to your special dinner with Robert next week.” Instantly my aunty cut in with “Goodness you’re very bossy Jessie”. It really hurt, because one moment I was enjoying the time with my family and just being and expressing myself and sharing a sense of joy and excitement with those around me, and the next instant I was the object of this nasty remark and it felt like I was being put back in my place to stop being so joyful and happy. It was also a harsh reminder that my family isn’t supportive and is in fact often a hostile space.

in the scheme of things I can deal with this, but I really did not know how to react in the moment - it is awkward at best. Despite the pattern, I am usually shocked for that split second after a nasty comment comes my way and I feel awful. They usually come to "cut me down" if I'm being happy or expressing myself. I could pretend it didn’t hurt me at all and "ignore it" and keep up a cheery disposition, but it would be very draining, and also phony so that I would no longer be interacting with the rest of the family in an authentic way. Or I could become outwardly upset and despondent - I have done this a lot previously which just leads to more accusations that I am “causing trouble".

Ideally I would not let these comments hurt me so I could authentically remain up-beat. but as I said whilst I can deal with the phenomenon it in the scheme of things, it’s very hard to avoid an in-the-moment feeling of hurt. I could avoid family events, but this would diminish my relationship with brothers and cousins, as well as my overall sense of belonging which is important to me, despite the imperfections.

Advice gratefully accepted!
Jessie
Submitted: 10 months ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 10 months ago.

Dr. Mark :

Hi! I'll be glad to help you with this issue.

Dr. Mark :

The system says you're offline at this time, so I'll wait till you come on to begin, okay?

Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 10 months ago.

Hi. You were offline and so the system reverted to the question/answer format. I'll answer you here, then, okay?



First, let me say I can imagine how frustrating and also hurtful this situation must be for you. It is clear you are yearning for a loving healthy family with all your heart. But that is clearly not what you have been granted. And you are not alone in this yearning and in this deep wound of disappointment.

I am so pleased to hear that you're working with a psychologist and have realized that the problem is in them and you need to free yourself from their problems. Meaning, that you should not internalize their dysfunction.

Your example of the comment you made about the scarf was excellent: it points out an underlying problem in your relatives. The inability to feel comfortable with joy, happiness, sincere and open positive emotion. This is important: they shoot down things that make them uncomfortable. Not things that are "bad", but things that are uncomfortable for them. And you have not become like that. I want you to realize the point I'm making: you haven't become like that!

So many people who have grown up with and try to cope with dysfunction in the family have such similar feelings of yearning for something that is not available. And when they try to hope that their families will BE like their vision of what they want so much, it turns out to always be a disappointment.

And this is actually the key to my answer to you that you need to consider and think about. The great parable of our age is that before the plane takes off the stewardess warns us that in case of loss of cabin pressure, first put on your mask and only then put on the mask of loved ones. Why?

Because, the parable is telling us, if we are not healthy and taking care of ourselves, we are not going to be able to help others. So you have to apply this to your situation:

If you would CONTINUE living with that emotional hope inside of you that somehow they might be different somehow, some way, that they would change if you could convince them of something special, you will indeed become unhappy and lose your sense of yourself.

Therefore, I need you to accept your family's situation. The easiest way to do it is to treat it as a disability. We accommodate disabilities without having to feel like they are "true" or define our reality. So when you're with your family and someone says something cruel or off, you need to remind yourself this is their way of letting some of the pressure out from their own pain in living in a pressurized life with dysfunction and negativity. They have a disability. And so accommodate them.

Is this a perfect strategy? Of course not. But it is a way for you to be able to accept them for who they are and still live firmly in reality. Because if you make demands from them that they live firmly in normal reality, they won't be able to handle it and you will get nothing as you've seen except more heartache.

So this is how one lives with dysfunctional families: treating it as a disability they have. There is hope. But not for ALL, for everything. There is hope for being able to get along and loving them as you would love someone who is emotionally disabled.

Okay, I wish you the very best!

My goal is for you to feel like you've gotten Great Service from me and the site. If we need to continue the discussion for that to happen, then please feel free to reply and we'll continue working on this. If the answer has given you the help you need, please remember to give a rating of 5 (Great Service) or 4 (Informative and helpful), or even 3 (Got the job done) button. This will make sure that I am credited for the answer and you are not charged anything more than the deposit you already made by pressing any of these buttons. Bonuses are always appreciated! If I can be of further help with any issue now or in the future, just put "For Dr. Mark" in the front of your new question, and I'll be the one to answer it. All the best, XXXXX XXXXX

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
Thanks Dr Mark, this is helpful. Could you give me one very concrete example of how I might literally behave in a situation such as the scarf example, whilst I am accommodating my aunt and her “emotional disability”? What response (or not) would you give someone who say “Oh you’re so bossy” in that situation? Should I just put more attention elsewhere or try and find something to say to temper the situation like “just an idea” in a lighthearted tone?
Thanks!
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 10 months ago.
An example is a great idea and the scarf is perfect:


The key is not what you say. That's a result of what we're working on here. It's something that will become natural.


The key is what you say to YOURSELF when she says "Oh you're so bossy". Here's the internal dialog which is the most important thing:


"There goes aunt [I'll call her Awful]; there goes Aunt awful again. Boy that's so unnice, it just ruins the whole thing. She doesn't get it at all. I was being nice to Gran and she just ruins it." [here is the crucial part:]


"Oh, well, it's not new. This is how she always is. This is her disability showing again. Yes, I know she has this disability. I wish she didn't but she does. Okay. It's not about me, it's about her needing to feel better by saying something not nice. That's her disability. Oh well. I guess I'll just say whatever and move on."


See how what you say doesn't matter? You can just nod, smile, say, "yeah", say "it's okay, Aunt Awful", whatever. Then you reaffirm to yourself after you've said something. "It's her disability. Oh well," to yourself.


I think that's a good example.


I wish you the very best!

My goal is for you to feel like you've gotten Great Service from me and the site. If we need to continue the discussion for that to happen, then please feel free to reply and we'll continue working on this. If the answer has given you the help you need, please remember to give a rating of 5 (Great Service) or 4 (Informative and helpful), or even 3 (Got the job done) button. This will make sure that I am credited for the answer and you are not charged anything more than the deposit you already made by pressing any of these buttons. Bonuses are always appreciated! If I can be of further help with any issue now or in the future, just put "For Dr. Mark" in the front of your new question, and I'll be the one to answer it. All the best, XXXXX XXXXX

Customer: replied 10 months ago.
Hi Dr Mark I do understand what you're saying And i 100% agress that I need to adopt the approach you outline In terms of my own inner dialogue and that that is the main most important thing to do. This is also similar to the advice of my other psychologist and is clearly Key.
however I REALLY would like a strategy to get me through these momentsin the social sense, And that is actually the main reason I have posed this question on this website. other people turn around and Stare when these comments made. Aswell as being hurtful it is awkward. The solutions posed by you and my psychologist are todeal with the hurt in a deep sense. This is crucial. However I need a strategy to deal with the awkwardness too!! There must be something someone Can suggest by way of a loose script to help get through these situations – not as an alternative for dealing with it at a deeper level but as a way to dissipate the drama And spectacle of the moment. Perhaps that script will come naturally once I have fully dealt with the deeper level stuff, But in the meantime whilst I give myself the constructive self talk It would be helpful to know what someone he had already fully come to terms with things WOULD say In a situation such as this. Having such Lines at my sleeve can be like training wheels whilst I continue to practice the inner self talk and awareness and acceptance of my family
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 10 months ago.
Yes, the awkwardness is difficult.


But that was my point about that whatever you say doesn't matter: because the awkwardness will be there. Your job is to get past it as quickly as possible. It doesn't matter what you say, it's a matter of....


Moving on.


You just move on and keep the event going. So in our example, it doesn't matter what you answer Aunt Awful. You say whatever, then you go back to telling Gran how she'll enjoy having a nice day with your brother or you move on to some other thing. Whatever you move on to is fine. You tell yourself:


Self, just move on.


That is how you deal with the social awkwardness. That's how Queen Elizabeth, by the way, wrote once about how she deals with social awkwardness: when someone does a faux pas (in front of the queen!) and it's awkward, she answered the interviewer that she moves on. She just moves on to the next thing. Great advice.



I wish you the very best!

My goal is for you to feel like you've gotten Great Service from me and the site. If we need to continue the discussion for that to happen, then please feel free to reply and we'll continue working on this. If the answer has given you the help you need, please remember to give a rating of 5 (Great Service) or 4 (Informative and helpful), or even 3 (Got the job done) button. This will make sure that I am credited for the answer and you are not charged anything more than the deposit you already made by pressing any of these buttons. Bonuses are always appreciated! If I can be of further help with any issue now or in the future, just put "For Dr. Mark" in the front of your new question, and I'll be the one to answer it. All the best, XXXXX XXXXX

Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 5110
Experience: Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology helping with relationships
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