I had a friend in college, let’s call her Ana, whose sister, “April”, was a source of constant stress. April was self-centered, competitive, and had never apologized once to Ana’s recollection. She was the perfect example of a pushy, rude family member.
She dominated conversations talking about herself and redirected conversations not about her to be about her. “You met someone special? That’s great! I hope he’s half as amazing as my boyfriend. Once, he did this…”
When Ana moved into her first apartment after school, April pointed out the features she “wouldn’t want for herself.” Rather than celebrating each new phase of life with her sister, April made it a blatant competition.
When Ana was married and chose her other sister to be her maid of honor, April said some very hurtful words and refused to talk to Ana for several months. When they finally reconciled, April didn’t apologize but acted as if nothing had happened.
Ana felt at a loss. On one hand, she would never keep a friend that treated her that way.
On the other hand, April was family. Even if she wanted to “break up,” she’d see her sister at family events for the rest of her life.
The good news is that it’s totally possible to keep most relationships without accepting psychological abuse. I know from experience. Bonus – the five steps to get there don’t even require your April’s participation!
Accept and Embrace the Truth
- Accept that your April isn’t going to change. It took Ana over 20 years of enduring her sister’s behavior to finally understand and recognize that that’s just April. Andy Warhol said it well – “When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.” It’s commendable to hope and pray for a rude family member’s change of heart. Maintaining that optimism is important to your own happiness. But until that happens (or doesn’t), you must accept that they are who they consistently show themselves to be.
- Remind yourself that you’re no one’s punching bag. Just because you’ve accepted your April isn’t going to change doesn’t mean you have to tolerate her abuse. For 24 years, I believed every negative thing people said about me. I took it to heart and hard, never questioning their motives. Then one day, my (now ex) husband lied about something, and for the first time in our three-year relationship, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was a lie. I had personally witnessed the truth and he wasn’t telling it. When I confronted him about it, he told me that this was why our marriage wasn’t working – I was untrusting, nosey, and immature. I suddenly recalled dozens of past scenarios in my mind where he said that exact thing. I felt naive wondering how many times he was just turning the tables on me to excuse or hide his own actions. Dr. Allan Schwartz suggests that many people designate their own family members as scapegoats as a way of hiding the problems they cannot face. That’s not to say that we should never receive or consider criticism, but to say that you are not anyone’s punching bag. You don’t have to tolerate hurtful words or actions just because someone is related to you, and you shouldn’t.
Set Healthy Boundaries
- Set boundaries. When you’re not a punching bag, you act accordingly. I worked in a call center for five years. When customers started to curse at and disrespect me, I would warn them several times that if they continued, I would have to end the call. If they still continued, I was true to my word. I didn’t beat myself up over it because I knew my employer was paying me to provide program support, not receive abuse. I knew they were just cursing because they were frustrated, but that kind of behavior doesn’t work toward a resolution; it just beats one person up until the other feels better. If your April is disrespectful on a call, warn her, and then hang up. When she’s acting rudely in person, warn her, and then leave. If you’re both at a family gathering and either don’t want to leave or can’t, remove yourself from the room. It’s okay to set boundaries with a rude family member and to let them know when they’ve been crossed. (Need more help setting boundaries? Get it here!)
- Understand that love doesn’t require constant contact. It’s possible to love and show love to a relative – even a close one – without calling them every day or answering the phone every single time they call. You don’t have to see one another every week, or even once every few months. You don’t have to call your rude family member with every little bit of good news if you know they’re not going to share in your joy. Blood relation is a wonderful bond, but it doesn’t require you to spend excessive time with someone who tears you down.
Use It to Your Advantage
- Be a better person for it. I never held a conversation with Ana that didn’t go both ways. She never talked at others, because she knew what that felt like. I always loved sharing good news with her. Her joy for me felt so sincere and warm, never competing, never criticizing. Ana was a better sister, daughter, and friend to others because she learned from April how she didn’t want to make others feel.
Your Rude Family Doesn’t Get the Final Say
Pastor Charles Swindoll famously said, “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” You can’t change others, but you can change how you allow them to affect you. No matter what your April says or does, you are ultimately in control.
Accept that your rude family member isn’t going to change and acknowledge that you’re not anyone’s punching bag. Set boundaries, understand that love doesn’t require constant contact, and be a better person for it.
It is possible to keep most family relationships without accepting abuse. You just have to take the first step.
P.S. Ready to break up with stress? Our free guide is chock-full of crucial info and practical tips, plus links to helpful apps, posts, and other fantastic resources! Get it here today!
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