5 smart ways to deal with family bullies

The holiday season is fast approaching, which usually means family time.

But for many people, spending time with family is not pleasant as they dread dealing with family bullies who make being home unbearable.

People who bring up old embarrassing stories, belittle you or simply enjoy being mean can make you feel uncomfortable.

They say, “you can’t choose your family,” but psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini says you can choose to stand up for yourself and not enable family bullies to make your life miserable.

5 things she advises you to do:

1. Value your self-worth and refuse to be a victim: Before meeting up with family again, write a list of appropriate and inappropriate topics for family members to bring up or say about you. Being a victim weakens you but feeling like a victor over your boundaries boosts your confidence to protect your values. Bullies hate to be confronted and abandoned.

2. Move on from a painful, negative history: When someone brings up negative traits or embarrassing moments, they try to bring you down to their miserable level. If you stay silent and listen, you become their puppet under their control. Take back your control with the simple message that life requires us to learn from past mistakes and grow.

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3. Don’t accept silent treatment: Sometimes to punish or control family members, bullies give the cold shoulder or silent treatment. Don’t get sucked into this emotionally immature expression of anger. If someone cannot communicate their feelings or needs, you shouldn’t take responsibility by over-apologising or enabling them by engaging in their dysfunctional passive-aggressive tactics. Simply explain your preference for communicating with words.

4. Protect yourself and your children from teasing: Many families have siblings that teased each other for various reasons growing up. Sibling aggression can escalate and manifest into adult bullying. Suppose you feel as though you must face bullies you’re related to every year at family gatherings simply because it’s always been that way. In that case, you indirectly communicate your powerlessness to them. As an adult, you are not powerless. Be calm, assertive, and willing to leave or make other arrangements when your family member disrespects you or someone you love.

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5. Distance yourself from the family bully: No matter who acts as the family bully (even a parent), let them know you will no longer participate in their abuse. Do not react to the bully because a reaction is exactly what bullies desire. When you ignore the behaviour, you broadcast to your bully that you’re no longer affected by their abuse. This enhances their insecurity, forcing them to change their behaviour around you.

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