Tomorrow, Americans will gather for food, family, and fun. It’s Thanksgiving, where for a short while we all pretend that our European ancestors didn’t slaughter entire tribes of Native Americans with weapons and disease and then displace the survivors.
But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about bullies in the family. And we’re entering that time of year that has equal shares in dread and excitement. We can’t wait to dive into Aunt Shirley’s famous sweet potato pie but we could do without Uncle Ed’s condescension.
All families have at least one bully. There is that one cousin or uncle or sibling or in law who thinks that it’s their right to treat everyone or one particular person like crap. They all have different methods. They belittle if they feel like they aren’t the smartest or richest person in the room. They are scornful if someone else’s life differs from theirs or if someone else is receiving more attention. Most veil their comments in “friendly” criticism and play the victim if confronted. Sometimes, it feels like only you can see what this person is doing.
To be honest, I’m writing this blog post as much for myself as for you guys. I have a bully in my family that causes me to dread the holiday season. By researching this topic, I really hope to find ways to deal with this person. So, you’re not alone. If you need to go into the comments to vent or ask questions, please do, because I am right there with you!
Bullying can range from passive aggressive behavior to all-out manipulation and ridicule. Because it’s in the family, it can be very difficult to find an ally because most of the family excuse the offender’s behavior. This causes frustration and a sense of isolation. If you’re a teenager, it’s even more difficult because any time you try to stand up for yourself, you may be punished for disobedience or disrespect.
Listed below are three tips I’ve found that I hope will help.
Plan Your Reaction
I suffer from anxiety, so it’s natural for me to plan my reaction to just about anything, whether it’s having to go into a crowded place, be the center of attention at a function, or be near a family bully. I didn’t recognize I was doing it until I came across the tip on Tiny Buddha.
If you know certain comments anger, upset, or hurt you, then plan what you’re going to say ahead of time. Not only does it preserve your self-esteem but it also helps to put the bully in their place.
Don’t be defensive. Don’t raise your voice. Begin the statement with “I”. This helps to keep the reaction from sparking an argument. Such examples would be, “I raise my kids according to our values. I’m sorry if you don’t like that”, or, “I may be home all day but most of that time is spent working”.
One of my role models is a Christian saint called Therese of Lisieux. She joined a monastery at a very, very young age and had to deal with a few bullies in the monastery. In a monastery, you’re supposed to think of the other brothers or sisters as family, so her reaction to bullying applies here. Sometimes, Therese was tempted to lash out when one of her religious sisters tried to put her down for being so young or for making lots of mistakes. Instead, she walked away.
If things get too intense, try to slip off for a little privacy. It can be the bathroom or your bedroom/guest room or even outside. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that you are a good, worthwhile, beautiful person. I read one post where a woman would scream silently to rid her body of the tension. When you’re calm, you can rejoin the party.
Learn to Say No/Set boundaries
If it’s a party you’re going to, let everyone know you won’t be able to stay long. You don’t have to explain yourself or you can just have a vague, “I’m so busy” excuse. Don’t be coerced to stay longer. By leaving when you said you would leave, you’re gaining control over the situation.
If you’re normally coerced into doing things or taking on tasks you don’t want to do, then say no. Offer an alternative if possible or just let your no stand.
If you’re a teen, this will be difficult because you may be dependent on your parents/guardians for your ride. Or, heck, this might be your house where the get-together is! But if there is any way in which you can say no or establish boundaries, then do so.
Hopefully, these three steps will be helpful in taking back some control over these coming holidays and keeping yourself from being hurt by a bully. Here are two other good articles to read on the subject.
Have a happy (and healthy) holiday!