How To Deal With Mean, Nasty People In Your Life Who Happen To Be In Your Family


I was talking with a friend this week who was telling me about some encounters with her mother.

My friend is one of the kindest, most loving, self-aware people on the planet. But her mother treats her atrociously. I can’t get over how anyone who knows my friend could treat her poorly, but dang — her own mom??!!

Of course it is extremely painful for my friend. She has spent a lifetime trying to win her mother’s love and approval, but her efforts are consistently met with coldness and disapproval.

I have another friend whose father had a borderline mental illness. He was sane enough that he appeared “normal” — but he really had the emotional maturity of a teenager. He was manipulative, self-absorbed, and often inappropriate. My friend could barely stand to be in his presence.

My own father (now deceased) could be a very difficult person. He had very poor relational skills, resorted to passive aggressive behaviors, and couldn’t communicate his feelings well. Sometimes he resorted to anger and stomping around the house in a grown-up version of a toddler tantrum.

As a teenager and young adult, I couldn’t understand why there was such a disconnect between us and why our relationship was so superficial. Trying to connect with him was like jumping in a pool with only 6 inches of water.

I know there must have been more in there, but God love him, he couldn’t express it, and neither myself, my siblings, nor my mother could reach it.

I’m sure as you’re reading, you’re thinking about people in your own family who fall on the spectrum of difficult. They can be just plain mean and nasty or somewhere else on the scale of disagreeable due to low emotional intelligence, poor self-esteem, bad upbringing, or just a wanky or narcissistic personality type.

And of course, I don’t need to tell you that when your family member behaves this way with you, it has very little (or more likely nothing) to do with you personally. It’s all about them, who they are, their past experiences, their unmet needs, their inability to communicate in healthy ways, their fears, etc.

Intellectually, that’s all fine and good. But if that difficult person is your mother, your father, your sibling, your child, or God forbid, your spouse, it’s hard to just remember it’s all about them and calmly let it roll of your back.

We have far too much emotional investment and history with these people to be able to disengage without being deeply wounded in the process. And sadly, these relationships tend to bring out the worst in us, regardless of how evolved and self-aware we might be.

We have far too much emotional investment and history with these people to be able to disengage without being deeply wounded in the process.

I mean really, if your own mother doesn’t show you love or treats you like a child when you’re 45 or tries to sabotage you in some way — how can you not want to fall on the floor in a heap and cry your eyes out?

Or if your father is still disappointed in you because you didn’t live up to his expectations or can’t show you an ounce of tenderness or never has any time or interest in your life, why wouldn’t you want to scream, “I hate you!” just like a petulant teenager?

These are the people who are supposed to love us unconditionally and support us in good times and bad. If one or both of our parents is toxic, not supportive, hypercritical, narcissistic, resentful, controlling, unloving, or mentally ill — it can infect your entire life and turn you from an emotionally mature adult into a wounded, infuriated child.

As you grow into adulthood and realize how difficult and hurtful your parent was when you were a child — when you couldn’t understand their behavior — you’ll have buckets of your own anger and resentment to sort through. It is extremely difficult to release these painful feelings in healthy ways with your parent, especially if they are received with more bad behavior or rejection.

Issues with difficult siblings can also disrupt your life and cause you pain, although generally they don’t cause the turmoil that a difficult parent can create. And depending on the dynamics and interactions of your own extended family, you can have other difficult family members (cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents) who are regularly in your life making you miserable.

(I’m going to leave spousal relationships and relationships with your own children for another discussion, as they are your primary family unit and problems here must be handled differently.)

So how can you cope with and manage these family members who are so difficult and disruptive? And more importantly, how can you protect yourself from being continually hurt and disrupted by their behavior?

Here are some thoughts that might be helpful:

Seek to understand and have compassion

As I mentioned before, most of the bad behaviors with these difficult people stem from their own issues. Perhaps they had difficult childhoods or never learned how to express their feelings, pain, and anger in appropriate and mature ways.

Maybe they are lacking in self-esteem, they are coping with their own bitterness and regret, or they don’t have the emotional strength or motivation to create positive change in their lives. Or it could be they have some kind of mental illness — like depression, a personality disorder, or narcissism.

When you understand the pain and experiences of your difficult family member, you will often have more compassion for them. When you have compassion, their difficult behaviors might still annoy or offend you, but they won’t cause you as much pain because it redirects your focus from yourself to them.

If the behaviors are so bad and the wounds so deep, it is hard to genuinely feel compassion. If you can intellectually understand the source of your family member’s behaviors, then make an intellectual decision about how you want to treat this person in spite of their behaviors.

Attempting to punish them with your anger or retribution won’t change their behavior if they are so entrenched in their own “stuff.” Make a rational decision about who you want to be around this person, and practice being that person even if you don’t feel it right away.

Try to communicate — with or without mediation

If the difficult family shows some willingness or ability to improve the relationship and you are motivated to try to improve it, then initiate a conversation or series of conversations to discuss your own boundaries, listen to theirs, and to try to negotiate for better behavior.

This can be a tricky conversation when someone is defensive, sensitive, or angry. It’s always good to begin these conversations with something positive. You can mention how much you value them and the relationship. You can discuss how much you care about them and how motivated you are to improve the relationship.

As you express your frustrations, communicate with them by telling your family member how they make YOU feel rather than blaming them or pointing out how immature or unpleasant their behaviors are. For example, you could say something like, “When you are critical, it really hurts me deeply because I value your good opinion and want to have a mutually supportive relationship. Would you be willing to focus on the best in me rather than criticizing?”

If you find these conversations quickly devolve into blaming and recriminations, then seek the assistance of a counselor to mediate the discussion and work with both of you on healthy communication skills. More often than not, a third party can mitigate the desire to lash out or walk away.

Examine your own involvement

Even if it is crystal clear your family member is the difficult person in the relationship, be open to looking at yourself and what you may have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the problem. And ask yourself if there is any truth, even the tiniest shred, related to what they are saying to or about you.

If you are angry and hurt by this person, you will likely have lashed out in response or at least hurled a few zingers their way. Of course this only further inflames the problem. Try to remember to be the person you want to be in spite of the other person’s behavior.

Sometimes these relationships with difficult family members can be an opportunity for the greatest learning about ourselves. They can hold a mirror up to our deepest fears, wounds, and longings. Have the courage to look in the mirror and use what you see to work on your own growth and development.

Manage your reactions

I’ve found it’s helpful to have very little or no reaction when a difficult family member tries to engage in bad behavior. If they try to ensnare you in a verbal argument, give them nothing in response except a non-committal reply like, “that’s interesting,” or “you might be right,” or just “hmm.”

If they are defensive, petulant, passive-aggressive, or critical, simply smile or excuse yourself from the room. Your lack of reaction will throw them off-center and eventually they will realize their behavior doesn’t work with you.

Manage your interactions

My friend with the difficult father ultimately decided she could only spend an hour or so with him every few months. She realized she could not include him in family events or have him interact with her children. She had to create very strict personal and emotional boundaries with him.

You may find you need to limit your interactions with the difficult family member. This may cause some backlash from them or others in your family, but you are the only person who can take care of your feelings and emotional energy. You may need to back off, skip some family gatherings, or stay for shorter periods of time.

If you see texts or phone calls come in from the difficult person, simply don’t answer them and only reply to messages that are kind or neutral.

In some families, the dynamic is so dysfunctional that the individual members take sides. There is a camp for you and one against you, headed up by the difficult family member. Do your best not to contribute to gossip or attempt to justify or undermine any members of your family. Ultimately, the healthy-minded people in your family will gravitate toward you and your more mature and measured behavior.

Allow yourself to grieve

Having a parent who doesn’t behave like a loving, mature, and supportive parent is extremely painful. Having a sibling who creates problems or treats you poorly is also painful. When you don’t have family members who behave the way family is supposed to behave, it is a huge loss. Everyone desires a close and loving relationship with their family. When you don’t have that, it can feel like a huge rejection or even a death.

If the pain of this is debilitating, work with a counselor to help you process the feelings and grief associated with your loss of your “dream family.” Acknowledge to yourself that is ISN’T okay to have this difficult relationship, but that your CHOOSE to thrive in spite of it. Acknowledge your pain, cry over it, share it with someone, and then choose to live happily anyway.

Living under the negative specter of a mean-spirited, unpleasant family member can cause real upheaval and pain in your life. Feeling unloved, misunderstood, unduly criticized, manipulated, or victimized can wreck havoc with your self-esteem and general contentment in life.

As difficult as the situation may be, you do have control over your own reactions and decisions around this relationship. Don’t give away more time and energy than is absolutely necessary to a person (even a person who happens to be your parent or sibling) than absolutely necessary.

Do you have a difficult family member in your life? How are you managing your relationship with this person? How have they made you feel? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. thank you – I really needed to hear this today.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You are so welcome Gayla!

      • Natacha says:

        This weekend I volunteered to go to my parents house (they live in dunedin fl)pick them up and take them to miami fl to visit my son and my beautiful granddaughter and my sons sig other. On the way down there my father treated me like crap. Get this I’m 56 yrs old female a respected registered nurse and according to my father I don’t know how to drive, I’m stupid, I don’t know where I’m going, i dont know how to get there, I’m an idiot, oh and get this he is on dialysis, he has htn and hasn’t driven in years. I have begged him. For years to on antidepressants, and anti anxiety Meds. Of course he didn’t ask me politely he proceeded to tell me and my husband where we were going. And specifically what street to turn on which way to go, because I am after all an idiot and don’t know where I am going. Mind you i was bitting my tounge changing the subject making polite smll take. he didn’t know how I managed to get a drivers license. By the time it was time to go home mind you a 5 hr drive. I blew up. I turned the car off in the middle of the road. I know this is dangerous. I did put my emergency lights on I had to sceam at him 4 or 5 times. I told him in Spanish that he was To me disrespectfully. I loved him and I was His daughter. That just like I gave him respect I spoke with That I Deserve the same in return. Ice screamed and i screamed and I said you need to be quiet. You need to talk to me in loving kind and respectful terms. With a tone in your voice as if you love me. Because I loved him he is My father. And I had to scream it 5 times. I told him if he could not talk to me with love in his voice. Then I didn’t want him to talk to me at all. I said I did not want to hear his voice. I said he was in my car. And he will speak to everyone in my presence with respect. And if he could not Do that. Then he was to be silent. And I yelled and screamed and cried and told Him. That was not going to move the car. Until he was quite.
        After I did that. It was very liberating. And I cried all the way home. 5 hours.

        • Barrie Davenport says:

          Wow Natacha. It is so sad that he couldn’t come to this awareness without this situation happening. But I’m glad you were able to clearly set your boundaries with him. Has he continued to respect them?

      • I’m only 14 and yet my mom is very very very mean to me.she acts crazily when imake a little mistake nod she makes me panic I have low self esteem nd on top of that when I need a shoulder to cry on no one is there for me I feel lonely nd scared my family is soooo mean to me

        • Barrie Davenport says:

          Hi Andrea,
          I’m so sorry you are having such difficulties with your mom. Do you have a school counselor you could talk with about how you are feeling? You need to be able to talk about your fears and loneliness. Is there another adult you feel safe and comfortable with? I hope you reach out to someone you can trust who can help you and your mom work through these challenges. I know you are scared to talk about it with anyone, but you will feel so relieved to find a caring adult who can help you.

  2. T. Wright says:

    I have also learned in the last 5-7 years that “powerful” outsiders cause so much harm and pain to family members which puts pressure on them to behave the way they do as well. The power plays are strategized. If my family members what their peace and “blessings” then they must do as they are told towards me. In addition, they have their own justifications for behaving the way they do.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That is why it is so important to define our own integrity and strive to be the people we want to be rather than doing what others think is right. It’s hard to stand up against people who pressure us, especially if they are members of our family. But we will never feel free to be ourselves if we don’t.

  3. Thanks Barrie.

  4. I needed this as well. A great and helpful article. Thanks, Barrie!

  5. Or maybe you were just dropped in the wrong basket. Some people are best loved at arms length. If that fails, you could actually dismiss them from your life. There is no law that forces you to spend your life trying to make it OK for people who are toxic to you. There may be creative endeavors that would be snuffed out by a life of constant upheaval attempting to have a “relationship”. End the madness.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Julia,
      I agree. Sometimes we have to make that very difficult choice for our self-preservation.

  6. My problem was my mother. She abandend me twice in my life and then expected me to forgive and forget, but was never willing to talk about it. Plus no matter what I did it wasn’t good enough for her. She constantly criticized me over every minor detail. Everything she did was always better than what I did. Etc etc…
    After 60+ years I finally ended it all. I told her I do not want to ever speak to her again. She only said that I was full of poison and proceeded to complain to my children and tried to turn them against me. That didn’t work. But I haven’t talked to her in 4 months now and have never felt better. Although, I am still working to heal myself.
    Thank you for this article, it makes me realize that I’m not alone in this struggle against a mean mother.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Dorris,
      I know that must have been extremely difficult — but probably not nearly as painful as all of the years of criticism and unloving behavior. I admire that you had the courage to stand your ground and protect yourself from further emotional abuse. And I’m glad your children stood by you.

  7. Maryonna says:

    Coming out of the fantasy that maybe their awful behaviour will change is the first step and the next is giving yourself permission to no longer be the dutiful daughter/son. For me this brought so much guilt – more of my taking responsibility for their actions! Your article made me realise that I have no more energy to keep working at trying to engage with my family. I feel like an abandoned orphan.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Maryonna,
      I know you have come to a very difficult and painful place. I know what you mean about feeling orphaned. But you must create a new family with the people in your life who ARE loving and supportive.

  8. After over 50 years of trying to please a consistently difficult father, I have drawn my boundaries and have no relationship anymore. It hurts deeply. I have used the advice you’ve outlined and more, but have not received positive responses from my father. Even though a parents love should be unconditional, i don’t see it in this relationship. I’ve never heard the words I love you or I’m sorry from him. Expressing my feelings in writing has been most helpful, even if the letters are not all sent.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Mikel,
      It is so unbelievably painful to be rejected by a parent. And so hard to accept that this “adult” who is supposed to be your loving parent is not really a parent at all. Keep expressing your feelings and maybe even work with a counselor for a while. Coming to terms with this takes time.

  9. Dear Barrie,

    I’ve been reading and printing (for my husband and myself) articles from your sites for almost a year, and I’m also saving up money to buy your book, but I never really had the courage to write until now. This post couldn’t have come at a better time; my parents are so disappointed with me and I am so sad and angry that if our children were not around I’d howl in the house. I love them deeply and I try to show this by small gestures or by any other means (speaking doesn’t really work because we aren’t really used to expressing ourselves!) but they are so disappointed with our family status (financial situation mainly). We have 2 girls and we’re waiting for a third baby and my parents keep telling me that I’ve ruined my life and their lives, that I’m the cause for their many illnesses because we don’t seem to progress at all. And this has been going on for years.
    My husband and I are both teachers and our salaries are really low so parents and parents-in-law still help us with money from time to time… They keep giving me examples of former friends and school mates that are better off, have their own house, fewer children and apparently an easier life and they are always so bitter when we meet that I’m afraid of meeting them (we live about 400 km away) though I long to see them. I feel so depressed and discouraged that it seems to me I have no chance of finding and living from my passion. I’m still trying to figure out what my path in life, I’m also seeing a psychotherapist (to get rid of depression and for self esteem issues) but it hurts terribly to bear the guilt of someone else’s unhappiness and disease.
    I want to work from home and to be as close as possible to my family but they see this as a life of painful sacrifice and since I haven’t found what I’m looking for (though I’ve been searching for years!) they only see my growing number of white hairs and tired face and pity me or make reproaches…
    I have no suggestions for dealing with nasty people in your family, I just shared my grief and despair hoping not only to find a solution but also to warn parents who might be reading these lines of what such love could do to their children.
    Thank you for your patience and for your wonderful posts!
    With lots of gratitude,
    Iulia from Romania

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Dear Lulia,
      First, thank you so much for your kind comments and your willingness to share your story. I am so very sorry about the difficulties you are experiencing with your family. It is so sad that your parents want to shame, control, and humiliate you when they could have a loving, happy relationship with you and your children. Financial status shouldn’t matter. You are employed in a very valuable, honorable profession. They should be proud of you. Lulia, they are still treating you like a child and trying to tell you how to live your life. But you have a choice not to be a child anymore, even if they treat you like one. You DO have a voice and can express to them that their unsupportive, hurtful comments are no longer acceptable to you. This may make them mad or offend them, but they will realize you have boundaries they are not allowed to cross. At this stage of life, it isn’t likely your parents will change the way they interact with you. You must reclaim your life and find other relationships with friends who do love and support you as you are. I know it is deeply painful to feel so rejected by those who should love you the most. But your choice is to live this way forever or to decide to disengage from their hurtful presence and live happily. I’m glad you are seeing a therapist to help with your depression. Ultimately, self-esteem comes from living the life you create for yourself and honoring your own values — not your parent’s.

  10. Hi Barrie,
    I have little conflict with none other than my beloved wife.
    Two weeks back we are blessed with a baby boy.
    I am trying my level best to give a great blessed turn to our relationship. We are separate since last six months. Even now she is not with me and Baby is with her only but I am trying to keep all emotional and other support. My heart says that she will realize my love and will come back. I am now focusing on listening to her and giving unbiased suggestions thus cleared her many confusions. I don’t counterattack her and stop her upfront when she start nagging on phone….she is also changing and realizing things. I pray and spread love and very hopeful for better life to bloom.
    I feel really great reading your insight. Keep the great work.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Ranjeet,
      Congratulations on being a new father. And I think you are doing the right things. Right now your wife needs your support and unconditional love. Keep reminding her of your love and help her with your new baby. I hope she will come back too. Have you both considered marriage counseling?

  11. Beth O'Donnell says:

    The only big fights I’ve had with my sisters since we were teenagers (and we are all in our 50′s) involve my father. I draw bright lines. They draw dotted lines and then cross them. They don’t understand how I can limit my contact with my father. I don’t understand why they go back for more.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Beth,
      You are the only person who knows what YOU can tolerate in your relationship with your father. I’m sure it’s an emotional topic for you and your sisters — probably one that’s best avoided! :)

  12. OMG!!! I don’t personally know anyone else who has the sort of dysfunctional family I have; I thought I was alone in the world to not have an unconditionally loving (or at least accepting) mother and father!

    Iulia’s situation is similar to mine, except I have no children. I do, however, have dogs and as I’ve struggled financially my parents and brother suggested that I give them away or put them to sleep! After growing up in that family and going through two divorces, they (dogs) have provided the only steadfast loving relationships I’ve had in my life; if there’s a choice to be made about divesting myself of relationships, it won’t be the dogs!!

    Thank you for opening my eyes to the fact that there is not necessarily something wrong with me. I haven’t been inherently unlovable from birth (my mother once told me in a tongue loose from alcohol, “from the moment they laid you on my chest in the hospital and you didn’t want to be held, I hated you.” She now denies ever having said it.)

    I don’t know how to respond with anything other than love, compassion, and a little bit of pity. But just knowing that I am not alone has been a huge source of comfort today.

    Thank you, Barrie. This is one of your best. Please forgive me for not signing my whole name.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi there,
      You are definitely not alone (sadly). It is mind-boggling how parents will hurt their children and emotionally abuse them. You are right, animals give unconditional love. You are totally lovable and worthy of kindness and support. I hope you can find other people in your life who can offer that to you. :)

  13. This couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I was thinking you must have been reading my mind, as just last night I was grieving, and wondering how to move forward.
    Thank you for your insight.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sara,
      I’m so glad this came at just the right time for you. I’m so sorry you are grieving about your family. It is so painful. But if you recognize that change isn’t possible, you must reclaim your life and happiness in spite of them.

  14. Nice article, Barrie – helpful and caring information. So many people have these family troubles and I think your words will give them hope.

  15. Thank you Barrie. I needed this article. Like so many other readers I too felt alone on this issue. I struggle with feeling unloved and unloveable. But with the help of a friend I’m learning the importance of loving myself. I’ve finally come to accept that my ‘dream’ family never existed so there is nothing I can do to fix it. I only wish I’d figured it out earlier.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Jinja,
      I’m so sorry your family has not been there for you in the ways they should be. I have learned the importance of creating a “new” family of friends and people in my life who love and support me. You can’t change people, even people in your family. You must accept who they are and protect yourself from pain. Surround yourself with other loving people.

  16. Barrie,

    Thank you so much for this article! I discovered some of these items on my own a couple of years ago. But it is so wonderful to have someone else validate them!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Colleen,
      Yes, reading the comments, you can see you aren’t alone. I’m glad you have discovered these things, and I hope you are finding a way to manage your relationships and focus on people who do love and support you.

  17. Thanks Barrie,

    I glad I found this site.. My mom has torn the family of nine apart she makes us each one of us hate each other by her lies. Out of nine , I talk to 4 now. I haven’t talk to my older sister and youngest sister in two years. Those two are very evil, I hate to say that but I don’t know another word for them. I wish at one point we all could be a family again, but now I don’t. My mom is 77 years old and lies all the time and was very abused when I was younger . My mom was liked that to all her kids , except the last two. My mom still to this day is mentally abusing. I learned to forget, but again she lied and hurt me and pinned me against my oldest sister. So I am done with her, I am emotionally and mentally drained. I have my own family , who loves me.

    Thank you .. I am going to buy your book.
    God bless

  18. Davis Nguyen says:

    While I am at school (1000 mile away from home) it can be hard to stay in contact with my family. I make a conscious effort to stay in contact. While my family might not be dysfunctional, I know that if I don’t stay in contact a rift would form as with any relationship.

    You mention how to handle communication with a difficult member, but I think it is great when we can see the signs and prevent relationships from crumbling in the first place too.

    Thank for the great article!

  19. says:

    Hey there! I’ve been following your web site for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the great job!

  20. What an excellent article!! I grew up in an extremely dysfunctional family like so many others. My mother got pregnant, married the guy, gave birth to my sister….got pregnant again with me (he raped her she told me) I was born and she left my birth father when I was 2 months old. We moved in with my grandparents until she met a service man (Ted) home on leave from the service…She had a blind date with him in Sept. and married him the day after Christmas and we moved 3 states away. I was 2 1/2 and didn’t know or like this man my mother married. My mother proceeded to have Ted adopt my sister and I because she hated my birth father and didn’t want him to see us. They had the adoption papers sent to an address where they knew he didn’t live so he wouldn’t contest it…and it worked! By the time he found out about the adoption, there wasn’t much he could do to overturn things. Ted wasn’t very nice to my sister and I…he was an extremely angry man and would beat us with a black snake whip when we “misbehaved”. I was terrified of him, my sister would try and stand up to him. I stayed as far away from him as I could. My mother and Ted had 2 children together and he always treated them nicer than he treated us. My mother never stood up for my sister and I over the years against Ted but several years ago told me she was sorry she hadn’t protected us against him. There was always a lot of tension in our house and we were far from the warm and loving family I had hoped. So here we are 2013….Ted has dementia….is on meds and friendlier than he’s ever been his entire life. Mother is zoned out on valium dealing with Ted and all the family squabbling. I had a financial crisis 3 years ago and had no where to turn except my parents. They lent me money to get back on my feet but my younger sister found out about it (because Ted told everyone) and started sending me nasty, hateful texts. I had to change my cell number several times. I asked her to stop but she continued on making fun of my financial situation and just plain nasty stuff. She blocked me on Facebook and no longer speaks to me. I think she is jealous of Ted lending me money (he’s given her money all her life behind my back). My older sister joined in on the “lets make Wendy’s life miserable” and it continues today. I live far away from my family….amazing, huh! I’m the one who has always lived away….can’t deal with any of my family. My 2 sisters are bullies…have always been bullies and I am the sensitive, compassionate type (and far from perfect!). I have been beside myself with the hurt they have inflicted on me but after reading this article, I am seeing a new light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of getting caught up in the hurt, I am realizing that it’s not about me!!! THANK YOU…THANK YOU…THANK YOU!!! I cannot tell you how much better I feel after reading this article…I plan on following your web sight from now on!!

  21. Hi Barrie, my world came crashing 3 years ago when my siblings and myself lost our mother soon suddenly and after my mother’s family turned against me and treated me like a oustsider. I lost two uncles who were very close to me the same year my mother suddenly passed and I been trying to understand why I was going through this bad treatment, sadly, last year I lost my younger brother who was my best friend and I can’t sleep at nights because where I’m currently staying with my twin sister,my little nephew and my cousin is not going so well. We always argue about everything and they believe I am the one with the problem. Please help any way you can thank you for listening to my current living nightmare

  22. I am having some major issues with my younger sister, She and I are 8 years apart and have been at each others throats for the past two and half years, ever since I had my son, she has been on a mission to destroy all of my parenting. She has physically assaulted me when I’ve had my son in my arms, and on some occasions has verbally attacked me in front of him. Due to circumstances that I can’t control right now, I live home with my parents and she did live here for six months- those were the six months from hell that turned my world upside down. She finally moved out and is on her own, but EVERY time she is back at the house she attacks me verbally, emotionally, and mentally. This morning was just another example of an outburst that triggered an un-wanted attack from her.
    She was upset that I was making noise up-stairs last night due to my son having a sore throat. She comes down at 6:30 am to start screaming at me about how un-appreciative she is that there was so much noise last night, and how it’s my fault that I was making all of the noise. It got so bad that my father finally got involved and told us to knock it off. I’ve hit my limit with her. Every time she has an outburst I walk away. She feeds on that- and then stands back to laugh at me.
    Any advice would help, b/c I’m at the end of my rope with her and I have to deal with her for the rest of the week. Please if anyone can offer anything I’d be very appreciative. Thank You

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Meredith,
      I’m so sorry you are having these issues with your sister. You shouldn’t have to put up with verbal and physical abuse from anyone, especially a family member. I would try to stay away from her as much as possible. And if you are forced to be together, do not engage with her behavior. Walk away as you said. If she becomes physically abusive, let her know that the next time it happens, you will call the police. Then follow through if it happens again.

      • Thank You so much for the advice. I will try to stay away from her as much as possible. The other thing I wanted to ask you about is, She (the sister I’m having issues with) was recently diagonsed with having an anxiety disorder, she is supposed to take medicine- which to the best of my knowledge doesn’t take, when she’s home. Is there any way besides avoiding her that will work. The last question I have for you- She is showing symptoms of possible antisocial personality disorder. How can I deal with her, without it coming to blows. Besides walking away??
        Thank You again!!

  23. Hi,
    I see I am not alone in having the pain of an unloving family. I am 40 years old and have struggled with this throughout my entire life. From being born in to the world as an unwanted pregnancy with a drug abusing father and a mother who rejected and resented having to raise me. After I ingested my fathers lsd pills at the age of 3 and was traumatized by that my childhood was not the same, I was not normal and had many obstacles to overcome. My childhood was further spent being the outsider when my mother remarried. She loved her husband and not me. I went in to states custody eventually and was treated again unfairly and unkindly. I married a man who constantly criticized me, berated me, and was never around much. I had 3 children with him, two of which are now grown, and almost grown. Guess what-they treat me horrible too. My oldest had a baby at 19 moved back home and expected me to wait on her hand and foot while i am trying to hold down a full time job and care for my ten year old son. She would talk down to me and yell at me constantly even though i didnt raise her with that kind of emotion or disrespect. Then her boyfriend comes to stay with us and he acts like he owns the place, criticizes her brother, tries to refuse us to answer if her brother calls her phone, talks bad about our family members, takes what ever he wants around the house and then expects me to answer to him if i need to borrow my daughters phone to pay my phone bill etc. My daughter even just goes through my purse right in front of me to get something she wants doesn’t even ask but they refuse to share anything and act like they have just come in here and taken over my son and i’s life. I also thought the place i worked was like family but no, when i had a heart attack 6mos ago i got written up after that because i missed work. Then my child got sick and i got sick after that 6months later and they fired me 5 days before Christmas stating when i got written up after coming back to work after my heart attack and heart infection was my warning. I loved that job, i was in child welfare, and they just kicked me to the curb like that knowing my health was not good. I had just been diagnosed 3 weeks before i was fired with another bone tumor-the doctors told me it was benign. And i had a neck injury and in need of back surgery but now i have no insurance for that and was working in pain for several months. I also started dating a man and fell completely in love, he couldn’t stand my family either except for my youngest child and myself. i tried to work that out but couldn’t. he left me the day i got sick and then 3 days later my job fired me for being sick. my family didn’t care that even though these two horrible things happened to me right before christmas they still left me to spend christmas alone while they went and spent the holiday with their father and told me they would be back home to spend the evening with me. They got home and my teenage son took off immediately, and my daughter and her boyfriend just said here watch our child while we go out, then gave me a hard time when i asked them to bring me back a soda on their way home. on christmas. Now that my daughter has moved back home and acting the way she is it’s causing problems between me and my ten year old as well. he has always minded me and been a very loving child and we have a great relationship. now that my daughters boyfriend is around and she is home they come between that too. The boyfriend does it on purpose. I finally told him today they needed to move. so now, i am in need of medical care, no job, no family, a wonderful little boy to raise who is now having behavior issues, and my boyfriend has left me as well. My bio father has deceased of a drug overdose, my brother who i wasn’t raised with has as well, and my adoptive father who remarried doesn’t want or invite me around his new family, my mother who remarried still talks down to me but associates with my daughter and has nothing to do with me either. She called my daughter around christmas and said we could all go to dinner with them somewhere but after 3 years of not hearing from her except to criticize me for things like not affording to buy my daughter braces etc i just was not in the mood to deal with that either. i feel completely alone and lost in this world, like no one at all cares about my well being or happiness, i can’t get a man to stay with me and love me. i cant seem to get a job where my health needs are taken in to consideration and get that fixed so i can work and stay where i am at. and i especially dont have any family or friends who care about me and love me or treat me with compassion and kindness. even today after i did all the dishes from my daughter and her boyfriend and cleaned up after everybody she laughs at me when a plate falls on the floor and says you did a horrible job stacking the clean dishes. i wanted to hit her, but i am to good of a woman to ever do anything like that. i have had it with being used abused and yelled at and talked down to. this is what family is?!? This is what life is?!?

  24. Hi
    I am a 6th old mother and granny I am at the end of my tether with the antics of my only and younger sister. She is 14 hrs younger than me. I cared for her while mum and dad were out working, taking her to child minder, going to school, then picking her up to home after school. At 17th I got married, was a mum at 18th. By my sisters 11th birthday, our dad died, mum could not cope with4 my sister or Financial. I think at this point, my sister made mum redundant and me and my family took on mums role. Lots of things happened over the intervening years , my sister moved her boyfriend in at the age of 16.5 yr, they got married when she was 18, both developed great careers, had 2 children and owned their home. Whilst I had a large part in their lives, my mum was always kept at arms length by her. There had been a lot of resentment from her against mum.
    When her children were still quite young, she split from her husband, I and mum sided with her and we’re always there for her. For many years now, I have had to walk on eggshells around her. She would fall out with me for the (or make me feel that it was me who had fallen out with her) silliest thing, petty and trivial. I have always been the one to compromise, say sorry. I end up feeling guilty and stressed, she acts the martyr. Then she tells me she loves me, and we are on, until the next time.
    Last year, I took our mum on holiday to see family, mum is in her 80 now and can’t travel on her own. We paid for every thing. My sister took offence at not being invited, she took it out on mum, but never said anything to me. About a month before going on holiday, she announced to mum then me that she was coming with us. The holiday was a disaster, she came with one of her children, gave no consideration to me or mum. She had to be the centre of attraction, she even began to tell our cousins that mum loved me more than her, amongst other lies. On the journey home, she avoided us in the airport and the plane.
    Since we got home, mum put the phone down on her a few days after returning, she was so upset about past treatment from my sister and the holiday. I got the blame by mobile text, I was so hurt and upset, I did not reply..
    This all happened 7 months ago. Since then she has sent me 3 other nasty text messages, returned my Christmas card with a nasty note, (she did keep the money gifts for her children, from me and mum) telling me I had insulted her by not sending her a personal ‘I love my sister’ card’. More
    Christmas week, she arrived at mum’s door with a present, having not been near her in 7 months, and 2 abusive phone calls to her. That ni
    The mum phoned and told her not to go near her ever again. Guess who got the blame? Yes, me another nasty text, saying she would never forgive me as long as she would never forgive me as long as she lives for run in her relationship with her mum.
    Later that night my niece text me with a very abusive text blaming me and her gran for the disgusting treatment of her er mother.
    I tried to explain to my niece that her mother had sent me nasty texts and had told me to keep away from her and her children. She was not interested, I have not heard from any of them Ince, neither has mum.
    Just don’t know what to our anymore. Must add that my whole family have told me for years that my xix ter has used me for years, by taking her children at the least notice, to let her go away with her boyfriends etc., at my wits end and mum is really sad at this current situation. Help……

  25. Hi Barrie! Thank you for this awesome forum and for those sharing through posts. I believe that nothing just happens. I was looking for such a site because I refuse to believe that I am so special as to be the only somebody in the world with “adult sibling” issues! Biblically, the first family was dysfunctional to the point of murder (Cain & Abel). Anywho, I made a conscious, deliberate decision to “Stand” for my beliefs, my truths, my integrity, no matter what. Without going into great detail, I am the 6th of 8 children- there are 3 brothers between my eldest sister and myself & an 8 yr gap in our ages. Yep, a lifetime! We are completely different people; I was still playing hop scotch & 4-square when she was graduating high school. The bottom line is this; when I came into the world only one came out of the box, when I leave it there will be only 1 in the box! Life is shorter than we think, there is no time for confusion. In essence, we must all discover our personal truths ( what am I here for?) & be about the business of focusing on that rather than spinning our wheels trying to fix someone or something that is not our business anyway! I practice being a 1Corinthians 13 Chapter woman. Anyone whose DNA is made of LOVE & AUTHENTICITY can be FAMILY! P.S. I love myself unconditionally!

  26. Thanks for this. It’s hard, though. My parents are great with their own whatevers, but it’s my brother who is the hurtful one. To make a long story short, we grew up together under the care of my grandmother and my two parents. We were very close. Then my youngest brother was born and my grandmother was sent to a home and my brother started bullying me through high school and I moved for college. When I came back, my brother flat-out hated me. He’s said I abandoned him, and he glomped onto our youngest brother and made him sort of a minion mini-me. I was attempting to better my life by going to college out of state at a great school that focused in what I needed to focus in. It was a good, positive decision that had nothing to do with his worth. I explained this to him, and I came home every month even if it was expensive. I tried to call, but he never answered. He got very angry at me during college because I found out he was up to things he shouldn’t be up to, and I alerted my parents in an attempt to help him. He blamed the near-destruction of our family on me because I told the truth and tried to get him help. And when I finally came home to try to mend things with him, he just completely ignored me and put me down … until he needed me. His girlfriend and he couldn’t afford an apartment by themselves, so they begged me in tears to help them. He said that if I wanted to get closer to him and mend things, then this was the way to do it. We would be living together, so we could bond and have fun, etc. However, the first night in the new apartment, he screamed at me in front of our little brother, my fiance, and his girlfriend. He called me a “b” and said it was too late for me to back out because I’d signed the lease. My fiance had to stand between us. And then came the two and a half years we lived together. Everyone called me stupid, but I wanted it to work. We tried to invite them to do things, and they would either say we’d have to pay for the whole thing or we would have to cater to their every whim. One of the saddest moments was when I won tickets to a Broadway show I had been wanting to see for years. We had two extra, so we gave them the extra two. They showed up, angry and freaking out because we wanted to get there at an early time. They made me cry in line with their scary, mean comments. Another thing that happens is every Saturday, they take my youngest brother and his friend to Red Robin to get food. We’ve been invited a couple of times, but it’s the only night my fiance and I get together because he lives four hours away during the week. And the few times we gave up our Saturday to go, they just belittled me and him the whole time, calling us stupid and ridiculous. One night, he got so mad that he pounded on my bedroom door and taunted and screamed and threatened until he heard me getting on the phone with my dad to come over and stop him. Then he high-tailed it and my dad had to cut him off in the parking lot to give him a stern heart-to-heart. It didn’t really help. … I have finally moved out, because they finally “had enough of me” and “wanted their own space.” So last summer, they cornered me in the living room in the middle of me and my fiance doing something, and they handed me an agreement for a six-month lease instead of a twelve-month lease. It needed to be signed “that night”. I said they had sort of thrown this on me without a discussion, seeing as I have a very stressful job and couldn’t rightly move out in March. They threw a fit. I signed. And I just moved out as of Monday. … It’s been a wonderful experience, being away from them. But now my brother wants us to get along again, for the sake of our parents. However, he has now included my younger brother’s girlfriend into his posse, and the five of them now hang out, leaving me alone during the week and then leaving me and my fiance alone during the weekend. He said to my mother it isn’t that he hates me, it’s that he is annoyed by me. I guess the biggest grievance is that my fiance and I would sing Disney songs together in the hallway. It’s just ridiculous. I’ve taken it so personally, thinking I’m an awful human being and maybe there is something annoying about me. Maybe it is all my fault. Maybe I’m not good enough. And now I’m trying to convince myself of what you said … that it’s more about the other person and where they’re coming from than it is how they’re reacting to you. I really hope that’s right. I don’t know what to do from here on out. He wants to have a relationship, but I’m not okay with that. I had a nightmare last night about him coming into my new place and not leaving and yelling at me. I’m scared of him, I hate the way he turns all of our siblings and their SOs against me, I hate the way he treats my fiance, and I am really hurt by some of his words. But I am sad for my parents, because I love my parents and they are trying to keep neutral through all of this. … Sorry, I just needed to get it out. Thanks for writing this, and thanks for taking the time to read my reply.

  27. I was unfortunate in the basket I was placed in, I was put in a orphanage at six when my parents separated then sent to boarding school then sent overseas to live with a elderly strict religious grandmother, my brother did not survive our childhood and commit suicide, my mother has passed and I’m left with a father who can not find a nice thing to say, or make any effort to be part of my life.
    What have I learnt from all this, I have learnt what kind of parent I never want to be, I treasure the family I now have in my life, my father is now in the too hard basket. Reading all the comments above I feel for all of you, always value yourself and as hard as it is focus on the good people in your life. God Bless xx

    • Hi Annie,
      Wow, you did have a lot of trauma in your childhood. I’m so glad you have a loving family now and that you recognize their value in your life.

  28. Hi, I’m 15 and reading this post has really made me think about the relationship I share with my mum. Often she puts me down a lot and doesn’t always appreciate the things I do for her and that can be quite upsetting as all I spend my time doing is trying to feel worthy and trying to be good enough. I look back on how things used to be and realise that I’m not as happy as I used to be as I currently suffer with anxiety and possibly depression. I know that she loves me but sometimes I find myself questioning whether she does or not because she is constantly pulling out all the negative things about me and doesn’t appreciate how hard I work at school and how much effort it takes to keep going when there are so many factors pulling me down. Sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bother and it upsets me that I have almost no confidence in myself because of how self centred and mean she has become. I keep hoping things will change between us but its hard to imagine as my mum has become a very bitter and miserable person.

  29. I am not sure what to say, other than this has made me less alone. My mother has continued to bully me my entire life and I wish I was stronger. There is absolutely no acknowledgement of her own destructive capabilities. It is so subtle, yet so overwhelmingly powerful. She’s incredibly convincing. I am afraid to share because generally people don’t understand and see it as some type of character flaw in me. Are there support groups for women with such poisonous mothers? I want to succeed in life, yet I have continued to fall victim to her. I hate myself.

  30. Hello Barrie :

    Today I feel so anxious and troubled when I hear the news that my brother is coming to Denver to visit from Hong Kong. Which it means the family gathering that I have to meet with my father (a liar, and a person with a mask), and my older sister, (a narcissist) my brother, who think women are nothing, men are the king.

    I immigrant to U.S. from China 25 years ago, and today I am 56 years old American Chinese woman. I am the youngest in the family, and I have never had any doubt the character of my parents. (My mother is in the nursing home now, she is a wonderful mother, but she have verbally abused by my father many years in the past.)

    I have studied hard and worked hard in the U.S.; I have sent money and clothing to my parents when they were living in Hong Kong in the past. I even sponsored my parents come to the U.S. to live with me 8 years ago. I just wanted to take care of them and wish them happy.

    I was a real estate agent, and I worked many hours. Due to my parents do not speak English, and they do not know how to drive.
    Besides long hours of work, I have to take them to shopping, visit doctors, cook for them, clean the house for them…

    I also helped my older sister when she was 2nd time divorced 12 years ago. She has no place to live, and I let her to live with me. I gave her my clothing and food…In the end, I find out that she go thru all my staff when I was at work. I was really hurt and angry.

    6 years ago, I saw a letter my father was writing to my old brother. From the letter, I find out that my father have a lot of money. (He never offered to pay when we go to the restaurant; he never offered to help me for my mortgage, and utility bills.) In the letter, my father advised my brother do not tell me anything about money, or if I ask my brother about father’s assets; my father advised my brother just say, “Oh, I really do not know.”

    I was really hurt when I saw this letter. I realized that my father has used me as a stepping stone to the U.S… He pretend that he have no money, and he does not tell me anything about his assets. Since I started asking him to pay the partial rent, my parents moved out to the government sponsored housing with my old sister’s help immediately. (They lied to the government that he has no money).
    Since I see the true face under my father’s mask. I do not want to see him again. Now, he calls me only if he needs anything from me.

    Now, my brother arrives next Thursday, my father and my old sister says, “Let’s get together for family dinner.” But, I really do not want to see these so called “family members.” They are the selfish individuals, and all they do in their life is to take advantage of other people.

    But, in Chinese culture, if I do not go to meet with them in this “family gathering.” Which means I do not give them “the face”; they may hate me or cause me problems in the future?

    My father is 92, and he puts my old brother’s name as an executor if he dies. Which means I have to deal with my brother in the future. Basically, I do not trust these family members, they live too long in China, money is their God.

    Since I helped my family immigrant here in U.S., my happiness disappeared. I used to be a happy and successful real estate agent. Now, I am burned out by my family, and I can no longer to work. I become traumatized person. I just wanted to cry when I write to you at this moment.

    I was Google and try to find some help in the internet, then, I saw your article. Please help me; do I need to meet these evil people? How can I cope?

    Is there any group therapy you can recommend me in Denver?

    Thank you,


  31. Thank you for putting in words how I undertook my own estrangement from my Mom and siblings. I sometimes struggle with the disassociation. I also stopped communicating to my nieces and nephews. Not out of spite but out of love and respect for their own family ties. It is not my place to drag in the children and speak disparaging things about their parents or grandmother. I do not have any children and always felt blessed that I was loved by my extended family. However you do find out how people or family are in their darkest times and how it goes against your sensibility and you really cannot align yourself with their actions to the point it is physically making you ill. You conclude you need to separate yourself from the nastiness because their path and your path in life are at the extreme opposite poles. Peace does not come in the shape of all peaceful on the family front, it starts in your mind and your heart.

  32. My stepmother is very controlling and has bullied me for 40 years. She also, at times, has been very good to me. I finally had enough of the way she was treating, speaking to and using me, and have walked away from her. Trying to reason with her won’t achieve anything as she is never wrong. Usually I just apologize even when I have done nothing wrong, to smooth things over and for the sake of my relationship with my Dad.

    My father has Alzheimer’s, but still knows who I am and is always happy to see me. She now won’t let me speak to him on the phone or visit him.

    I feel such guilt for abandoning him at a time like this. I feel I should have hung in there just a little longer. However, with his increasing dependency, so has she turned up the level of abuse of me and my brother. I also feel such loss and sadness.

  33. My parents don’t listen too me when I tell them that my sister is starting stuff with me, unless she does it in front of them then when I try to say something even though it’s a simple thanks my step-dad gets on to me and says shut the f@#$ up boy I don’t wanna hear it, I then try to remove my self from the drama and he try’s to make me throw a punch at him and im not sure what to do, I don’t want to fight him… But I just need some help email me to help me [email protected]


  1. [...] The relationship with this person became tenuous and tense, the kind where you spend a lot of time walking around on egg shells because you know that the shit could hit the fan over the smallest thing. [...]

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