Most family relationships have their ups and downs. However, there is a difference between a relative who isn't always easy to get along with, and one whose spiteful behavior makes you feel unhappy or insecure. This type of toxic relationship can be extremely draining and destructive, particularly if the spiteful behavior goes on for many years. Your temptation may be to avoid your spiteful family member altogether, but this may be impractical and ineffective as a long-term solution to the problem.
Tell yourself that you deserve better than to be mistreated by a family member. Sometimes, low self-esteem prevents people from believing they are worthy of compassion, love and respect, says psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter in the article, "Toxic Relationships: A Health Hazard," for Psychology Today.
Identify the spiteful behavior displayed by your relative, for example making cutting remarks or backstabbing. It may help to record some examples on paper to clarify the situation in your mind.
Address the spiteful behavior the next time it occurs. Tell your relative how her nastiness makes you feel. For example, if she makes a spiteful remark about how you parent your children, say to her, "When you criticize me, it makes me feel like a bad parent." Make a request for change, such as, "Are you willing to stop making spiteful comments?" Be specific, and use "I" statements as much as possible which are an effective way of communicating a problem to another person without placing the blame on them, says the article "'I' Statements, Not 'You' Statements" for the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium.
Control your reactions to the spiteful behavior. Your instinct may be to fight back and retaliate with nasty comments of your own. Or you may choose to turn a blind eye, in the hope that the behavior will cease. Neither of these responses are healthy, says sociologist Christine Carter in the article, "How to Deal with Mean People," for the University of California, Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.
Treat your spiteful relative with compassion which is the most effective response to meanness, according to Christine Carter. Consider that your relative may be insecure, threatened or scared. Try a meditation technique to send loving thoughts to your relative. Carter suggests repeating a mantra like, "May you be happy. May you be free from suffering," while you picture your relative in your mind.
Limit your contact with your spiteful family member if he is unwilling or unable to change. Avoid spending time with him on your own. His behavior will be easier to handle in larger groups, when you are surrounded by caring, supportive family members. Pursue interests that take you away from your relative and into different social circles. For example, if you are currently members of the same gym, switch to another one to reduce the likelihood of running into him.
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C. Giles is a writer with an MA (Hons) in English literature and a post-graduate diploma in law. Her work has been published in several publications, both online and offline, including "The Herald," "The Big Issue" and "Daily Record."