Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Relationships: When Family (or Any Relationship) Hurts

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Relationships: When Family Hurts

Family. Love them or love them not, there’s often a limit to what you can do with the difficult ones. You can’t live with them and you can’t make them join the circus. When there’s a lifetime of emotional investment involved, it’s likely that any response will hurt and will require a huge push, whether it’s walking away or fighting for the relationship.

Even if you decide that the price of being in the relationship is too high, it’s not always easy to leave. Sometimes it’s just not an option. Whether you’re on your way out or bracing for more, here are some ways to protect yourself from the ones who scrape you:

  1. Don’t let anyone else’s behaviour change who you are.

    Be dignified. Be brilliant. Be kind. Don’t let anyone reduce the best of you. 

  2. Make it clear this isn’t personal.

    Insecurity is at the heart of a lot of broken relationships. Insecure people will feel attacked even when no attack is made. If this is a relationship you care about, do whatever you can to help the other person feel safe and secure. Insecurity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People who are insecure will often respond to the world as though it’s going to hurt them. They’ll be cold, they’ll judge, they’ll take the first strike – all to protect themselves. In response, the world walks away, confirming the insecure person’s view that the world just isn’t safe.  

    Show them you’re different. Let them know that you don’t mean anything personally, that you appreciate their point of view and that you want to understand how they feel. (You might need to say it a few times!) Whatever you do, don’t blame. If you need to point out something they’re doing wrong, end it by letting them know that the relationship is important to you and you want to work on it. The more positive you can be the better:  ‘Every time I see you, you’re pointing out something else you don’t like about me. I really want to have a good relationship with you but it’s really hard when I feel like everything I do is judged harshly by you. Can we try and do things a little differently?’

  3. Now remind yourself not to take it personally.

    People will judge you, hurt you, put you down and try to break you – and most often, this will have nothing at all to do with you. 

    You don’t have to stay around and you don’t have to invest, but if leaving the relationship isn’t an option, seeing someone’s behaviour for what it is – a defence against a world that has hurt them once too many times – will help to protect you from the pain that comes from taking things personally.

  4. Find compassion

     Difficult people weren’t born that way. Generally the way they are responding to you is the way they have learned to respond to the world to keep themselves safe. It might be an ‘adversarial’ ‘I’ll get you before you get me,’ response. It might stem from having to control everything in their environment because they’ve learnt (somehow) that unpredictability  isn’t safe. Perhaps they have no idea of their impact on people and all they know is that relationships seem to fall like broken toy soldiers around them. Just because it’s painfully clear to you what they do, doesn’t mean it is to them.  

    There may be little you can do to change the relationship, but you might just be able to change the way it affects you. Feeling compassion is important because of the way it changes things for you. Compassion is an empowering choice you can make when you feel like you don’t have any choice at all.

  5. Hold the space. For them and for you.

    Sometimes the best thing you can do for a relationship you care about is to hold steady and give the other person time and space to work out whatever it is they’re going through – while you stand still beside them. This is different to the space people give when they stay away for a while. 

    Let the person know that you’re not going anywhere, if that’s what they want, and that there doesn’t need to be any resolution for the moment. Do this without judging or criticising. It’s so difficult to be in an uncertain relationship but sometimes that’s exactly what the relationship needs – time to work through the uncertainty without fear of losing the relationship. There’s no need to hurry a relationship worth fighting for.

  6. Accept what is.

    One of the greatest sources of unhappiness is the chasm between what we want and what we have. The gap left behind by a family member who hurts you can be immense. What makes it worse is that the pain is often recurring, hitting you every time you’re with them. Who knows why some people have amazing families and some have families that drain them, but not everything makes sense. You don’t deserve a difficult relationship, but don’t allow yourself to be ruined by that. Acknowledge what it is, let go of what it isn’t, and flourish despite it.

  7. You don’t need to convince anyone. 

    You are not here to win anyone’s approval. None of us are. Run the race you want to run. You don’t need to convince anyone of your reasons, your direction, or why you’re telling some people get out of your way. Just go around them – it’s much easier.  That you are silent, still and choose not to engage does not mean they’re right. It means you just don’t have to prove anything anymore. Because you don’t. 

  8. It’s okay not to be with them. 

    They may be your family, but you don’t have to have a relationship with anyone you don’t want to. If it feels too painful, explore what you’re getting out of the relationship by staying. If you choose to have a relationship anyway, let that be a testament to the capacity you have to make your own decisions and act accordingly. Change the way you look at it. If you have to maintain contact, let this be your decision made in strength, not in defeat. Own the decision because it was the best thing to do for you, not because someone else decided it was the decision that needed to be made.

  9. Acknowledge their feelings, but don’t buy into them.

    Acknowledging how somebody feels doesn’t mean you agree with them. Saying something as simple as, ‘I understand you’re really angry but I  see things differently to you,’ or, ‘I know that’s how you see it and I have no interest in changing that. I have a different view,’ is a way to show that you’ve heard. Letting people know you’ve seen them and heard them is so powerful. Doing it and standing your ground without getting upset is even more so.

  10. Set your boundaries. And protect them fiercely.

    We teach people how to treat us. Imagine a visual boundary around yourself. You’ll feel when it’s being stepped over. Your skin might bristle, your chest might ache – it’s different for everyone but get to know what it feels like for you. When it happens, let the other person know. They might not care at all, or they might have no idea they’ve had that impact. If your boundary isn’t respected, walk away until it feels as though it’s been reset. Explain what you’ll tolerate and what you’ll do when that doesn’t happen. ‘I really want us to talk about this but if you’re going to scream at me, I’m going to walk away until you’re ready o stop,’ or, ‘I really want us to work through this but if you just keep telling me that I’m not good enough, I’m going to hang up the phone.’

  11. Is there anything you can do differently?

    You might be dealing with the most difficult person in the world, but that doesn’t have to stop you from being open to the things you might be able to change about yourself. Is there any truth at all in what that person is saying? Is there anything you’re doing that’s contributing to the problem? This isn’t about winning or losing but about honesty, learning and growth. Nobody is perfect – thankfully – and the best people to be around are the ones who are constantly open to their impact and their contribution to relationships, good or bad. That doesn’t mean you have to take the blame for the mess, but this might be an opportunity for your own wisdom to flourish. What can you learn from the situation? What can you learn from them? Nobody is all bad or all good. Take advantage of the opportunity. Focus on what you can learn. Ditch the rest.

  12. Leave with love

    This is important. If you walk away from family don’t let the final words be angry ones. You never know what the future holds. However angry or hurt you are, death has a way of bringing up guilt and regret in the cleanest of relationships and forever is a long time not to have resolution. Anger is the one emotion that’s never pure. It’s always protecting another, more vulnerable one. Some common ones are fear, grief, insecurity, confusion. Tap into that and speak from there. That way, when you walk away, you’re much more likely to feel as though nothing has been left unsaid. Just because a relationship is ending, doesn’t mean it has to end angry. You don’t want to leave room for regret. Leave it with strength, dignity and love because that’s who you are. Trust me on this.

There will always be those whose love and approval comes abundantly and easily. They’re the keepers. As for the others, if the fight leaves you bruised, you’d have to question whether the relationship is worth it.

There will always be people who try to dim you. Sometimes this will be intentional and sometimes they will have no idea. You can’t change what people do but you can keep yourself safe and strong, just as you deserve to be.

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141 Comments

Amanda

For a long time I’ve had a feeling that my sister doesn’t like me .I think sometimes she resents my existence.She is quick to judge me and berates me if she thinks I’ve done something to offend her.She doesn’t do this with other family members.
The other day during a group phone chat with my other siblings she yelled at me for something I did not do.
After the call I offered to make amends but it did not make a difference to her.I feel like there’s no point in continuing the relationship.

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Jo

I have been officially excluded from my family because I cared to much. Terrible things where said between me n my mother but my siblings did not support me but my mother. We tried to tell them they needed to step up n help her because of so much past rejection she did not want help from me. They didnt. So when I did she attached me n now I am excluded. Yet I can not amend because of the power plays that happen. Yet I’m the one left feeling like I have done something wrong n rejected

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LBear

Oh my goodness, I am literally crying right now. Some of this is exactly what hit me and what I needed to hear. But for some reason, I feel as if I am a possible problem. Maybe I am being selfish in believing that no one likes to listen to me or to each other, but that is how I view my family. No one has respect for each other and they never listen. After I argue with one family member, sometimes another one will jump in the fight. It seems as if they are deliberately ganging up on me and just picking on me, but maybe I am the problem. That is the exact feeling I have when I leave an arguement. Please, someone explain to me what is happening. If I really am the problem, I would like pointers as to becoming a better person for myself and for those around me so that I can encounter less tension. Whoever has read thus far, I am sorry for hurting your eyes with so many words.

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kesmarn

The person who says: “Maybe I’m the problem?” is rarely the problem. Some families seem to do Communication By Combat. God alone knows why. I don’t know whether it would help to raise the issue at the next family gathering. (“Hey, does anyone else feel that we do more yelling at each other than most families do? Anything we can do to change that?”) If not, maybe just good old-fashioned avoidance of drama (attending few events, going silent when voices are raised) would help.

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J

Thanks for your comment it helped me. I was just asking today what is wrong with me and why can’t I ever do things right? My husband says what you basically said- that the one asking isn’t the problem, and I am not a bad person. I have such a hard time believing I am not broken. They are very convincing.

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Tina

Thank you Ms. Young. My sister and I are always having problems and your words really hit home. I have been handling things very much like you suggest and hearing it sure lifts a weight. The validation feels good as well. You also give me the tools I need to move forward so I thank you for that as well.

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Tina

It might be rare for the problem child to admit they are the problem but if it’s not them then who, hmm? Remember, Ms. Young said you might not know if it’s you. So I think it’s best to point them in the direction of help. The chances are they could use it anyway. I mean, can’t we all?

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andria t

I have been wronged by the worst kind. I won’t be going to any of my family members’ funerals if they die first. If I die first I don’t want them there. I hope I never see them again. I hope they go through he worst trauma one can imagine after what they did to me. God hasn’t been kind to many of us and I don’t blame him for that. I just hate living my life concerning myself with every move that I make to make sure I pleased him- but he has had his back turned to me all my life. I don’t worry now and my life has gotten much better. I don’t have those family members in my life and my world has changed for the better. No wonder people who don’t believe in God seem to have the best time out of life because they aren’t caught up in the worry of what will god say if I hate my family after they lied to authorities to have my children taken from me. This is the same family that I have always helped when they called. I never want to see them again and if the coroner calls to tell me one of them have past on- I’m going to reply- you have the wrong number. Thanks God for my wonderful life!

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PK K

How did you move on ? I’m suffering from PTSD caused by them, I even went to prison for 8 months awaiting trial for 2x false Rape charges they instigated on me, I’m trying to move on but I can’t cause my mind triggers the bad memories. HOW DID YOU MOVE ON? Please help me, I’ve attempted suicide TWICE !!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Krista E

To PK K: a video that saved my life is from Spartan Life Coach on YouTube titled “Why your family hates you” & it’s follow up. It hasn’t stopped the behavior, but it has stopped my wanting to kill myself over it & make 6 pieces of 💩💩 happy. Black Sheep Nation: we’re a brotherhood.

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J

I would like to offer a suggestion: Pray to God: please disconnect me emotionally from these people. Pray frequently. The intention takes root and the intensity of your feelings may start to fade gradually. I’ve done this, it works but it takes time and repetition.

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Donna R

I have had a hemmoragic Stroke and family members don’t tell me things anymore and it hurts. I feel like they are afraid to tell me things for fear of me having another stroke. What can I do?

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Colleen Mc

I don’t understand for my family to feel they have to manage me rather than have a relationship with me.
I have tried my best will all of them and have always but their needs before my own and sometimes before my children’s to keep the peace. But after 4 hateful years of diversion and division I find myself the only one on the outside looking in.
I am hurt but dealing with it best I can. I don’t want to go backwards with anyone of them and find myself now only staying connected for my children’s sake. I pray to god each day that he keeps me safe until my children are grown up to a age they are able to cope in their own. I have provided for them well should I die but emotionally I need to ensure they are at age where they don’t need anyone except each other in a healthy way. Everything I have I worked hard for and would love to live in peace now and not to be continuously emotionally abused by my families unkindness

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Queen

Hi sometimes it seemes to be hard but mostly it should be a lesson to us and the only thing I think u must do is to keep u’r children away from what u passed through and do what ever you can to develop Mother relationship with u’r kids (love them,understand them and pray for them)

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Susan B

My daughter has removed me from her life and grandchildren..i shared with a friend something at the time I didn’t know would be used against her and me. She felt as though her boundarie was broken she became angry and cursed and pushed me back in a chair and asked me to leave her home I have gone through this cutting me off 4 different occasions what do I do and how can I help myself in this.

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Guitaristm

I can relate to this. As the article said, it’s usually not anything that we’ve done wrong. My daughter did exactly this, and used profanity with me. At one point, she beat me. At this stage of my life, I choose not to have friends because of all the hatred from my daughter to me. She has hurt me incredibly.

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Terry K

All I have to say is: Hurt people, hurt people. There is no explaining other people’s inability to communicate true feelings with a commitment to work things out… It’s sad. This article crystalized things I was doing to cope that I wasn’t sure were right. I’m in good company but I’m sorry that my family has decided whatever I did was worthy of excommunicating me instead of working it out with me so we could learn from each other and grow closer. I believe it’s best to seek understanding then be understood. It’s just not happening now.

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Louise

I do not make a habit of posting commentary on articles that I have read. But I have to honestly, from the bottom of my heart, thank the person who wrote this brilliant and insightful article. The manner in which this article was written helped me find the necessary insight on my own personal problems that I am facing with my family and how to respond towards what is out of my control. Again. Brilliantly written and thank you for posting.

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Christine P

The 3 boys in my family suffer from schizophrenia, alcoholism. They are emotional abusive and have no sense of remorse and accountability. Unfortunately, the last living head of this pact, the father, has taught his boys the abuse, lack of remorse and accountability. The girls in my family suffer from depression n anxiety. I am the 7th borne girl taking meds for this condition n I can work and be a productive citizen. The other girls are experiencing other medical issues, which I suspect is the result of not dealing with the root- anxiety n depression.
I have not had a relationship with 2 brothers in my family – who do not live under the same roof as me -due to years of emotional abuse. The last 2 male members are 2 that I live with at this time, at least for the next year. I have made a conscious decision to take the 2 males which I share a roof, and place them outside my circle. I have nothing to talk 2 them, as my role in this house is to clean the inside of the house n the outside yard. My role ends at this point. I have nothing to say 2 the 2 males who are living under the same roof. I have one year to leave n be on my own again. My response to any questions they may have for me will always be “I have no response to your inquiry”. When I leave this roof, which I share with the last 2 males in this family, I will not look back. Call it self preservation.

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Kia

I am at a point where I want nothing to do with my family. They are toxic and have been since I can remember. If I ever need any help with anything they will gladly bring up all of my shortcomings. I was working a good job and lost it. My father never fails to bring up how I had this good job. Now I don’t I am working hard to get back on my feet any little thing they’ve ever done. It’s thrown right back in my face. They love to say if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t have nothing. I have always been a very independent person and I despise asking them for anything knowing that they will say if it wasn’t for me. I am working hard to rebuild my life and never look to ask them for anything. I want nothing to do with them as a family they are all horrible and I wouldn’t care if we ever speak again. I’m done with them

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beatrice

I have 2 family members who have showed great disrespect for everyone in the family. They are extremely antagonistic, even to each other a lot of the time. But I’ve noticed when they are getting along they are somewhat more cruel to other people than when they are fighting. I hate the antagonism, the disrespect, I won’t go into it but some of it has been extremely bad. I once tried to kick them out of my elderly mother’s house because of their bullying behavior, I live states away so they were back almost immediately. I finally set a boundary that I wouldn’t communicate with antagonism any more, when I felt it or heard it I was gone. Talk to me with respect or you won’t talk to me at all. Circle came back around and now I’m disconnected again, one of them lives in my sister’s house, so I haven’t seen her in over 2 years because I won’t step into that fight again. Anyway this article helped me somewhat. I took notes. It’s about knowing what’s right and refusing to bend. It’s heartbreaking but I intend to stand strong.

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Xiao

Exactly at new year, i fought with my big extended families (cousins). I hate it when i have mood swings. I didnt attack them, i just stopped talking and stopped showing feelings for them. I didn’t know why. I just felt sad and felt like i’m lonely and not good enough for them. They tried talking to me but i keep acting cold. I know it was stupid for me. What is wrong with me. Now i am rejected . Rejected from all my families. Grounded from leaving my room the rest of my life. I had thoughts on going to live alone somewhere where they cant find me. But i’m broke. I never tell my parents everytime i have issues with life or facing difficulties. They blast me some talkings that always ache me. And what they say abt me is not true. My siblings also hated me. I dont work yet, i dont go to school anymore, the last qualification i have was A’level but not qualifiy to enter university. I dont have anyone to talk to. My friends have better life and im sure they wont listen to me. I deleted all of my social media accounts kn new year too I dont know why i’m always rejected in this society. I just feel rejected in 2019. I need help. I’m depress.

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Emily

My Husband’s stepdad is estranged from his son. It’s been like that for almost 3 years. My in-laws are obviously hurt especially since the estranged son recently became a father himself. This is my FIL’s 1st grandchild.

My in-laws are constantly bringing up the drama between them and not understanding what they did wrong. They most certainly don’t take into consideration that the passive aggressive FB posts in reference to the ES make things worse. Oh but don’t tell them that because they are the victims. I don’t see anyone as the victim here with the constant tit for tat.

I ,along with both SILs, make it an effort to not bring it up but sometimes the in-laws find a way to bring it up. We are all so sick of hearing about this. It’s very draining. How can we tell them we are not interested in discussing this drama?

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Frank

No one is immune from the painful words and actions of family and friends we care for. Rather than agonize over what was said and done I believe the only option is rebuild yourself internally from the ground up. This is not ea

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Frank

Sorry……read above. This is not easy. Every ounce of your strength and determination is required to come to grips with the pain and disappointed when family and friends say or do things that are terrible and hurt us. Sometimes these things are done out of love. More often than not it is done out of anger, jealousy, ego insecurity and a profound lack of compassion and understanding. My advice to you is simple. Back away and focus on yourself. Go look for new families and friends to spend time with. Imagine that you are the loving compassionate parent or friend that sees that little four year old boy or girl with their head in their hands , devastated,crying and trembling. Would you simply walk away. Of course not ! You would walk up to the little little child and ask them what is wrong.
When they explain it to you you would immediately try to console them and if you really loved the child give them and all encompassing, loving embrace with soft loving words. Please understand that YOU are that child. You must also be that parent or friend that walks up to the child with loving words and a big embrace. You woke up today. Everything in your body still worked.
Be grateful. Breathe, listen and crack a tiny smile that some mysterious force still wanted you here. Feel blessed that you were not the one that got some horrible news today. Keep moving and walking around the great circle that is life the same way the earth keeps slowly spinning on itself and around the sun. Do not allow yourself to become stuck. Keep moving, softly walking and flowing the same way your heart keeps softly beating and moving your warm glorious life giving blood to even the smallest tips of your fingers and toes. Love yourself, calm your mind. You are not and never will simply be your thoughts. Keep walking softy and moving forward.

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Frank

The one other comment I would add is do not be consumed by thoughts of retaliation and revenge. Living well is the best revenge.
Life is supremely ironic and no one can escape their karma. When those who have really hurt you grow old ,sick and die be grateful that you are not the one suffering today. Your full time, every day job is to take care of you. When that piece is good then you can begin to think about reaching out to others and mend some fences if you need to.

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F R

I have been having problems with my sister! She has a very dominating personality that I find very hard to deal with. Her husband has a narrsistic personality, he tells her the most outrageous lies. She totaly believes every thing he tells her. Then she regurgitates these lies to me and expectes me to go along with his rediculous stories. I know they are not true, but I dont want to destroy our relationship by telling her that I don’t believe anything he tells her. I tried to tell her at one time and she got so defensive and started to fall apart, then she accused me of not not supporting her. Her husband has been telling these rediculous stories for 20 years. I just can’t go on listening to her. I love my sister and I don’t want her completely out of my life, but it has taken a huge toll on my life. I could really use some advice.

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Anonymous

Having family hurt you is the absolute worst thing in the world.
It cuts deeper than anything you can imagine.
It breaks your heart into a billion pieces and sometimes you don’t understand how to stitch them all back together again.
Sometimes for your own mental and physical health you need to just remove yourself from the situation, which again is hard because you crave the love and support of a family.
A true family, a supportive family. I guess at these times we fall on our friends, the small network of family we have made for ourselves.

Today I woke to see my sisters hen party pictures splashed all over facebook and Instagram.
I guess they forgot to invite me. I know I’m busy ATM 24/7 studying hard for my future. I know because of this I constantly have to explain myself and can’t always be there. I would have moved heaven and earth to be at that party though, although she’ll never know that now.
It cut me like a knife. I can’t understand why anyone would be that cruel.
I guess I just don’t fit into the superficial world they live in.

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Gramma

My 35 year old daughter savagely attacked me four years ago and left me battered and bruised for a week where I couldn’t go anywhere. She went to a State mental hospital for two weeks, then she was put on house arrest and used my address to be locked down in. Two years after that she became pregnant out of wedlock which I helped her through. I have helped her by raising my beautiful granddaughter out of concern for her safety. We live separately, but her emotional and verbal abuse towards me continues. The baby has learned every cuss word in the book from her and I’m afraid she is verbally abusing her as well. I’m in fear she will physically abuse my grandbaby. I want my daughter out of my life, but I can’t bear to leave my grandchild.

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M

One of my family members is a very prominent public figure. My family is full of crap. My mom was verbally & physically abusive. My siblings all treated me like crap for most of my life. Every holiday I cried from their meanness. My brothers wives are also monsters. The more I write the more I wonder why I even care about these people. Seeing me probably just reminds them of the terrible people that they are. This all makes sense. WOw. I wish I was born into a family of kind and living people. All I can do is continue to offer that to my own children and encourage love and kindness. Wow. This really helped me. Thanks!

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Shreehari

Greetings mam☺My Name Shreehari i live in India, TamilNadu i have a problem with my all family members (except my mom and dad) everyday i speak with them about my fav ambition
in my life (that is i want to become a solider in Indian Army) when i speak about this to my mom&dad they motivates me but other ones are insulting me like hell yes…everyday they hurts me and no one likes me cuz im so scared with public , and other some reasons at all what shall i do mam please give me some advise i cant bear the insults it pains me a lot

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Beverlee H

My brother is very sick. I have done everything humanly possible for him and my 85 yr old mother whom he lives with. I was unable to take him to his ongology appt. 2 days ago,due to my being ill that day, and he cussed me, told me he could not depend on me, and then hung up on me. He is now back in the hospital and i called to see how he is feeling, and he was again rude and hung up on me. It hurt me so badly. He is rude to my mom and myself and i simply cannot take it anymore. I realize he is sick, but NOW he is mad for something i had no control over. This is a guy that went for 12 yrs without speaking to our dad. I want out of the never ending cycle, but i know i will feel guilty for not helping when needed.

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Ellie D

I love that you mentioned you don’t need approval from anyone. I believe that acceptance is one of the most important things in any relationship and family. Surpringsily when you accept yourself you can proceed to accept your family, and it will help you to get along with them in a nicer way.

Reply

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