How to not let a mean family member (and people in general) get to me?
September 21, 2013 2:45 PM   Subscribe

I have an extended family member that likes to poke fun at me - I consider the fun to be mean spirited, he doesn't. He doesn't let up, and it makes me dread family gatherings, because I know that I will get peppered with rude comments (about what I'm wearing, my sexuality, etc.). I have a hard time knowing what to say in response, and I find this to be the case when dealing with many people that I would consider to be "assholes". How to cope and not let myself get scared away from events by people like him?

There will be a gathering coming up this week, and I am already getting anxious about it. I convinced myself to stay home in the past because I don't want to put up with people that will insult me or make me feel uncomfortable, but I also hate feeling I am "chickening out" because of one person when I would probably have a good time otherwise. I would love to have a snappy comeback ready to what he says, but I kind of just stare and fumble around with words, all the while thinking "Did he really just say that?" I am not the only one who I've seen get teased, but I tend to get the brunt of it.

I guess my main question is: How do I brush off and ignore his comments, particularly in a small party setting? How to deal with meanspirited people in general? I know that he will definitely say a few things, and he doesn't tend to let up. I have such a hard time with people like him, as I am an oversensitive, anxious person to begin with.

PS: I don't think having a word with him regarding this would help. He is unfortunately the type that would derive satisfaction from knowing that he was bothering me - he is also rather narcissistic.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (62 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
"What a horrid thing to say to someone." *turn to another guest* "Hey, could you please pass the dip?"
posted by radwolf76 at 2:52 PM on September 21, 2013 [14 favorites]

A simple "not funny" is probably the easiest response to get rehearsed and ready to say back through a tight-lipped smile. But I feel for you. This stuff is hard.
posted by ambrosen at 2:53 PM on September 21, 2013

I would make a chocolate cake just for them, with lots of swirly chocolate frosting on top, and present it to them, saying, "Relative, I made this just for you. It's a crap cake. Now cut the crap."

Then hand them a knife and smile.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:56 PM on September 21, 2013

I am currently a big fan of giving antagonists a huge fake smile with the corners of my mouth held up by my middle fingers, as suggested by a mefite in another thread which I am too lazy to find and cite.
posted by elizardbits at 2:56 PM on September 21, 2013 [23 favorites]

"You still find this sort of stuff funny, relative? My goodness, everyone around you must find you so terribly dull. I'm going to go talk to somebody who doesn't reuse the same material over and over, excuse me."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:02 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know someone like this. If I'm not mistaken, they like to provoke a reaction from people, even if it's a negative one.

I would adopt a neutral face, and act like you don't "get" their put-down. This is hard, but you can do it! I have faith in you. Pretend like they asked you to pass the salt, but you don't know what that is, and are too uninterested to ask.

Once they see they cannot get a response from you, they'll look for another target. But they'll keep trying for a while - keep it up, it's working!

(BTW - they try to make fun about your sexuality? Christ what an a...)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 3:06 PM on September 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

The best way I've found to deal with incorrigibly mean-spirited people, the ones who aren't embarrassed to be called out on their rudeness, is to completely ignore what they've said as if their behavior is so outrageously rude that I can't believe they actually said what they did, or as if it doesn't merit the slightest bit of my attention. Bonus: both things are true! I don't mean brush it off or dismiss it or shoot them a nasty look, I mean completely ignore it and continue on with the rest of whatever's being talked about as if the rude comment was never made. I keep it up even if they persist, though in some cases if I feel I have to shut them up I say some variation of: "Oh, I heard you, but didn't think it warranted a response." (Using much more casual language for those jerks who are likely to respond to that by mimicking my use of big fancy words.) And then keep moving on. Don't get ruffled, don't bite back, don't engage at all, just behave as if they don't exist.

There is a small handful of people who will find this just as encouraging as making you upset, and those people are utterly lost causes and you should take whatever steps you need to in order to stay away from them. Everyone else will eventually give up because it points out their mean-spiritedness. Because sure, some people think making mean comments is all in good fun, but if people see him continuing to try to provoke you when you're obviously not having it, it shows that they're really trying to be mean and not just joking around. Plus it starts making them look ridiculous to keep talking to someone who is obviously ignoring them.
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:07 PM on September 21, 2013 [33 favorites]

Ignore it if plausible. If not plausible, a dull "yeah", and turn your attention elsewhere.
posted by fatbird at 3:07 PM on September 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think that he is looking to get a reaction from you, so ANY response from you, witty as it may be, will be giving him what he wants.

I think if you stop giving him the reactions he is looking for, he will move onto another target. Maybe not immediately, he might react at first by trying harder and harder to get a response from you, pushing it farther and farther. But if you can hang on and refuse to take the bait, I think he will eventually move on.

I also don't think you should OBVIOUSLY ignore him because that's another way of letting him know he is getting to you. I recommend the dead stare. He talks, while he talks you look at him with a dead stare, then make no response and go do something else.

I also think the dead stare is the best if you really want him to leave you alone for good. Just stare at him the whole time with a dead stare. Don't say anything, don't acknowledge that you are staring. Don't follow him around, just whenever he is in your eyesight, stare at him with the dead stare and don't let up. Also don't let other people see that's what you are doing, if he says something to other people but they don't see you doing it, they will act like he is crazy.
posted by cairdeas at 3:08 PM on September 21, 2013 [15 favorites]

How do I stop being the butt of all the jokes?, from the Green, may be of help.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:08 PM on September 21, 2013

A short reply is just a reaction to him, but a long, well-thought-out response may put him in his place. Saying something like, "You know, I've stayed at home for occasions when I knew you'd be here, because your comments are so hurtful to me. I've been worried sick for this past week, because your cutting remarks truly hurt me. I know you don't want to hurt people on-purpose, but what I'm telling you right now is that you are doing just that. The next time you make a mean-spirited comment at me, I'm going to leave the room."

Say this in front of others. When he says something mean to you later, leave the room.
posted by xingcat at 3:10 PM on September 21, 2013 [21 favorites]

I actually think "did you really just say that?" said in a very calm and perfectly relaxed tone, as if you're discussing the weather, and then total silence while you just look at him IS effective. He'll bluster or say 'I was joking!" or something, and you can just respond, again, totally pleasantly, simply "interesting..." and then wander off to refill your drink. A non-reaction that is also a reaction. A snappy reaction just plays into his desire for what he thinks is Witty Repartee.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:11 PM on September 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

"You must be really insecure to make comments like that." I would say that loud enough for many people to overhear. And, if ever he says "I was joking", my bet would be that no one (else) would be laughing and I would point this out.
posted by aroberge at 3:25 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Comedian Tig Notaro has a fantastic bit, with a rather NSFW name that you might find helpful.

Adapted to your situation, you might say something like, "so that went through several layers of filters in your mind, and you still decided, 'yeah, I'm going to need to say this.'"

Or "Think about the things you decided not to say. Things like 'good afternoon,' or '... oh, I was going to say something, but I decided not to.'"
posted by Naberius at 3:28 PM on September 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

Just stare at him until he sputters. Say nothing...just look at him until he's wildly uncomfortable.
posted by 26.2 at 3:28 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

"Your jokes aren't funny and you sound like an asshole. Stop."

If you actually want him to stop you need to drill it into his head that he's being an asshole. And that when he tries to make jokes at your expense for fun, it will actually not be fun at all. It will just be awkward, and it will be his fault, not yours.

None of this "pull him aside and explain that your feelings are hurt" bullshit. Don't try to be clever. Just call him out for being an asshole. If you're not good with this type of direct confrontation, this is an excellent opportunity to practice standing your ground.
posted by windbox at 3:30 PM on September 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

In your mind, you are the grand poobah and this ersatz relative has some how gotten in and is walking upright among people for some reason. You, in your benevolence respond to his witless squawking with mostly patience but also some irritation because, you know, there are interesting things going on and he's unable to understand or be part of real life activities.

Role playing can be useful. Even if you are the only one playing
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:37 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I generally repond to boorish people by asking them if they were raised by wolves. A hearty "go fuck yourself" can go a long way as well, preferably within earshot of anyone who heard the initial offending comments.
posted by dhammond at 4:00 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am going to suggest more extreme action than I normally would, but in this case, it might possibly be justified. But do only what you feel safe doing.

Since he is a relative (and for the record? he is definitely an asshole) you actually have more options than if he were just some random jerk or co-worker. Random jerks might be violent; co-workers can get you fired. Families are mostly stuck with you.

By which I mean, he has already established that this sick game he wants to play is more important than the normal polite/considerate boundaries of family relationships. What's more, no one else has tried to or been able to stop him.

Since he has already broken the rules, so can you. You have nothing to lose; you are already agonizing over and skipping family events. So, you can take this as license to react in an extreme (not violent) way.

By which I mean:

1. Pouring a drink over his head.
2. Saying loudly "You are being an asshole, Family Member. Stop it now, because I'm sick of it."

Either or both might be sufficient, in whatever order you think best.

Now, what will happen depends on your family. Some or all might be delighted that someone finally stood up to him. (I would be surprised if you are the only victim).

Or, your family might decide that you are the problem, in which case, I am sorry you have such a dysfunctional family, but at least you will a) know where you stand and b) have established your boundaries. And maybe you will have to find other strategies for dealing with them as a whole, like therapy. Hopefully, they are just a regular family full of people who don't want to rock the boat or who arent' good at confrontation.

After it all blows over, which it will eventually, he will hopefully have learned that this shit doesn't fly. And hell, you may become a family legend.

Like I said, though; he is already waaaay out of bounds. Your response can be proportionate, so long as it is nonviolent.

If other family members try to get you to apologize, refuse, or apologize only for getting water on the rug, which you will clean up. If he wants you to renege on what you said, refuse. If he apologizes, accept it, and give him the chance to not be an asshole.
posted by emjaybee at 4:04 PM on September 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

With a confused and puzzled look: "Geez, relative, you seem really obsessed with me and my sexuality...what's up with that? Is there something you'd like to talk about in private? I only ask because you keep bringing it up over and over again."
posted by NoraCharles at 4:14 PM on September 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

You know, I've discovered that I like the following phrase when i can walk away:
Smile, look patiently at all the people who are part of the conversation...
"You know, I've recently discovered that life is too short to spend it with assholes/jerks. Excuse me"....nod at everyone and move onto another conversation. In short, talk to everyone but him, because he doesn't deserve your time or attention. Your attention is a gift....not everyone gets it. Just because he wants it doesn't mean he gets to get it.
posted by anitanita at 4:25 PM on September 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

There seems to be one of these in each generation of my family. It is worse if drinking is going on. My method is to either ignore and move on, or say nonsensical things in response and then move on. Sometimes I say "ok time to go" and then leave the house. That has resulted in a few apologies over the years but has not ultimately changed the behavior, though it does make me feel better. Treating them like you would a stranger being rude only seems to egg these immature, socially delayed assholes on. Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 4:32 PM on September 21, 2013

I convinced myself to stay home in the past because I don't want to put up with people that will insult me or make me feel uncomfortable, but I also hate feeling I am "chickening out" because of one person when I would probably have a good time otherwise.

It's perfectly sane and healthy to avoid being around people like that if you can avoid it. Depending on your relationship with closer members of your family, you might be able to explain that you don't like going to get-togethers when so-and-so is going to be there, or maybe not. But don't beat yourself up for not wanting to be subjected to this kind of treatment.
posted by nangar at 4:34 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't think that trying to brush off this person's comments is the best way. If it was some stranger, then just ignoring it might be the right thing, since you never have to see them again. But this person is part of your circle, and you have a right to expect the people in your circle to treat you with basic civility and respect. With that in mind, a couple of options:

1) Just stare at him and say, "Don't talk to me like that, X." Don't raise your voice. Don't get jumpy and hysterical. Don't smile. Especially don't elaborate - this guy already knows what he's doing. People like your relative rely on other people's politeness and desire to avoid conflict to get away with their crap. Direct confrontation is not usually expected,and will likely come as a shock. Each time he disrespects you, just stare him down and utter some variant of the above:

"I'm tired of that shit, X. Really tired. Best stop it now."

"I'm serious, X. Don't fucking talk to me like that."

Expect resistance, because this guy is used to getting away with this stuff, and he won't like it if you try to change the script on him. If he comes out with the "I'm just joking!" line, just say, "I don't care if you were joking, X. Don't talk to me like that." In fact, you can meet just about any objection this way. The key is not to get into a debate, because your right to be treated like a person is not up for debate.

If this guy is just your regular, garden-variety asshole, this will very likely shut him down - I speak from experience on this. However, if he insists on escalating, you need to decide what your final option will be - retaliation, or just get away from this fucknut. Personally, I'd go with:

1a) Dump a drink on his head (If this might lead to violence, then obviously don't do this).


1b) Stand up, look around the rest of the group and calmly say, "Sorry guys, I won't sit here and be disrespected like this." And then leave. In future, hang out with your family on your own terms, sans the asshole.

2) If you don't feel up for the above - or hell, maybe even if you do - maybe try to get an ally. If this guy is as big a douche as he sounds, it's very likely that there are other people in your group who are also sick of his crap. Maybe you can talk to someone else in the group in private, and ask them if they'll get your back when the abuse starts. As much as this guy may enjoy getting a reaction, having multiple people telling him to knock it off is almost certainly not the kind of reaction he wants.
posted by Broseph at 4:36 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've had good results from the dead stare. It's not an angry stare, just a calm, eyes focused look. Blank expression, deep calm breaths, don't look away. Like you're asleep with your eyes open. If you give a response at any point, you'll lose.

The beauty of this approach is that unless he's been trained to handle it, he's unlikely to be able to do so. Human beings generally interact with one another, unless they're focused on something else. Put two people in a room for pretty much any length of time and they'll start giving off those little social cues that signal a desire to connect. By giving no response, you're breaking the social order of things.

Paraphrasing what I wrote here, try to see this person as someone to pity. Doing that is very empowering and is also based on the truth. This individual doesn't seem to know how to form actual human connections. They're likely hurting and lashing out at people they perceive as being weaker than them. That's something to pity, in my book.
posted by Solomon at 4:37 PM on September 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

A totally blank stare: the no-response response.

What makes Asshole Relative (AR) happy is getting a reaction, ANY reaction. So, deny him what he's looking for, and don't make any kind of visible or verbal response. AR comes out with one of his patented rude coments, and all you do is 1)a long blank stare, followed 2)turning to someone else as if AR never spoke/didn't exist. Make the blank stare LONG --- like literally 10-15 seconds --- then the turn away from him.

For extra fun, make it 1)long blank stare; 2)dumping a drink on him, a la Broseph; then 3)silently turning away from him, all without any facial expression or reply to his rude remarks.
posted by easily confused at 5:02 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

This shitty thing about families is that you do have to deal with the asshole being around, because they're a lifetime package deal. A lot of these answers are like, HOW TO BURN SOMEONE SO GOOD THAT THEY SHUT UP FOREVER, which is well meaning, but let's be honest. This person is going to be around forever and they'll probably never be pleasant to be around.

Reading over your question, a lot of it isn't "how do I control this jerk I have no control over" but "how do I manage my own anxiety and other emotions at events where they are present," which is great! Very healthy.

I am not trying to minimize how crappy having your family member be incredibly mean spirited to you is; this person is obviously an asshole. But you want to be at events they're going to be at, and you're determined to accept it.

This person's conduct doesn't reflect you at all. It reflects, extremely poorly, on them. You are a strong badass for going in there anyway. If I was you, I might take a sheet of paper, and write my name real big at the top, and then write the facts about me, and my life, the basics anyway. And then I'd fold it up, and think "These is the truth about me, and I'm ok with all of it. I refuse to be ashamed of any part of it. If anyone tries to throw shade, tell lies, or talk shit, they can run their mouth and it doesn't change any of the facts about me or how I view myself. I'll still be here, same as always, an awesome person."

Some other ideas at how you could possibly manage your anxiety:

Leading Up To The Event Practice anxiety management techniques. One I really like is to take a very deep breath, pause slightly, then slowly exhale while thinking the number TEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNNNN. Let you lungs hang out empty for just a moment. Deep breath, pause, NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNEEEEEE on the exhale. By the time you hit one you might feel slightly giddy and lightheaded; that's ok, you're getting tons of oxygen, you're not going to pass out, but it might be a good idea to do this sitting or leaning somewhere quiet.

You can find lots of other practices like this if you do some searching for guided relaxation exercises.

During the Event Figure out "safe zones" where you can go and just chill for a minute checking your phone or whatever whenever you want. The bedroom with all the coats? The bathroom? The front yard?

Like someone mentioned before, enlisting someone to hang out with you and help you deflect dickishness would be great.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:05 PM on September 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

You can also go the neutrally delivered "Sorry, what do you mean? My shirt is like what? And you think that because...?" route. Every mean comment is countered with a gentle request for him to explain the statement clearly, until the layers of joke are stripped away and all you have left is the mean essence for all to see. I use it whenever I get a sexist or racist comment, usually the speaker is oblivious to the rudeness/discrimination until you help them extract the root of their thoughtlessness.

I find that displaying any emotion (death stare, to hurt "knock it off" reaction) feeds the beast, usually because you "can't take a joke" (see: every instance of workplace sexism called out ever), especially given your last comment. But by being seemingly oblivious to the attack, and getting them to deconstruct the statement to the point where the "joke" part they've been hiding behind is removed, you're making them dig their own hole, and they have no sense of you being affected by it whatsoever and therefore cannot feed off it. Also, you're not making it about YOUR reaction, you're making it about them and why they're saying whatever they're saying. Keep all deflections about them, not you.

The hardest part is keeping your cool!
posted by mooza at 5:07 PM on September 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

Ding Training, perhaps?

With the modification that, when family members ask about the "ding":

* you say "Relative, why don't you answer Cousin Veronica's question?"

* And when s/he falls back on the inevitable "I was just joking", reply "You're lying. Tell her the real reason."

* When Relative then hems and haws, explain to Cousin Veronica that whenever Relative sees you at a family event, s/he acts like a unrepentant fucksnot* towards you. So, you've started "dinging" so s/he can see how often s/he does it, and other people can, too. Furthermore, you're going to continue to "ding" Relative until s/he either leaves junior high emotionally behind and treats you with decency, or dies. Given Relative's stubbornness, your money is on Relative dying first, which is fine, because you figure you're not the only person Relative has done this to, so that means you'll be able to host a sweet Thank-God-And-Darwin-That-Fucksnot-Is-Dead After-Party once Relative's funeral is over.

I mean, that's what I'd do. But both my relatives and I are vicious, so we find it's in everyone's best interest to not provoke each other. Instead, we choose to treat each other with love, decency, and respect.

EDITED TO ADD: Also, take every opportunity to talk about Relative as if s/he's not there. People doing what Relative does frequently do it for attention, and tend to become frustrated when they're ignored while being insulted.

*Feel free to replace "fucksnot" with the insult of your choice.
posted by magstheaxe at 5:15 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I guess I would be honest and say things like What a mean thing to say and Wow, that's really rude or Why do you like to make fun of my clothes? or Gay jokes? That's unevolved or Cousin, have you ever considered having a sincere conversation? and I would avoid this ass like the plague. I worked with someone who did this. It's a form of bullying, and bullies are actually weak, so if you show strength, they look for a new target.
posted by theora55 at 5:24 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

You could throw a drink in his face or dump a bowl of dip on his head.

He may enjoy provoking a reaction, but one tha gets his clothes wet and makes him physically uncomfortable could raise the stakes enough to get him to leave you alone in the future.

This is on the assumption that he won't retaliate in kind.
posted by alms at 5:43 PM on September 21, 2013

Deadpan: "You're embarrassing yourself," then turn your attention elsewhere.
posted by bunji at 5:48 PM on September 21, 2013 [17 favorites]

In your mind, you are the grand poobah and this ersatz relative has some how gotten in and is walking upright among people for some reason. You, in your benevolence respond to his witless squawking with mostly patience but also some irritation because, you know, there are interesting things going on and he's unable to understand or be part of real life activities.

I do this, except I pretend I'm a duchess touring a backward region. Oh dear, look at the quaint folkways of these sad peasants! How much compassion must we feel for them in their dreary and horrid lives! True courtesy demands that we not notice their gross inability to behave like civilized people.

This is achieved by giving them a vaguely compassionate smile and turning to some other topic. As a bonus, it drives people who want a reaction absolutely insane.
posted by winna at 6:02 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The minute you see him, before he says a word, say really cheerfully, "oh look ", asshole"s here." Smile a lot and laugh like its a huge joke. If he asks why, just say "we'll, you're always attacking someone."
posted by gt2 at 6:09 PM on September 21, 2013

If you cannot bear to ignore the oaf:

"Your mother must be so proud of you."
"You will always be special to me, cuz."
"Bless your heart!"
posted by maggieb at 6:10 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Stop reacting. Make it very not fun for him to interact with you. You give him the satisfaction he wants, that's why he continues to act the way he does. Just do the opposite, and don't give him the satisfaction.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:20 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If there is someone else that is going to be there that you are close to/friendly with then I would consider talking to them about it. I think having someone on your side can be really helpful--they can be an advocate for you when your awful relative starts acting up. I think people often feel uncomfortable speaking up for someone if they are not sure how the teasing is being taken--it can feel paternalistic--but if they know that someone was really struggling with it then often they would feel fine telling the other person to back off.

I don't think this is a question of not fighting your own battles--I think that sometimes people really need to hear from multiple people that their actions are not appreciated--including people other than the ones that they are directly teasing. And I think he is making you feel isolated and having someone else on your team could really help, even if he continues to be a cretin.
posted by pie_seven at 6:22 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

My mother is like this - and I would never explain to her how much she could hurt my feelings because that would make her day - and it's a waste of my time. I'm not trying to get to a level of understanding with her, those days are long gone. Here's what works for me: I just give her some eye contact and say 'Don't talk to me like that'. I have a fairly deep voice anyway, but I make it sound like an firm instruction, don't let your voice go up or down or betray any emotion. Whatever bs they spout after that - usually 'can't you take a joke' in my case is whatevs. Don't engage beyond that. I worked on my self esteem issues too, and having a bit more of a 'screw you' attitude helps.
posted by poissonrouge at 6:29 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

This, my dear friend, is what the phrase "bless your heart" was made for. Best delivered with a slightly sad shaking of the head back and forth, and then turning to another relative and picking up where you left off. The idea is you gracefully communicate that this relative is, oh, just your cross to bear, and you are doing it cheerfully, because, poor thing, that's just how he is....

(Sorry you are dealing with this, but it's like this-in my extended family, it's said that if they didn't like you they wouldn't pick on you. This is only really true if the teasing goes both ways, and both parties enjoy it. Obviously for you this is not the case.)

If you can get it in your head that this is more about what Cousin It is like than any flaw in yourself, you will be ahead of the game.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:45 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Some blunt talk ahead, so apologies. That's a tough problem for the simple reason that you apparently invite attack - not consciously - but are perceived as an easy target. It's not your fault. Not everybody is built for combat, either physically or psychologically. Unfortunately, there are predators out there (assholes of all kind) who actually take pleasure in inflicting pain - and they are not rare:

Everyday Sadists Take Pleasure in Others' Pain

"Most of the time, we try to avoid inflicting pain on others -- when we do hurt someone, we typically experience guilt, remorse, or other feelings of distress. But for some, cruelty can be pleasurable, even exciting. New research suggests that this kind of everyday sadism is real and more common than we might think."

As you can read in the link, these individuals will expend considerable effort to gratify their desires. You will not find it easy to put them off, once they've had a taste of your vulnerability.

It is also a reality that these people pick on someone they see as "safe" to persecute - they will shy away from someone who can strongly retaliate. Of course everyone is on a bell curve - there will be those at the extreme who will only respond to very extreme measures.

So what can you do? You have already habituated him to attacking you - it will be much more difficult to put him off than if this was his first attack.

Unlike others, I would not advocate any physical actions. I would strongly urge against them, for reasons you'll see soon.

Your first option is to shut them down permanently. You are getting zero benefit from interacting with this person. So shut them down: next time they attack you verbally - turn to them full face and loudly announce:

"Listen you piece of shit. I'm tired of your crap. It's over. Do not ever, ever talk to me again. Ever. Now fuck off."

Remember, you must say it loudly, and strongly. Then you turn away, and from now on, treat them as if they are not there - air. Forever.

What happens now? Either they'll make noise and then fade away, or they'll try to keep making remarks for however long - maybe a very, very long time if they know they're getting to you. But you must never react - it's as if they don't exist.

Extreme case: sometimes these folks can go further and try to physically touch you to make you interact. That's when you go the next step: "Touch me again, ever, and I'm calling the police and having you arrested for assault." - then you stick to that, if they do touch you, you must follow through and call the cops - unwanted physical contact is assault, so press charges. But this will only work if you have not yourself initiated any contact, such as pouring drinks on him... that's assault - don't do it; this is deadly serious, and you're going the distance, so play it that way.

Are you up to it? They're counting on you not having that fortitude... so straighten them out.

Option two - you quite frankly may not be able to do this, but for the sake of completeness, here goes. Turn the tables. These creeps get their kicks from dominating and causing pain. Nothing gets them down as much as someone finding them laughable and contemptible and not to be taken seriously. Now, if this doesn't come naturally to you - as it does to me - you may have to dig deep... if you can, it might be worth it in more contexts than just this one: you must stop, absolutely, to think of yourself as a victim. You're the fucking king/queen, and you eat peasants like him for breakfast.

Flip your personality. Think of it as if you are a mirror and anything that he throws at you never gets anywhere and is instantly thrown back at him. And then you launch counter-attacks; vicious, cutting, wounding. You give no quarter. You must look at him like he's prey. He has weak points, I assure you. Zero in on those. Analyze him - with cold eyes. Where is he worse off - bad job? Poor? Ugly? Whatever, it actually doesn't matter - you are allowed to invent from whole cloth, as long as you do it with confidence and belittling laughter.

Here's the key - tone. Never angry. Always patronizing, as if he's the village oaf. Lighthearted.

He: "So how's your girlfriend/boyfriend?" (attack on your sexuality)

You: "He told me you tried to suck him off, you oaf [laugh good-naturedly], but he just couldn't get it up for your ugly mug [if he's ugly - go into details "that nose, what's wrong with those horrible blackheads, do you get them wholesale from a witch? etc.]; she told me you pulled your weenie out at her, but it was so ugly she threw up on it [makes zero difference what his sausage looks like]" Laugh, softly, good-naturedly, as if he's an all around pathetic nonce whom nobody takes seriously. And then, still smiling - because your'e the fucking king/queen - you turn your attention to the canapes, with no apparent change in mood, cheerful as can be, he'll come up with another remark, slam him back with another cutting vicious patronizing quip, and never change your mood in response to his remarks - that is key - it's like water off a duck's back. He's nothing. He's a peasant.

And so on, to anything he says; if he attacks your clothing - no matter what he wears he's vulnerable. You must absorb this lesson - he is always, no matter who he is, vulnerable to attack. Let's say he's the world's best dresser - you can laugh at that "gee, all dressed up again, trying to score, having no luck? Just can't get laid, huh? [laugh, laugh]... see what's important, oaf, is what happens when you take off your clothes - see, I can wear anything, cause I'm awesome! Yep, I got ugly jeans, but that don't matter, bub! Look at your threads, you take em off and make the girls barf, heh, heh". And so on. Remember - no matter what the facts are, and what he says, you can always attack, always, always, always - ALWAYS. There's endless material you can spin. And laugh, laugh, it's all about attitude more than content. He's contemptible and you don't take him seriously. Ever.

Also, break conversational conventions - as an expression of contempt. Don't say something and then wait for his response as if he deserves that kind of consideration. He's lower than dirt under wet shit. Talk over him, laugh over him, walk away mid sentence to get a drink, still laughing, laughing, laughing - he comes after you, you go "there you are, little puppy, are you lost? Have you come to serve me you dunce?, ha, ha, ha "go sweep the floor, and make it snappy - use a broom, not your pants, knucklehead, heh, heh, heh".

If you can keep it up, I guarantee you the heart will go out of him - he'll leave you alone to your sunny joy as you look over the crowd YOU OWN, cause you're the fucking king/queen.

And it's easy. As long as you can flip your perceptions completely - you are not the victim, you're the top predator and he's the rat you're playing with and then discarding when bored. Flip your perceptions - see him as a pathetic little creature and then light into him, mentally, take him apart like a bug - not hard! But you must have the energy, the focus and the ruthless dedication. Best of luck.
posted by VikingSword at 6:47 PM on September 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

I got a lot of favorites for the following answer to a similar question:

"People who act this way enjoy feeding off your reaction, whether they know it or not. I try to take it as a challenge: am I a good enough actor to respond to what just came out of this person's mouth as if it were polite, thoughtful, and sensible? Let me tell you this -- when you pull it off, it confuses the crap out of them."
posted by escabeche at 7:03 PM on September 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think you should remind yourself, before anything else, that you have the right to have a peaceful, enjoyable time at this family gathering. It's your time that you're spending there and you deserve to be treated with respect just as much as everyone else does.

Sometimes I have to brush off thoughtless, belittling comments that offend me at work but hey, I get paid to be there and deal with people who I wouldn't spend time with otherwise. But this is your free time and there's a limited amount of it - who does he think he is, trying to make your free time unpleasant.

So that's the attitude I would bring to it. He's a nuisance with poor social skills. Roll eyes, sigh accordingly.
posted by citron at 7:05 PM on September 21, 2013

"You know, your mom doesn't even like you?"
posted by notsnot at 7:36 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pouring a beverage on someone might lead to a fistfight depending on the beverage. Nobody gets to pour milk on my head, that's for god damn sure.

Take the high road and call the person a fucking asshole. Maybe you will inspire others to do the same in the future.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:45 PM on September 21, 2013

Yeah, you need to be straightforward, non physical, and AGGRESSIVE. This person is not picking on you looking for fight, they're picking on you because you haven't fought back. Absolutely do what VikingSword said. Turn the tables on them, and let it be known, loudly, that this person is an asshole who enjoys tormenting you.

You will get nowhere with passive aggression, or logic, or empathy.
posted by wrok at 8:44 PM on September 21, 2013

I've gone with a bored eye roll and 'oh fuck off, asshole' even in front of my Catholic grandmother. In fact, because it was in front of family and was such a vernacular approach, it had more impact.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:18 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I love a lot of these answers, but the sad thing is, depending on the dynamics of your family, you could end up being the bad guy for "making a scene." You might decide that is just how it has to be, but it also might be too high a price to pay to shut up someone you can avoid or ignore a good part of the time.

In similar situations, I have managed to shut up a bully by comically yelping "ouch," miming pulling a knife out of my chest, loudly asking"hey, is it let's pick on RP day again?" And/or some combination of the above. If you can enlist an ally, get them to say "there he goes again" and count up the nip umber of transgressions. Calling across the room, eg "hey, has he hit 10yet? You owe me a beer, "or something similar has also worked.

The key is to let the person know that you have got their number and so will other people. That usually takes the fun out of it.
posted by rpfields at 9:52 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The response you probably shouldn't give but might be fun to say: "Seriously, you've been making the same jokes about my sexuality for like 15 years. They're ABC gum, dude. Your shit is getting old." (Might be fun, but also might inspire him to new heights of awful.)

The response that might be the shorter, less provoking version of that. "Seriously?", stare at him funny, then walk off.

What you should actually do: Make damn sure he sees that whatever he says isn't bothering you in the slightest. He's getting off on making you feel like shit and getting a reaction out of you--so don't give him a reaction. It ruins his fun. Hell, I used to know people who would walk up to me and honk my boobs like car horns to get a reaction out of my boyfriend (who sadly gave it to 'em every time). I, on the other hand, remained completely deadpan. Anything to be a buzzkill with people like this. Rehearse ahead of time with a friend to get that deadpan going in your brain if you have to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:05 PM on September 21, 2013

This one I borrowed from Miss Manners, and I hope I get it right.

He makes the comment.

You stop the conversation you're having, or whatever you're doing, and, with as much sincerity as you can muster, ask, "I don't understand what you're trying to say. Would you mind explaining it to me?"

(The tone here should be something along the lines of "This is the third time you've sent me this bill, and I've called three times to tell you the bill is already paid. I want to know what I need to do to resolve this issue." Firm, but not aggressive.)

The idea is that the bully knows what he is doing is mean-spirited and will be shamed by the situation of having to repeat (and expand upon) the insult once the spontaneity of the situation is gone.

You listen with polite patience, perhaps now and then inserting. 'Mm-hmm" or "I see." When he's finished, you can say, "So, is that all, then?" and then turn back to whatever conversation you were having before.

This creates an awkward social situation, and the tension of that awkwardness is going to be focused on the bully. The non-verbal (or possibly even verbal) communication he'll receive is "You're acting like a jerk, so cut it out."

The key here is that you behave calmly and rationally the whole time: the more underplayed the better. No sarcasm, no exaggerated politeness, just this bland businesslike question and then wait during the ensuing silence for him to explain what his insult meant.

May not work the first time, but if you keep it up he's going to lose interest because not only is he not getting the desired reaction from you, he's getting sullen glares from everyone else in the room.
posted by La Cieca at 11:47 PM on September 21, 2013 [29 favorites]

La Cieca -- for the win! One hundred favorites, if that were possible.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:38 AM on September 22, 2013

Say "Don't speak to me," in the same firm, unflinching tone you'd give an order to an unruly dog. If he continues to goad you and it feels like he's getting the best of you (and especially if no one jumps in to defend you), take out your phone and say you're calling the police. Then do it -- right in front of him. Say what you need to in order to get them to come.

I know it sounds extreme, but this guy is picking on you because he thinks you're weak, so you have to show him you're not. You need to take control out of his hands. Be firm, cool-headed, and commanding. Order him to do exactly what you want him to do (which I would say is essentially never to speak to you, since he can't speak civilly), tell him what will happen if he doesn't do it, and follow through.

Do *not* let this person drive you out of the family. You deserve to be there. You deserve to feel welcome within your own family.

But don't get physical, because you'll lose your dignity and he might give you a beat down. Just be ruthless. If it makes you feel better, you'll probably only need to do it once before he knows to stay away. Albeit, if you're female and the bully is male, be prepared to be called a "crazy bitch" for all time *eye roll*
posted by rue72 at 2:01 AM on September 22, 2013

As emotionally satisfying as some of these extreme responses here might sound, I don't recommend them, because they might backfire on you in various and sundry ways.

Think of his mouth as a fire that you want to extinguish. Gasoline ain't the way to go here.

Calm, deadpan, and "bless your little heart, there you go again" will go a lot further.

Of course, I just thought of another thing. Is there a family matriarch who can just walk up to him and say "Knock it off, Chester," whenever this stuff happens? If you can get one or two other people to tell him to shut his pie hole, preferably older/highest status family members, that will go a long way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:40 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

As an Englishman, i'm lucky in being able to pull off the full Downton Abbey: looking directly at the offender with a furrowed brow with a quizzical / haughty / supercilious "I beg your pardon?!"/ " how interesting/remarkable " / "do explain!" or "how interesting/amusing/clever of you to remember" usually works wonders.
posted by Middlemarch at 8:20 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

So much of this depends on the temperament of the bully-- and your style too. I'm not an aggressive person, so me pouring a drink on someone or berating them is just not my style and would probably be perceived by others are more extreme behavior than perhaps someone else doing it.

I've had success with passive-aggressive types doing the overly logical and calm "I don't quite get what you're saying, please clarify what you mean by this comment" approach.

With more aggressive types a "good-natured" public shaming seems to work well. Basically make fun of them for whatever the offending behavior is in front of as many people as possible without betraying any of the hurt. Of course you cannot pull this off while you are genuinely upset, so it is best to put into action before any bullying happens on that day.
posted by abirdinthehand at 8:34 AM on September 22, 2013

This is perhaps too elaborate, but Keith Johnstone's book Impro, which is one of the great life-manuals for creative people, describes various bits of body-language that most people use unconsciously to denote their status in an interaction. In particular there's a way of looking away without blinking that indicates very clearly that you are on top and the person you're now ignoring is way beneath you. Practice that look-away (with other people, not in the mirror) and use it. It's dynamite.
posted by Hogshead at 10:35 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't pour a drink over his head.

I like the stony stare, the one where you step toward him, leading with your face, your eyes locked on his (or his chin if his eyes bother you). When the conversations around you stop, you might say, in a level voice, "What did you just say to me?"

If he waffles, cut in, and ask him again, until he finally repeats it. Then let him offer that it was just a joke. That's when you say that you don't think he's funny and if he can't be civil to you, then you'd prefer he not talk to you at all. Don't yell. Don't call him names.

Civility is your weapon against boorish behavior. The object is to not engage in any temporizing rhetoric. The only exception is if he acknowledges that he was rude, and offers what seems to be a sincere apology. Don't accept anything that reflects on your "oversensitivity." You are not being oversensitive, he is being abusive.

If he apologizes, tell him you accept, and let it go at that. Just say, "Very well," and walk away. On his next boorish remark, turn on your heel, or leave the table. You have told him that you won't put up with this, so don't. You can't force him to change, but you certainly don't have to accept his abuse.

If he doesn't apologize, you may do the equivalent of spitting on the ground in front of him and walking away with your dignity intact. (A slow, stony gaze up and down, would work here, which would demonstrate the contempt with which you hold this jerk without causing a breach in your dignity.)

Avoid lowering yourself to his level by playing word games with him. He will win, because he is much more experienced at being an asshole than you are. Although he is clearly an asshole, save such terminology for your diary, and treat your relatives to a better time than engaging in a chicken fight at the dinner table. I guarantee that some among the family will have their cockles warmed by his come-uppance.
posted by mule98J at 11:15 AM on September 22, 2013

Yeah, my advice was kind of predicated on the idea that if you fight back directly, you will be accused by the others of making a scene. Don't know if that would be the case in your family. But if so, it often means you have to do kind of indirect, passive things.

And on that note, if you are a girl, here's something else you can do: cry.

He makes a comment. You make eye contact with him. Slowly, silently, your eyes start welling up (this is the moment where he'll start to think, uh-oh...).

You turn to the nearest sympathetic person. They will see the tears about to overflow in your eyes, and ask what's wrong. You start to tell them in a whisper, that Relative said something nasty to you, but the tears start overflowing. You start crying.

Then you start crying louder. People around will start to ask what happened. The sympathetic person will say they are not sure what, but it sounded like Relative said something. Everyone will turn to look at Relative for an explanation. It will be clear that Relative better keep quiet for the rest of the gathering.

I had this tactic used on me sooooooooooo many times growing up when I had not even said or done anything mean (especially by manipulative little kids!!! I even asked one of them how to fake-cry and they proudly told me.). As far as I have ever seen it works really really well.
posted by cairdeas at 11:48 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since this is a recurring nuisance VikingSword is right, find his weak spots. And since you're not used to pulling comebacks out of a hat it's better to have one zinger you can adapt to every situation so you don't have to come up with it in the moment.

For instance, "You're so fascinating when you're like this. I could totally see Freud writing a case book about you. So, okay, Wolf Man, what is causing you all this anxiety?

Then go for his Achilles Heel. Does he ever pat his hair self-consciously? Immediately shift your gaze to his hair and gently drop your jaw.

"Oh. (pause) Wow. Ok. The shedding has begun. Guess it runs in the family."

You know how a woman's physical weak spot is considered to be her weight? For men it's supposedly height, hair loss, and penis size. I'd forget the last, that's too sophmorish. Your homework prior to your next confrontation with him is to observe him closely and find his weak spot.

He zings you? Glance at his hairline. "This is turning you into a bitter old man. Be strong, Wolf Man."

He zings you? Squint at his hairline. "Getting worse, huh. No need to take it out on family."

I'd line up at least three weak spots you can turn to. You can probably even invent one, an undescended testicle perhaps? Before you go to a family event think about what you're going to say ahead of time. But always build on the same zing so you don't have to worry about your mind going blank.

He zings you. "I heard you have an undescended testicle, Wolf Man. Is that what's causing you nightmares?" (if on the offhand he offers to show it to you shiver in disgust. "OMG. So. Not. Cool. You actually do need to seek help." and walk away. Now, btw, you have a good excuse to avoid him.

If he's thinks up a silly nickname for you yawn dismissively and say, "Why am I not surprised that you can't take a joke Wolf Man?" Or "Wolf Man suits you so well. Would you ever consider legally changing your name?" OR if he says you can't take a joke. Slowly nod your head knowingly "Oh I can take a joke alright, Wolf Man." Raise a brow and stare at him like the joke he is. "You're here and I haven't left yet, have I." You've taken the upper hand so no matter what he says you can dismiss him.

Then at some point you'll feel strong enough to take the offensive.

"Hey Wolf Man. How're they hanging? Did that stubborn nugget of yours ever drop?"

Then you can play around with his nickname.

"Hey Nugget Head. Wolfie! ad infinitum.

Obviously it's easier to write this up than to act it out IRL (which is why I like to write) but if you practice your comeback with someone else as others have suggested it'll feel more natural to you. I'd also recommend assertiveness training. I have this very same problem, btw, so I'm right there with you.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 1:41 PM on September 22, 2013

I would adopt a neutral face, and act like you don't "get" their put-down... .Once they see they cannot get a response from you, they'll look for another target. But they'll keep trying for a while - keep it up, it's working!

This, times ten.

The unfortunate thing about the person who is making fun of you in this way, and pretty much anyone who pokes fun at the sensitive, retiring, or bashful for sport, is that every nasty dig is a glaring and painfully bright reflection on the poker's basic and permanent state of churlishness, insecurity, and general social unfitness.

Thankfully, such pokers lack the basic self-awareness that would allow them to register the eye-rolling and sighs accompanying their antics. This spares them feeling awkward in that longish interval between table-clearing and dessert.

You, on the other hand, are cool, unrattled, and superior. You would not poke fun at a guest for sport. You win, now and forever. Wear it like a crown.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 2:42 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a relation like this and it was a problem for years. He was not mean-spirited, per se (I like to think), but enjoyed saying mean-spirited things or things which I would obviously disagree with politically in an effort to "get a rise out of" me; it was some sort of sport. One visit, I was impervious; I had just met my spouse and was happy, in the way that you are distracted and above it all. It stopped. Dead. And it never came back.

Do Not Engage. Do. Not. Engage. Repeat that mantra as necessary. Be bigger than he is. Take a moment and ask, sincerely, "So, what is Junior doing in school? Music? Sports?" or "How is retirement treating you?" or "You went to Yellowstone? That must have been beautiful."
posted by Morrigan at 8:08 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know that I will get peppered with rude comments (about what I'm wearing, my sexuality, etc.).

The way things are now, because it's just sensitive you against insensitive him, he gets to think that he's right and you can't take a joke because you're just too sensitive, just too damn gay (or whatever it is he's thinking), etc.

So get people on your side ahead of time. Assemble a posse before the event. Do you have parents or siblings or cousins who could come to your defense? Explain that every fucking time you run into this guy, he purposely tries to bother you, and explain exactly the sort of thing he says and does so they can look out for it. Tell them you need them (friendly family members) to be on your side and to jump on him and shut him down if they see him trying this shit on.

And if that's not enough, maybe have people mock this guy in return. Find his weak points and gang up on him. What is he likely to be sensitive about? Use the standard formula: if he likes to think he's X, make him look and feel very non-X in front of everybody else. And definitely make him look and feel like an asshole in front of everyone for attacking poor innocent you.

And can you record him? So you can play it back to anyone who needs to know what he's like? Or at least pretend to record him so he thinks he might end up looking like an asshole on YouTube for all his friends and enemies to see?
posted by pracowity at 2:27 AM on September 23, 2013

I work at a topless bar and people come in expressly to behave like this on a regular basis. The best way I've found to deal with them is to treat them like someone else's unruly toddler, or badly behaved pet: first, minor condescending attention, then stonewall. If he says something offensive, reply with a mildly concerned, "Are you OK? Do you need a glass of water?" This works because it's based in truth: he's acting like he is so drunk or mentally disturbed that he needs to be pitied and worried about. Then when you realize that he is either not drunk or refuses to sober up, make it clear that he is not your problem. Don't tell him this, though-- you wouldn't take your cousin's three year old or your brother's annoying dog aside to tell them that they were being a hurtful asshole, you would just take off, because the fact that your relatives have let their child or pet run around unsupervised is not your responsibility. Answer with one or two noncommittal "mmhmm"s and then lapse into the dead stare/Downton Abbey/Impro stare or drift away. Don't reward him with eye contact. Don't give him any more feedback, other than repeats of the mildly concerned "are you ok, do you need to sit down" type of comment if he pursues you and continues to be inappropriate. He will keep trying to escalate to get a reaction out of you, but he'll eventually fade away if you make it clear that his behavior is worrying, but not enough of an emergency that you can actually be bothered to intervene.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:43 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

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