Hate - ignore, avoid, stay apathetic, help!
May 22, 2016 11:23 AM   Subscribe

So, there's someone who has been a real absolutely mean apathetic narcissistic jerk of all jerks with my husband and me (mostly, me). It is a close relative. We can't ignore them (too close), we can't avoid them, and when they visit they take over our lives for a couple of months every few years (2-3? if we're lucky). I have never hated anyone as much. How do I not let it influence me?

Forgiving isn't going to happen, at least I'm not there yet and every time I meet them they inflict new hurt. I try to ignore them, it helps most times, but there are triggers and the hate, red-hot anger at how they treated me (us) comes pouring forth. I hate myself for hating them so much (I thought I was better than this!) but I am disgusted and the truth is I hate them. I just want to stop this negativity influencing my day, my life, what can I do?
posted by greta_01 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You've ruled out the best and most obvious general solution—set boundaries, redefine your relationship with this person so that you have fewer interactions with them—without giving much of a hint as to why. And your question is phrased in such general terms that it's hard to really think of specific solutions, now that you've closed the door on the general one.

As a consequence, I feel like you're about to get a lot of answers that are some variation of "you need to find a way to interact less with this person and to stop them from taking over your life for months at a time, regardless of the fact that you've framed this solution as impossible." Which I think is both good advice (setting boundaries is probably less out of the question than you think) and also not very useful to you (since you have said you won't accept this answer).

Can you give any more detail? What is your relationship to this person? What have they actually done? Why can't you shut them out of your life, or at least out of the parts of your life that matter most to you? Where is your husband in all this? What have you already tried up to this point?

Answers to even some of those questions will really help people to provide you with useful advice on how to deal with your problem. "How to deal with this unpleasant relative" is pretty well-trodden ground around here, but if you don't want generic answers you need to give us more specific information.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:37 AM on May 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

See, here's where I would go no contact, no matter how close the relative. I did, I fact, go absolutely no contact with my dad for several months until he got the message that I really, really meant it when I told him I wouldn't put up with the way he was treating me. Before I went no contact, I said something along the lines of "I have repeatedly asked you not to say those things to me and you won't stop. Since you refuse to treat me civilly, I have no choice but to stop talking to you until you can treat me like a human being. You can let my brother know when you're ready to restart our relationship." Almost 10 months went by with me sticking to my word and him trying to call and text and email. He got zero response from me. When we reconnected, I made it clear that this was his last chance and if he started up his shit again, that was it. Apparently I got through to him because it's been several years now and he is completely civil and rather nice to me now.
posted by cooker girl at 11:39 AM on May 22, 2016 [19 favorites]

It's hard to answer without more details, but is this an overseas parent it sibling who comes and stays with you for several months every year? Regardless, there isn't a magic way to make you not react to them. People like this get satisfaction out of pushing your buttons and being cruel. The best thing to do would be to come to a dual decision with your husband that you limit contact. If you're not ready to do that, strict boundaries and ignoring them is the best strategy. Reading up on how families deal with a member that has narcissistic personality disorder can help. Don't beat yourself up for hating them and not being a bigger person. People like this are monstrous you don't have to pretend they're not.
posted by quince at 11:48 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hey OP, this feels a little bit like asking us to help you be okay with the fact that one of your parents or in-laws punches you every time they see you and you're forced to let them hit you. Without details, I mean. In general, Al-Anon has a lot of stuff about loving detachment. It can help perhaps if you decide not to be offended by hurtful things your relative says. As in, they are just born jerks and you can't change it. But still, I would encourage you to consider if there are boundaries you can establish and stick to so you don't feel so helpless and victimised.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:52 AM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

We can't ignore them (too close), we can't avoid them, and when they visit they take over our lives for a couple of months every few years (2-3? if we're lucky).

This is nuts. Of course you can avoid them; people have cut their own parents out of their lives, and this person can't be closer than that. This is like every "My partner is making my life a misery but I can't break up with them because [reasons]" question; the answer there is always, and rightfully, "break up with them," and that's the answer here too. I suspect the problem is that your husband is reluctant to draw the line, and if so, you mustn't just passively accept that, it will ruin your life and eventually, perhaps, your marriage as well. You need to reframe the issue in your own mind so you don't rule out the only workable answer, and (if the problem is your husband) you need to make him see what needs to be done.
posted by languagehat at 11:54 AM on May 22, 2016 [40 favorites]

Therapy. CBT techniques to pull yourself out of that debilitating hate spiral. Private in-jokes with your husband, with subtle ways to reference said jokes while in their company. (Fresh insults at every visit fairly cries out for a bingo card.) Make sure you are on Team Us with him (ideally in all things, but especially in this matter.)

Have fallback hacks for the time you do have to spend together, things like taking all the kids in the family to the movies one afternoon to 'give the adults a break,' or planning sightseeing outings this person will have no interest in. Make appointments in-town for yourself, for whatever, if possible. Hotel reservations when you're visiting them, even if it's only for part of your trip (you've a right to some romantic, marital getaway time).

When they're visiting you: plan special outings for them. (You can't kill a narcissistic jerk with kindness; they think it's their due, regardless of how they've treated you.) Schedule "necessary" house maintenance stuff (pest treatment, noisy repair, etc.) so their visits don't drag on for months. Be swamped with work while they're in town, and if you don't work outside the home have a solo volunteer gig that suddenly heats up (the organization is short-handed, it's the busy season, there's an event coming up...).

And I second the answers above - please make sure your misery isn't blinding you to options for limiting your contact with this person.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:59 AM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you need to do exactly the things you say you cannot do.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:11 PM on May 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

Life is too short to suffer like this. Why would you not go "No Contact" with this person? Just tell them, "life is too short to suffer from you." and cut it off.
posted by Coffeetyme at 12:18 PM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Seriously, you can totally ignore/avoid/disconnect from family members, trust me. Being born related to someone is just random chance, and it isn't any more meaningful than that in and of itself. It's how we act that makes meaning.
posted by rodlymight at 12:30 PM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Without any more specifics the only option left seems to be "Dig a deep hole and then jump in it and stay there" but that seems impractical. I would suggest at least making sure you are on the same team with your spouse. Part of the problem may be that the toxic person finds ways of getting between the two of you and then not only do you feel harassed, you don't have your usual comfort-and-destress options available to you.

So look, I think you can see by the responses that the exact things that you say are not an option are basically the things that you will need to do to manage this situation unless you can offer more specifics. I feel that there's this reassurance-seeking that we see with anxious people on AskMe where they basically want to ask a question and simultaneously rule out all possible answers just to assure themselves that it's really as bad as they think it is.

But really, it's bad but the options are to drop dead or find a way through it. And at some level you need to figure out if you putting up with all this shit is really the best option compared to the things you say are "not an option"

So since you truly say you can't work on them, you have to work on your reactions to them. And you need to work on this with your partner because I'm sensing (in your not-really-adequate explanation) that there may be some imbalance. Like maybe the person is shitty to you and not your husband and he doesn't support you? Or maybe they are shitty to him and you both and his response isn't what you want it to be? In any case, you can work on your own reactions. You can be mindful, you can work on compassion, you can realize that awful people are awful for reasons and even if you don't agree with those reasons you can maybe sympathize with them.

I grew up with sort of terrible parents. Not physically abusive (usually) but neglectful and emotionally sort of abusive and narcissistic. I couldn't do anything about it when I was a kid and that was hard. Now that I am a grown-up I can choose how much to take care of and deal with the people who did not take care of and deal with me when I was younger. And for me I've mostly found that it's easier to actually interact with them (well one has since died and I didn't feel as bad about that as you'd think I should) and just sort of give no fucks. They want things? I won't give them, they can't make me do anything. They want to hurt me? They can't. They want to ruin my life? Tough shit, I will thrive to spite them. It's not the most grown-up way of dealing with the world, but it does seem to be a path available to you. Anger is a choice. Why are you choosing it? What problem does that solve for you?
posted by jessamyn at 12:50 PM on May 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

You can -- and may -- set boundaries with anyone in your life, no matter how closely related they are or how much time you spend together. And I truly believe there is a lot of ground for boundary setting between letting yourself be a punching bag and setting off a nuclear "no contact" order.

We don't know how much of that ground you've already covered, if any. So review the steps one might take in, say, house-training a puppy. You would take a lot of baby steps before you decided to get rid of the puppy altogether.

1. Catch 'em in the act. Make sure they understand clearly that THIS, what just happened this second, is the behavior you don't want.

2. Take 'em where you want them to go. Immediately model the behavior you want. That means no yelling, no rubbing their nose in it, no smacks with a rolled up newspaper. Calmly present an alternative that is not offensive.

3. Reward success. When they do it right, catch them at that, too. And offer lots of positive reinforcement.

4. Make sure your whole household is involved. Your husband should also be a part of the training, participating in steps 1-3. You must present a consistent, united front to be successful.

5. Repeat patiently. Long-standing behaviors don't change overnight.

If it helps to think of this relative as an unruly puppy running around shitting on your life, so much the better. It will help you keep your humor intact (and your flawless manners on display) as you smile and chide, "Now, now, you're doing it again, Fido! You know better than that. Play nice."

And if the dog turns vicious after such treatment? It should then be clear to everyone exactly who is misbehaving and that steps must be taken to ensure your safety.
posted by peakcomm at 12:50 PM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm getting the feeling that this is a non-Western parent coming to visit an adult married child in a mixed-ethnicity marriage. If that is the case, the "just cut them out of your life" thing isn't that clear cut, especially if this is not the OP's parent.

Perhaps the book that if often recommended on Ask for managing toxic relationships would be of use? (I wish I could remember what it is called.)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:26 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

You say that you're upset that you hate them because "you thought you were better than that".

There is more than one kind of hatred. Hate can be a set of actions, and/or an emotion. Actions that are hateful are pretty identifiable: physical and emotional assaults, sabotage of the things the person you hate tries to do, you know what I mean. It doesn't sound to me as though you're doing hateful actions.

What that means is that you're upset with yourself for having an emotion.

It isn't within your power to determine what emotions you have. You have emotions as your raw, unfiltered reaction to situations, and you're going to have emotions sometimes that you find unpleasant and would rather not have. That's part of being human and it's how we're built. What you have control over is the behavior that you choose in response to your emotions.

If you are not letting your feelings of hate push you into hateful actions, you are still being the better person.


Narcissists, because they believe that everybody else is just another part of themselves, get really upset when they see (or think they see) that other people are having emotions that are different from theirs. ANY emotions different from theirs. The narcissist gets angry when other people are happy and they aren't, and gets angry when other people are sad and they aren't. Narcissists spend a lot of time and energy trying to police the emotions of everybody around them.

So I bet this person has been trying to make you feel guilty about ever being angry or sad in their presence, trying to reinforce the idea that it's wrong for you to feel what you feel, and that's making you feel even more guilty about hating them, because it seems like they know when you do it and it makes things worse with them. Guess what: THEY DON'T KNOW. THEY ARE GUESSING. They can't tell what you are feeling inside your own head! They're just using general guilt tactics to try to make you feel bad about any feelings of yours they don't know about, as part of punishing you for being a separate person.

You can feel the hatred that you have, and as long as you keep it out of your actions, feeling it doesn't hurt anybody. Even if the narcissist says it does. It does not. Your head is your head. Nobody else can get in there. It's safe for you to feel whatever you feel.

Secondly, emotions are our raw, unfiltered reactions to situations, and that means that emotions tell us something. Hatred is a response that people can have when a situation is intolerable, when a situation is not something we can adapt to over time, when we want to do anything, even terrible things, to change it. Hatred is your own brain's way of telling you that you cannot do this and it's not going to get better.

Listen to your emotions. Stifling what you feel will not help this situation. You need to cut this person out of your life, no matter how difficult it is, even if they are your own parent, or own child. Because you cannot adapt to things as they are now; this is actively damaging you; it's not going to get better until you make this person go away.

Your hatred is part of your brain trying to keep you from getting hurt. Do not let it push you into hateful actions, but listen to it, because it is there for a reason.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 1:48 PM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Don't take any shit from this person. They rely on your not reacting or thrive on your upset.

Here are some phrases to use:

1. That is unacceptable, I'm leaving
2. I will not be spoken to like that
3. That is very hurtful and I won't allow that kind of talk around me
4. Please leave, right now.
5. I won't be joining you.
6. I'll be in my room
7. It's time for you to go home.
8. You aren't welcome in our home, please leave

You are not powerless. You can't control your husband, but you can up and leave whenever you like.

Keeping peace around assholes is over-rated.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:17 PM on May 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

I cared a lot less about people doing things like this when I was taking anti-anxiety meds for unrelated reasons. Not saying I recommend that route, but if you can't change them (and you can't) or the situation (you say you can't), then the only thing left to change is you.
posted by teremala at 2:29 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

> I'm getting the feeling that this is a non-Western parent coming to visit an adult married child in a mixed-ethnicity marriage. If that is the case, the "just cut them out of your life" thing isn't that clear cut, especially if this is not the OP's parent.

That occurred to me as well, but it doesn't really change things. Cutting people out of one's life is never clear-cut, but sometimes it has to be done anyway.
posted by languagehat at 3:11 PM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Ugh, this sounds awful. I agree that setting boundaries is very important here. But you can do that in a number of different ways, and some of them can be played to look like they're out of your control, which may make it easier for the relative to save face.

Some possibilities:

- arrange to be away at a work conference during the only time that the relative can visit
- arrange to need to visit your own parents instead (maybe say something like "I wish I could, maybe next year" and then next year say the same thing again... and again...)
- move to a smaller house where they would have no room to stay, citing the economy as your reason to downsize
- say that you have doctor's orders to spend less time being stressed, which means spending more time just by yourself or with your husband (and as above, add a good dose of "I wish I could, maybe next year")

If your husband doesn't have as hard a time dealing with the relative, could you choose one of the above and arrange to be away by yourself while he stays and keeps the relative company?

Alternatively, if this is a case of the relative wanting to be relevant in your and your husband's life, could you transition from visits to more frequent phone calls? Make it a point to call the relative every week or two, and ask them for advice, especially on big things like buying a house or changing jobs or how to handle kids. Make them feel like you value their opinion. The trick is, you don't have to listen to or follow or even care about any of their advice. You just let them talk at you until they run out of steam, then you say "thank you so much for your wisdom, I knew I could count on you," and you go right ahead and do whatever it was you were going to do in the first place. If you regularly talk to this relative and make them feel as if they are part of your life and their opinion matters, then you may have an easier time telling them that a visit is just not in the cards, you really wish you could, but it's just not possible.
posted by danceswithlight at 5:04 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are you still reading? I have a couple of things to add. I hope that you and your husband have a united front with regard to this toxic person. If it is someone on his side of the family I hope he is giving you full emotional and moral support.

Also I have learned a couple of things about living closely with and interacting with narcissists and folks with OCPD. If the person is never pleased by anything you do, you defintely have permission to stop trying to please them. I mean it. I have said to myself, "Since nothing I do pleases so-and-so, I will stop trying now, and I will please myself." I have been tempted to say this to the person's face, but so far I have refrained.

Thirdly: I think it likely that you have been emotionally abused by this person. So your anger and intense dislike are completely understandable. Because you still have to be around them to an extent, you feel forced to repress these valid feelings in order to keep the peace.

Folks upthread have said some wise things. I hope you can minimize contact with this person and also let yourself off the hook for not feeling more neutral about it. I hope you have a therapist who can listen to you well, especially during longer periods of contact. But I REALLY hope you can limit those visits.

Good luck to you and take good care of yourself.
posted by sister nunchaku of love and mercy at 5:56 AM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your husband should severe all ties with his folks. If he doesn't want to, you should consider him to be part of the problem. Even the closest-knit families in the closest-knit cultures know where and when to establish solid boundaries.
posted by Kwadeng at 8:55 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Given the lack of information, I'm going to assume the worst for the relative - that it's your or your SO's parent or close sibling or grandparent, so therefore requires a certain level of respect (making telling them they can't visit you not an option, in your opinion - others have addressed this, and I agree that there are no musts or required levels of respect once abuse comes into play, but I'll keep it as a given for you).

And I'm going to assume that the hateful behavior is second-degree - that no one is getting physically injured / car regularly wrecked / house set on fire. That this awful behavior is rude words, disrespectful behavior, maybe some petty theft or public licentiousness - no one's going to end up bankrupt or in the hospital for Relative's behavior (if that is not the case, then stop reading here, because there is no advice to give other than to shut them out completely, period).

What I would advise is the next time they are coming, whichever of you is the immediate family member should tell them in that first conversation in which they tell their intentions (or in your email / text in response to them - however you communicate): "When you get here, we're going to have to have a talk." That's all you need to say, and if they push for details, you can just keep repeating, "it needs to be in person." [If they keep pushing, even better - you can do all the following over the phone or via skype. And with the added distance, may avoid the worst of the conflict.]

When they arrive, while saying that you're glad they're there (or whatever welcoming words you generally use), the immediate family member should reiterate that as soon as they get settled you need to have a talk. Let them get their bags to their room and settle in, but wait for them, together with your SO. If their behavior also affects other family members or friends of yours, see if you can get them to join you for this. This is an intervention.

When they join you, you offer food, you stay friendly, but you (again, whichever of you is the immediate relative) explain that this latest time, you almost said not to come. That their behavior has made it so that it has become impossible for you to host them, and that starting this visit, things need to change. You can list the behaviors. If it's too many things to list without sounding like you're ganging up, you can have it all typed out in advance and give it to them. You don't need to say how the actions made you feel, or how he/she/they hurt you - presumably the person doesn't care or they wouldn't do them. Just list the problem behaviors "You leave all your dirty dishes under the bed. You call me the nickname I hate. You blame me for only having daughters" Whatever the hell they do, make sure it is listed. Bullet points are better than paragraphs. This isn't personal, you're not judging them, and it's not about why. It's just problematic behaviors that you don't want to host. Then say "This needs to stop while you're in our house." Do not back down. Make sure your SO is saying everything you are. Keep telling them that you value the family relationship, you mean no disrespect, you love them (if you can stomach that) and you want them there with you, but that the behavior is not going to be allowed in your house.

The first time the rules are broken (because of course they will be), you say "that is not acceptable.I know you aren't trying to hurt us, but it does. If it happens again, you will have to leave." They will likely laugh at you or insist they didn't do the behavior. Look them in the eye and say "this is not a joke. We will pack your bags and take you to a hotel." The next time they do this, you pack their bags, and you tell them they have to leave. If they can afford it, make them a reservation at a nearby hotel for the rest of their stay. If they can't, offer to drive them to the airport. You can give them another chance if they ask for it - don't offer it on your own - but be firm. If you have a friend who is physically imposing, ask them to come over to back you up. They don't get to stay with you if they can't respect you. If it was me, I would pay the hotel bill for the first week, as an added incentive to make sure they go -- getting them out of your house is the hardest part, and even if you wanted to involve law enforcement (you don't) they're not always able or willing to help. A week of distance may help convince them to change their ways - or their travel plans.

People treat you horribly either because they don't know their behavior is horrible, or because you let them. Hopefully you are only dealing with the former. But you can respect a relative, be there for them, and show them respect without losing your sanity - boundaries are not disrespectful. Presumably this relative abides by them in other contexts (at work, with strangers). They can do it. They're choosing not to. You need to make it clear that it's their choice.
posted by Mchelly at 9:06 AM on May 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Everyone above has answered your question well, but I would ask one point of clarification: is there money/inheritance involved? That's the only explanation I can think of as to why you keep putting up with this person.

If it's an inheritance issue, well, that doesn't change the equation quite as much as one would think. People can and do change their minds about inheritance, and life is too short to put up with that kind of control and abuse. If you rely on this person for active financial support, though, there's no escape until you're in a position where you can cut them off without making yourself destitute.
posted by Ndwright at 11:33 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thanks folks. Yes, it is my SO's parent, I don't feel comfortable giving more details.

Severing ties is going to be hard, because as nasty as they are, I feel guilty/bad just at the thought of it (insane, I can't explain why although my SO has offered this solution. SO has always given me his monolithic support with this, but this person is just too dominant and inconsiderate I feel for both of us combined).

There's no inheritance, and we couldn't care less about it if it were involved, we're happily independent in all aspects of our life, so its a relationship for its own sake. All we would like is respectful behavior and them being considerate of how we feel and the life we've built for ourselves, but they just don't know how to do it, not sure why (and I feel it futile to troubleshoot the why), probably because they come from a rather patriarchal, dominant culture, where no one ever questioned whatever they did or said. They just don't know any other way.

So in all, completely severing ties is hard for us (me), and I was looking for ways that could help me think my way productively out of this quicksand of pain - they're here for some 4-6 months, maybe every 2-3 years, what's bad is that all those bad memories completely take up my mind at times and I just need a way to deal with that negativity that arises in my head... particularly when they're not here - it feels a very useless waste of my time and focus, but I just can't get rid of that anger/hate at times...
posted by greta_01 at 6:50 PM on May 23, 2016

Oh sweety. Listen to your SO. They grew up with this person and they're ready to cut ties? Let them. Free yourselves.
posted by teremala at 6:56 PM on May 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

There's a lot of space between cutting all ties and letting them stay with you for months on end. I know that saying no to the visits could lead to THEM being so upset that they cut ties, but that's THEIR choice, not yours. The next time they propose a visit, give them the number of an extended stay hotel, and say it will not be possible for them to stay with you. (Use the broken record technique and repeat "that will not be possible" as often as necessary. You can throw in "I'm sorry you feel that way" when appropriate, but don't engage with their arguments/ anger.)

I'm so sorry that you're in such a hard position and I hope you're able to find a solution that works for you.
posted by metasarah at 7:26 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with metasarah. Please, please do not keep letting this go on just because confronting them seems too hard.
posted by languagehat at 7:29 AM on May 26, 2016

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