How I Stood Up To The Bully In My Dysfunctional Family

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serious woman

I don’t know about your family, but I have this one important family member in my life who’s an emotionally abusive bully.

At gathering after gathering, someone always gets hurt by her rude, insensitive remarks — yet, no one ever says anything to stop it.

Instead, we all complain about it to each other behind her back (probably because we were raised not to talk back to our elders and instead to basically swallow our shots of emotional abuse as they come).

Plus, this is a person who is close to me. I can’t just part ways with her as I would if it were anyone else. We’re practically joined at the hip.  

This past Thanksgiving, when I started feeling anxious about seeing her, I decided to handle the matter once and for all — before she ruined yet another holiday.

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First, I tried to manipulate my husband into talking to her on my behalf.

He refused, saying, “Why would I touch this s*** when I know it will stink?” Then, of course. he succumbed to my glare and suggested a safer route (for himself): that he make a call to her husband.

So, he did, conveying how everyone in the family feels about her hurtful comments. The guy just brushed it off and justified her behavior, saying she does it because “she is old.” Still, he agreed to gently deliver our pleas that she back off to her.

As an aside, in my book, “old” means wise and mature, not bitter and offensive, at least, technically speaking. But OK.

We arrived at our Thanksgiving dinner and ... she did it again.

This time she attacked me (she always picks on the female members of the family) by informing everyone that my academic degrees are not “real,” and stating that my profession as a holistic doctor, medical hypnotherapist, and energy healer is not legit.

She went on to say she doesn’t believe in alternative health — which is fine, except that just two weeks earlier while she was in the hospital with a bowel obstruction she asked her husband to call me at home at 10 p.m. to come to her and heal her.

I dropped everything and rushed to her side. I stayed for an hour, waving my arms above her, cleansing and balancing her energy field while she remained peaceful and calm, allowing the healing to take place.

In the morning, her scans came back normal and she was released due to a “misdiagnosis.”

I’m not saying that I caused this miracle. My point is that I was there for her, assisting her in the best way I know how, at her request. And now, in front of my husband, parents, and kids, she had the nerve to call me a fake?!

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That pissed me off to the point that my anger overrode my usual fear of intimidation.

I looked straight at her and declared,

“I will never work on you again, and you will never speak to me like that again. You are simply not allowed. If you don’t respect and honor who I am, it just shows who you are, and says nothing about me. Are we clear?”

I was calm, yet determined, meaning every word.

She flushed and almost choked on her pie. Looking around for support, she stopped at her husband. “What did I say?” she squealed. “I can’t say how I feel? Why? What’s wrong?”

“Well,” I responded, getting up from the table, “no worries. I‘m saying how I feel, too, and from now on, I intend to do it more often!”

Shaking, I opened the sliding door to the backyard, leaving the ‘awkward moment’ inside, and stepped outside. Feeling the breeze of the pleasant autumn afternoon, I exhaled deeply. I’d never realized that gathering all my obnoxiousness and speaking up for myself could feel so exhilarating, liberating, and truly refreshing.

Seconds later, my mind tried pulling me back into self-doubt and blame, but my heart raced to the rescue because it knows I deserve to be treated with appreciation and respect.

I also realized that this was the first time of many times more to come when I'd need to stand up for myself, and it takes some time to establish new behavioral traits and to stop feeling abused in a relationship with someone who behaves this way.

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Later that night, I drew the following conclusions from this saga:

1. If I label somebody a bully, that makes me a victim — which I am not.

2. If I allow someone else’s bad attitude to affect my happiness, that means they have power over me — which is never true.

3. If I accept someone’s negative opinion about me, feeling bad and insecure, I’m a puppet on countless strings, reacting to every remark — and I’m not; I am my own, real person.

4. If I remain quiet and don’t set up healthy boundaries, then I have low self-esteem and worthiness issues — which are mine alone to address.

5. If I look at life through the prism of karmic role-playing, then this person that I despise is here to teach me the lesson of discovering my personal power — they’re giving me a gift.

6. If I get trapped in a loop of blame and gossip, I will never uncover this gift — and that would be a shame.

Now that the holidays are well underway, my challenge is to decide how I want to deal with her behavior if it comes up again during our family celebrations.

To remain resolved throughout the season I must remind myself that it’s up to me to address her — or to ignore her by doing one of these things:

  • Indulging in my Mom’s signature dish (Bavarian Cranberry Cream Napoleon)
  • Exchanging dirty jokes with my sister
  • Ripping my gifts open with a sense of wonder
  • Making out with my hubby in the bathroom

Of course, I can retreat to a corner, desolate and distraught like a helpless five-year-old stomping her feet because she can't control the behavior of others.

Whichever option I choose, I am the only one who gets to decide how I will experience my life’s events.

As always, making healthy decisions will become easier with practice, until it becomes my new norm.

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Katherine Agranovich, Ph.D., is a Medical Hypnotherapist and Holistic Consultant. She is the author of Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family