When Family or Friends say Mean and Hurtful Things



overcoming low self esteem
sometimes it has to be about me…

This morning I was doing research on dealing with dysfunctional family during the holidays.  Everything that I find about this problem has to do with advice regarding ‘acceptance of others’ and how we can’t change anyone else.

I don’t get it; it seems that the solution “out there” is always about acceptance of the people who are doing the damage, and then taking responsibility for YOUR part in it. It is always assumed that each person in the relationship shares part of the blame for the difficulties in family relationships. This 50/50 responsibility for the failure in relationship thing is rarely the way it really is. Think about it this way; in your life, does your family equally share in the success of the relationship according to the way that you were taught the ‘rules of engagement?” 

Even the articles about ‘setting boundary stuff’ are about ‘not engaging’ and not expecting them to change. I never read an article that says, if your family is abusive, humiliating, harassing, degrading or devaluing you, if your family or friends disrespect you privately or publically, then “stay away from them!”

No one ever says that you are RIGHT to have issues with abusive family and that it is okay to stand up to them. They say that if your mother comments on your weight because you are having a second slice of pumpkin pie you should just “let it go”… and “well, you know how she is”… (What does that mean?) Why can’t you say “mind your own business mom, that hurts my feelings” ~ It’s all about keeping the peace and harmony; as though the message is that love is acceptance of abuse! But where does that definition of LOVE come from? Why is it so important that we don’t rock the boat when it comes to ‘family’ no matter what they say? Why is it that it is up to the victim to learn to ‘let it go’ and accept people the (abusive) way that they are?  (The message comes from people who want to live in the system where the one with the most power wins. Just because that message is the most popular message out there, that doesn’t make it a truth based message)

I tried to do this type of acceptance stuff for years and it didn’t make me feel good about myself. Looking back I always felt like I was agreeing with them when I didn’t say anything. Like my silence was consent or at the very least my silence communicated consent.

One time my mother commented that it was a shame that my boobs were not as nice as they used to be before I had 3 children! Why couldn’t I have said to her, “OUCH! What a nasty thing to say MOM”.  What would be so wrong with telling her how mean that comment was?  But I was expected to show love and respect by NOT commenting, or by just letting it go because “you can’t change other people” and the ‘bigger person thing to do’ is to just accept the mean things she says and dismiss them as ‘well, you know how she is”.

And then there are the comments from others, saying “she doesn’t mean to hurt your feelings”. 

What the hell WAS her point in saying that then? What was her motive? Why would a mother say something like that to her daughter?? Did she think I just ‘needed to know?” Did she think it would help me get on with my life if I was aware that my boobs had lost their former beauty? Was her telling me this ‘for my own good’?

She told me another time in reference to one of the grandbabies, that it was ‘too bad her eyes are too close together, and so deep set too; like her fathers eyes’. Was that ‘just a comment’ with no ill will intended? A loving observation? Was that useful information? Was it meant to enrich my life? What was her motive in saying something like that?

What about the time at a family wedding she told my cousin when we were both 19 years old, that it was okay if he slept with me because I was ‘on the pill’.  What was her motive for saying that in front of the whole family? Why would she say that? What made her think she had a right to say something like that, and to my COUSIN which made it seem even worse.

When my son was 2 years old we took him for a haircut and then met my sister-in-law and her husband for dinner. When my husband took our son to the bathroom, she informed me that they had decided that they didn’t like our sons haircut.  HE WAS 2! I wish I would have said “SO WHAT?”  I wish I would have said, “you know, I don’t know why we call you when we are in the city. You are so mean and nasty every time we get together.” What was HER motive in saying that they didn’t like our toddlers haircut? Was it love? Was it to make me feel bad as a mom? Was it just a casual observation with no ill intent?

My mother told me once that my husband had a problem with approval seeking. Where did that come from?  Because he was so nice? Because he wanted them to be comfortable and happy while visiting us? What was her intention for telling me that? If I had told him what she said he might not have served her hand and foot (like the well trained compliant son his father taught him to be) anymore when she came for a visit so I don’t think that was her motive. Was it to make me wrong about ‘who I picked to marry’. Or was it simply to remind me that I didn’t have such a special husband and that I wasn’t as lucky as I thought I was?

I had been so brainwashed with “I am doing this (punishment) for your own good” and “I am telling you this (abusive hurtful thing) for your own good” that I accepted everything anyone threw at me even when looking at certain things ‘logically’, there was no way that the intention behind saying certain things, was for any ‘good’ at all.

My brother told me that my parents were old and they weren’t going to change. I said “SO WHAT?? Does that mean that I have to accept the way they treat me?”  Why do people say things like that; that they aren’t going to change? It makes no sense to me anymore. It used to make sense when I was under the false definitions of love and respect but today I know that it isn’t about them changing. It is about me saying no. It is about me having boundaries and self-respect.   

I don’t agree that people can’t change and until we say something to them about these kinds of comments, until we stand up for ourselves they don’t have any reason or motivation to change; they can have the relationship any way that they want to have it. My silence was consent.

But I am not asking them to change, I am simply deciding that I MATTER and I am not going to put up with the way that they treat me anymore. If they can’t (which means won’t) change, then I guess it is a good thing that I am not in any kind of relationship with them.

When I decided that I mattered, I didn’t stand up to people in hopes of changing them. I stood up for me. When I ‘don’t engage’ today it means that I don’t bother trying to convince them anymore. I don’t try to prove my worth anymore. I don’t have to because I know my worth. Those are the biggest differences. I stood up for me when I no longer cared about the consequences of doing so. Their rejection of me, that rejection I had feared so long, did not originate from when I stood up to them or when they walked away from me, it started many years before that.

I didn’t stand up for myself until I realized that my self-esteem depended on me and not on them. They might have broken it, but it was up to me to fix it. I found a way to restore my own value and today I know that these kinds of comments are not about me but are little truth leaks about the people who say them.  

Recovering from mean and nasty; this is my little snap shot of truth for today; 

Please share your thoughts!

P.S. and just so you know Mom, I am in my 50’s now and my ‘boobs’ are still fantastic. 😛

There is life and laughter on the other side of broken!

Darlene Ouimet

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here in the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing

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409 response to "When Family or Friends say Mean and Hurtful Things"

  1. By: Tawny Posted: 8th July

    I too, am of the brainwashed crowd. My childhood was very different than my siblings. They were loved and cherished. I wasn’t and couldn’t get anything right and was told what a loser I was. My entire life I’ve struggled with trust, self worth and acceptance and accepting the love of my husband. My silence at family gatherings was just consent for more abuse. I thought I was being a respectful child by not speaking up. However, I couldn’t be small, quiet, invisible enough to not drawn attention. In fact, this brought more because I was being unfriendly, stand- offish and didn’t like them. So it was my fault again. After years of this I am now excluded from family functions because I create tension. I needed to hear the other side of the coin today because I was feeling rather alone and sad. I now know its not just me that sees and feels the impact of what we’ve been taught to do as good children. Starting today things are changing.

  2. By: Melinda Posted: 15th November

    One more comment…beware of “friends” who secretly hate/envy you if you have something they don’t.
    Jealous people can be dangerous. Also, be careful of female “friends” who are only friends with you because they perceive themselves as being more attractive than you.
    Such people are using you to feel better about themselves, esp. if a man talks to them and doesn’t acknowledge you or worse, puts you down and your “friend” doesn’t defend you.
    And also if she gets mad because heaven forbid a cute guy actually flirted with you instead of her, or somebody is nice to you instead of immediately fawning over her…some catty women don’t like that AT ALL and they will try to put you back in your “place”.

    I got wise to the games that people play and I’m much more careful now.

    • By: T Posted: 24th March

      Siblings can behave the same way. When Inwas dating my boyfriend, he told me that my sister made negative comments about me to him. I never understand why a sibling would do that because I never came between any of her relationships. She even kissed another boyfriend on the cheek right in front of me. And I am not saying a peck on the cheek. It is just downright obnoxious. I was always cordial with whomever she was with and never got in between any of her relationships. Then, one of her best friends always treated me rudely but she never would come out and say anything to stop her. It just goes to show that sometimes the people who go around commenting on how much they love someone and acting like they are there as a defense, are perhaps the true perpetrators.

  3. By: Melinda Posted: 15th November

    My final comment (for now, anyway)…I am now 34 years old. I now wear a size 12, a far cry from what I looked like about ten years ago.
    So maybe I am “fat” now. I can admit it. I don’t like it, I wish I were still thin, but you know what?

    I’m still a kind person. I’m still smart. I still wake up every day and try to carry on with life despite mental/emotional scars.
    We are worthy…all of us. Our worth is not defined by the opinions of others.
    I was often called a “n*gger” and told that my hair was ugly because it’s kinky. So much racism and abuse aimed at me because I was different.
    I am learning to see that I have NOTHING to be ashamed of. We are who we are, and no one has the right to make us feel that we don’t matter.

  4. By: Melinda Posted: 15th November

    The comments about weight…I find that people, esp. women who attack other women for being either very thin or fat, have their own issues with body image much of the time.

    I started hearing the “fat” comments at about 11 or 12 when I would visit my extended family.
    It was bizarre, because I was a scrawny little girl. I remained thin until I was in my mid to late 20’s.
    But they would praise a much larger (obese) relative…it was weird. And I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with seeing beauty in a “full-figured” person, not at all.
    But it always bothered me how I was called “fat” sometimes for having hips on a slender frame and legs that were muscular, yet she was praised.

    In my teens and early to mid-twenties, my body type ranged from stick-thin (in high school when I wore a size 0) to slim but shapely (more like a size 4 or 6 or even 8, but still healthy with nice curves when I filled out…that was my ideal weight).
    There was NOTHING remotely fat about me. Yet there were often people who would say that I was, in a way that was clearly intended to hurt me. I remember a grown woman saying that my legs were “big and ugly”…who says this to another person, esp. a 12-year-old CHILD?

    I also remember a particularly nasty friend of my cousin saying out of the blue that because my legs weren’t skinny, that I would have a weight problem by the time I was older.
    This girl was a horrible person and I knew she had her own issues since she’d been adopted as a child, but it hurt deeply because I never did anything to her.
    Women who lash out at other women with appearance-based insults are definitely not people you want to associate with.
    The funny part is also that in most cases, the ones being so mean and hateful aren’t even attractive themselves! So they have no room to call somebody else names.

  5. By: Melinda Posted: 15th November

    Also, here are some other ways you’ll know that a “friend”/relative feels superior to you or is jealous of you:

    -constantly puts you down whenever possible

    -attributes motives and actions to you that aren’t true

    -has a competitive attitude towards you; always tries to “one-up” you somehow

    -slanders you to others

    -humiliates you in front of others, esp. if there is a member of the opposite sex present who likes you

    -calls attention to your flaws

    -brings up things you are sensitive about to hurt you, then plays dumb when confronted

    -accuses you of being jealous/envious of others despite evidence to the contrary

    -them being offended if somebody is nice to you in their presence…especially true if it’s an abusive partner or a catty woman who feels that she should be the one receiving all the compliments

    -racist remarks aimed at you; comments attacking your looks, weight, religious beliefs, sexuality, etc.

    -people who try to “remind” you that you are unworthy and undeserving of good things in life.
    People who want to see you fail. People who question why our husbands/partners (for those of us in good relationships) are with us, esp. if the guy is attractive or kind or has a good career.

  6. By: Melinda Posted: 15th November

    Sorry, I know I’ve been leaving too many comments lately! But I’m drawn back to this site because there is so much I can relate to.
    I also find pearls of wisdom in what a lot of people here have said. The more I read, the more understood and validated I feel.

    Several ladies here have talked about catty comments they have received, being made to feel ugly, other women being competitive, etc…I have come to realize that when people treat us in this way it’s because they are damaged and they try to elevate themselves by displacing their pain/shame/anger onto others.
    I am a very light-skinned black woman (mixed but some people might consider me “black”).
    I grew up around a lot of people who were intent on destroying my self-esteem at a young age, some of whom are in my family.
    I was also bullied/abused terribly by others outside of my family.

    The reason I mention being light-skinned is that (for those who are unaware) there is a perception among darker-skinned people that women with lighter skin and women of mixed ancestry (like myself) are “stuck up” and must be taken down.
    So unfortunately, I learned that there were people who would hate me simply for being me.
    I also learned at an early age that some women (including a few in my own family) could be VERY mean and competitive when it came to beauty, male attention, etc.
    I was around 12 the first time I figured this out and it hurt because I wasn’t that type of girl. I wasn’t catty or focused on being “better” than anyone.
    Yet I was accused of thinking/acting like I was, and I was often the target of some disgusting behavior from others.

    I remember the earliest incident of it, where a cousin and a friend of hers decided to attack me one day.
    Both were older than me but they were like “we’ve never heard you call anyone pretty” as if that were some sort of crime.
    I thought that was weird, because who cares? I am more interested in whether a person is kind than what they look like.
    They would also accuse me of being vain if I dared to look in a mirror for even a second.
    There were also comments about how my hair wasn’t long, only shoulder-length…my hair was in fact nearly waist-length at the time.
    This same cousin “confronted” me one night and threatened to beat me up because she claimed that somebody said I called her fat.
    Imagine a very tall, large girl towering over a much smaller girl making her cry.
    I NEVER said anything bad about her but she had a nasty habit of cornering me and accusing me of things I didn’t do.

    Now as an adult, I see it for what it was. The nonsense about how I supposedly never called others pretty?
    I think they were both jealous because they were a bit older than me (14 and 16) and they wanted me to look up to them as some little sister type, kind of like what Amber said about her “friend” feeling insecure that Amber started coming into her own as a more confident person.
    And I didn’t look up to them at all…they were vapid, shallow bullies. I also received male attention despite being short and flat-chested and somewhat dorky, so I think that pissed them off even more because we all know how some self-proclaimed “pretty” girls can be if a so-called “plainer” woman gets attention.
    So I was frequently the target of hate from certain females who felt threatened. This same relative also has a history of gossiping about me and trying to make my sex life her business, under the pretense of caring about me.

    One of my aunts also became turned vicious when I hit puberty. There were often attacks on my looks, my femininity, and my sexuality.
    It was always something about my small boobs or how “ridiculous” my lipstick was or that my skin was too light or that my hair was ugly or that I had no style or that my cousin was prettier/better than me, etc…this was an aunt whom I loved very much so it hurt to have her saying these things.
    I couldn’t understand saying these things to a child. So you ladies aren’t alone.
    My radar is now finely tuned to people who display this nasty behavior and I try to stay FAR away from them.
    My ex’s mother was like this too, always making some racist or catty comment.
    People like that have SERIOUS issues and we need to eliminate them from our lives or limit contact if going completely NC isn’t possible.

    I can’t be friends with anyone who feels that they are above me, because that is not a friend.
    That is a person who is looking at me as an inferior, not as an equal, and it WILL show in how they treat us.
    People have revealed ugly racism towards me…people I once considered friends.
    There is no room for competitive behavior in a friendship. As to family? I’ve learned to accept that there is a “golden child” in my family. She is the star, I’m not, and that is OK. But I still have the right to insist on respectful treatment.
    I’m supposed to visit them soon and I’m trying to brace myself for the snarky comments about my weight, my looks, etc.

  7. By: Melinda Posted: 15th November

    @Annabeth…I feel bad for you and your daughter. Your brother has no business being so unkind to a 3-year-old child.
    It is one thing to gently correct a kid; it is another to treat them the way he is treating your little one.
    As for them labeling her “bad” and “mean”…have you asked them why they would say such terrible things about a small child? It sounds like you are willing to defend her at least, which is more than I can say for my own mom when my stepfather frequently attacked me.

    Your brother and your niece judging a child so harshly is unfortunate, but it says much more about them than it does about you and your little girl.
    You mentioned that she is smart and introverted, the type that can play by herself.
    I was a lot like your daughter when I was a kid. Some people are very uncomfortable/threatened by what they don’t understand.
    I remember certain teachers stating that I thought I was better than others…this wasn’t true, but they made assumptions. It sounds like based partly on the incident with your little one hitting her cousin with the car keys, they have decided that she is “bad”.

    Which is unfair because she’s just a kid and you DID punish her accordingly so she won’t do it again.
    I don’t blame you for wanting to protect her from harsh judgments at such a young age.

  8. By: Kris Posted: 11th September

    Ditto! Love your words and sentiment and totally agree that after a lifetime of living around abusive people you just get to the place where enough is enough! My favorite thing you said was something I am just now learning to do after 2 divorces to abusive men and a mother who at 88 still tries to demean me and then tells me I’m too sensitive! I’m just now beginning to act on the truth in your words “I didn’t stand up for myself until I realized that my self-esteem depended on me and not on them,” to be so true. As an adult, it’s now my responsibility to refuse to accept and tolerate the abuse. Finally, I’m learning to remove myself from any situation where she starts degrading or acting disrespectful. She doesn’t like it but I feel so much better and recover my self respect so much faster than ever before. It really helps me feel better about me when I stand up to the adult bullies in my life.

    Can’t wait to read your book! Thanks again for saying everything I’m currently feeling!!


  9. By: Marcy Lee Posted: 29th August

    Thank you Darlene! I found you online when I Googled “what to do when friends make derogatory comments”. Your perspective is refreshing! I am an empathetic nurturer that people like to walk over – all my life. I’m in a recovery program and at almost 60 am still a work in progress. Working on my self-esteem, or lack thereof, because I was raised in a non-encouraging environment (verbally and physically abusive parents). I attract verbally and emotionally abusive men – go figure. I also learned, even in my recovery program, to “let it go”, “pray for the other person”, “be kind”. It doesn’t make me feel any better! I’m going to try your method and STAND UP for myself. Ask “my friend” why did you say that? And put it back on them. I’m sick and tired of “friends” telling me negative things that I know are not true about ME but they are projecting their crap onto me. Now is the time to start a new beginning – a newer, stronger ME! I won’t take the negativity or abuse or gossiping any longer!

  10. By: Alejandra Posted: 6th July

    My mother talks s**t at my back with my siblings. I have overheard it. My siblings does not give a damn about me, they never cared about how I feel and when I get sick they bitch at me on how can I give our mother such a burden, like, wtf? I do not ask to be cared of, then, she complains on how I do not let her sleep due to my coughing. When I was fourteen I had a terrible pain in my ear, she dismissed it as a pimple, two days I had to deal with it and when she considered it was something wrong she took me to the doc; I had an infection And a ruptured ear, now that I recall it she say she never did that. Two years ago I got dengue, I woke up with fever. I told her and she got angry, I took a cold bath and accompanied her to the store. The fever did not relented and I felt worse during the day, we went to the doc that night. The next five days I couldn’t go to work because I felt terrible.

    One of my siblings is specially mean, he always looked down at me, considers me as a stupid (they all do, but specially him).
    When I stand up, they tell me : ” you are immature, disrespectful…” Why? Just because I want to defend myself, because I stand my ground?, there were a time I believed them, and tries to change from “bitter” to sweet, but it dies not matter they still find something wrong.

    Now I stand my ground in an aggressive way(I understand it’s wrong, but I’m tired to be nice), reserved.

    Sorry for the extension, just needed to write it out.

  11. By: Celine Posted: 24th June

    I was meant to find this today. As I am home caring for my mother who is recovering from surgery and has been emotionally abusive to me my entire 38 years of , today I walked in on her having a conversation about how she hated my housekeeping and a few other insults. She didn’t know I had heard her. It brought me to tears and I decided that today enough was enough. Once her doctor gives her a clean bill of health, I am politely walking away and never looking back. Not only for my emotional health, but for my daughter’s.

  12. By: Tundra Woman Posted: 20th June

    Kasey, what you have shared really resonates. If you’re OK with talking about what you mean by keeping your distance, how you achieved this and what push back you experienced as a result it’d be great! Thanks!
    And kudos for recognizing the blazing red flag so quickly: Those of us who grew up in The Crazy as I call it often may not put it together as quickly and respond effectively as it seems you have.

  13. By: Kasey Carter Posted: 15th June

    What you shared totally resonates. Thanks Darlene.

    My future in laws are very mean, extremely judgmental and even make up lies about me. The first red flag should have been the first time I met them and they were badmouthing their grandchildren. That’s right – their innocent grandkids! I stood up to them once when I was pregnant and that began WWIII. Now I keep my distant bc they aren’t worth the time or energy. They are the type that are always looking for a reason to be pissed off and they have something negative to say about every person they know. Yuck – they are awful.

  14. By: Cath Posted: 11th June

    Great read…and good on you for giving to yourself. x

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