How To Cope With Vindictive Family Members

How To Cope With Vindictive Family Members

Dealing with a vindictive family member (or several) can be an isolating and demoralizing experience, but you don’t have to let it get you down. If you’re feeling alone and confused and unsure of what to do next, here are 16 ways of coping with them.

1. Change your communication strategy.

Whatever you were doing before clearly wasn’t working, so it’s time to get creative. Enlist your friends and brainstorm a new approach. If you’ve been distant before, go one step further and go no contact. Unpack what it is that you want and whether it’s actually possible. For instance, do you see yourself healing and forgiving them, or if you think the relationship is beyond repair? The answer will dictate what happens next.

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2. Move away if you have to.

If emotional distance can’t be achieved while you still feel physically near them, then it could be time to move away physically, WebMD suggests. If you live in the house and have the means to, move out. It may seem extreme, but it’s for the best in the long term for your mental health.

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3. Don’t be afraid of an extreme response.

If your vindictive, cruel, and abusive family members cannot see the error of their ways, you don’t need to be mature about it. It takes two people to maintain a relationship and if they aren’t pulling their weight — or changing like you’ve asked them to — then it’s not about what they want, just what’s right for you. To get out of that head space altogether and stop thinking about them, you might have to consider ceasing all forms of contact indefinitely.

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4. Set boundaries with firm communication.

If you still see yourself rebuilding these relationships, and if the vindictive people seem capable of change, it can be fruitful to articulate your boundaries with communication. Don’t set boundaries for yourself and forget to actually tell your family about them — they can’t read minds, and you should give them a chance to make things right with you. If certain topics are off-limits, be vocal about it.

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5. Structure is your friend.

If you’ve grown tired of managing your vindictive, careless family members, try incorporating some structure into your relationship. Don’t just let them walk all over you or invite themselves over, or call at any hour. You will realize that it makes you on edge all the time. Make yourself unavailable at times, or set specific times during which you’re willing to talk or spend time with them.

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6. Bring cousins or siblings along to support.

Don’t bear it all alone. If you have cousins, siblings, or a community group of people who have experienced a similar home environment as this, bring them along. They will want to help you, and will have valuable perspectives that you can draw on.

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7. Explain why their vindictiveness hurts you.

If your family members don’t understand why you’re upset, tell them! Communication 101: if it’s hard, you have to say it. You can kill two birds with one stone: getting it off your chest in a cathartic way, plus making your family see how their actions have hurt you.

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8. Understand why your family are vindictive to start with.

Start by having a conversation with your family members — only when you feel safe and comfortable to do so, of course — and ask them about their own family, or how their experiences have shaped them. It may transpire that they are also trapped in a cycle of trauma, and understanding that better will help come to a resolution. It doesn’t make what they’ve done okay, but you have a chance to stop the cycle.

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9. Talk to a therapist about your trauma.

Don’t bottle things up. Most people get to rely on their family to help them process trauma, but since you can’t do that, look elsewhere. Search online for good recommendations and talk to a professional. It will give you the tools to move on from this toxic relationship.

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10. Know that you don’t have to like your family.

Like and love are very different things when it comes to family. We all know that. It can be useful to know that when you start healing and coping, the solution doesn’t have to involve forgiving them. It’s all about finding inner peace.

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11. Research where vindictiveness comes from.

sad woman in orange cardigan on couch

Once you’ve gathered an insight into unpacking your feelings and your family’s, sometimes it’s useful to research these emotional impulses and actions from an academic perspective. It makes me feel less alone and exceptional to see that there are often trends and patterns to this kind of behavior.

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12. Put yourself in their shoes.

This can be an emotional exercise rather than a framework intent on forgiveness. Either way, getting out of your own experiences can be useful — even if it just helps you see how selfish your parents have been from a new perspective. It will empower you to do what needs to be done.

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13. Know that you won’t forgive them overnight.

Maybe you won’t forgive your vindictive family at all. People choose how they respond to trauma — even if they didn’t choose well, you can. Take space, leave town, embrace change — anything that gives you back your power. In some situations, forgiveness is unrealistic and not talking to your family is okay.

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14. Find a neutral location to talk to them.

serious business guy looking to side

Sometimes there are specific memories and traumas tied up in the location of the family house. Don’t let that be the barrier that stops you talking altogether. Take them out of that environment and chat in a neutral location like a coffee shop.

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15. You can always leave — you don’t owe them anything.

Whatever step in your journey that you’re in — this is always true. You are never too far in our out to change your mind. Even if you travel to see them, or they have changed plans to see you, you can always leave if you need to.

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16. Consider group family therapy sessions.

If, after having tried a few of the above coping mechanisms, you see some positivity from your family, it is definitely worth going for a family therapy session. If they’re real about changing their ways, they’ll do it.

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Hannah has a Masters degree in Romantic and Victorian literature in Scotland and spends her spare time writing anything from essays to short fiction about the life and times of the frogs in her local pond! She loves musical theatre, football, anything with potatoes, and remains a firm believer that most of the problems in this world can be solved by dancing around the kitchen to ABBA. You can find her on Instagram at @_hannahvic.
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