I have an aunt who is constantly putting me down and saying hurtful things to me. She has always been difficult, but the verbal abuse has gotten worse since Mom passed away a few years ago. I think my aunt feels that because I lost the one person who was always on my side that she can treat me whatever way she pleases.
Obviously the best solution would be to sever all ties with her, but for various reasons I am not in a position to do so.
Is there a way to “set her straight” the next time she disrespects me without having a blow up with her?
It would have been helpful if you had included your definition of emotional abuse or examples of what your aunt says to you that you regard as abusive. Without this information, I can only provide you with general advice.
Not wanting to “blow up” at your aunt might suggest that you avoid conflicts. Obviously, conflicts are unpleasant and uncomfortable. It’s natural to want to avoid discomfort and negative feelings but sometimes it breeds more trouble. Avoiding these unpleasant situations can lead to resentment and anger.
Your aunt may say hurtful things to you because she feels as though she can. If you have been ignoring it, then she suffers no penalty for her abuse. By ignoring it, you might have inadvertently sent her message that it’s okay to abuse you. She does it because she gets away with it. It’s up to you to change that.
Make it clear to her that you will no longer tolerate her abuse. You don’t have to yell and scream or call her names. That is unnecessary. Be honest and straightforward. For instance: “I don’t like the way you speak to me. If you’re going to continue speaking to me in that manner, then I will stop all communication with you.”
Be prepared for the possibility that approaching her regarding this matter won’t result in a positive behavior change. In that case, consider limiting or ending your interaction with her. If she will not change her behavior, then you must change yours. You should try to reason with her but ultimately you can only control your own behavior.
There are some people who will not tolerate abuse under any circumstances. If you mistreat them, they don’t ignore it or overlook it. They address it immediately. It’s a good model to follow. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or are not sure how to proceed, counseling could provide helpful guidance. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle