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DEALING WITH TRICKY FAMILY MEMBERS (1)

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Aggression is forceful, hostile, angry or violent behaviour and attitudes.

When someone has an aggressive style of communication, they represent their needs, expectations, wants, opinions, and feelings by force and with little to no consideration of the needs, expectations, wants, opinions, and feelings of others. They act without restraint.

There are times in our lives where being aggressive can come in handy – when our survival, or certainly our safety depends on it. We are going to need to be forceful if we’re being physically attacked for instance. The issue is that some people are forceful, angry, hostile, and violent towards others as if they are under threat when they’re not – they want to get their own way, be in control, or mete out some form of punishment. They feel within their rights to act as they do as they have a convoluted framework of thinking that they believe justifies their actions.

“I wouldn’t have to behave like this towards him/her, if only they would just do as I ask.”

“I wouldn’t have cursed them out / punched the sh-t out of them if they’d kept the house tidy as I expect / had given me what I wanted / hadn’t said no / hadn’t ‘made’ me feel like my parent used to / disagreed with me or had given me the right answer. Is it too much to ask that people not put a foot wrong?”

“The only way to make yourself heard is to shout.”

“People who disagree with me are attacking me.”

“If people cross me, they deserve whatever they get and I’m not responsible for my actions. If they don’t want me to behave this way then they shouldn’t do what they do.”

“A person has a right to defend themselves from anything they perceive to be a threat, in any way that they like.”

“If I know what they’re doing at all times then I won’t feel out of control and I won’t be worried that they’re doing something that I don’t want them to hence I won’t have to get angry.”

“The only way to ensure that things get done right around here is to make people so afraid of me that they try to give me their best output.”

“I used to be beaten and verbally abused far worse than anything that I’m doing to them. If they don’t want this to continue then they know what they need to do.”

The most likely TFM’s to behave aggressively and yes, abusively, are the super angry and narcissistically inclined Absentees, Power Players, Rebels, and possibly an Upholder if they’re someone who has one face in the community and another behind closed doors.

Some TFMs have lost control of themselves or are aggressive because it’s the only way that they know how to behave and get what they want, need, and expect. Some TFMs had this behaviour modelled for them and some have so much pent up anger that when they feel that they’re not getting what they want etc., or that others are putting their feelings, opinions etc before theirs, they lose it and rage, which is uncontrollable anger.

Anger is a very natural and necessary emotion that can be expressed healthily, i.e. without rage, and with regard and restraint for others. Everyone has the ability to lose their temper (it’s human) but there’s losing your temper and being able to rein it in because you have regard and restraint for you and others, and then there’s losing your temper and raging.

It’s also important to note that not all aggression is abusive.

Feeling or behaving angrily but without force and intimidation is not abusive behaviour.

Feeling or behaving angrily and being forceful, verbally intimidating, threatening, saying nasty, offensive things, and being physically violent is abusive behaviour.

Using aggression as a means of getting your own way and controlling others is abusive behaviour.

Conflict is a natural and very necessary part of life. It arises when issues arise and the discussions, and yes the potential arguments help to resolve it. Trying to share the same feelings and opinions as your family, even when you don’t…, will not spare you from conflict, not least because by avoiding conflict you’re either going to cosign to stuff that doesn’t represent you, or you’re going to remain silent when you need to speak or step up for you.

A person is not busting your boundaries by disagreeing or arguing with you. It’s the way in which they go about it that counts.

One of the things I’ve also learned, is that being assertive instead of being a pleaser, doesn’t invite or provoke aggression in others. People who are aggressive by trade will be aggressive with you whether you’re passive, passive aggressive, assertive, or aggressive. Don’t get things twisted. The mistake that many people make (and I’ve been there myself) is to try to restrict and minimise the aggressive person’s behaviour by being more pleasing/accommodating, when in reality, they need to get the hell out of dodge and use assertiveness for protection. If like me, you learned to please and suppress yourself as a means of protecting you when you were a kid, I’ve got news for you – you’re not that kid anymore and you don’t have to be.

You’re a grown-up now and you can create your own safe environment with assertiveness and choices.

You are allowed to walk away. You are allowed to decide who stays and who goes in your life.

The only person who is the boss of you is you.

It’s also safe to say that only people who have skewed ideas about anger and what being yourself truly involves, will misinterpret your assertiveness including being honest with respect and not always agreeing with people, as aggression – it’s their projection.

How To Be More Boundaried With Aggressive TFMs

Stay in your own lane.

People who behave aggressively are on some level trying to bait you in to a reaction that they can irrationally use as evidence to legitimise their behaviour… that was already happening before your reaction… If you can detach from their drama by focusing on your own body and mind and recognising their inappropriateness, you can keep a cool head.

People who behave aggressively think that they have clever arguments, that they’re making loads of sense etc but they actually undermine their position and argument with their behaviour, it’s just that this is forgotten because of the distraction of the aggression. In the cold light of day you’d be thinking, This shizzle doesn’t make sense! If you observe this person rather than taking responsibility for their feelings and behaviour, you will see him/her so much more clearly.

Count to ten in your head (and back down to zero if needed) and remember to breathe – we hold tension in our body when stressed and often literally hold our breath.

 

Depersonalise their behaviour so you recognise the TFM as a person.

One of the traps that we fall in to with aggressive people as we see ourselves at the centre of their behaviour that is being aimed at us which causes us to over-empathise instead of empathise and the blame keeps us firmly locked in an unhealthy dynamic. Several years ago, my acupuncturist Silvio reminded me to see past myself and the situation and to empathise and recognise where they were coming from so I could see aggressive family members more clearly.

This means naming the issue and recognising where that person’s dysfunctional behaviour is coming from.

My mother is throwing insults and dragging up old stuff and becoming increasingly hostile. I recognise that it must not have been easy for her to grow up in an environment where what you say is dismissed as a lie, where people twist things and betray you, and also fight dirty to get their own way.

And there, in one fell swoop, I know that yeah, her behaviour is very inappropriate but it’s not my problem as in, it’s not about me.

This not only helps you to distinguish you from your TFM’s issues but you can choose your next actions from a place of authenticity – love, care, trust and respect – where you are boundaried and take care of your well-being plus you also know that you’re not behaving like [whoever and whatever their triggers are] so you can approach from a calmer, compassionately informed place.

Use “I understand that you’ve” clarification statements.

This really depends on the type of TFM behaviour that you’re dealing with but if it’s all verbal and they are referencing stuff from the past, use clarification statements to dial things down and make clear the lines of responsibility.

e.g. “I understand that you are used to encountering lies, deception and hostility from [the people they mentioned] but I am not them. This is about you and me. This is about this problem. I cannot take responsibility for what someone else did.”

e.g. “I understand that Sukie has accused you of stuff that isn’t true but I’m not Sukie so there isn’t any need for you to say/do [whatever the TFM is]”

 

Make clear that if the aggressive style continues that it will be end of conversation.

“I love you, you’re my ________ but I’m not a child anymore and you cannot speak to me like that. If you continue, I will have no other choice but to leave.”

“If you continue to shout at me and call me names, I am leaving. Is this what you want me to do?”

“As I said before, if you keep disrespecting me, I am leaving. Seriously, is this what you want me to do?”

“I did ask you to stop disrespecting me and you’ve ignored it. I cannot continue speaking with you like this. Goodbye” and leave (or hang up the phone). They’ve had fair warning so don’t backtrack no matter what they say. And repeat for every similar interaction with this person.

 

Be clear on your rights and responsibilities.

Remember Day 14? Assert your rights in the situation because aggressive people rely on curtailing other people’s rights in order to control or even take advantage. If they bring up their rights and your responsibilities, make yours clear.

“I have the right to speak up for myself and no, I’m not responsible for your feelings”.

The short and simple, “I don’t take responsibility for that” is highly effective when they try to dump something on you. This is very effective with the narcissistically inclined and anyone else who has empathy issues. It is another message that they are not in control of you.

 

Ask questions.

Aggressive people have this rather strange notion that they can say whatever they want without it being questioned so they can criticise or comment about something or make some grandiose statement and you’re supposed to go, “Yes Grand Puba”.

Query what they say.

You’re saying that I’m __________. What is it that you feel justifies that comment?”

“You say that I haven’t done it properly – can you please explain exactly what it is that you expected?”

“What did you mean when you said ___________?”

“OK, so you’re saying that I’m stupid and that I have misinterpreted what you said so OK, what did you mean when you said _________________________?”

 

Shift focus to resolution.

Aggressive people love highlighting problems and going on and on and on and on about them. “And another thing…”; “You so….”;”And I just knew…”

“What do you want to happen next?”

“You say that the problem is ______________, so how do you feel that you should resolve it?”

Cue tumbleweeds, blinking or trying to circle back to insults etc.

One thing that I’ve found can be quite useful is making clear that you’re done talking about it and changing the subject.

“Right, you’ve said _____ and _____ and _____ and we’ve been talking about this for X minutes/hours. We’re clearly not going to resolve this today so let’s move on to another subject. Obviously if you don’t feel that you can move on to another topic, we can leave this here and catch up in a few days time when hopefully things will have calmed down. What do you think?”

And if the change in topic or suggestion to cool down doesn’t work:

“It’s clear that you are very unhappy. Get in touch when you’re ready to have a calmer discussion. Bye” and go.

 

Try humour.

Again, it depends on the situation (don’t use it where you fear for your safety or where it is clear that the person is too far gone and is in tantrum mode) but humour is a great way of letting a person know that whatever liberties they’ve previously enjoyed, you’re just not that scared of them anymore.

“So you’re saying ____________ / calling me __________ but you still want me to ____________ for you”. Don’t use a sarcastic tone – go for light humour.

 

Know your drama levels and choose your battles wisely.

Aggressive TFMs have a habit of treating all drama equally or certainly having disproportionate responses, which they don’t realise gradually undermines credibility. They also assume that because you’re family that you’re obliged to turn up to every argument and drama that they invite you to; you’re not. When you don’t take the bait and remove yourself out of situations, this throws them because they’re used to pattern and habit.

I choose what I will and won’t get involved in based on drama levels. My scale is 1-5 with 3 being middle of the road and 4 and 5 for more serious stuff. Remember that their idea of a 5 may be very different to yours and it’s OK for you to choose what you do or don’t want to make important to you.

Unless you absolutely have to and want to, do not engage. If it’s at the expense of your well-being and will compromise your values, that’s a clue that you need to not engage or certainly step back.

 

Don’t negotiate.

Don’t get drawn into inane arguments about what is and isn’t aggressive behaviour because a TFM who is entrenched in their way of behaving will twist what you’re saying to suit their agenda and you’re not negotiating your boundaries with them. Believe me when I say that you are not the first person in the history of ever, to point out to this TFM that they are behaving inappropriately.

 

Don’t get into discussions about who is right and who is wrong.

Yes, stick to the facts from your end so that you don’t get sucked into their arguments and drama but their behaviour is always about trying to prove that they’re “right” or that they’re the “winner” so they will clutch at a pube never mind a straw if they think that it will serve their argument. They are controlling so don’t try to make sense of out nonsense, don’t try to make them see things like you – diffuse tension where you can, limit their inappropriateness and recognise that you may love ‘em but they have issues that will get in the way of you relating to them like other people you love but who are respectful.

 

Don’t ask them to empathise.

If they were more empathy orientated, you wouldn’t be in this situation so saying, “Imagine how [eg. their daughter] would feel if you spoke to her like this?” will only enrage but also, this display of emotions will be interpreted as weakness. Facts, facts, facts! And definitely don’t ask them for mercy because their mentality ensures that this will be misread as more weakness to exploit.

 

Halt any physical aggression.

You can be assured that once a family member is behaving in a physically aggressive manner towards you, that it is time for you to leave and to stop talking. If you fear for your safety before it even gets to that point, leave. If they lay a hand on you, family or not, it is now a legal matter. Physical aggression is not acceptable and you most definitely are not responsible for it.

 

Keep a distance.

Aggressive and abusive behaviour is unacceptable. You can’t choose the family you’re born into but you can choose how much you put up with. If a TFM has consistently demonstrated that they have anger issue, the natural consequence of this is that you step back and limit interaction, not try to carry on as normal because a person like this trains you into being in an abusive relationship and that’s not cool.

Journal PromptJOURNALING: How do you feel about the prospect of dealing with an aggressive (but not dangerous) TFM? Did you recognise your TFM in some of the reasoning examples above, e.g. “The only way to ensure that things get done right around here is to make people so afraid of me that they try to give me their best output”? Write about what you think your TFM’s reasoning is and remember, it’s not about you so you can’t use something about you in the reasoning.

taskTASK: If your TFM has typical comments and statements that they reach for, see if you can use this class to come up with responses that will ground you and distance you from the responsibility or their issues that they’re trying to dump on you. Also try out a few of the statements and questions from the class – say them out loud, maybe in front of a mirror and see how you feel. Tweak to suit who you are.