How to Deal With Insults From Family

Insults from family and relatives can be a very touchy subject. Sometimes it may seem like there’s no way to overcome the situation when it occurs—but it doesn’t always have to be that way.

Here’s how to deal with insults from your family and relatives, according to experts:

Susie Mantell

Susie Mantell

Stress Relief Expert, Relax Intuit LLC | Author of Audiobook, “Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace, 2nd Edition: Revised and Expanded

In moments of conflict, pause to calmly assess the situation

If the past year and a half could be described in one word, it might be, “Stressful…”

These challenging times find some families pulling together, while others may fall apart. It can be deeply frustrating (and infuriating!) when family members’ words or actions feel unkind, unreasonable, or just plain mean, but how we choose to respond can determine whether the moment will Blow Up or Blow Over.

In these uncertain times, pandemic-weary men and women in all walks of life are juggling new responsibilities at home and at work. Covid-related concerns and safety measures, periods of isolation, economic pressure, sleeplessness, and chronic stress may impact the wellbeing of individuals, families, and even businesses.

Some people may self-medicate under stress, turning to alcohol or drugs, overeating, or restricting, smoking, or other potentially harmful behaviors.

In moments of conflict, pause to calmly assess the situation. This may be as simple as closing the door to your office, getting outdoors for a walk, or asking a neighbor to watch the kids for a few minutes. Here are a few simple stress relief tips to help maintain your equilibrium when someone close to you is letting their emotions overflow into yours.

The angry outbursts, sarcasm, and insults people hurl are often a display of their own internal fears and emotional pain. The more we can remember that in a tense moment, the healthier self-esteem, and relationships, we can enjoy.

Side-stepping a verbal “swing”

Many unnecessary and unkind words have been avoided by employing this whimsical but highly effective technique to give you time to pause, reflect, then respond later, in a calm and constructive way.

  • As the first verbal salvo is fired, put this moment on “Pause.”
  • Imagine a shimmering light showering you with Calm, Balance, and Compassion… flowing down your body and into the ground beneath you, grounding you.
  • Now, just above the other person’s head, imagine an airplane — with an advertising banner attached to its tail.
  • Visualize the words coming out of the speaker’s mouth but before they can reach you, watch them float up and attach themselves to the banner as it sails by and out of your field of vision.
  • Remind yourself: They’re just words. They’re in the air. They’ll be gone in a minute.
  • To avoid an argument, take time to consider a positive, constructive response. Sometimes there is nothing beneficial to be said. Tincture of time and calm, compassionate silence can be a powerful response.
  • Care for and nurture your family relationships. But care for your health and well-being by side-stepping those verbal swings.

Refresh. Replenish. Renew. Try a quick meditation and mindfulness getaway

Many people find that even on difficult days, taking even a 10-minute break to meditate can actually add hours of productivity, clarity, and inner peace.

  • Put on some soothing instrumental music and set a timer for ten minutes.
  • Turn off your phone and hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door.
  • Softly closing your eyes, allow them to settle on a far-off horizon as you feel the muscles around your eyes beginning to release.
  • Inhaling deep into the belly, imagine exhaling through the shoulders, feeling them relax, as your neck and jaw, cheeks, scalp all begin to soften. Continue the flow of liquid relaxation down your body.
  • Now, imagine yourself exactly where you wish you could be today. Your favorite beach? A mountain cabin? Your grandmother’s kitchen when you were six?
  • Experience it in great detail, complete with sensations— the sounds you would hear, the smells, textures. Luxuriate in a mini-meditation as the music floats around you.
  • When the timer rings, travel back slowly to gently resume your day, refreshed!

Practice intensive self-care

Interestingly, many people who practice daily stress relief techniques and strategies experience enhanced clarity, inner peace, and healthier relationships among families, friends, and co-workers.

  • Take a quick walk outdoors into the fresh air, sip some water, call a good friend for a quick chat.
  • Rediscover simple self-care amid challenging days. Take 2-3 minute breaks every hour. Enjoy time in Nature, healthy, delicious meals, and time with kind, trustworthy friends.
  • Commit to doing a minimum of one fun thing every single day, without exception.
  • Practice slow, mindful belly breathing, and create soothing mental imagery while downloading files, waiting at the market, or as you prepare for gentle, restorative sleep.
  • Do something kind for someone else—“just because.” Feeling Insulted? Unappreciated? Irritable? Sharing a smile and a kind word or doing a little favor for another can lift the spirits — yours and theirs! A simple act of kindness that takes you just a few moments may echo in the heart of the recipient for a lifetime.

Mindy Utay JD, LSCW

Mindy Utay

Psychotherapist and Clinical Social Worker

Get physical distance—out of the range of the verbal missile

Imagine a literal “out-of-bounds” situation. If you’re watching a soccer match and the ball is flying at you—you get out of its trajectory. It’s the same for a verbal missile.

  • Get physical distance—out of the range of the missile. If you can, move a few steps away.
  • Give yourself a phrase that will buy you time to gather yourself.
    • “That’s an unexpected comment”
    • “It surprises me to hear you say that.” (Even if it doesn’t)
  • Take a deep breath to calm your body down. Your body is in fight-or-flight mode.
  • Keep a neutral voice when you do respond. If you strike back, that gives the other person more fodder to gossip about you or to gaslight you. “I said one thing to her, and she flew off the handle.”
  • Don’t take the bait. “That’s certainly a strong message”—is the type of neutral response that she can go nowhere with.

Sometimes an insult can be put in the form of a needling and unkind question like, “Are you still working at that low-paying job? I thought that was temporary.”

One way to successfully ward off further attack is to bring up a topic that is uncomfortable for that person. Again, in a neutral tone.

Here’s a sample script:

Q: “Are you still working as a sales clerk after all your parents spent on your college degree?”
A. “Thanks for asking. I was going to ask you how things are going after you almost got fired for missing three deadlines.”

Finally, get out of the vicinity of this toxic person. Don’t flee, but gracefully leave the house or the room if you can.

Related: 20+ Signs of Toxic Family Relationships and What You Could Do About Them

Amelia Alvin

Amelia Alvin

Practicing Psychiatrist, Mango Clinic

When someone insults you, try to freeze your emotions and maintain composure

Insults go to the heart despite minds and are damaging. They not only attack your emotions but your mental health as well. The worst part about insult is that sometimes it comes from the people we love.

Have you been in a state where a family member insulted you, and you didn’t know how to confront it?

Here are a few ways to tackle insults coming from family:

  • Take it easy – We as humans respond to situations by three behaviors: fight, flight, and freeze. When someone insults you, try to freeze your emotions and maintain composure. Challenging situations are best dealt with rationally. Strategy and patience will take you where emotions and arguments cannot. The simple tip is to respond to the situation and never react to it.
  • Change topic – At times, the difficult and uncomfortable conversations can be tilted around with a pinch of humor.
    • Laugh it away. If you are being insulted by someone you don’t afford to pick a fight with, let it be.
    • Try beating around the bushes if you don’t know what to say exactly.
    • Crack jokes about yourself that somehow support their stance of insulting you. It will feed their ego and ideologies and, they will end up calming down.
  • Stall the discussion – Stay quiet, walk away and respond later. Tell that you are not in a good state emotionally to get along with the conversation. Holding the arguments will save you trouble. You won’t be able to handle the mess that can possibly be caused by immediate comebacks. Hold your fire, seize and wait for the right time to open it back with logical moves.
  • Talk it out – Play the trump card when needed.
    • Clear the air by voicing your heart.
    • Tell them that you are not in for this.
    • Explain their importance to them and how a difficult conversation can create a twist between you two.
    • They say communication is the way but, I believe that the art of communication is the key. One must know what to say, when to say and how to say or it will lose its essence.
  • Showcase your value – Integrity, ego, and grace are the first target of insult. Tell your family member that your self-respect is shaken and you cannot stand it. Brand yourself. Enjoy the reputation of being self-caring. It will hit their unconsciousness and they will think twice before throwing insult your way next time. Treat yourself the way you want people to treat you.

We don’t have the luxury to choose our family, but we do have the option of adjustments with the existing one. Patience, tolerance, empathy, and communication can strengthen the family bond.

Uncomfortable conversations, ideological differences, fights, arguments, and insults are part of relationships but, they can lead to care, love, empathy, and bonding if tackled rationally.

We have to surrender and bow down to pick up the fallen loved ones. Two-way love and respect make the family a win-win.

Tom Parsons, MSW, LSWAIC

Tom Parsons

Mental Health Therapist | Founder, Optimism Counseling PLLC

Respond to insults by calling out the fact you are being insulted

The natural automatic reaction after being insulted is to get defensive. Your brain is snapping into survival mode and gearing up to fight back. And the response to that defensive reaction? More insults. Not what you were going for.

Related: What to Do and What to Say When Someone Insults You

To find a better solution, let’s take a common scenario I hear in therapy as an example:

A client will come into session stressed because their partner and family aren’t meshing. The client recently talked to mom, and mom does not approve. After hearing a string of insults, the client told their mom how amazing their partner is and listed off all the positives they see in them. Predictably, that led to mom doubling down with even more insults.

Now the client is in a pickle. They can’t ignore the problem, or they will be further hurt. They also can’t defend themselves because that counter-productively leads to more insults and more conflict.

To break the cycle, the client needs to respond to the pattern, not the content:

  • The pattern is the style of communication being used.
  • The content is the insults.

Rather than trying to fight back against the insults by providing counterpoints, respond to insults by calling out the fact you are being insulted. In the example above, rather than telling mom all the good things about their partner, the client could say something like:

“Those statements are insulting and hurtful to me and my partner. It needs to stop.”

Now the conversation is about how they are being treated rather than a spiraling debate. The focus needs to be on the impact the insults had. That means expressing how it’s making you feel. That should be followed by a firm request for it to stop.

It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s often a much more productive conversation than the typical insult-defense spiral.

Debbie Gottlieb

Debbie Gottlieb

Psychotherapist | Founder of Mindbrand Method, Gottlieb Therapy Florida

Set boundaries with your family

The first thing to do is understand that family is the first dynamic you encounter growing up. Some families are warm and positive, while some are not. If your family is insulting you and doesn’t see you or understand you, here are some tips that can help.

Related: 8 Signs Your Family Doesn’t Care About You & How to Deal with It

Remember, you are born to your family, but they may not be your tribe. This means that your growth and development may lie outside of your family, and they won’t be going with you on your upward journey toward your best life. With that being said, try not to expect them to understand you.

Instead, know that their role is not with your development but rather as your first encounter to help you sustain in life and the family bond that comes with occasions and holidays.

Families come with triggers; this means that what they say to you triggers wounds from your childhood. When they arise, know that this is a growth and healing experience for you. You can take it as an opportunity to experience the feeling without believing the words. In this way, those triggers will no longer affect you in your day-to-day life with others.

  • Set boundaries with your family. This will look like you saying, “I no longer accept people speaking to me that way. I do not accept those words from you.”
  • Walk away if they are being too hostile; do this by excusing yourself in a polite way as not to incite them more.
  • Change the subject by picking up on a word or something they discussed earlier so that you can get away from anything insulting.
  • Know that you don’t have to share everything with your family. Only share what feels good to you to share.
  • Try to avoid having conversations with family members who are insulting. Make those encounters superficial.
  • Make it a game. If you know you have no choice because you are stuck at a table with insulting family members, beforehand, take a guess as to how many insulting comments each person will make and count to see if you are right. This will make it lighter for you, and you will see that it is them and not you. It will be a game rather than a serious attack of who you are.

Martha Horta-Granados, BSc Psych

Martha Horta-Granados

Psychology Consultant, Sensible Digs

The family is the foundation of society. Without the formation of a systemic bond such as the family, we would not exist. However, there are social constructs around the meaning of a family that needs to be questioned.

Ideas that family never abandons you, that you should always respect your family members or that you owe everything to your family are aspects that may not be what they seem. It is enough to look around you to realize that family interactions are not always perfect as society has imposed them.

Experiencing a situation where a family member has insulted you can be very hard. Growing up with these ideas above of what a family should and should not do, being insulted by a person you love and happen to be close to can cause severe emotional damage.

So, let me tell you something, it doesn’t matter if the person who hurt you is a family member. If it means something to you, your emotion is valid. Let’s stop justifying the actions of others only because “it’s your family.” Yes, you may have blood ties to that person, but that doesn’t mean you should let the harm they may cause pass.

What to do after the aggression:

Let the other person know how you feel

There are times when people do not think before they talk, so communicating that what they said did not make you feel good is essential.

Also, don’t rule out that the person may have been aware of what s/he did, but communicating your feelings can help warn the person that you won’t let it happen again.

Take your time to analyze what makes you feel more comfortable

Maybe you are aware that if you keep in touch with this family member again, you will start feeling anxious or mad. So, if you think it is better to stop the contact between both of you until you work professionally with your emotions, you must validate your feelings.

Decide if you’re ready to accept their apologies or not

Let’s be honest; forgiving someone is overrated. Why should you be forced to forgive someone who may have caused you a lot of harm just because he/she is your relative?

Forgiving someone implies a long process and, depending on the damage. It could mean a therapeutic process too. If forgiving that person helps you adapt to new circumstances, go ahead. If you don’t feel ready at the moment, you have the right not to do it too.

Related: How to Forgive Someone Who Hurt You Emotionally

Chris Westmeyer

Chris Westmeyer

President, Caring Advisor

Insults can damage an individual’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It can lead to feelings of anger, anxiety, and depression. Insults can be of different types, and one such type is verbal.

The following are a few of the ways which can help you handle insults from family:

Try to accept the positive portion of the argument and learn from it as much as possible

Although acceptance may seem weak, it is the strongest response of all. When someone from my family insults me, I consider three things; whether the insult is true, who did it, and why.

I try to accept the positive portion of the argument and learn from it as much as possible. However, if the insult comes from an elderly person, I try to respect their point of view and evaluate myself. So for me, acceptance is a strong response, and anger is a weak response.

Talk it out with them

It is generally easier to confide in family members more than friends. If one or more family members continuously insult you, you should sit them down and talk to them about it.

Let them know that you feel hurt when they hurl insults at you and that there are other, less aggressive ways to get your point across than to resort to insults. Tell them clearly that you are open to changing any behavior that they don’t like, as long as they ask you in a civil manner.

Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson

Podcast Host, Redefining Family

Redeploy the word “family” so that it only applies to those who provide love and support

Unfortunately, insults from family are all too familiar for many LGBTQ+ individuals. This is the primary reason why I decided to distinguish blood relatives from family members. Most people want to protect their families even if the protection isn’t reciprocated.

A sibling who does not know you, love you or support you may be the equivalent of a fifth cousin. What do they both have in common? It’s only the fact that they are both different versions of blood relatives.

We, as a society, empower people to insult and abuse us by giving them the simple title of “family.”

Hence, the term “family” needs to only be applied to people who respect, love, and support those who consider them to be family. Further applying this philosophy, each human being is born to a group of blood relatives, of which only a small subset are or ever will be considered family.

In my podcast, I discussed why I demoted 18 individuals from family status to blood relative status. Here are three stories in particular that led to this decision:

  • After not wanting to discuss his career choices any longer, my brother decided to go on the offensive by saying, “You’re a f**, a little b**, and f** homosexual.” Surprisingly enough, a different family member said those exact same words six years earlier. Following the comments, my brother became aggressive and then physically attacked me. One of my sisters later excused our brother’s behavior by indicating that he may be on the autism spectrum and was never properly diagnosed.
  • During the last time my father interacted with me, my father told me that my mother made me gay, he didn’t like my gay lifestyle, and he lost his son at five (which was the age when my parents became separated).
  • Prior to my Dad’s 90th birthday, where all of the family was invited, my sister decided to tell me that I was a burden on the family and that I was not invited to the birthday party. To add salt to the wound, she stated, “we can check back again in 10 years for the next one.”

There were many more awful experiences and comments, which far outweighed any positive interactions. The first mentioned incident with the physical and verbal attack started the conversation of separating from these 18 blood relatives.

My therapist and I really thought through the implications of taking such a measure over multiple sessions. It took me a few more years of therapy before I finally made the decision to let go. I’m significantly happier now with a thriving business and podcast while being surrounded by love from people I consider family.

I also interview other LGBTQ individuals who experience hatred and abuse from their blood relatives. There is too much power in the word “family” in that people believe that they can do or say anything because they’ll be protected.

Well, it’s time to take back the power and redeploy the word “family” so that it only applies to those who provide love and support.

If an individual would not tolerate mistreatment from a best friend but tolerates the behavior from a family member that they hardly engage, why is that ok? People need to respect each other, and that will only happen if disrespect is not tolerated.

Therese Marchitelli

Therese Marchitelli

Life Coach | The Widow Doula

We have the ability to train our minds to pause before reacting to someone’s callousness

Insults hurt; they throw us back upon ourselves and can press up against our insecurities and fears. They might take us by surprise, or we might expect them from a particular person who makes us cringe into defensiveness, knowing well what is coming our way.

We have the ability to train our minds to pause before reacting to someone’s callousness.

  • To take a breath and speak to the insult.
  • To question what is going on with the person who delivers such hurt and abrasiveness.
  • To confront them in an empathetic way, breaking through the harshness and finding out what has brought them to this present moment of insulting us.

Find your power, your strength, and flip the insult to something they can learn about themselves that moves their vibration higher. This kind of mind training releases you, creates neuroplasticity, and can open the other person’s understanding of themselves and their interactions with others. It takes patience to not react.

Jennifer L. Bennett

Jennifer L. Bennett

Owner, Law Office of Jennifer L. Bennett

Dispute the inconsiderate behavior of your relative

While rudeness is never justified, it can be difficult to avoid when relatives exhibit it. Here are four steps to deal with such situations:

  • Step 1: Don’t talk to rude or insulting family members. If anyone disrespects you, you are not obligated to discuss this at family functions.
  • Step 2: Dispute the inconsiderate behavior of your relative. Arrange a convenient time to discuss how rude and insulting behavior affects others with the rude and insulting relative.
  • Step 3: Kindly kill them. A kind smile and friendly demeanor can defuse rudeness or insults.
  • Step 4: If you see another family member who is rude and insulting, speak to them first. It is helpful to establish reasonable expectations after describing the behavior and its impact.

Julie Ann Ensomo

Julie Ann Ensomo

Founder, Adaptable Mama

Honestly, I have a very infuriatingly judgemental, closely related family member. We don’t really talk that much, especially when I got older and left home, but I’ve learned how to deal with his insults every now and then by doing the following:

Think “Hurt people hurt people”

I just learned about this saying a couple of years ago, and it has tremendously helped with my psyche. Most of the time, the things or words that hurt people do aren’t really about you; it’s a reflection of how miserable they are.

Misery loves company, and they probably want you to be miserable like them too, that’s why they love making you feel bad about yourself.

“It’s not always about you”

Thinking about this one is a reiteration of the first tip above and is also helpful, not only when families insult you but when it comes to rude customers, lazy coworkers, horrible bosses, etc.

Sometimes people’s anger gets misdirected, and anyone who’s within range can become a sort of punching bag for insults and abuse. I actually feel a bit sorry for these people because most of the time, they just don’t know how to deal with their own issues and insulting others makes them a little bit better about themselves.

Ask yourself if it’s worth engaging with

Of course, sometimes, it can be infuriating, especially when they insult someone or something that you love. And most of the time, your temper gets the best of you, and you engage with them, and a fight ensues.

I’ve learned over the years that it’s not really worth it.

Even if you just want to clear things up, have a decent conversation with them, talk to them calmly, most of the time, it’s a waste of time and energy. They’ll believe whatever they want to believe, and no amount of logical explanations can change that.

Practice the art of not caring

I know this can be quite hard and hurtful, but with very judgemental and very negative family members, you might as well cut them out of your life to have peace of mind. So next time when they say something, just don’t give a damn about it.

Nod your head, make some noises, give some monosyllabic response while thinking of something else.

Mo Mulla

Mo Mulla

Founder, Parental Questions

Don’t attribute negative intent to the person who said something you disagree with

Insults from family can be some of the most challenging issues we face. One way to help lessen the fallout from these interactions is to remind ourselves that this person, who now insults us, is going through a tough time.

Another thing we can do is to develop some quick, witty responses and practice them with someone else so that we feel more comfortable responding in this situation.

Here are the reminders for yourself:

  • Don’t attribute negative intent to the person who said something you disagree with.
  • Ask yourself whether or not this person wants the best for both of you and look at it from their perspective; often, people react when they’re afraid or hurt because they love one another and want everything to turn out well despite their differences.
  • Ask why this person might be feeling frustrated and upset. Finally, remind yourself that you can’t control how others act or react to your words and actions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I confront someone directly if they have insulted me?

It depends on the context of the situation as confronting someone directly about an insult could lead to further harm or abuse depending on their response. If you feel unsafe, it may be best to get support from friends or professionals who can create a buffer between the two of you before a confrontation occurs.

Can I still have a healthy relationship with someone who insults me?

Yes, it’s possible for relationships that have experienced insulting behavior to continue in a healthy way if both parties make an effort to resolve the underlying issues and find ways to work together harmoniously moving forward. Building trust through open communication is key here, so it’s important to focus on rebuilding the connection through time spent together.

How long does it take for a relationship to heal after an argument caused by insults?

Relationships that experience arguments caused by insults often take time and patience to heal successfully. The healing process differs for everyone, so it’s hard to say how long it might take. But setting small goals each day to gradually restore trust between you is the key to improving your relationships.

What if the insults are directed at my appearance or my personal life choices?

Insults directed at your appearance or personal life choices can be especially hurtful. Here are some strategies to help you deal with them:

Remember that everyone has their own preferences: Just because someone doesn’t like the way you look or your life choices doesn’t mean that they’re right or that you need to change. Everyone has their own preferences, and it’s okay if they differ from yours.

Respond with confidence: If someone insults your appearance or life choices, respond with confidence. Let them know that you’re comfortable with yourself and that their opinion doesn’t define you.

Focus on the positive: Instead of dwelling on the insult, focus on the positive aspects of yourself and your life. Surround yourself with people who support you and appreciate you for who you are.

What if the insults are affecting my mental health?

If family member insults are impacting your mental health, it’s important to prioritize your well-being. Here are some steps you can take:

Seek professional help: If you’re struggling with the effects of insults on your mental health, you should seek professional help from a therapist or counselor. They can give you tools and strategies to manage your feelings and improve your well-being.

Practice self-care: Self-care can also be helpful when you’re dealing with offenses. Ensure you take care of your physical and emotional needs, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and engaging in activities you enjoy.

Create a support system: A support system of friends or family members who lift you up and encourage you can also be helpful. Surround yourself with people who support you and appreciate you for who you are

How can I rebuild a relationship with a family member who has insulted me in the past?

Rebuilding a relationship with a family member who has insulted you in the past can be challenging, but it’s possible. Here are some steps you can take:

Communicate: Open and honest communication is key to rebuilding a relationship. Let the other person know how their behavior has affected you and what you need from them to move forward.

Practice forgiveness: Forgiveness can be a powerful tool in healing relationships. Work on letting go of any anger or resentment you may be holding towards the other person.

Take it slow: Rebuilding a relationship takes time, so be patient and take it slow. Focus on building trust and connection over time rather than trying to rush the process.

How can I avoid insulting family members myself?

Insults can be a two-way street, and it’s important to be mindful of our words’ impact on others. Here are some tips to help you avoid insulting family members:

Choose your words carefully: Before you speak, take a moment to consider how your words might affect the other person. Choose a language that is respectful and considerate.

Practice active listening: Active listening involves paying attention to what the other person is saying and validating their feelings. In this way, you can avoid inadvertently insulting them.

Apologize if necessary: If you have offended a family member, it’s important that you apologize and take responsibility for your actions. Let them know that you recognize the impact of your words and commit to doing better in the future.

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