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How to Avoid Depression Around Abusive Family Members?

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Are there ways to avoid letting chronically angry and verbally abusive people affect your mood? I have a bad-tempered family member that I cannot avoid. She used to yell at me a lot and got violent sometimes. Since I stood up to her several times, she has not dared to attack me directly. Instead, she goes around yelling, swearing, slamming doors and will raise her voice to make sure I hear it if I am far away or in bed. I don’t mind curse words in general, but find the intent and vehemence of her swearing offensive and it is degrading to have this constantly directed at me.

I have tried to be rational and remind myself that her yelling and even direct accusations do not materially affect me. It does not change who I am or my abilities and social status. But the constant negativity still gets me down and makes me feel stressed and offended. And I made an unusual number of mistakes at work after the last encounter with this person. Is there a way to keep your emotions out of reach from someone’s irrational losses of temper?

She has also blamed me for her own decisions about where to live and what job to take so her rage falls on me when encountering any difficulty or disappointment in her personal life. Getting rid of this family member is not an option so I need a way to reduce the effect of the behavior on myself. Are there any tips on how to let verbal abuse roll off your back?

How to Avoid Depression Around Abusive Family Members?

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You are likely to get as many variations of answers from therapists as there are therapists. I have a clear and unambiguous approach I will share, but it is highly biased and based on my experience. Please get some other opinions and choose the one that best suits your needs and personality. This suggestion and perspective may just not be for you.

There are three important clues in your story that lends themselves toward my suggestion. The first is the why is called positive deviance. Of all the ongoing belligerence by this person the one clear thing that worked and worked extremely well was when you stood up to her. You met fire with fire, and she stopped. This is an important clue about how to go forward.

Secondly, you mention that you have tried to be rational and that this has not affected you, but then explain how it has directly affected your depressive reaction and ability to concentrate. What I’m suggesting here is that a rational approach doesn’t work. In fact, I’ll go further in saying that this approach is actually part of what is making the problem worse.

Finally, you say that you are being falsely blamed and are victimized by her rage. Accepting this in any form only allows it to continue. This, in addition to my other two points, leads me to my suggestion for hanging the dynamic.

You have stopped having any needs from this person and are now in orbit around their need to be angry, rageful, and blaming. It is time to start making your needs known and be highly proactive, direct and confronting.

When you need time to work and need quiet, I’d let her know straight away before you begin that you need her to be quiet, not other you, or leave the house, while you are working. I’d encourage you to make this a clear need.

Secondly, I’ll also encourage you to respond directly when she is mouthing off, blaming, or being out of control with her rage. Your job is to assert your own needs in the relationship. Tell her every time she is out of mine, belittles you, blames you, or disrespect your needs. She has no boundaries with you except the ones set when you stood up. Stand up for yourself regularly. Become highly assertive with her. It has worked because people like this family member only get their power through intimidation. Once you are no longer intimidated, they fold.

All this having been said there are three typical causes for someone with the kind of profile this family member has. Often there is alcoholism or abuse in their history and programs like AA might be helpful if they would attend. There is also the possibility of certain types of personality disorders that can cause this. Typically, a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist can help with this diagnosis. Finally, there are medical conditions that can be underneath all this and a neurologist may be the best professional to help.

If my suggestion about your speaking up doesn’t work after a month or so I’d suspect it may be one of the other three causes and follow up with those professionals would be in order.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

How to Avoid Depression Around Abusive Family Members?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2019). How to Avoid Depression Around Abusive Family Members?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2019 (Originally: 9 Aug 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2019
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