Dealing with abusive family members

Do you ever feel like someone in your family is manipulative or abusive? Do you wonder if others see it, too? Even when you know you’re being taken advantage of by family, it can sometimes feel like you’re the one who is crazy. Narcissistic family members are particularly good at twisting reality to fit their own agenda, and it can result in toxic family dynamics that seem impossible to escape. 

Abusive family members often have strong personalities and enjoy creating drama. To truly stop being taken advantage of by family, you must learn how to deflect this negativity, create boundaries and put yourself first.

Stop being taken advantage of by your family

Take Wheel of Life assessment
Signs of narcissistic or abusive family members

Before you can learn how to deal with narcissistic family members, you need to recognize the signs. Here’s how to identify which members of your family may have narcissistic tendencies. 

They are overly competitive

Narcissistic family members constantly want to compare achievements, play competitive games and otherwise “one-up” you. If it seems like all a family member wants to do is compare themselves to you, this could be a sign of narcissism.

They are jealous or entitled

Do you have a family member who never seems to be happy for your accomplishments? They may disparage your achievements, start talking about themselves or even actively ruin your relationships or career. These are especially dangerous signs you’re being taken advantage of by family.

They always need to be the center of attention

Do they need constant validation and appreciation? Do they monopolize conversations or constantly need sympathy? Do they always seem to have some drama happening in their lives? That’s a telltale sign of narcissistic family members.

Remember that anyone in your family can be narcissistic or abusive: it isn’t limited by age or sex. It’s just as important to recognize an abusive sibling or grandparent as it is a parent or in-law. No matter who they are, abusive family members will require strong boundary-setting and resilience against their manipulation.

What to do if you’re being taken advantage of by family

Learning how to deal with abusive family can be a long and difficult process, and we always recommend seeing a professional for serious abuse or mental health problems. As you work through your issues with narcissistic family members and begin to set boundaries, keep these five tips in mind.

1. Recognize your own limiting beliefs

recognize limiting beliefs

Your beliefs about yourself and the dynamics of your family play a big role when you’re being taken advantage of by family. You likely hold limiting beliefs that were created when you were a child and are now holding you back. If you grew up without enough attention from those whose love you craved the most, you may have learned to be a people-pleaser in order to earn that love. You may have low self-esteem or always feel the need to prove yourself. Or you can have limiting beliefs like “Family are the only people who will ever really love me.” To truly reveal how to deal with abusive family, you must be able to overcome these beliefs and start putting yourself first.

2. Learn to say “no”

It’s OK to do your relative a favor, bring groceries over for grandma or run errands for a sick family member. But when you begin noticing you’re doing an awful lot for one family member, it’s time to set boundaries. This could mean you stop lending a cousin money or constantly taking care of your sibling’s kids. Creating a healthier relationship can also mean refusing to discuss certain topics, answer certain questions or be involved in accusatory, negative interactions with narcissistic family members. You must learn how to say, “This isn’t constructive” or “This isn’t helpful. I’m going to go now.” And move on.

dealing with abusive family

3. Change your communication


When you’re thinking about how to deal with narcissistic family members, it can be tempting to tell them exactly what you think of them – but it will backfire. Narcissists don’t have self-awareness, and aren’t able to see themselves as others see them. They can’t reflect on their own decisions or behaviors, so even the most constructive criticism will not get through to them. Arguing will only make them defensive and emotional, and take more of a toll on your relationship. When you’re setting boundaries, keep your tone neutral and don’t accuse them of anything. Remember that you don’t need to defend your decisions. Tell them you just don’t have the time and energy, or you’re not comfortable and leave it at that.

4. Stay positive

Narcissistic family members will often have a victim mindset – they are filled with stories about who has wronged them, disrespected them and treated them unfairly. They refuse to take responsibility for the ways in which their own behaviors affect their lives. They may even blame you for their choices and circumstances, and you must be prepared to carefully put the responsibility back where it belongs – on them. To avoid being taken advantage of by family, deflect drama with statements like, “You are giving too much energy to this,” then make the decision that’s right for you.

staying positive

5. Focus on what you can control

Focus on what you can control

At the same time, focus on what you can control: your own choices and mindset. Stop letting your abusive family members “drive you crazy”: realize that you control the way you feel. Learn to master your emotions so you’re able to attend family gatherings from a place of peace and stay calm, no matter how others are acting. Begin healthy and relaxing habits, like priming or meditation, yoga or journaling. Practice gratitude in your own life and share it with them. Remember that you don’t control the actions, emotions and behaviors of anyone but yourself.

Ready to focus on yourself?

Abusive family members affect every part of your life. Evaluate what you truly want and learn how to shape your own destiny with the Wheel of Life Assessment.