General Etiquette > Family and Children

Can't Tolerate Condescending Relative Any Longer

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lilblu:
I'm hoping you all can tell me how I should deal with this particular relative, because they are consistently driving me crazy.

So this relative is actually an in-law. She's been in the family for about 12-13 years and is nice, but there's this other side to her that isn't so nice exactly if you disagree with her. She takes this attitude and you can see that she's getting upset. I can't really explain it. I think she's good at manipulating people and making people feel "small" so that she can feel all superior, except that she does this without people knowing she's done it. She's very odd and I often suspect she has some sort of psychological disorder because of the way she acts. I'll never forget the time when she felt the need to brag over hanging a simple picture on the wall. She also brags that she's the pack leader of her two dogs and that she's in charge of them. There's clearly something wrong with someone who keeps bragging over being the pack leader of their own dogs. Her mother-in-law, who lives with her, also feels the same way as I do.

What happens is that this relative just assumes people (particularly me) are stupid and that she knows more than everyone else. The other day she asked if I was scared to travel on a plane and I said, "no" and said I was worried about my ear bothering me (I have uncommon ear problems). She went on for about 5-10 minutes telling me about air pressure, chewing gum, etc. etc. and said flying on a plane is just like travelling over the mountains in a car, except your ears pop more. Then she's like, I bet you didn't know that, and now you know. Then she was so proud of herself for educating me. Except that I already knew all that. I would think everyone over the age of 20 would know all that, even if they never experienced it. She made light of my ear problems, then treated me like I was stupid. She just assumed that I didn't know anything about travelling by plane. She always does that, she always assumes people are stupid, then she feels so proud and important for educating them. It happens in every conversation I have with her. The more she does it, the more I dislike her. No one in the family likes her because of how she treats people, but we pretend that we like her because what else can we do?

What should I have done when she started telling me stuff I already knew about travelling by plane? And, if she brings up this topic again (she will) and says that she educated me on it (she will) can I just tell her I already knew that stuff but was too polite to say anything? Would that be a bad thing to do? The more she does this to me, the more I feel like I'm losing a piece of myself. She's clearly trying to accomplish something here, I'm just not sure what. We've never quite figured her out.

mrkitty:
She sounds like a female version of my brother.

I have learned that my brother is almost pathologically insecure. He has the need to feel superior about, well, everything. In conversation, he used to lecture me about EVERYTHING like I'm some kind of idiot who never figured out how to walk and chew gum at the same time, or never heard that shoe laces could actually be tied, and this is how you do it.

I particularly enjoyed his lectures on topics in which I'm well versed, knowing that he was absolutely wrong but would not countenance any kind of pushback on the topic, or suggestion that there might possibly be another explanation or interpretation, etc.

Notice I phrased this in the past tense. We no longer communicate. It just isn't worth it.

I used to feel sorry for him, and figured that with our difficult childhoods, I was doing a kindness by allowing him to do this - at my expense - because I figured it would help him build self-esteem. The problem is that it robbed me of mine, and I had so little to start with. The problem isn't that he didn't have enough self esteem - he had way too much, and it was his maladaptive coping skill for the fact that he was so insecure. That's my opinion, anyway. I'm no therapist.

The bottom line is that I could never figure out how to respond, or get him to change. The thing is, one can't. That other person has to change. My only solution was to get away.

I'd be interested if anyone has better ideas - I'd love to hear them. Maybe I could salvage the relationship with my brother, but I doubt it. It sounds to me like this lady you described is just toxic, and there's no cure for that.

I'm very sorry.

cicero:
other than the gender, i would've thought you were talking about my annoying BIL.

similar to mrkitty - i simply avoid talking to him as much as possible. i haven't done the cut out/direct, because it isn't at that level, but i do my best to avoid him. there have been a few times when i've very firmly and icily informed him that he will *not* be discussing my weight, and that the next time he does i will leave the table (and he did. and i did) and that seemed to help. for a while.

menley:
This is exactly like my brother-in-law (sister's husband). I wish I had any help for you - all I've managed to do is learn to nod and say "Mmmm, I see..." whenever he starts going on and on, with a bit of a side-eye to my husband, and then later my husband and I giggle over all the things he said. Knowing that my husband is hearing all of the ridiculousness (and that he'll be on my side about it later) makes it much easier to tolerate.

LB:
You won't get anything out of telling her that you already knew the information. In my experience, she will either choose not to hear that or she will choose not to believe it. You won't convince her that she didn't do you a huge favor.

But here's the thing. Everyone who knows her well enough to know she has know-it-all tendencies, has an idea what really went on when you and she had that conversation. They suspect it, at least.

While it may not be effective at stopping the behavior, I generally go with the nod, smile and change the subject approach. It's exhausting trying to convince people you know something of the subject when they are only talking to hear themselves anyway.

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