Dear Janine,

I have a problem with the way my siblings interact with me. One of my sisters is particularly nasty and more often than not verbally abuses me, especially if I dare to disagree with any of her ideas. I love my siblings, but can’t carry on tolerating this behaviour. After every interaction it feels like I need at least 3 days to recover. Can I somehow fix this or should I rather just cut off all contact?

Kind Regards, Angela

Dear Angela

Very often it’s the people closest to us that treat us the worst. The reason is lack of respect and solid boundaries. I have learned that it’s up to us to train people how to treat us and it remains our responsibility to enforce our boundaries. I wish I had learned how to do this much earlier  in my life, as I’ve tolerated some situations that I definitely shouldn’t have, but this is all part and parcel of the learning process.

 Changing the situation is going to require time and patience from your side as you basically now have to re-train your siblings as to what you’re willing to accept and lovingly yet firmly make your boundaries clear. I can tell you from my own personal experience that this is going to cause some waves, but perseverance is key if you wish to have a healthy relationship with your siblings going forward.


Learn to use your NO. If you are not able to undertake certain tasks (or don’t want to) say so upfront. N.B. No is a full sentence and you are not required to explain yourself. In the beginning this might seem really difficult, so you could start with some of the following:

  • Thank you for the invitation, unfortunately I’m unable to attend.’

  • ‘Thank you of thinking of me, however I already have plans for that day.’

  • ‘I would love to help, however my calendar is already full.’

  • ‘Unfortunately I’m not available on that day.’

When it comes to how people address you, it’s important to stay calm and firmly assert:

  • ‘Please don’t use that tone of voice with me, it feels really disrespectful.’

  • ‘If you continue verbally abusing me, I’m going to have to leave/ hang up the phone.’

  • ‘The way you’re speaking is absolutely unacceptable, I suggest you call back when you’ve calmed down’

  • ‘I’m not your verbal punching bag, so either adjust your tone or this conversation is over.’

It’s really important that you speak up, stay calm and do what you say you’re going to do, even if that means hanging up or physically leaving a situation.

 That way you are training them that you mean what you say and that you’re no longer accepting  disrespectful behaviour. However, remember to speak before you act. Say that you’re going to hang up or leave, just doing so, without informing the other person that that will be a consequence of their behaviour is rude and won’t be communicating the message that you’re only accepting respectful communication.

 When it comes to disagreements, there are a few ways to indicate respectfully that you’re not in agreement:

  •  ‘I hear what you’re saying. I’ve been thinking about it and I would like to run a different idea past you.’

  • ‘I value your opinion, however I see it this way…’

  • ‘I understand why you could feel like that, my feelings about the matter are XYZ’.

  • ‘I would really appreciate it if we could agree on a compromise.’

You will have to start small and flex your boundaries muscle every day, so it becomes easier and eventually a way of life for you. Overloading yourself with tasks, events or angry disagreements will take a toll on both your physical and mental health, not to mention putting you into the energy of obligation which is a slippery slope to feelings of anger and resentment.