Ask Stavroula: My Sister-in-Law Constantly Hurts Me with Her Words

Dear Stavroula,

I am 45 years old, divorced without children, and I live in the same apartment building with my brother and his wife as well as with our parents (in separate apartments, of course). My brother's wife and I have friendly relations and, due to living in the same building, we meet quite often. However, I am troubled by the fact that she often makes critical comments about me or says things that hurt me. Of course, most of the time her comments are veiled with humor so that there is always an opportunity for the excuse “I was joking.” At first I thought she did not understand that I was upset and I tried not to pay attention. But when the situation became very embarrassing for me, I spoke to her and explained that this bothers me a great deal, but she continues to do it. Unfortunately, I cannot avoid her, and I do not want to upset my parents and brother with my attitude, but every time I am with her, I feel pressured and my whole mood is ruined. What do you advise me?


Dear Katerina,

It happens very often in a group that someone makes a vicious comment to us, an inelegant remark, which puts us in a difficult position and makes us feel uncomfortable. In fact, when these verbal attacks come from people in our family circle, we are even more affected, and we can get angry or even hurt.

But what is it that can push people close to us into such behaviors?

Most of the time, people hurt others because deep down they are themselves hurting. They become derogatory and offensive, perhaps because they do not feel good about themselves no matter how confident and secure they seem. The person who is in balance with himself does not feel the need to cause discomfort to others with his comments.

In other words, what we see in others may be what we have inside us, the critical comments we make to others, on a much deeper level, may be comments we make to ourselves.

Therefore, the only way for one to resist this is to stop taking it personally.

Because otherwise, it is like agreeing with what you hear.

If, for example, I say to someone "you have green hair" it will not matter to him if he does not have green hair. But he may not react in the same way, if I tell him “none of your relationships succeed, because you have a bad character.” In the latter case, the comment may affect him, if he takes it personally, because he may deeply believe that it is so, or if he has learned to feel responsible for everything.

Something similar can happen in your case. Through her words, your brother's wife may project her own reality, her own bitterness or misery.

Whenever you hear a comment that bothers you, try not to take it personally but to interpret it as a comment actually about the person who expresses it. Notice how you feel. Does it bother you the same, if you consider that it is not addressed to you? If you know that in fact it is just your sister-in-law's opinion – the way she has chosen to see the world – and has nothing to do with you, does it bother you less?

Think of the nasty comment as a gift that does not suit you. What would you do in this case? You would exchange it or throw it away. Try to do the same with the comment.

In case this is difficult, try to understand exactly what is bothering you, what is hidden behind the discomfort you feel, and deal with it.

Of course, all of the above does not mean that you do not always have the choice to keep your distance from people who make you feel bad, even at the cost of upsetting those close to you. Sometimes this is necessary for our mental balance.

Stavroula Tsoutsa is a Certified Holistic Professional and Life Coach, Certified Heartmath Coach/Mentor, and Certified Points of You practitioner.


This article is part of a continuing series dealing with reports of Greek POWs in Asia Minor in the Thessaloniki newspaper, Makedonia in July 1936.

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