My Family Makes Rude Comments About My Illness During the Holidays. What Should I Do?


In Ask The Mighty, we’re taking questions from Mighty readers and posing them to our chronic illness community. Have a problem you’d like the community’s help with? Email your question to [email protected], and we may select it for a future Mighty advice column.

With the holiday season in full swing, you might be spending time this month with family members you don’t see much or family who doesn’t really understand your illness. Emilie S. asked for help “dealing with family who either make rude comments about your condition or pretend you are not dealing with a chronic illness.”

“I sometimes want to shout, ‘I am not lazy. I need to sit down for a minute because I am exhausted and can’t help it,'” she said.

We asked our Mighty community to weigh in and share their advice for Emilie. Here’s what they said:

1. “There are many of us who have relationships in our lives that we consider not disposable but also not the healthiest and supportive. From my own experience and from those who have shared with me, a good multi-faceted strategy is to:

— Build one’s own capacity to not take their ignorance personally.
— Stay focused on and grateful for whatever good reasons there are to keep these relationships alive.
— Practice healthy boundaries (taking a break and calmly but firmly speaking truth) when needed.
— Truly accept that these relationships are not the ones that will fulfill your needs. Not every relationship has to. Stop expecting what they are not going to give, otherwise it’s just a constant cycle of disappointment and misery.
— Don’t play along with, engage or reflect their negativity. You are under no obligation to validate or even acknowledge their comments.
— Let the chips fall. Do your thing knowing that it may go against the grain of what the family expects. Those who can see you, will see you, no matter what you do — those who cannot see you, will not see you, no matter what you do.
— It’s also really helpful and important to have an exit strategy. In fact, the only times I can recall not attending a family event specifically because I was feeling leery of backlash was when I wouldn’t have had an easy, healthy or independent way of getting my butt out of there and home — being a human is complicated sometimes!” — Arria D.

2. “Can be such a difficult thing to tackle. First thing to remember is: it’s not your job to ‘make’ them understand. Understanding chronic illness means more than just observing the individual’s struggles. It’s about taking action, researching it and listening. For those who are not proactive in being willing to understand, it’s really on them. Do not take responsibility for anyone but yourself. They say ignorant things? Forgive them. Kindly tell them that they may benefit from doing some research into it before shooting off their mouths about something they are unwilling to understand. If their comments are hurtful, say, ‘That was hurtful. If hurtful things continue to be said I’m afraid I will need to put some distance between us as the negativity is counterproductive to my overall wellness.’

Sometimes people are ignorant because they fear what they don’t understand, and that’s on them, not on you to prove anything. What matters most is you and your well-being. Surround yourself with people who are willing to be understanding and compassionate. Eventually those that are being hurtful will realize the error they’ve made (some sooner than others).” — Willow L.

3. “I have a couple of family members where I have to accept that they will never understand and accept the reality of my illness. I realized that I really don’t have the spoons to concern myself with minds that can’t be changed family or not. As for the rude comments, is there a matriarch/patriarch you can talk to who can shut them up? They need to know the conversation is off topic and for your own protection I would disengage with that person as much as possible.” — Nairmi R.

4. “This is so tough! If it’s a dear family member, then a one-on-one conversation is the best thing. Bring resources about your condition and offer to answer any questions they may have. Tell them you love them, but you can only handle positive energy from them. If they are not dear, then consider cutting them out. Say hi at family events if you want, but keep it at that. Part of taking care of ourselves is not getting bogged by negative emotions. Easier said than done.” — Josie V.

5. “Sometimes I filter people from my Facebook posts and only post things from this page (The Mighty) that may give them insight into my condition. I know they won’t read them, but I know they’re going to see the headline at least. Especially if you don’t plan on cutting those people out of your life, but you don’t want to share your entire hardship with them, I find this kind of works.” — Kelcey S.

6. “You’re worth more than their sarcastic, rude comments. You need to stand up and say if you can’t be supportive and realize how poorly you are then walk away from them… I did, and quite frankly I have been happier in my illness since I no longer have to deal with anyone not respecting my journey.” — Gill G.

7. “More and more, I am finding the courage to redefine ‘family,’ and my life has been the better for it. Sometimes that means hosting a ‘Friendsgiving’ or creating new holiday traditions surrounded by the people who mean the most. When I don’t feel I can completely escape ‘family obligations,’ be it blood or marriage, I know the true holiday celebration has already been shared with my family of friends and that carries me through.” — Sarah M.

8. “My brother’s family writes a Year In Review letter to include in their Christmas cards. His wife had a chronic illness and to read her year in review is like reading medical records, she had so many hospital visits. But family/friends get educated and the letter gets read (versus posting on Facebook where people can overlook… my attempt resulted in zero people seeing the post), and it preps everyone on her progress or decline. I hope to do the same this year.” — Jennifer R.

9. “I handle issues like this much like I do politics. I say something nice, but passive aggressive enough to make it clear it’s off topic, and then I bring up something fluffy to talk about like the weather. ‘So I hear you weren’t feeling well yesterday. You look fine now. Are you really sick?’ ‘Yeah, I needed to nap to prepare for today. Glorious sunshine today, huh?’ Or, ‘I was really gone for the count yesterday. Fine now, and I’m going to gorge on these delightful mince pies.'” — Sarah H.

10. “Sometimes just being utterly silent with a hint of a smile (so you appear civil) is the best solution. It doesn’t give them anything to work with and it makes almost everyone very uncomfortable, and may very well deter them from continuing to keep after you in the future. And, bonus, you’ve clearly taken the high road.” — Melissa F.

11.Keep your head held high, educate first and foremost, and if it continues and you can’t remove them from your life for some reason, remember that their ignorance is not your fault.” — Jay A.


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