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Strategies for Dealing with a Non-Apology

Hello Tiffany, I appreciated your article about apologies. What should one do when faced with a person in their life who consistently makes offensive remarks and then dismisses them with, “I didn’t mean it that way”? This individual happens to be my dear sister, who struggles with low self-esteem, making it increasingly challenging to be around her. Any advice for handling this situation from the recipient’s perspective?

Tiffany Skidmore

Tiffany Skidmore

Dear Reader,

Your message conveys two significant points clearly. Firstly, your affection for your sister and your desire to maintain a strong bond with her. Secondly, the disruptive nature of her behavior in your relationship. This struggle is a common one, as identified by The Gottman Institute, where defensiveness ranks as one of the primary relationship stressors.

When confronted with a challenging relationship dynamic, it is crucial to start by cultivating self-awareness. Reflect on your responses to your sister’s behavior. What thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations arise? Which needs of yours are not being fulfilled, such as respect, consideration, or kindness? Consider how you wish to present yourself in this relationship during such moments. Prepare strategies to care for yourself before, during, and after interactions with your sister, anticipating her behavior.

Once you have heightened self-awareness, the next step involves deciding whether to address the issue internally, have a conversation with your sister, or pursue both approaches. One effective strategy is to anticipate the behavior and plan your response in advance. This could involve giving yourself permission to leave early or take a break when needed. Implement self-soothing techniques to stay engaged and composed. Your coping mechanisms may vary depending on your emotional capacity and your sister’s receptiveness to dialogue.

If you opt for a direct conversation, consider initiating it gently. Focus on expressing your feelings and needs using “I” statements rather than “you” accusations. Prior to the discussion, identify your emotions and requirements, possibly utilizing online resources for lists of feelings and needs. Here are some approaches you might consider:

  • Honesty: Acknowledge her intentions while expressing how her comments affect you emotionally.
  • Curiosity: Seek clarification on her intended meaning behind the remarks.
  • Request: Communicate your feelings of discomfort and the importance of maintaining closeness, proposing a change in communication.
  • Establish Boundaries: Clearly outline the impact of her remarks and set limits on how you will respond if the behavior persists.

Remember, while we cannot control others’ actions, we have agency over our reactions. I encourage you to find a balanced approach that prioritizes your well-being and nurtures your relationship with your sister.