10 warning signs a family member is trying to undermine you

by Brendan Brown | March 23, 2024, 4:30 pm

Family. For many of us, that word conjures feelings of warmth, support, and unconditional love. 

But as I’ve come to realize over time, not every family gathering is filled with just smiles and group selfies. 

Sometimes, beneath the friendly banter and hearty laughs, there can be undercurrents of rivalry and passive-aggressiveness.

Some might, intentionally or not, throw you under the proverbial bus. 

So, how do you recognize these signs when they’re often wrapped in layers of shared memories and familial bond? Let’s break each one down carefully.

1) They offer backhanded compliments often

We’ve all been there—getting a compliment that stings just a bit. It might start as a seemingly harmless comment at a family BBQ. 

An aunt might, with an innocent face, say, “Darling, you’ve put on a little weight, but you wear it so well!” 

Or at Thanksgiving, when an uncle mentions, “Your new job sounds… cozy. It must be nice to have so much free time.” 

I remember once sharing a piece of artwork I was proud of, only to hear, “It’s so… unique. I could never think that way.” 

These comments, wrapped in the guise of praise, have a way of worming into our confidence, chipping away at our self-worth.

2) They revel in your failures more than your successes

Ah, family gatherings. They can be reminiscent of school report card days. Especially in cultures where achievements are not just celebrated but weighed and measured against each other. 

There’s always that one relative, eyes sparkling a tad too much, ready to pounce on any hiccup in your life.

Lost your job? They’ll offer sympathy drenched in barely concealed glee. Scored a big promotion? It’s met with a nonchalant, “Oh, that’s nice.”

It felt deeply personal when, after months of job searching, a cousin seemed more interested in the roles I didn’t land rather than the one I finally did.

It’s like they’re stockpiling these instances, waiting for the right moment to remind everyone.

3) They never seem to remember your important moments

You know those big life moments? Graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, or perhaps that first solo exhibition if you’re an artist. 

Well, if you’ve got a family member who consistently “forgets” or downplays these milestones, you might be onto something. 

We all forget occasionally, but if there’s a pattern of them missing or casually dismissing your significant moments, it could be a subtle form of undermining

It’s a way of sending the message: “Your achievements or milestones aren’t that important.”

4) They always play the comparison game

Comparisons, the silent joy-killers. 

I once had a family member who had this uncanny knack of comparing my journey with someone else’s. 

I remember vividly, after winning a local writing competition, the first reaction was, “Oh, that’s cute. Do you remember Tina? She just got published in a national magazine.”

Such comparisons, especially when consistent, can drain one’s self-confidence and always make you feel like you’re running a race where the finish line keeps moving further away.

5) Their “concerns” always highlight your vulnerabilities

There’s genuine concern, and then there’s the “concern” that’s just thinly veiled criticism. 

Like when a relative constantly highlights your single status at family gatherings, disguising their digs as worry. 

“Still single? I’m just concerned you’ll get lonely.” Or, “You know, the clock’s ticking.” 

These comments, parading as concern, are often just ways to spotlight your vulnerabilities and make you second-guess your life choices.

6) They love playing the devil’s advocate – a bit too much

We all appreciate a good debate, and having a devil’s advocate can sometimes lead to productive discussions

But there’s a difference between someone playing this role to stimulate conversation and someone who uses it as an excuse to constantly oppose or belittle your views. 

You’re excited about transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle, and suddenly, they become an outspoken advocate for meat consumption.

They start inundating you with arguments even when they’ve never shown interest before. 

It’s less about the topic and more about opposing whatever you stand for.

7) They diminish your feelings or experiences

I remember sharing my anxieties about moving to a new city with a close family member, hoping for understanding. 

Instead, I was met with, “Oh, you always overreact. It’s just a city.” 

Such reactions, which trivialize your feelings or experiences, are a subtle way of undermining. 

By making you feel like you’re “too much” or “overly sensitive,” they not only belittle your feelings but also make you hesitant about opening up in the future.

8) They rarely celebrate your independence or achievements

Growing up, many of us dream of the day we’d land our first job, buy our first car, or maybe even get our own place. 

Achieving these milestones is a big deal, a testament to one’s growth and independence. 

However, if a family member consistently overlooks or downplays these accomplishments, it might be more than just forgetfulness. 

For instance, when I bought my first car, I was ecstatic. But at the next family gathering, while others shared their congrats, one particular relative simply remarked, “It’s about time.” 

As if achieving that milestone was merely meeting a long-overdue expectation rather than a cause for celebration.

9) They use shared secrets as ammunition

There’s a sacred bond when we confide in someone, especially family. These shared secrets or vulnerabilities are tokens of trust. 

However, there are times when a family member might wield these secrets against you, especially during disagreements or public gatherings. 

I’ll never forget when, during a heated discussion at a family dinner, a relative blurted out a personal struggle I had shared with them in confidence. 

It wasn’t just the surprise of it being public; it was the deep sting of betrayal. 

When your secrets are used as leverage or to “put you in your place,” it’s a clear sign of someone trying to undermine you.

10) They always seem to have a better story

Ever noticed a family member who always has a tale to top yours? 

You mention a weekend getaway, and they’ve been on a more exotic vacation. You talk about a challenge at work, and they’ve faced something ten times tougher. 

This constant one-upmanship isn’t just them sharing; it’s a subtle way of undermining your experiences, making them seem lesser or unimportant. 

It’s as if there’s an invisible scale, and they’re always trying to tip it in their favor, diminishing your stories in the process.

Why some family members seem to constantly hate us

Families, while being a source of unconditional love for many, can sometimes be a tangled web of emotions, history, and cultural expectations. 

These nuances often shape interactions, leading some relatives to appear unsupportive or even hostile. 

Let’s unravel a few reasons that could be at the root of such behaviors:

1) Cultural expectations

In many cultures, there’s a set roadmap for life: school, job, marriage, kids. 

If you choose a path that veers off this trajectory, you might not fit the ‘ideal’ mold, causing discomfort or even disapproval among certain family members. 

This dissent often masks itself as unsupportive behavior.

2) Jealousy

A classic yet potent emotion. Maybe you’ve achieved something they always wanted to or are living a life they envy. 

This green-eyed monster can make family members subtly or overtly undermine your successes.

3) Generational gap

The “back in my day” narrative. Older relatives might feel that younger generations have it easier or are too “rebellious” or “entitled.” 

This gap in understanding can translate into a lack of support or even open criticism.

4) Unresolved family drama

The skeletons in the family closet. There might be unresolved issues, rivalries, or disputes from before your time that have spilled over. 

These past conflicts can influence how certain family members interact with you, especially if you unknowingly remind them of someone from those old stories.

5) Personal insecurities

Sometimes, it’s not about you. 

A relative’s own feelings of inadequacy or unfulfilled dreams can project as negativity towards those they believe are doing ‘better’ or living more fulfilling lives.

6) The need for control

Some family members find comfort in having a say or control over others, especially if they perceive themselves in a patriarchal or matriarchal role. 

When you act independently or make decisions they don’t approve of, it may feel like a direct challenge to their perceived authority.

7) Traditional vs. modern values

The tug-of-war between traditions and contemporary values can be a source of contention. 

Your modern beliefs or lifestyle choices might clash with their more traditional views, leading to misunderstandings or judgment.

8) Protection or overprotectiveness

Oddly enough, sometimes undermining comes from a place of concern. 

Overprotective family members might think they’re saving you from potential mistakes or harm, not realizing they’re stifling your growth or happiness.

9) Sibling rivalry

Age-old competitions don’t always end in childhood. 

Comparisons in achievements, lifestyles, or even parenting methods can perpetuate sibling rivalries into adulthood.

Some even go to lengths to maintain a perceived upper hand.

10) Miscommunication and assumptions

The age-old game of Chinese whispers isn’t limited to kids. 

Misunderstandings, assumptions, or plain misinformation can lead a relative to form perceptions about you that might be far from the truth, resulting in unsupportive or hostile behaviors.

When the blood runs too thick and heavy

Navigating the rollercoaster of family antics can be exhausting, but you’re not alone in your feelings. 

Amidst the chaos, it’s okay to seek some distance and peace

Remember, it’s healthy to set boundaries and prioritize self-care. Your well-being matters just as much as family ties.

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