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When family members fail to understand your mental struggles and emotional pain

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It had only been 3 months after her life threatening operation.  

Fatima, found herself constantly feeling exhausted and in a lot of physical pain.  She was frustrated because her body was forcing her to do everything extremely slowly.

She knew how much had to be done for her 2 year old daughter and husband who was out working all the time, and felt massively guilty about this.

And, to make matters worse, her husband was piling pressure on her, insinuating that she was making herself become fat and useless by lazing around the house doing nothing.

I mean, can you believe it?

What do you do when a family member, who is making your life hell, arrogantly thinks they are helping you?  

What do you do when they seem to choose to misunderstand your struggle despite your best efforts to explain things to them?   

How do you cope with:-

  • Family who make you feel depressed and disrespected when you are around them.

  • Family who don’t seem to realize that they are a big part of the pain you are going through. They say they care about you but you don't feel that way about them.

  • Family who tell you that you’re over reacting to things all the time, and have the nerve to call you a big baby.

How do you cope with all of that?

Now, a very popular answer I hear people give to this question is…

“You simply cut them out of your life and have nothing to do with them…”

True, in many cases this can be an effective way of managing these types of people. However, if this is all you do, my experience is that you'll leave yourself open to a myriad of debilitating life problems.  

I’ll touch more on that in a minute.

But first, how do you get from a point of being misunderstood and invalidated to a point where you are surrounded by a supportive family.  

Surrounded by  family who bring out the best in you. 

Surrounded by family who make you see value in yourself.

And surrounded by family who make you feel happy to be alive and happy to be you.

Or is this just an impossible dream?

Surely, it’s not just an impossible dream.

I recently met a gentleman (I’ll call him Ben).  He narrated his surprise at realizing that his family actually cared.  

He’d spent years hiding his depression from them thinking that they would not understand.

You see Ben lived alone, and wondered why ever so often, when he was in his low periods, he would suddenly get many calls from his family members.  They would keep popping by bringing him shopping and things.  

He'd begun to think they were psychic.

When he finally told his sister about his depression, she surprised him by saying they knew all along.  In fact, whenever Ben shut himself indoors for days, one of his neighbours would alert them.

Ben's whole family took this as a sign that he needed them to rally around him. and that’s exactly what they did.

Boy!  Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

The care and support, with no judgement and no need to have to justify yourself to people.  

Naturally, Ben felt a huge weight lift off him because at that point he knew that he no longer had to hide his depression from his family.

Ben’s story highlights the reality that understanding and supportive family exists. 

But what about those who can’t see the possibility of this ever happening to them?How do you survive when your family members are, ignorant, destructive and demeaning about your emotional issues?

This is exactly the issue I am addressing in this article.

In this article I will be highlighting common problems that get people stuck in cold and difficult un-empathetic families.

I will reveal the most effective way of thinking about and dealing with these problems so that you can cope better regardless of the negative experiences you are encountering within your own family situation.

Then I will share 5 steps you can begin to use today for moulding a supportive family network around yourself.

Sounds good?

Okay I’ll start with something I call the bubble theory.

Why you have uncaring family members who misunderstand you all the time!  (The bubble theory)

And the best way to start thinking about this.

So what is the bubble theory?

You see, we all live within a bubble that is made up of our past experiences, knowledge, opinions and belief systems.  

And because every human being on planet earth is different and has been through different experiences, the content of your bubble will be different from everyone else's.

In other words, we only know what we know, believe what we believe, accommodate what we feel okay or safe with, appreciate what we have interest in and accept only what's within our sphere of knowledge and understanding.

As a result of this, once something comes at us that is outside our bubble, we naturally put up a defensive barrier against it.

This defensive barrier will not allow anything in unless it matches with concepts and principles of something that already exists within our bubble. 

Just imagine what would happen to you if we believed anything and accepted everything?

Now, what does this all have to do with our family members not understanding us?

In this article I will be highlighting common problems that get people stuck in cold and difficult un-empathetic families.  I will reveal the most effective way of thinking about and dealing with these problems so that you can cope better regardless of the negative experiences you are encountering within your own family situation.  Then I will share 5 steps you can begin to use today for moulding a supportive family network around yourself.

You see, because your family member has no true experience or understanding of the emotional pain you are going through, all the essential information they require to help them see your pain clearly is outside their bubble.

This means that when you try your hardest to explain things to them, it’s simply not going to get through their bubble’s defensive barrier.  

What’s more, the more stubborn or opinionated your family member is, the tougher their bubble’s defensive barrier is going to be.

This is why when you try talking to your family member about your struggle, you end up in frustration from being misunderstood or being invalidated because they either argue that you are wrong, try to help or give advice that totally invalidates what you are going through.

The end result…

You end up with a family member who intentionally/ unintentionally tries to steal the show.  You know those ones who make out that they’ve been through something worse than whatever you bring to them.

Or you end up with family members who take your explanation to heart to such an extent that they go into a distressed and guilty place themselves which leads to you feeling guilty and in more distress than previously.

Or at the most unfortunate end, you end up with family members that are downright destructive towards you.  Like those who are emotionally horrible and abusive towards you.

It’s no wonder that many people avoid talking about their pain, because they feel no one will understand.  But sadly, not talking about your pain doesn’t take the distress of feeling misunderstood away.  In fact responding this way tends to lead to feeling more alone even when crowds of people are around you.

Eventually, like the very common advice I highlighted earlier, some people choose to break away from family altogether.

However, if you recall, I said this also has its disadvantages because breaking away and stay alone without creating a network of supportive people around you,will keep you feeling misunderstood and alone.

And this can lead to...

  • Enduring depressive symptoms kept alive by the memories of disappointments or feelings of bitterness caused by those family members.

  • Feelings of resentment that contribute to relentless high stress levels which then feed into other relationships and life problems.

  • Recurring anxiety problems resulting from trust issues.  You end up staying away from people so you don't learn how to form healthy relationships.  This can lead to problems with social anxiety and problems with agoraphobia.

But there’s hope! 

There is a better, more effective way to address this issue of misunderstanding that does not land you in more emotional difficulties, and I will be telling you what this is in a minute.

First let me give a quick summary of things we have to overcome in order to be able to surround ourselves with supportive family members.

Summary of things we have to overcome to get to a supportive family network

As a result of the bubble issue, we are left with these very real problem areas that we have to overcome if we are ever to experience the consistent balanced support of healthy family relationships.

Here is a quick summary of these problem areas:

Problem area 1: There will be some family members who will never see our point of view- Some unintentionally and some due to their own stubbornness.

Problem area 2: Regardless of the fact  that family member’s misunderstanding is unintentional or due to stubbornness, their lack of understanding will still impact us in a potentially damaging way.

Problem area 3: The lack of understanding existing leaves a massive, gaping hole of essential unmet needs.  These needs are essential to our emotional stability.  So we need to do something to get those needs met otherwise we will always be struggling emotionally.

Here are 4 areas of need we must at least meet.

The need for STATUS: To know that we matter to those who matter to us.

The need for RELATIONSHIP: To know that we belong.  That we are connected with other people.

The need for GOOD HEALTH: To experience our relationships as enhancing to our health and wellbeing- Both physically and emotionally.

The need for SECURITY AND SAFENESS: To feel that we are safe around people who matter to us.

Problem area 4: We cannot settle for the option of doing nothing at all about this misunderstanding issue.  Why?  If we do nothing, eventually doing nothing will still back fire and impact us negatively.

These are the 4 problem areas we need to address.

Oh my!  That all does sound like a “mission impossible” doesn’t it?

However in my over 20 years of experience, working in the mental health field, I have found that this can become a whole load easier if we become flexible in our use of the term “FAMILY”.

What am I saying here?

You see, many people spend a huge chunk of their lives trying to get their family members to understand.  I have heard people say they believe their emotional distress will be massively less, if only their family member understood.

And this is true except for one caveat…

You see, Family is not really what we need:

What we really need are the universal needs that are usually meant to come from family.  You know, the needs of status, relationship, good health and security and safeness.

In other words what we need is to regularly be in situations where these needs can habitually be fulfilled.  And it could be by anyone that is not included in the traditional sense of what we know as family.

Obviously, it helps if our family can fulfill those needs, as this helps us start from a basis of good self-esteem and a good sense of safeness within our personal world.  However, if this is not available to us, we all have the choice of developing our own loving and supportive family network, who bring out the best in us, make us feel happy to be alive and happy to be ourselves.

But how do we achieve all this in practice?

This brings me nicely to the 5 steps for moulding a supportive family network around yourself as I promised to share with you earlier.

5 steps for moulding a supportive family network around yourself

The emotionally supportive to emotionally poisonous scale
The emotionally supportive to emotionally poisonous scale

Step 1: Determine where your family falls on the emotionally supportive to emotionally poisonous scale.

The more they are close to the emotionally poisonous side of the scale, the more important it is to spend as little time as possible around them.


Because, even if they don’t intend to be harmful to you, their impact on you will still be damaging.

(In reality, most family members will fluctuate along this scale, so please bear this in mind as you use the scale.)

Use Our 

"Healthy Family Relationship Litmus Test"

to properly determine where your family member falls on this scale.

Click the button below to request for the Healthy Family Relationship Litmus Test

If you have determined that your family member falls outright close to the poisonous end of the scale, then you might want to skip to step 5 in these guidelines.

Step 2: Do the initial research leg work and offer this to your family member who wants to help

If your family member/s are closer to the emotionally supportive section of the scale, there is a high chance they will benefit greatly from some education around your emotional struggles or pain management difficulties.

So in this step, it will be in your best interest to seek out some tutorial material that explains what you are going through very well.

Notice that my suggestion is that you do the research.  Most people just leave this part to their family member with the expectation that, “If they really care, they will take the time out and do the research to understand my struggles.”

This is a massive mistake!

Most people struggling emotionally have great difficulty gaining the correct understanding of their own struggles.  How can we expect a third party who has not experienced that struggle to just do this initial research and come up with the correct approach to support?

There is a higher chance that your family member who truly wants to support you will unintentionally come across information that makes you feel invalidated, if this step is left to them.

The result?  More emotional distress for you.

So it’s important that you do the initial leg work.  Find tutorial material that resonates with what you are experiencing, and then share this information with them.

Side note: If you are currently attending therapy you could ask if your therapist could help explain a few things to your family member as well.

Step 3: Iron out any wrong interpretations of the material your family member has.

After your family member has read or watched the information you gave to them, spend some time with them discussing their understanding of the material.  Don’t just leave it to them to apply their own interpretation.  (This is a natural thing.  We all try to understand what we watch/read by applying our own interpretation, even if that interpretation is wrong).

Help your family member by explaining where they might be misunderstanding things.  (Important note: do this with a kind voice.  Don’t talk in a manner that might make them feel blamed for misunderstanding because this might make all your efforts backfire.  Naturally no one wants to feel blamed.)

Side note: if you want quick access to relevant, easy to understand tutorials to share with your family members, and you don’t want to spend too much time and effort looking for the right content, our members only tutorials on how to cope better emotionally, will help demystify a lot of things for both you and your family member/s.  You can find this in the paid membership section of our site.

Step 4: Encourage your supportive family member to look after themselves emotionally.

If you identify that your family is supportive, it is important that they have a physical and emotional threshold.  So, even if they tell you they are fine, they need to take some practical steps to cater to their wellbeing too.  Anything that will help them relax and take time out will suffice.  However, they need to do it regularly.  They could also benefit greatly from attending support groups with other people who are in a similar supportive role to members of their own family.

Step 5: Without holding on to resentments, create your own supportive family network

If you have determined that your family member is poisonous to your wellbeing, don’t be discouraged as all is not lost.  This just means that as teenagers or adults, we need to grow our own personal network of people who will fit nicely into the family role.

Remember, it’s not really the family that we require.  What we really need is the Ingredients of status, relationship, good health and security that families should bring.  If our biological family fails to provide this for us, we can build ourselves a family that meets these needs.

(Important note: Even if we have to decide to spend less time with a poisonous family member, it is important to remember not to hold on to any feelings of bitterness as this forces us to carry the poison anywhere we go and this will impact us and also affect everybody else around us negatively.)

To build a healthy network of friends. Follow this suggestion in this Free PDF:  

The Ultimate Guide on How to Make Friends you can Trust.

Then use the litmus test to ensure that the people you are recruiting into your new family network will have a positive impact on you.

You can also check this article out: 8 Proven ways to make new friends.

But before you go, I'd like to hear about your own experiences with your family. 

Do you find  that they don't understand the emotional difficulties you are going through? What have you done to cope with this so far?

Alternatively, do you have family members that take on your emotional struggles so seriously that they regularly become heavily distressed. If this is your experience, I would love to hear how you have coped with this too.

And lastly, in this article I promised to share some Ideas on how to cope with family members who don't understand your pain, and I have done just that. 

I would be really grateful if you could share this article with at least one person you know, maybe a friend, work colleague or family member that is struggling with this problem. I am certain that they will be forever grateful to you for this.

That's all for now folks.

Articles in this series

- How to stop a manipulative family member from draining you emotionally

When family members fail to understand your mental struggles and emotional pain (This article)

- Is family trying to tear you down? Here's how to protect yourself

- Dealing with family members that are toxic

- 30 Shocking Ways Your Family May Be Manipulating You: And what to do about them.

- How to Set Boundaries with a Manipulative Family Member

- Dealing with Difficult Family Situations? Don't Bother - Embrace the Chaos!

- The Dark Side of Improving Family Relationships: The Secrets They Don't Tell You

- The Truth About Resolving Family Tension: It's Not Just About Maintaining Peace and Harmony

- Decoding Emotional Games: Life Lessons from Manipulative Family Dynamics

- Recognizing and Responding to Psychological Triggers in a Toxic Family

- Why Frequent Reality Checks Are Vital in a Toxic Family

- Harnessing Personal Values For Navigating Manipulative Family Dynamics

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa