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Mean people (who aren’t me!)
May 25, 2011

By North American standards, my mother’s family is seriously mean. Scathing. Biting. Bordering on cruel. They don’t recognise it as such, to them it’s normal interaction, entertainment really, and if you can’t take it then you’re just a puss and they’re going to enjoy picking at you even more.

Luckily they all live in the islands and I grew up in Canada, so I rarely had to interact with them. Though I have still managed to amass a number of fun and effective* coping mechanisms for those unwanted but unavoidable encounters.

If you have a partner who must also endure the scathing remarks, the following are quite fun:

  • The drinking game. My sister and I enjoyed this last Christmas in response to my mother’s over critical nature. Whenever my mother would complain about something, we had to have a swallow of wine. Whenever she picked at either of us – whoever she was picking on had to have a swallow of wine. My mother had no idea that anything was going on, but my sister and I had a great time, with no bad feelings.
  • The hot potato. Get a coin or something else that can be easily kept in the palm of your hand. Whoever is receiving the mean comments gets the coin, going back and forth as the comments demand. Don’t pass it back and forth secretly, let people see that you are giving each other something, but refuse to explain what you’re doing. Sometimes people catch on, sometimes they don’t. You could have a small prize for whoever is holding the coin when the evening ends.
  • Keep score. You may need a small notepad for this one, but keep count of how many insults you receive. You can do a number of things with this score:

    – Add them up and spend that amount on shoes/candy/fancy socks.

    – See who gets the most insults and have the loser buy drinks next time you go out.

  • That reminds me. You and your partner have to stay near each other for this one. Whenever one of you gets insulted, the other has to jump in with a ‘That reminds me …’ and follow it with something funny. That reminds me …

    – Are we still watching Mommie Dearest this weekend?

    – How was your root canal?

    – I had the worst diarrhoea the other day.

    – Did you read about that mean old lady they found dead in her apartment – she was there for 5 months before anyone even noticed she had passed.

Going it alone is always more difficult, but it can be done!

  • The obvious jot down. The moment you start receiving an insult, write it down. This is particularly good if the insults only come from one person – since they will soon notice that you write something down when they speak, but not when other people do. If asked you can shrug it off completely and say you ‘just thought of something.’ Perhaps a ‘something my therapist suggested.’ Or if you’re a writer or artist ‘just jotting down notes for one of my characters.’
  • The cathartic jot down. Once the insult is over, tuck away out of sight and write down what was said. Much potential here:

    – You could compile the full list into a letter and send it to the meany in the mail – I suggested this to a friend (as a joke!) years ago – and she did it (ending the letter with ‘this is why I don’t visit’), then received a really tearful apologetic call from her mean cousin days later. Who knew?

    – If you’re so inclined, dress up as the meany in question and recite the list on a YouTube video. It could go viral.

    – Got a Twitter account or a blog? Live updates are always fun – your readers will have your back.

    – You could also just text them to a friend.

  • Harp. Pick something well meaning about the person (or various persons) pestering you. Osteoporosis, for instance, if the meany is very old. Whenever the meany insults you, refer immediately to your well meaning topic. Meany says something mean, you ask about her bone density. Then about how icy her driveway gets in the winter, reminding her that slips and falls for the elderly can be fatal. Then about your friend’s grandmother who broke her shoulder just by lifting the tea kettle. You could shatter a hip by simply sitting down too hard, or reaching for the salt. Say it with a grin that lets her know you’ve got your fingers crossed for a harsh winter. Other possible topics:

    – Their financial situation, mention how important it is to invest, your go to savings tips, how costly their life must be to maintain.

    – How unsafe the roads are these days. Road rage. Texting. Drunk drivers.

    – So you’re sure those moles are benign?

    – Or something totally random and not related to them at all, like funions.

  • Pamper yourself. Make a list of things that you want or want to do or generally deny yourself. Rank them and assign each to an insult count. (2 insults = a candy bar, 5 insults = new lip gloss, 10 insults = a marathon of your favourite guilty pleasure viewing.) Keep track of how often you’re insulted and then see what prize you’ve earned.

A few other techniques might come in handy:

  • The walk away. Unfortunately when you’re standing and talking with someone, wandering away from them can be difficult. Often, they’ll just follow along. You need to make it clear that you are leaving to get away from them, but without calling them a cooch-face.

    – Rolling eyes with a light shake of the head. Then walk away. You are clearly disgusted with them. They won’t follow. They might call after you with something rude, but they won’t follow.

    – Pouting out your bottom lip and using your fingertip to trace a sarcastic tear down your cheek. Then walk away.

    – Agree and ruminate. Something like ‘You have a valid point there, I’m going to go think about that.’ Then walk away.

  • Sometimes something a little hurtful is in order, a good backhand … sorry backhanded ‘I don’t know why’ compliment can be useful.

    – You really make a lot of sense, I don’t know why they’re talking about putting you in a home.

    – That’s so funny, I can’t understand why nobody wants to talk to you.

    – You’re really sweet. The people who think you’re a total bitch are way off base.

    Be sure to master your look of genuine bafflement before attempting this. You don’t want to be the bad guy here, you want them to truly think that people are saying these things about them. If asked who is saying such things, reply with an apologetic ‘oh, you know.’ And wander away like you’re afraid of betraying a confidence.

Good luck – and remember, alcohol is your friend!

*Note: This isn’t about softening your meany or repairing the relationship. This is just to get through an unavoidable encounter and come out of it laughing.


1 instance of slightly inappropriate touching!

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