Ask Mary Jo: Family causing friction & healing from resentful feelings

Hi Mary Jo,

What would be your advice if you have family members spreading lies about you to other family members causing friction?



It’s so difficult when a family member is toxic and resorts to telling lies about you. You cannot change your family members, but you can change you.  Many psychologists warn families that sometimes the best and only option is to separate completely from the family. However, you may be able to avoid this if you know who caused the drama and what part you played. Separating yourself from one destructive family member is much easier than leaving your whole family. These suggestions can help:

  1. Get clear about who the toxic drama makers are. Drama is confusing, and sometimes it looks as though everyone is involved with contributing to lies about others. If you avoided taking action in the past to avoid dealing with conflicts, it’s possible you’ve contributed by enabling it to continue.
  2. Reset your own boundaries. Sometimes when family members attack, other family members form cliques and take sides. If you’ve taken sides or contributed to the gossip, it’s important to readjust and refocus your boundaries; focus on taking care of yourself and your children. Taking a personal retreat from your family to realign your personal boundaries with your core values is a wonderful way to gain insight.
  3. Practice your new boundaries at the next family get together. When a toxic family member acts out, it can be like a forest fire; it will burn everyone. Containing the fire (in this case the toxic family member) and keeping strong boundaries for your children will ensure their safety. This may mean when you visit you have a safe, neutral place to stay and a set amount of time you will stay with your family.
  4. If necessary, cut ties with your family. Many families have predictable drama. For example, families with poor coping strategies turn to drugs, alcohol, or fighting with each other when faced with situations out their control. If you’re born into this type of family, it’s important that you learn healthy coping mechanisms so you can escape their high drama times in order to ensure your safety.

Hey Mary Jo,

Can you ever heal from resentful feelings and how?



When resentment has its hooks in you, it can feel as though you’ll erupt at the smallest thing. There is often bitterness from this held in anger, which causes an inability to trust again. Letting go of resentment means making peace and forgiving. Although there is no one way to heal resentment, these methods usually help:

  1. Get clear about why it’s so difficult to let go. Hanging onto resentment often becomes part of your identity, even without your awareness. You hang onto something destructive to preserve your sense of self. Realizing that hanging onto anger is destroying only you can help you find healthier coping mechanisms.
  2. See the other person’s perspective. In many cases, there was either a misunderstanding or unspoken, hurt feelings. Be able to look at the situation from both sides. You’ll become more understanding and loosen resentment’s grip.
  3. Practice gratitude. When resentment bubbles up inside, try visualizing a list of all you’re grateful for. Resentfulness is fueled by self-victimization, so focusing your attention on gratitude makes it more difficult to feel resentful.
  4. Work with a therapist. If you feel such anger that none of these methods help, therapy is a wonderful option. There is no shame in getting help to live your life free of resentment.