Dear Charlotte,

I often find myself drawn into unhealthy relationships with people who make me feel less than. One of the people is a relative who is now sadly terminally ill. She has been making awful remarks to me and it’s really painful but I feel like I can’t say anything back because of her upsetting situation. 

What should I do? I want to say how I feel without lashing out in an unkind way or acting like a victim when she’s the one in a tough situation. 

Guidance, please!

Dear x, 

I really feel for you in this particular dilemma. It’s so hard when someone you care about is unwell and yet also upsetting. The dynamic can feel asymmetrical when one person is sick and, at the same time, I don’t think it makes your relative unaccountable. 

People who have never been accountable sometimes use their impending non-existence to avoid any accountability. Your relative may never recognise the impact of their words on you, but at a certain point, you can still protect yourself from having to just tolerate whatever vitriol is flung your way. You can stand up for yourself with self-respect. 

I think putting it in writing might be helpful if you’re wanting to be balanced and careful in your wording. You don’t have to say everything to speak your truth — you can say what matters most. Write it down and see how it feels when you read it to yourself. If you want to say it to your relative, whatever needs to be expressed can be done with respect, and you might feel better for having said it if it can bring you closer to resolution or peace in your own sense of the relationship. 

All the best,

Charlotte Fox Weber is a verified Welldoing psychotherapist and the author of What We Want: Understand Your Deepest Desires and Live a Fuller Life