Home » Blogs » The Emotionally Sensitive Person » How To Cope When A Family Member Has An Emotional Disorder

How To Cope When A Family Member Has An Emotional Disorder

One of the most difficult feelings to acknowledge is not liking your loved one who has an emotional disorder. Being angry, frustrated, or disliking a close relative is difficult enough. But when the family member has a mental illness, you may judge yourself harshly for having negative feelings toward that person.

But the situation is normal and you are not alone. Family members don’t always like each other. It’s normal to feel angry toward siblings and parents at times. And someone having an emotional disorder doesn’t change that fact. But there are some special considerations when the family member has an emotional disorder.

Not liking a family member who struggles with their emotional health is a very difficult situation with many possible causes. How to manage these feelings is an important, complex question with many different possible options.

First, consider what has led to these feelings. Maybe you can pinpoint the one thing that if it didn’t exist you wouldn’t feel the
way you do? Knowing the source of your feelings helps to clarify the options.

Can you remember what your loved one was like before her symptoms became more dominant? Can you separate her personality from her disorder? Because the illness can be difficult and overwhelming, sometimes the illness becomes all we see even though if we look more carefully we can see the person separate from the diagnosis.

Maybe take some time and list the symptoms of her illness and then list the behaviors that your she displays that fit the symptoms. Then write down her personality characteristics that are not symptoms.

If what you don’t like is the disorder, maybe try to increase opportunities to interact with her when her symptoms are less prominent. This may not be easy to do. Sometimes the disorder is so demanding that when someone is doing better families breath a sigh of relief that they can pay attention to other people and other needs, including their own. Thus they don’t get to experience the person when she is doing well.

Is the conflict because her behavior or choices are contradictory to your values? If so, then is her behavior reflective of her values or her disorder? Do you understand the reasons she is behaving the way she does? Understanding the reasons someone behaves the way they do sometimes helps families accept their loved one’s actions, though not approve or support.

Is it possible to dislike the behavior but love the person? And if her choices do reflect different values, can you find acceptance
that she believes differently than you?

Is it her behavior toward you that is the final straw? Is this behavior controllable for her? If so, can you identify what purpose her behavior toward you might have? What does her behavior toward you accomplish for her (such as increased contact with you)? After the reason for the behavior is known, then changes in the results of the behavior can change the behavior.

Are you experiencing chronic stress or compassion burnout? Not liking someone we used to like, someone we’ve given a lot of time and energy to, is a common symptom of both of these situations. It may be that you need to set more limits, give yourself more breaks, and do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Finding support that works for you, validating yourself and your own needs would also be helpful. You might also evaluate whether you are giving too much and need to reconsider your limits.

Could your dislike be about your sadness? Are you feeling discouraged? Are you feeling hopeless, perhaps like a failure? Or afraid? When you see your loved one is it upsetting for you because of your own feelings? It may be that seeing her brings up painful feelings for you and that could make you not want to be around her. In this situation, taking a look at your feelings and how to resolve them or accept them might help.

Are you constantly on edge, waiting for the next crisis? Are you attempting to control what you can’t control? This can also lead to exhaustion and resentment. Sometimes having a crisis plan, so that it is concrete and clear what you can do and what you can’t do, could be helpful.

One option is that you simply don’t like her. Completely accepting that fact may help you. What you think and feel is what you think and feel. Don’t judge yourself for your thoughts and feelings, just be aware. Then consider using self-validation as a way of managing your emotions and validation of your loved one as a way of helping her regulate her feelings as well.

Validation is not a communication of love or liking, just as it is not agreeing. It is acceptance and recognition that the other person has thoughts and feelings and has a right to her thoughts and feelings, whether it is someone you love or someone you don’t want to spend a single minute with. All individuals have a right to their thoughts and feelings. Maybe separating validation from love or liking would help. When you validate her thoughts and feelings you are not communicating that you like or love her.

Plus, validation of her thoughts and feelings could make your interactions easier which could lead to your feelings changing. Or not.

Finally, you might consider talking with a therapist who is knowledgeable to help sort out your thoughts and feelings.

Depressed woman photo available from Shutterstock.

How To Cope When A Family Member Has An Emotional Disorder

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Hall, K. (2012). How To Cope When A Family Member Has An Emotional Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 18 Aug 2012
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.