Ask Manjot is a monthly advice column by 5X Press writer and therapist Manjot Mann that tackles all things womanhood, relationships, mental health and more. Submit your questions here.

TW: Emotional abuse, child abuse

Question: I have a closely related uncle who bullied and verbally abused me as a child and through adolescence. I stopped going to family events because it was traumatic seeing him. I always wanted to call him out but my Punjabi speaking skills aren't great. Am I running away from this problem? Am I taking the easy way out?

Dear Reader, I am so sorry you are going through this. It sounds like this family member has been verbally abusing you for most of your life. Emotional abuse is not something anyone, especially a child, should be forced to tolerate. It can be hard even to identify what you are experiencing especially when this abuse is at the hands of someone you consider to be family. 

Does this person belittle you? Are they hypercritical? Do they judge you and/or invade your privacy and ignore boundaries and feelings? If so, it sounds like emotional abuse. 

You mentioned that this person is your uncle and I imagine this adds a complicated layer to the situation. You need to tell someone what is happening. I know it’s a lot to ask but telling a friend or family member who can offer safe and non judgmental support is important. 

It’s not fair that you no longer feel safe attending family functions but I also want to acknowledge that you are doing your best to protect yourself by not attending family events where this individual may harm you and this is important. 

If you would like to set a boundary with your uncle, don’t let language stand in the way dear reader. Remember,  “no” is a full sentence—whether you’re speaking in Punjabi or English. We can also speak volumes with our body language. Walking away and choosing not to engage with your uncle is also a way you can set a boundary.

The problem with bullies is that they like patterns that enable their behaviour and if your uncle see’s that you are, for example, laughing off the abuse, or not telling anyone what is happening, he will likely continue with his behaviour. I know it’s hard but start small. Tell someone, allow them to be there for you. Maybe they can stand with you as you say no to your uncle’s comments and walk away. Maybe they can bear witness to what is happening and validate your feelings. Think about what you need. Nothing is too big or small. 

Cultural and societal expectations have normalised women laughing off comments that make us feel uncomfortable in favour of being docile. When we stand up for ourselves, or challenge misogynistic comments, we’re often told  we’re  being “too sensitive”. Women also put the responsibility of ending the abuse on themselves , our inner critic says “you are not standing up for yourself, you are running away from your problems” when in reality we shouldn’t have to deal with abuse in the first place. 

Remember, the abuse is not your fault and in a society that has taught us to be submissive and quiet, speaking up can feel like a radical act of rebellion.

The fact that you have recognized this as abuse is a testament to the person you are; you are not running away from this. You are building your strength, finding your voice and taking steps to protect yourself. 

You do not deserve this. No one does. You are not running away. You are not taking the easy way out.

When we are hurting, that is exactly when we need to extend as much kindness to ourselves as possible. Whatever you decide to do in this situation, make sure you take good care of yourself. It’s exhausting to deal with emotional abuse, it’s exhausting to set boundaries. It’s exhausting to wonder why this is happening. So nurture yourself, enfold yourself in the things that bring you joy, and take care of you in the same way you would a cherished friend. 

About the author

Manjot Mann

My name is Manjot Mann and I am a mom, counsellor and writer. I have my undergraduate degree in Criminology/Psychology and a Masters in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University. As a child I wanted to be a superhero, specifically Sailor Moon. As an adult I found there was no one like Sailor Moon running around in cute shoes saving people from monsters and so I took a desk job and hung up my imaginary cape. When I became a mom and fought my own demons, I realized I needed a career change. As a counsellor I help people with real and imagined monsters. As a writer I bring awareness to the fact that monsters exist and that there is a whole lot of superhero in all of us.

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