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December 7, 2013 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Having trouble with a visiting relative, do I confront or just avoid?

I have a sibling who is visiting (lives outside the country) and is leaving in a few days. He was physically abusive to my sister and I (more so to my sister physically, I would be a witness to violence he directed towards her, and almost constant verbal abuse/put downs from him directed towards me). It was not fun to grow up in and quite a dysfunctional family situation to say the least.

Since then he's gotten married and has children which has (from what I thought) actually turned him into more of a human and decent guy. I make quite an effort with his kids (send them little gifts all the time, thoughtful packages to show them I'm thinking of them. He sees this and is quite aware of my actions to be a good relative to them, and I know he appreciates this and notices).

I've been around him and my parents for the last week or so, and he's been making biting and insulting comments about me when I'm around him (this has been happening the last few days). They have mostly been about my appearance- when someone gives me a compliment he makes a backhanded comment that is directly spoken to "they must be blind" or "no wonder they don't recognize you after so long, you were so ugly then". If one of my parents makes a comment that I'm a good relative to his kids, he'll mention that his kids only have 2 chances at getting something good (I have a sister who is completely estranged from the family and from myself, which is the healthier choice for me because she is quite toxic). His comments are always backhanded and he can't say anything nice when it comes to me, I get the "pretend like you like her" and "put your arm around her" stuff from my parent for pictures, which I don't want him to do anyway because I am tired of him trying to insult me.

He had become nice to me for quite a while after being married, but has since gone back to the same bullying I experienced when I was a kid. It's bringing up visceral emotions in me and making me experience the same pain in my gut that I used to feel as a kid. I have tried to be nice to him (currently/in the past have bought him some thoughtful gifts in addition to the rest of his family, I don't leave anybody out. I get the most lukewarm response or a one word response back from him, so I've decided not to do it anymore).

I have to see him for the next few days, and I can't stand being in his presence anymore, because I see he hasn't changed at all and is still abusive (he smiles and seems to take pleasure in attempting to make me feel bad about myself, which I do my best not to show that it bothers me because I feel he wants a reaction in some way).

I am in confusion as to whether to confront him about this or not. I can of course leave the situation and don't have to be around him, but will be seeing him for a couple more days. My parents are mildly supportive (my mother is close to me emotionally and usually quite supportive to me now and loving, but when he comes around, she tends to fade from me emotionally, leaving me to decide if I want to deal with it directly and say something to him or not).

When he says these things they take me off guard because I'm not expecting them. I've been nice to him and tried to be friendly, so it takes me aback when it happens because I don't talk to people that way and I don't expect it or tolerate it from other people. I've come along way for standing up for myself because I never used to be able to do it. I don't let people talk to me that way anymore, and the healthy part of me wants to have a talk with him about this. In the least, I feel like he's going to say something instigating again, and I am going to blow up at him. Not in an emotional way, but firmly establishing my boundaries and that he doesn't get to talk to me like that anymore, it wasn't okay back then, and it isn't now.

I don't like having conflict with people and it affects me deeply if I have bad blood with anyone, I do my best to get along with people and I don't want to be the focus of any drama with anyone. It seriously affects me. I also have deep issues of depression which I know have stemmed from my upbringing, so I'm conflicted as to if I should respond to this drama or not. I just want to be left alone and not poked at, but also have my constitution of not letting people treat me poorly. I've never fully stood up to him though. If I do, I know it will create a "situation" with him, where the relationship I have had with him has been cordial for the last several years, which has been the best relationship I've ever had with him. Even still, the thought of giving into conflict makes me feel physically and emotional upset.

Long story short (sorry!) do I say something more than "that was insulting you don't get to talk to me that way anymore" or I just leave it at that, or a even still just leave the situation completely and not accept the invitations I will be getting to come back and have dinner with the family? Not maintaining the status quo will make me into the "problem", which I absolutely don't want to be the focus of. It's already starting to, which I've done nothing to create, and I don't know if I can continue to try to be friendly to him. I've already gotten comments like "don't you want to be with the family?" from one of my parents, which is infuriating because I have spoken to this parent at length about this and is fully aware and admits he was a horrible brother growing up, and agrees that the comments he's currently making are completely uncalled for.

I also fear that my depression will never go away, and maybe part if the key is standing up in person to him. I have been in therapy with many different therapists for extended periods of time, though I'm not seeing one currently. I have done EMDR therapy, which I did not find to help me really that much at all.

My core wants to be left alone and avoid further pain, I also want to heal. I also know if you don't hold people accountable for their actions you are pretty much condoning it. I don't want to give him the appearance that I'm afraid to confront him, because I'm not. Other than this visit, I have minimal interaction with him other than it being channelled through interaction with his children.

Thanks for reading.
posted by readygo to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like the rest of your family understands your problems with your brother. If you have other opportunities to see the rest of your family, just skip the visit with dick bro.

do I say something more than "that was insulting you don't get to talk to me that way anymore" or I just leave it at that

If you do run into him for whatever reason, just leave it at that. It's not your job to argue him into understanding why he's a dick, and it sounds like he's not ready to admit any wrongdoing in any situation.

As for wanting to heal, I don't think you need acceptance from this guy to heal. In fact, your healing may come quicker if you end your attachment to him.
posted by ignignokt at 5:21 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Stu, you're being an asshole. Stop being an asshole or I'm going to go do something else."
"What?!? Stop being so sensitive."

And then you go do something else. If he follows you, say it again, and leave again. If he continues to follow you, start shouting: "STU I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU LEAVE ME ALONE."

If anyone else complains to you about it, say, "Stu was being an asshole, and I don't feel like being around an asshole right now."

You have the right to associate with whomever you want and to stop doing so. It doesn't matter whether they're family. Go do something else.
posted by Etrigan at 5:22 PM on December 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

If he's not staying at your house, I don't see why you have to see him the next few days. It sounds to me like you might be coming down with the flu (wink wink nudge nudge).
posted by mollymayhem at 5:23 PM on December 7, 2013 [20 favorites]

Next time he says something negative to or about you, ask him in a very clear voice, "Why would you say that?"

Remember that you do not have to defend yourself against this brother. It sounds like he is trying to provoke a response from you. Don't give him the satisfaction.
posted by JujuB at 5:37 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

"You have the right to associate with whomever you want and to stop doing so"

For sure. But Readygo isn't seeing things that way. I noticed some tangled thought process in this sentence:

"I have a sister who is completely estranged from the family and from myself, which is the healthier choice for me because she is quite toxic"

She's relieved that toxic sister made the healthiest choice for her (that is, Readygo). As if the choices can only be made at her, rather than by her.

Readygo, your willingness to keep working at this relationship (and, judging from the way you phrased it, willingness to even try again with your sister if she chooses) is totally admirable. Lots of people would have just severed all connection. But if you're going to keep trying, you need to be considerate of your own feelings, and set limits re: what you're willing to put up with....and detach, at least temporarily, if you're being harmed. If you don't even register that as an option, then you can't be in there trying as hard as you do.

I don't have your big-hearted tenacity, so I tend to simply disconnect from bad-news people, including close family members (I've got some doozies). If you're resolved to keep trying, come what may, then you need to give yourself an escape route if/when it gets to be too much. Trying and trying is good, but hurting yourself in the process is not ok, and you don't owe that to anyone.

You clearly are able to draw that line (to recognize when it's really too much for you to handle). All you need to do is learn to firmly extract yourself when the line's crossed. And I don't believe you if you say you're not strong enough to do so. You're totally strong to be trying as hard as you do. I think maybe you just haven't taken a close look at what you owe people and what you don't!
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:38 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

You're right, you are never going to heal with these people in your life.

Just leave. Don't look back. Stop trying. Stop with the gifts and the effort.

Care for yourself.

I speak from experience.
posted by jbenben at 5:43 PM on December 7, 2013 [19 favorites]

I do my best to get along with people and I don't want to be the focus of any drama with anyone.

There's a line between trying to get along (especially at the holidays) and putting up with abusive bullshit - which this is. This is not "drama," like someone you know spreading mean gossip about someone else. This is unacceptable behavior. You telling the person putting this shit on you that their behavior is unacceptable is not you participating in drama: it is you standing up for yourself.

And it doesn't have to be a screaming match or anything like that. As in above examples, you can say something like "Don't speak to me that way," and then leave the room.
posted by rtha at 5:45 PM on December 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

In the least, I feel like he's going to say something instigating again, and I am going to blow up at him. Not in an emotional way but firmly establishing my boundaries and that he doesn't get to talk to me like that, it wasn't okay back then, and it isn't now.

If I do, I know it will create a "situation" with him

Not maintaining the status quo will make me into the "problem",

Only you can determine whether the costs are worth the benefits here. You are well within your rights to draw a boundary and insist upon being treated with respect if you are to be present. And you are probably right, that confronting problems in your family of origin at their source may well help other relationships in your life or your depression. It might be worth it!

However, as the world's expert on "how your family is likely to react to your behavior," your predictions are likely correct. Your brother is likely to make this a situation, and people may blame you no matter how perfectly you handle this.

Knowing that, what do you want to do? Are you ready to stay steady in the face of their pressure to change back to the way you were before? Could you repeatedly give a short, clear explanation of your right to be treated well, and enforce the boundaries that you set? Do you have the emotional strength right now to handle a little extra stress from a strained relationship with your brother or parents?

This is your decision to make. You are analyzing the situation thoughtfully. And you have the advantage of being able to decide whether to make a stand, and if so, when.

If you do decide to take this on now, you wrote a few good scripts in your question about what you could say to your brother. You might also think ahead about what you will do if he continues not to treat you with respect (how will you enforce the boundary?) and what you will say to your parents when they pressure you. That way you'll be fully prepared.

You do sound near your breaking point, so if you decide not to take on this conversation with everyone, you should probably find a way to get some space from this situation.
posted by salvia at 5:45 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would label his comments
- That was unpleasant.
- What a mean thing to say.
- It's no fun to be with you when you're sarcastic/ unkind/ nasty/ insulting.
and I'd say to him You bullied me this way when we were kids. It's not funny, it's mean. Stop it.
I'd probably skip any more outings with him, and if he and/or your parents ask why, I'd be honest Brother is being insulting and unkind, just like when we were kids, and I don't want to be around him.

I'm so sorry you have to go through this.
posted by theora55 at 6:25 PM on December 7, 2013 [13 favorites]

I would let your parents know how hurtful it is that they don't stick up for you when he is being so malicious. And I would not be there when he was there anymore, if you have other chances to see your family.

They are prioritizing his comfort over yours (and their own). They're not going to stick up for you, so you need to do it.

P.S. You've described your situation so clearly. You see it exactly as it is, so don't let anyone gaslight you.

posted by ravioli at 6:33 PM on December 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think you need to think about the difference between being aggressively confrontational and being calmly assertive. You CAN handle this with grace and still get your point across. As a matter of fact, I believe it's much more effective and meaningful to you personally to stand your ground in a way that does not invite escalating confrontation. It's all in the tone of voice and demeanor you use.

"We need to talk about manners and boundaries."
"I think it's time we move past those adolescent attitudes, don't you?"
"Can you give some thought as to why you still make those hurtful comments?"

Figure out a few responses that really feel comfortable to you. Practice them in the mirror. Then have a conversation with your brother.
posted by raisingsand at 6:41 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

your brother sounds just like my abusive sister, minus the physical abuse, and you sound a lot like me. i would just say what you've written here and see how it goes:

"that was insulting you don't get to talk to me that way anymore".

if he continues with his bullying after saying that a few times then i'd just avoid him. i do think your depression will start to lift when you stand up to your brother. i bet like me you have a whole lot of anger that you're holding inside. it's time to start speaking up and setting boundaries with your family.

as for when your parent's say this: "don't you want to be with the family?"

tell them "no, not when brother is bullying me. i will not tolerate being treated that way anymore."

as for this advice: Next time he says something negative to or about you, ask him in a very clear voice, "Why would you say that?"

unfortunately, responding in that manner will just invite more insults & bullying. it is an open door to being further abused so i would definitely not say it.
posted by wildflower at 6:58 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

If the question is: what do I do for the next few days while Brother is here, considering how he acts? then I would say, you have two choices: avoid him or confront him. Avoiding is easy since he lives in another country and will be gone soon. Become conventiently sick and stay home. And once he's gone, I would stop reaching out to him; clearly, he hasn't changed.

Option 2 is more complicated. You can confront him directly, or just tell your family that you refuse to be near him because he's an abusive prick (or words of your choice) and stay home. There will be fall-out of some kind, either immediately or later. But, you can simply refuse to discuss it if you like. They can't force you to do anything, and that includes accepting their ideas of what you should do.

If the question is, should I confront Brother? then the answer is, only if you want to/feel like it would do you good. You have to assume that your best result from him is not a heartfelt apology, but merely ceasing to bother you; but even this may be too much. It's highly likely he will accuse you of exaggerating (this is what all abusers do, they are not very original in how they attack people), and it seems you don't feel confident your family will back you up.

And that's a damn shame, because maybe if they had called him on it when he was younger he wouldn't be such a shit now. You certainly deserve better when it comes to family members.

Once abuse enters the picture (and that's what this is) especially long-standing ongoing abuse, you cease to owe your family anything at all, whatsoever. They did not protect you and cherish you, and they should have. They have failed you as a family. You do not owe them a continued opportunity to hurt you, nor are you required to spend the energy to convince them of the truth. You must take care of yourself first. You must cherish yourself since they have failed to cherish you properly.
posted by emjaybee at 7:01 PM on December 7, 2013

Thanks for your responses, just to clarify a bit:

@Quisp lover- I had distanced myself from my sister a long time ago when I realized her behavior was not healthy which resulted in her telling me in a fit of rage that "she didn't have a sister anymore" the next time I saw her. This further confirmed that I no longer wanted her in my life. I have no problem stopping contact with people that I decide aren't good for me. I'm not waiting for others to make that decision for me, I am capable of that myself. I might have mis-worded my previous comment, if that was your impression of what I had said.

As far as letting go of an attachment to him (as someone had previously stated) I don't have any attachment to him at all (we don't have much in common at all other than genetics), I've only made any effort with him because of his kids, which I was very close to and fond of as they were growing up. I don't let any problems I have with him though get in the way of any relationship I have with his children.

As far as family I don't have any other than my parents (my extended family is non existent and not close) so hanging out with other family while he's visiting is not reality because it's just my parents and him, and me, and a whole lot of silence when I'm in the mix. I don't want to or am trying to "make" my family something else than it is (that is, I'm not hoping to have the family I don't have, nor would I even want that anymore. I fully realize it is dysfuntional and would rather be around people who are positive and supportive, which is something I try to be as well as much as I can, because I didn't receive that growing up).

As far as interactions with him, I get a "I'm just joking, that wasn't meant to be taken seriously" comments. So it gets put back on me that I'm being sensitive, and shouldn't take it as insults.

In further description I usually am asked by my parents to go visit him and his family (and two or so other relatives who live nearby him that I don't really care for), and will be asked by them later this coming year. I used to kind of enjoy going because of seeing his kids, but haven't had as close of a bond to them in the last few years, which takes away any feeling of wanting to go because they were the only reason. In part this makes me feel guilty, because I feel like I will look like a jerk if I don't go. This thought is only a small inclination, though. I can just say I'm busy which I usually am.

@ignignokt- I really appreciate the "dickbro" comment :)
That really helped me give this some levity, because I really don't want this issue to take up too much space in my thoughts (it bothers me that it even does). It also helps to put on perspective that I'm not the problem, which is something I've been implied to feel in my upbringing. I come from a very much "guess" culture vs. an "ask" one.

I'm not in conflict of having to see him or not because I know I can choose not to see him, so that's not really the issue. I only ask this question in reference to me and my healing, and if it would be better I do this with a therapist, rather than confronting him.

I'm not interested or trying to change anybody else, I'm interesting my own personal well being and healing.

Thanks again for all the responses!
posted by readygo at 7:08 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

" I have no problem stopping contact with people that I decide aren't good for me."

Oh, ok, that's good!

But....then what is this about, exactly? It's not clear what you're looking for. Sounds to me (and most of us) that you're convinced he's no good for you.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:22 PM on December 7, 2013

So it gets put back on me that I'm being sensitive, and shouldn't take it as insults.

"Sensitive or not, I've told you I don't like that type of joke and find it offensive. Is it more important to you to make these jokes or for us to have a pleasant lunch/conversation/holiday?"

This isn't about changing him, but rather changing the dynamic between you and him.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:26 PM on December 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

To be completely honest I think polite, reasonable responses are a complete waste of time. I think they are just 'playing the game', agreeing to play along with the farce that we are all happy and reasonable and dickbro is entirely inadvertently being a dick, ha ha. When you know the truth: your parents certainly seem to know and actually, dickbro also totally knows. So why not call a spade a spade? Why not just tell him to go fuck himself (or whatever language is most natural to you) - why waste time dancing around with "you don't get to talk to me that way!" when apparently, he does.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 8:27 PM on December 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wanted to add: I think all these polite, sort of passive, appealing type statements sound so reasonable in our heads, and make us sound very reasonable and sober etc when we encourage others to use them too. But I think bullies don't respond to these sorts of passive voice entreaties. If he was sensitive to your feelings he wouldn't mock and insult you, appealing to his sense of decency is clearly pointless. I strongly encourage some version of: "Don't talk to me like that, Dickbro." and then leave. Everyone knows already, it's not like some big mystery why you're upset or angered by his nonsense. Unless he immediately responds with an apology and changes his behaviour, you have to reinforce what you say, with some kind of action. You can't ask him to be nicer, and then sit there while he insults you.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 8:36 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

@quisplover- Yes I'm sure it's clear to most all that I feel he's no good for me. As I had said before the question I have is do I confront him about it, which some other responses have addressed. I appreciate the answers :)

I also appreciate the answer about being gaslighted, because his response of "it's a joke I'm only kidding, you're being sensitive", is a response my sister had down to perfection. It runs in the family, and deep down I know he knows he's being a dick, but the gaslighting makes me wonder if my response to his comments are appropriate, or if I am overreacting (since I grew up in a family tending toward abuse, I'm not sure if my reaction is right or not, though my gut tells me that it is. I just feel confused because I'm getting the old line of being "sensitive", implying I'm the one with the problem). I have a feeling it's not just me, but I don't think anybody enjoys jokes made at their expense. Taking offense to that isn't being sensitive, is it? Especially if someone has a history of abuse with you.

Also very true to what @emjaybee said, if he was called on it when he was younger he wouldn't be such a shit now. That's why I was struggling with confronting him (I will tell him to respect my boundaries, and don't make jokes at my expense. They're not funny and I find them insulting, and I don't need to hear them. So stop).

@wildflower- I absolutely have built up agner towards him. This only really comes out when he starts acting like he did when I was growing up. I don"t think he's fully aware of the anger I still apparently have towards him. He did apologize briefly over the phone years ago and said he was a really bad to me and my sister growing up, to which I said "That's nice of you to say and I aknowledge what you're saying, but I think it will take a bit more than an apology over the phone for all that's happened". In response, he said "yeah I agree, I wanted to say it over the phone now, but I'll do more in person. Which never happened. This apology was also prompted by my mother, who told him he was a sexist/chauvanist growing up and a horrible brother to me and my sister. I wonder if he just apologized to absolve himself of any of his own guilt, and not really heartfelt, just expecting me just to accept the apology so he could feel better about his past behavior).

@Kaleidoscope- I really appreciate the comment about calling a spade a spade. In most occasions telling someone to go fuck themself would be something I would consider, though in my family of origin that happened all the time with my sister, and she got beat for it. He wouldn't do that now, but in essence you can't infer that he (or my father who has similar tendencies, and also my sister) is in any way an "asshole", or did anything wrong in anyway. So with this instance I wouldn't use fuck per se, probably something less colorful like "you're being a jerk, so stop it". To which I'm sure I would get more gaslighting and "calm down, princess, don't take it so seriously".

I guess I want to know if I end up being around him before he goes and this conversation occurs, do I go further with it if it goes that way (which I do believe it will because he'll make all efforts to make it sound like I'm taking his comments the "wrong" way).

Do I actually call out his behavior further than that and hold him accountable since he's never had to be, and if this might actually help with my depression? Or is it a better idea/safer and and effective to just hash that out with a counselor? I want to be able to solve my problems effectively, I'm tired of lingering childhood traumas.

My brother also is extremely bigger than me (has been since we were kids- a 6'6 guy, beating up on his little sisters. He also six years older than me, 8 years older than my sister. He was absolutely not happy when we were born, he was (still is) my father's "golden boy". When we came along he was dethrowned and wasn't the center of all attention anymore. He certainly reminded my sister and I of his unhappiness with the situation with his physical/emotional abuse that my father condoned, and my mother did her best to try and intervene).

I want to be happy, I want to help aliviate my issues with depression. I just don't know if confrontation is the path to do it or not.

Thank you again to everyone who has taken the time to respond. I appreciate it, so greatly. Hope I'm not threadsitting! Thanks again :)
posted by readygo at 9:51 PM on December 7, 2013

Let me throw this out. You said for a time he had stopped being this way. I think he is just falling into old family patterns.

I would just say, mildly (mildly is important!) "not funny, bro." and then put him on ignore.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:01 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

You won't get anything useful out of confronting him except more family drama and backlash on yourself.

You have no "authority" to "hold him accountable." Your idea is a fantasy. It's also unhealthy, and possibly dangerous, if you actually follow through with this in real life.

The well is poisoned and there is nothing to salvage. This isn't a movie. The dysfunction in your family runs very very deep, and no confrontation over the holiday dinner table is going to magically heal you.

It sounds like you still live with your parents, am I correct?

You don't see it because you are still deeply hooked into the dysfunction, but your reasoning here is the reasoning of someone still heavily engaged in family drama and sickness.

The only sane, safe, and healthy reaction is to make yourself scarce while your brother is around, and to quit worrying about how that come off to others.

Decline to go visit your relatives in the future without guilt or regret.

When you are healthy, you'll see what I mean. When you're healthy, the pressure, judgements. and poor treatment from dysfunctional abusers and their enablers won't be important to you or effect you in the least.

When you are healthy, you won't need to ask questions like this because you truly won't care at all about this sort of thing.

Put this issue down and turn your attention towards something positive that's just for you.

Put this issue down. That's the only way to "win" here.

Put this issue down and reclaim your life and your health.

Best of luck. I really hope you take my advice to heart.
posted by jbenben at 11:10 PM on December 7, 2013 [16 favorites]

Agree with jbenben 100%. When you get some distance this will not seem important. You won't spend any time on people like this again.
posted by 3491again at 11:59 PM on December 7, 2013

I've only made any effort with him because of his kids

Only make an effort with his kids, not with him. His kids are not him. The kids are meaningful; he's just some dude to you.

Him: "Obnoxious abusive crap."

You: Pause. Sigh audibly. Converse immediately with someone else.

Minimise the amount of time you have to spend with him; if you do have to be around him, find ways to busy yourself if possible.
posted by heyjude at 12:56 AM on December 8, 2013

Don't engage. His upbringing issues are between him and your parents. Your issues are your own property. If he acts like a jerk, disengage. Turn your back.

Anything else would only perpetuate the situation, as you describe it. Someone needs to break the pattern. Since it's not him, you're the only one left.
posted by Namlit at 1:40 AM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you absolutely have to interact with him, you really only have two options-- either ignore him or stand up for yourself.

From what you describe, standing up for yourself may not even work. He doesn't seem the type to back down despite what you say.

Personally, if your goal is to get him to interact with you differently, I'd treat it like a training type thing. Whenever he insults you, don't reply. Just get up and walk away. If he tries to get a reaction, ignore him. Don't interact with him whenever he is being antagonistic. If he makes an offhand remark that is in any way hurtful or mean, pretend you didn't hear him, a bit like a game-- for example, if he says, "I said to pass the salt, stupid!" -- nothing. Only acknowledge him and/or interact when he's being at least civil and not rude. Interact with him kindly the kinder he is to you, and whenever he slips into something rude, shut it down again.

If he calls you on it, or it escalates-- ignore him even more-- or say, "I respond better with kindness," or "I don't interact with people who are hurtful to me." And leave it at that.

Sure, they may be right. You may be sensitive. But you know what? It's absolutely okay to be sensitive. It is not something 'bad'. For the record, I don't think they're right-- I think he's abusive and uses bully tactics 'lighten up/you're so sensitive!' to cover his bad behavior. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with being sensitive, and saying, "I may be sensitive, sure, but with that in mind, please understand I don't appreciate that."

If that doesn't work, you could try the Ding Training method. However I'm not sure how well that'd work in a circumstance like this. He doesn't seem like someone who would take kindly to being called out like that.

All that said, however, I agree with the others. You really don't need that negative energy in your life. Yeah, I know you love your nephews and you wanna be a good Aunt to them, and I get it. But someone gave me a really good piece of advice once: The most important opinion in this world is your own. Because that's the one you have to live with for the rest of your life.

It is absolutely okay to walk away from someone that is bad for you, or toxic, and is making your state of mind worse. Even if it has a fallout in your family. Because the only thing that should matter to you, is how you're feeling inside. Life is too short to sit there feeling crappy or interacting with people who make you feel terrible about yourself. It really is. Besides-- when you feel good inside, it benefits everyone.

Is there any reason you can't interact with his kids outside of family gatherings? Like going to the park without him, or taking them on a picnic or something? Why does he need to be there?

But remember something-- it's his job to be kind to you -- it's not your job to yield to him or put up with him because you love his kids and want to see them. That's not how it works. You don't need to lower the bar of behavior just because you love them. Besides, he's not doing you a favor by letting you see his kids -- you're doing him a favor for being a good aunt to his kids, etc. So don't feel guilty if you need to walk away or can't endure; the onus is on him to be a good brother to you and treat you well. There's a certain standard of civility and kindness he needs to meet to make that happen. If they ask why you've distanced yourself, the answer is simple, "I'd be happy to be in their lives again when brother is not being mean to me."

Good luck either way.
posted by Dimes at 1:42 AM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

In dealing with my own family nightmares, pointing and naming things was massively helpful. Pretending that everything was fine, that no-one actually meant me harm/hated me/harmed me made a lie of everything I remembered. Calling something what it is, and condemning it was a truly transformative experience for me. After years of mealy mouthed, 'he really does love you' and 'she did the best she could' finally sitting up and saying, "He didn't" and "She didn't, either" was a breath of fresh air. Speaking your own truth and owning your thoughts and emotions is good stuff. It's helped me. Maybe it's not right for you, but I put it out here for you, just in case.

Probably you should talk about it all with a therapist or something anyway. But in the foreseeable future, what do you think about seeing all your family? Is it a happy time, anyway? Or do you come to these gatherings with a feeling of dread? I think if you don't feel pretty cheerful about seeing them all you should trust yourself and your assessment, and maybe stay away.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 1:49 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

If your parents acknowledge that you brother was bad to you growing up, but when you protest about ongoing mistreatment they feel you are the problem, then clearly they are more invested in keeping the status quo (pretending to be a happy family) than in protecting you. Whether your confront him or stay away to avoid him, you are challenging the status quo, and there will likely be pushback from your brother and your parents. The only course of action that makes sense is one where you are making a claim for your needs, and setting boundaries based on those needs, acknowledging that any change made by anyone other than you is entirely out of your control. So, what will be healthiest for you? To me it sounds like staying away from your brother would be the best thing, but that's up to you to decide.

Oh and: Do I actually call out his behavior further than that and hold him accountable since he's never had to be, and if this might actually help with my depression?
This may well help, but it's a long term project, not the work of a holiday weekend.

Or is it a better idea/safer and and effective to just hash that out with a counselor?
Highly recommended!

I also highly recommend The Dance of Intimacy, which speaks to issues very similar to yours with problematic family, and relies on the concept of boundaries and self I messily outlined above. One of the things this book emphasises is to resist the temptation to make dramatic gestures and confrontations - creating a sense of self can only come out of small, incremental actions, against the backdrop of significant family pressure to "change back". A sympathetic counsellor (who has experience in family systems work) can potentially help a lot.

Stay safe, and try to do what you need for yourself in the moment, not what others may want you to do to preserve their personal fictions.
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:22 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do I actually call out his behavior further than that and hold him accountable since he's never had to be, and if this might actually help with my depression? Or is it a better idea/safer and and effective to just hash that out with a counselor? I want to be able to solve my problems effectively, I'm tired of lingering childhood traumas.

You are a scapegoat. Scapegoats who stay in the system that scapegoats them, will always be scapegoated. Look at all the times you have said "always" and "all the time" with regard to abuse from your brother, and excuses from your parents. Your sister (who you say was the youngest, and also bore the brunt of your brother, and also called him out the most), understood this, and de-scapegoated herself.

Your brother's behavior is not and has never been because of who you are as an individual. It is because of an abusive system he was raised in, in which he never has to face up to his problems because scapegoats are available. I know how horrible this is to face; I am still working on realizing it myself with regard to my own abusive family: you're not a person to your brother. You are an accessory, a prop to which he can point and say, "it's her fault." If need be, re-read your post and your updates. Is there, at any point whatsoever, any recognition of anything about you that has to do with who you are, individually, that is not held in contempt? Your favorite foods, colors, hobbies; your qualities of compassion, sensitivity and empathy; your relationships with his children? No.

It is a horrid realization because it goes against everything families are supposed to stand for: supporting the growth and flowering of a new person. But it is essential that you realize you are not a person for your brother. (With therapy, I believe in time it will become even clearer that this is how he was raised to see the world; not only by your parents, but society's largest faults as well.) As such, decisions become much clearer, and healing from your traumas can finally take place. Because that in and of itself is a huge trauma: your existence as an agent of your own life, is reduced to "nope, scapegoat, all your fault".

Scapegoats cannot hold others in their twisted system accountable. Scapegoats do not have problems that need solved, they are the problem. The only hope a scapegoat has of escaping from such a system, is to remove themselves from it, of their own free will. This does two things: it shows, with a powerful action, that you are a person, not an object. As such, the second thing it does, is to implicitly hold scapegoaters accountable. What's their excuse going to be, now that you're no longer around to blame? However old you are, they've been spending all those decades painting you (and your sister, until she cut off contact) as the Bad Guys. Well, what's going to happen to that dynamic when both of the bad guys are gone? It's pretty hard to fill a decades-long hole. Nearly impossible, in fact. (I do worry about his children... keep in touch with them!!) Back to that first, important effect: YOU show yourself that you are worthy of being saved. You recognize that you are an individual who deserves to be listened to, and that you listened to yourself saying:
"I can't stand being in his presence anymore, because I see he hasn't changed at all and is still abusive"

Yes, yes, therapy. But not to deal with your brother. To honor yourself as the woman you are.
posted by fraula at 3:46 AM on December 8, 2013 [17 favorites]

I think not seeing him anymore is a good idea. It sounds like he doesn't visit all that often, so it doesn't prevent you from having a relationship with your parents. As for getting through the next few days, I gravitate toward the advice you've gotten to simply leave the room when he's unpleasant to you, not because you don't have the right to confront him, but because you will not get what you want from it and I'd rather not see you get yourself upset trying to repair something he doesn't seem open to repairing. I think your sense that this is about what to do over the next few days is the right one, since you normally don't spend time together, so maybe just, in your head, when you hear him say one of these unkind things, think about the people here who get where you're coming from, think "Classic Dickbro!", and maybe you'll make yourself laugh internally.

In the longer term, though, yes: steer clear. If your parents know it's inappropriate and it's happening in their house and they won't do anything about it (I wouldn't allow one guest to make another guest uncomfortable in my home), then you may have to turn down some invitations with them too. I hope you'll tell them, if you haven't, that this really feels to you like something you can't be around for your own health. Even if you ARE exceptionally sensitive, who cares? Why does the right to be exceptionally coarse and nasty in your "humor" trump the right to be exceptionally sensitive? You don't have to make them choose you, but you should always choose you.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:09 AM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you can re-frame the narrative (as in change the old family story and patterns) when you see him again...since he apologized on the phone then he knows he was wrong and treated you badly. So when he does something again, you can mention that- 'remember when you called and apologized for treating me badly? Well, you're doing it again". Also, 6'6" sounds terrifying but he is unlikely to hit you as an adult (and if he did- charge him for god's sake!).

He has kids so you can appeal to that too- saying "bro, you wouldn't want your kids to grow up like we did, right?" "So, maybe lay off, because you are being the brutal big brother again".

Ironically I just did some 're-framing' with my own visiting brother this week. We did not grow up with an abusive background in any way, but the "family narratives" and people's roles in them are very hard to break. But it's possible- if he wants to. If he can't stop his terrible behavior and is willing as a result (because that would need to be the result) to lose his other sister, then so be it.

Tell him it's not okay, and if they say you are making a scene just tell them that you refuse to be treated badly as an adult. Period. Like you say, your friends etc don't treat you like that, so why should your own family (who ideally should love you the most, although we know families are very complicated and don't always act as if this is the case) treat you worse?

You can do this. Stand up to them and set your boundaries. You will feel worse if you don't.
posted by bquarters at 6:53 AM on December 8, 2013

Perhaps you would benefit from taking a timeout from your family for some years. Go to another city, get new friends, give yourself a new start. It doesn't solve these holidays, except in the way that planning your new life can be a nice distraction.

Someone I know were in a similar situation as children and carried it with them into adulthood, as you describe it: ignored by the other family members, until one of them checked out completely, and didn't contact anyone from the family for several years. When this person returned, she was changed, and it seemed less obvious for everyone to just continue in the old patterns. She was able to talk with all involved about her feelings, and they were able to respect them. It wasn't magic, she got a lot of therapy during the entire time, and she is still insecure, but they are a much more nice family to be with today.

Personally, I'm a literal-minded person in a teasing family (not bullying), and have learnt to tell myself it's all in good fun, though I don't get it. (For instance, our dad would call us all "ugly punks", and while the others absolutely got that it was a term of endearment, I worried a lot about how I could improve myself, way into my twenties). Your situation seems completely different, so I won't suggest my solution would work for you in the long term. But I would suggest it might work for the holidays. Pretend it really is for fun, and treat it that way.
posted by mumimor at 8:17 AM on December 8, 2013

Seriously, don't hang out with him. Don't go. Absent yourself.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:19 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

If someone treats you badly, and you've made it known that you don't like it, a confrontation isn't going to do SHIT. Your option, as I see it, is to ignore/avoid him and let it be known why. Let the resentment go; if he's a full-grown adult who is this way towards his own sisters then he's a pretty pitiful human being and someone like that should have no power over you. If you tolerate bad behavior it'll continue and he'll never even imagine that anything's wrong.
posted by destructive cactus at 1:07 PM on December 8, 2013

Thanks for the responses! I think I've got my answer to what I was asking. It's hard when situations like this are related to family, because it feels these things are so ingrained in our own fibers. I was wondering if I could be overreacting, as this lingering anger toward mistreatment still retains the sensory memory of past abuse in my cells.

@Linda_Holmes- You're right, I think I'll turn down the invitations by my parents to come over and see him before he leaves.
@Kaleidoscope- As far as hanging out with family, yeah, it's a "dread" feeling, because it usually starts out pretty well enough and then ends with some drama, though things had been relatively stable and quite pleasant the last few times I did see him. He's usually with his family so I guess he's on better behavior for them or something.

I just wanted to know if it might help to heal to confront and as far as that goes, I think I will forget this situation and disengage with this person. On a side note he is (from what I see) quite a good father to his kids. This has been the one redeeming quality that had made me even think of making any effort with him in recent years (if he had a daughter though, I wouldn't be quite sure how nice he would be. Luckily though, he doesn't. He's also very attentive to his wife and she wears the proverbial pants in the family, which is shocking!).

Thank you all so much for your answers, they really did help, very much! Thanks again :)
posted by readygo at 2:11 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm glad you're feeling at peace. This is a rotten kind of situation; I'm glad you're being firm, but also glad you're not concluding he's a horrible person, only that you don't want to be around him if it's going to be like this. Seems like the right call. Whether he stops being a Dickbro is really up to him.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:40 PM on December 8, 2013

If for some reason you need to be around him while seeing your parents and he says something mean, don't ask why o talk about feelings, just keep you response factual: "You're an ass wipe, bro. Fuck off"
posted by WeekendJen at 5:17 PM on December 8, 2013

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