Skipping family Christmas party because of verbal abuse
December 12, 2017 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Should I skip my family's Christmas party this year or should I go and face my abuser? I have a very abusive uncle who also doesn’t get along with my parents so he has been verbally and emotionally abusive to my entire family for as long as I’ve known him. Everyone else in my family seems to know of his abusive nature but everyone just dismisses it as that’s who he is and no one has ever confronted him of his behavior because they do not want to become his next target.

I recently moved in with my fiancé. In my culture, people typically don’t live together until marriage but a lot of people in my family are open-minded about it and no one has voiced their concern. This uncle has been harassing me, calling me nasty names, rallying my family against me saying how shameful it is that I have sex before marriage. He also made up a bunch of lies about my fiancé when he barely knows my fiancé. I confronted him about spreading rumors about me and he got super mean and continued to harass me verbally and saying bad things about me to my family, who ignore his texts and calls but don’t stand up for me. He also continued to make up a bunch of lies about my relationship, about how I threaten to beat up his 14-year-old daughter, etc. just to get my family to think that I’m a villain. I have NEVER done any of the things he said. I’ve tried talking to my parents, aunts and uncles about everything and they seem to side with me but no one has the nerve to back me up (besides my parents, but they have no influence on him). I’m currently debating if I should go to the Christmas party with my extended family this year. I know that he might try to start a fight when I’m there. However, if I don’t go, he might think that I’m scared and that he has successfully isolated me from my family because that’s what abusers do. They isolate people. He might also be talking trash about me when he sees everyone in person and making up a bunch of lies. I’m just not sure what to do and I would appreciate your opinion on this.
posted by missybitsy to Human Relations (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
who hosts the party?
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:02 AM on December 12, 2017

And why on earth is the host tolerating this crap?
posted by Paladin1138 at 11:03 AM on December 12, 2017 [15 favorites]

This internet strangers gives you permission to NOPE right out of this.

We've had to draw the line with sketchy familial behavior too. We're open to everyone about it, in a matter of fact way "We don't attend family events where x is present. His behavior makes us uncomfortable." Repeat as needed.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:04 AM on December 12, 2017 [37 favorites]

I would tell your parents that, until they can publicly back you up against their brother/brother-in-law, you're not going to go to family events that he is at because it's hurtful to you and your fiancé. It is shameful for them to stand by and do nothing while their child is treated like this.
posted by notorious medium at 11:10 AM on December 12, 2017 [33 favorites]

However, if I don’t go, he might think that I’m scared and that he has successfully isolated me from my family because that’s what abusers do.

Who fucking cares what he thinks? He's garbage and his garbage thoughts are meaningless. You're not going to beat him or win by going. You need to remove yourself from the idea that this person can be talked out of his abuse. He's going to do his shit whether you're there or not, and nobody stops him when you're there, so let him make everyone else miserable without you.

Tell the host you won't attend if he is attending. It's unlikely, but that does open a slim chance that just somebody, anybody pushing back is enough for the dominoes to fall and everyone to decide they too would rather have this gathering without him. It probably won't, not this year, but it might plant a seed. And in the meantime, you don't have to deal with him.

And there is absolutely no excuse for your partner to ever be exposed to this, so keep that in mind as you make these choices in the future. Are you going to choose your shit uncle and family that won't help you, or are you going to choose the person who presumably doesn't treat you like that?
posted by Lyn Never at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2017 [15 favorites]

Host the party at your house. Invite the family members you like. Don't invite him.
posted by Sublimity at 11:23 AM on December 12, 2017 [15 favorites]

Don't go, and instead host something of your own for the family members you like. Is that geographically possible? It doesn't have to be a big deal -- just have everyone over for hot chocolate or something.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:25 AM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Do you anticipate consequences if he thinks he has isolated you, like him stepping up his attacks or escalating to physical threats? Are your parents fully aware of how abusive he is to you? If you feel that he is going to step up his abuse, can you talk to them about it?

If the situation seems likely to remain at "he behaves cruelly and bizarrely", I like the idea of hosting your own holiday gathering and excluding him. Then you're showing him that he is the one that is isolated - but make sure your parents or other relatives don't invite him along, that's the only thing I'd be worried about.
posted by Frowner at 11:28 AM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

My extended family won't be onboard with excluding him and they won't come over my house since we live in a tiny house and can't have everyone over. There are over 30 adults in my family. The party will be held at another uncle's house this year.
posted by missybitsy at 11:34 AM on December 12, 2017

If they won't be on board with excluding him, after you've explained your very real and grave concerns about his abusive behavior, that's their choice to make. What would be the result you're fearing? That they'll isolate you, as well? That they will gang up with him and take his side? It doesn't sound like that's your fear... and in either case, you don't need this. Especially for the sake of your relationship and your emotional well-being. Who knows? You might be the first to stand up to him by excluding yourself, and might give the idea to others for future incidents, too.
posted by knownassociate at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2017 [11 favorites]

I have this uncle. Oh, boy, do I have this uncle. He's thrown not one, but two, of his kids out of his house for having premarital sex (as college students). Strangely, he's ended up forgiving the son, but not the daughter. Hmmm....

Anyway, the advice above is right, you will never be able to beat this man in his own mind, no matter what you do. Nor will you be able to nudge him towards decency. He is in the grip of a form of toxic masculinity that is strangling his humanity to death. Such men are the human equivalent of rabid dogs. There is nothing to do but protect yourself: disengage and let him wallow in his own crapulence. Be forthright with your family about it, not as an ultimatum (which it sounds like you'd lose) but as a simple statement of boundaries.

If you can't bring yourself to do this to protect yourself, do it for your fiancee, who surely doesn't deserve to be exposed to this garbage.
posted by praemunire at 11:45 AM on December 12, 2017 [22 favorites]

Go. Why should you lose your connections with extended family because of him? It sounds as though the family basically knows this is "just crazy, mean Uncle". There will be a lot of other family for you to hang around and talk with. Ignore him. Laugh at his meanness.
posted by uncaken at 11:48 AM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Go. Don’t let him isolate you and don’t let him keep you from family events. You don’t have to tolerate it ihe says stuff, defend yourself. He’s not going to change, it’s unlikely he’ll be ever disinvited, so you do you and be there and don’t take his shit.
posted by vivzan at 12:06 PM on December 12, 2017

Oh, another track to take that might be useful in your situation (depending on your level of comfort), is to go and state clearly your boundaries once, with the caveat that you will leave if the boundary is crossed. Afterwards, you reiterate the reason you're leaving to everyone at the party (last step is optional, you should probably read the some circumstances, it causes more drama than necessary...sometimes it works really well, YMMV). Script:

Uncle "Here's something awful/offensive/abusive/racist/etc"
You "What you said* was awful/offensive/abusive/racist/etc, if you say that again, Fiancé and I are going to excuse ourselves."
Uncle "Here's one more awful/offensive/abusive/racist/etc thing!"
You "Goodnight everyone! We would have loved to stay longer, but we're leaving because Uncle cannot keep himself from saying awful/offensive/abusive/racist/etc things."
Then you leave.

In my family dynamic this was super usefull, but you gotta commit to the leaving. Even if you were only there for 5 minutes, you gotta tap out and follow through. This is like training an ill-behaved puppy.

*always What Person Did, not Person. Small detail, but very disarming. "What you just said is racist" is miles apart from "You are a racist."
posted by furnace.heart at 12:09 PM on December 12, 2017 [30 favorites]

Skip! Your uncle is acting like an asshole and the rest of your family is acting like a bunch of assholes by allowing it. Why would you go to a party populated entirely by assholes? Be sure the rest of the family knows that you aren't coming because of your uncle's behavior and, more importantly, because they don't have your back.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:29 PM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

I was going to suggest exactly what Furnace.heart said - it is the perfect compromise between "skipping altogether" and "going but gritting your teeth".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I want to say that I would refuse to attend (and also tell every single member of the family why I was refusing to attend), but I would likely go and record him being a huge shitstain and then make a greatest hits video of him being an asshole and send it to the whole family every holiday until the end of time, so they can't pretend they don't know what he's doing or that they didn't see it happen or whatever.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:37 PM on December 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

It makes me too sad to think of you missing a family holiday party because of this jackass. Go and pretend he’s not there. There are 30 other adults there. The more he says the more people will understand he is crazy. Don’t let his crazy control your life.
posted by vunder at 12:49 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think no one is sticking up for you because they know if you all ignore it he'll move on to someone else to bully.

They are helping you by encouraging you to ignore this entirely. Do that.

Your family, for whatever reason, won't kick him out of their lives over this. They are wrong, but I don't know how you can thus far change their minds. I think you should go and not react. Or you can disown everyone now. IDK. What do you think??
posted by jbenben at 1:02 PM on December 12, 2017

Life is too short. It is too short to put yourself and your loved ones through more BS than necessary. Another vote for skipping the party. (I don't have your uncle but can relate regarding super-unpleasant holidays due to terrible behavior from our supposed grown-ups and elders...)

And what does your fiancé think about the situation?

If you don't want to be completely cut off from the party, how about Skyping in or calling your family during the party with your holiday greetings? Include your fiancé. It would be a way to keep in touch with everyone and "pay respects"--and to (indirectly) counter your uncle's attempts to tarnish your reputation (who are they gonna believe, your abusive uncle or the lovely couple who just called in?). You can keep the call as short as you want, then go spend a lovely Christmas with your fiancé.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 1:04 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Whether that is "Just him" or not; it doesn't make it okay. They're accepting it doesn't make it okay either. No one should spend their holiday in an uncomfortable situation if they can help it. I vote skip it. Your parents should understand and if they don't, they're part of the issue here.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 1:19 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

*always What Person Did, not Person. Small detail, but very disarming. "What you just said is racist" is miles apart from "You are a racist."

Do I sense some Jay Smooth in this response? In either case I agree. Go, be ready to leave, 1 warning made completely clear that it's not hyperbole (ideally within hearing of other adults), then do what must be done.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:02 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had this uncle too; he's dead now. I used to go to these functions most of the time rather than miss out on seeing other people who would be there. On a few occasions I told him off matter of factly, something to do with how I came to enjoy myself and not to go through this stuff with him again. Once my father overheard, and, to my astonishment, emailed me congratulations at having handled the situation so well. My inclination would be to go, see the people you want to see and leave early if necessary. But you would totally be in the right not to go at all.
posted by BibiRose at 3:24 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Should I skip my family's Christmas party this year or should I go and face my abuser? I have a very abusive uncle who also doesn’t get along with my parents so he has been verbally and emotionally abusive to my entire family for as long as I’ve known him.

In your place, I would do the following:

1. Don't go, and tell your family that your asshole uncle's ridiculous aggressive behaviour is the reason. Be honest about what he is doing and don't hold back. You owe him nothing.

2. Arrange to see your family at other smaller events and don't invite the asshole uncle. Again, if your family asks why, be honest.

3. Block your asshole uncle on all channels. If he approaches you, tell him "I will not discuss this with you" and walk away or hang up. Abandon all notions that he is due any deference or respect, just cut him our of your life. He's nothing to you now. His opinions are meaningless. You no longer need to think about him.

YMMV, and of course you know your family best. But it sounds like you have plenty of decent family members that you could spend your time with instead of wasting brain space on this fool. If he checks himself, then you can reassess.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:45 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

You're engaged. You need to cut the uncle out now, by not attending, or the 30-some-odd, already-unsupportive adults in your family are going to pressure you to invite him to your wedding. Take your stand now, with your fiance, and be clear about your reasons. Go do something else pleasant on the day of the party (day trip to nearby tourist destination, nice dinner out, theater tickets, whatever) and post happy pictures if your family follows you on social media.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:28 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Don't go, and make it clear as you go along in your life, you are not interested in your incestuous uncle' s opinions. He is incestuous because he intrudes in extremely personal matters that are no business of his, thereby imitation intimacy that is not there. Your uncle has to be put in permanent time out, with regard to your private life. He is incapable of maintaining boundaries. Patriarchy sucks. It enables turds like this to thrive, to lie about on pedestals of their own making. Do not go. Find another way to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and enjoy your loving relationship.
posted by Oyéah at 7:42 PM on December 12, 2017

This all depends on how conflict averse/eager you are. I really like the idea of going, so he doesn't win, but being prepared to leave when he gets abusive. And making sure you say 'hi' to everyone you want to say 'hi' to before you leave. And saying "Loved seeing you, gotta go because abusive uncle is being abusive."

Go, when he starts in, start streaming "STOP, STOP!!". Repeat as necessary.

Go, and when he starts in, throw a glass of water in his face!

Hover near the host uncle and/or his wife and when abusive uncle starts in, say to host uncle "Please ask him to give it a rest".

Ask abusive uncle "Do you really think that if I moved out from living with my bf/gf/so, the world's problems would be solved? How would that help?"

Ask him to name the top 5 problems in the world today. Ask him where the Opioid crisis ranks; engage him on your terms, not on his.

Tell abusive uncle "Hate the sin, love the sinner".

Ask abusive uncle "WWJD?"

Bring and hand out to all the guests a 100 little slips of paper saying "Uncle ..., give it a rest!". Ask them to hand it to him when they hear him being abusive.

Start recording him.... tell him you'll need it for the restraining order.

Bring a taser.
posted by at at 11:35 PM on December 12, 2017

poffin boffin: I would likely go and record him being a huge shitstain and then make a greatest hits video of him being an asshole and send it to the whole family every holiday until the end of time, so they can't pretend they don't know what he's doing or that they didn't see it happen or whatever.

Record him. Tell your family loudly and clearly that you will be making this video public on your Facebook and on all of their timelines, with added narration describing how they are failing you, so that all of their friends will see what they are allowing to happen to you. Then do it right there and then.

Public shaming most likely won't work on your uncle, but it may well work on the rest of your relations and force them to cut ties with this asshole.
posted by tzikeh at 2:50 AM on December 13, 2017

I have been there, and boy ever I have some words about it. TLDR: Set the goal of silencing the bad uncle and re-frame the relationship in the family.

Recording him will likely be perceived as an act of aggression, and unnecessary because the audience for the fight is your family, not social media, and your family will be right there. And bad uncle will certainly start a fight with you because he is trying to get your family to think that you are a villain. And he's likely trying to paint your fiance a villain as well. You need to decide now the hard choices. That way if it comes up in conversation you know your decision and where you stand and where you are willing walk without hesitation. Don't issue ultimatums, always execute hard decisions immediately, be strong and don't waiver. Never make it a choice between you and bad uncle, or give bad uncle chances or a count or a warning. He's not a dog or a child, he's an adult that should keep his opinions to himself.

First you need to seed your family with your position. Even if this is not entirely true make it clear that your fiance is interested in fostering a relationship with your family and wants to be a part of this christmas event. Do not put your partner in the position of getting blamed for any of this, its your family and your decisions. It is essential that you your family understands that it is your choice to go or not or leave. In front of your family your fiance's only position is supporting you and your ONLY position is supporting them. You are a team and you are doing this together, the uncle is trying to put a wedge against your fiance so you need to ensure that there is no evidence the fiance has any reluctance or reservations about "family". Sample script:
"Fiance has a great relationship with their family (or their elders etc) and really wants me to have a great relationship with mine". This works even if the fiance has a terrible relationship - "fiance has a terrible relationship with their family and it's really important that we make this work, we're the only family they've got".
Boom- everyone loves orphans. This script implies that you have the reservations. Which you do. Cause uncle sounds like the worst. Don't give them any room to judge your fiance so never ask for an evaluation. Remember, they raised you and you are now off making the best go of it you can, so it's always, and only, a question of how your family supports your plans.

Two: allies. Asking your family to recognize and deal with bad uncle hasn't happened, because that is too great an ask. And they aren't going to take your "side", and he is not going to apologize for being a terrible thing. So aim for a detente, aim to silence the uncle and remove his audience. This means that you are telling everyone you are not going to fight - but retreat. In reality its a tactical retrenchment. If you need an excuse to call everybody you need to just call the host and volunteer to help with something, arranging deserts or a white elephant or something. Don't half ass this if you go this route. Then I would start with sharing with your family that you are tired of his opinions. Not tired of him, just tired of having to hear him. Because this is who he is and they are likely much more tired of it. Sample script:
"I really hope uncle bad lays off me. I am just so tired of bad uncle telling me I'm a bad person and that [cite specific]. I don't want to fight with him, I've told him to leave me alone and that I'm not going to change. I feel like he is going around spreading rumors about me. It makes me feel like everyone is judging me at these events. I just really want to see everything I love about my family."
Yes, use the holiday spirit.

Now for the asks: " Why can't he just leave me alone?" Be specific. "Tell bad uncle to just leave me alone." Now put them in your seat so directly ask them essentially what you asked us "Would you go and get yelled at by bad uncle?" And this one really listen cause it will tell you where they are with bad uncle. If they say no, they wouldn't go, then you are courageous for going and getting abused. And ask for support and tell them that you are going to them, when bad uncle is bad note that you are going to come over and play cards. A tactical sideways move. If they say they would go ask them how they would deal with bad uncle - and drive for specifics and bad uncle's history: "when your spouse met bad uncle how did you deal with him?"

Third: the confrontation. Yes you've told everyone you are not going to fight. But you are going to be prepared for an argument, because you have to, because your bad uncle hasn't stopped arguing with you yet, and you've all ready confronted him! And you should practice because how it is delivered matters a much as what you are trying to verbally say to him, and not just him but your family. You don't have to wait until the holiday party, you can call him on the phone. In either case get your allies in the room. For the phone get your parent this idiot is related to there and tell them they need to help you, and they don't need to "take a side" but just be your witness, call him up and put it on speaker phone. On the phone be as plain spoken as possible: "hey uncle bad I've got your brother here on speaker phone and I wanted to talk to you about the holiday party".

Repeat some of his argument back to him, and this is important because it demonstrates you understand and have heard him.
"you told me it shameful to have sex before marriage, you've called me nasty names and said xy about fiancé."

"When you say those things I feel like you are bullying me, and you need to stop harassing me."

You know your bad uncle and he might be best dealt with by offering one last time for him to say his opinions, but egggggh, I wouldn't volunteer for more abuse.

The ask- "are you done because I never want to hear about this again." Or "I want you to promise not to harass me at the holiday party."

Alternate ask: "This party is a chance for you to get to know my fiance and it's important to me for my fiance to see everything great about my family."

Trust your instinct - if you decide to drop the party just drop it and make it clear why. Bad uncle is unreasonable and I am not going.

Even if you call on the phone, and they pinky swore to be a decent person practice what you will say in person. Neutral and tired is the tone you are aiming for. Once again, allies (even if they aren't picking sides) are key so "Hold on - I need mum to be here."
Start off the same as the phone- and the practice should help keep you centered and neutral, and focused on your objective- a quiet uncle bad. If he insists on continuing be blunt and clear.
"I have heard your opinions, I don't need to hear them again."

"Everyone has heard your opinions" And remember, the point isn't if your family agrees with him, only that he's quiet.

"I don't care what you think, I'm not changing." Or "This family raised me this way and this is what I am"

"What you are saying is hurting my feelings."

"You've embarrassed me in front of my fiance."
If it's time to go just decide it - never ask your fiance for permission or their opinion, just "we need to go" and then recenter the conversation on wishing everyone else, but bad uncle a festive party, even if you don't mean it and even if you just want to tell him and everyone off. When folks ask you to stay have a response ready for that - "I tried but why would I stay and get harassed by uncle bad". or, "I wasn't raised up to take abuse" or go nuclear and just keep an offhand - "I'll keep in touch, I wouldn't want you only seeing pictures of my wedding or the next time we visit is for someone's funeral".

Good luck.
posted by zenon at 10:19 AM on December 13, 2017

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