Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Familial Bullies

Earlier today I had an issue with a family member. Something was taken out of context and it has now been resolved and I have no hard feelings towards this person. My purpose in writing this is post is not to shame them but to examine my reaction and the logic and beliefs that lead to that reaction. And explore my feelings regarding feedback received on my reaction. So maybe I can sleep. 

I'm going to say things that are going to tick people off bc I am going to admit to a shocking fact: Like any other large group of people, my extended family contains a few bullies. That's not what we call them but that's what they are. 

I was taugh as a child the correct way to react to these bullies is to not react. "They can't get your goat if they don't know where it's tied". And any reaction to a familial bully was regarded as failure. Either it's your fault bc you let them get your goat, or you stooped to their level by responding at all, so shame on you. You should know better and do better. Double shame if you stand up for yourself in a public forum. How dare you make the family look bad (bc bullying in public doesn't look bad at all). 

And then you tell every single other person in the family and all of your friends what the bully did rather than actually discuss it with the offender to their face or call them on it. And everybody you tell is properly horrified hearing about how you were mistreated so your feelings get external validation from the whole world but not the bully.

Now here is the fun contradiction: I was also taugh that you should stand up for yourself to bullies at school. That was good. Particularly if it was physical.  But somehow doing the same thing at home is bad and wrong. 

Or maybe it wasn't so much "with family" as it is if the bully "uses words". If they're using words to beat you to death, you should just take it bc you're better than them. But if they use fists by golly punch 'em right back and harder. 

Now that I say this out loud it's amazingly backwards. 

But I digress. 

I've watched this pattern w my family for the last 30 years. I have decided it's grossly unhealthy. (Why yes I do have a keen mind for the obvious). Most of my extended family refuses to be in the same room w the rest of the family for anything less than a funeral. The majority of them moved as far as possible from the rest and regard it as an excellent mental health choice.

I completely understand their rationale but I do think that it's sad. 

The rare few that have managed to maintain relationships with the difficult members of the family have been the ones that actually vocalize and are willing to challenge the bullies head on. 

Well, there's one other option for those that stick around and that seems to be a couple who embrace their victimhood, learned helplessness and codependence, if we are calling it like it is. And today we are. I feel for them deeply and hope they get some therapy bc it's miserable to live in that place. 

I've done a bit of all three. I started in the last group but thankfully got enough therapy and self esteem to get out of it mostly. I used to be a serious doormat. 

I've flat out walked away for extended periods of time w my extended family relationships. I justify it as a mental health practice but I don't like it. 

Bc at the end of the day these are people I love who are important to people who are important to me. And for better or worse there is an attachment there and it makes me sad when they are sad and lonely and don't understand why they are all alone. Bc they didn't get taught right. And they don't know how to have a healthy relationship and they're never gonna know if somebody doesn't teach them. 

So basically, my compromise is this: I'm willing to stay in contact, on a more limited but not completely alien basis, but I'm standing up for myself. Every time. I'll deflect and keep it brief if at all possible. I want assertive but not drama. But if challenged, I refuse to back down. I believe in fighting fair so no name calling or insults, and rational arugement is required. And I will stand up for myself even if it means doing so in a public forum. Bc every time I've backed down, I've regretted it later.  

(This is not to say that every person I stand up to is a big bully and I'm always right). 

I dealt with quite a lot of bullying in middle school and high school. For years I diligently did my dead level best to do as I was taught and not let them get my goat and when they did, I blamed the victim, me, for allowing it to happen.* I cried a lot of tears at home. 

The thing that actually worked? Challenging them head on. When I stood up for myself, they backed off. They never did it again. 

Granted w a social bully it's a bit easier bc I don't care if I decimate the relationship. I shouldn't decimate them personally bc I don't want to be a bad person and they're children of God too. Even if it's gratifying...

But I think it takes more careful finesse when it's family bc you don't just want the bad to stop, you want the good to take its place. So scorched earth tactics are probably not your best bet. 

I get an interesting mix of reactions to my compromise. Some cheer me on. Some have almost a crab bucket reaction- I'm shamed for stooping to their level by reacting to verbal bullies. How dare I challenge the status quo. Some tell me I shouldn't bother. I can't change anything. 

But as much as I hope I can change things, it's more about being okay with me than it is with changing them. I have no control over them. If I give up and walk away, I give up an important part of me. I think my role in this life is to love, nurture and teach as best I can. It's hard to do any of those while shunning people. 

I refuse to go back to the crab bucket and become a door mat once again. I have to stand up for myself. It's hard. It's not my first reaction for myself even if it's my very first reaction for somebody else. 

So maybe I will have a positive influence and maybe I won't but I'll do it on my terms and I will endeavor to model positive, healthy boundaries for my kids. 

And that's something I can live with. 

*I think it's grossly wrong to blame the victim when they shouldn't be hunting your damn goat in the first place. That said, yes do try not to let them know your weak points if at all possible bc there will always be bullies but we don't have to make the butthead's job easy

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