Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tell Me About It: Stand up to family bully

Question: At family gatherings, my brother's wife puts my brother down with negative comments, says indirect, hurtful comments to her son's girlfriend, and is, in general, denigrating to other relatives. My mother has started to speak up when my brother's wife says something negative about my brother, which appears to have brought on comments from my brother's wife about how difficult my mother is and how she should go to a nursing home because of her age. (Both of these comments about my mother are utterly wrong.)

My sister and I are trying to figure out how to not enable these situations and also, how to not engage in her negative behavior. We don't think avoiding family gatherings is an option. Should we set boundaries? Should we ignore her? We need help with how we should handle ourselves to make our family gatherings more pleasant.

Answer: No one has your mother's back?

When she draws your sister-in-law's wrath for speaking up, the answer isn't to leave your mother hanging out there; that's some thanks for her courage. You need to denounce the negativity, openly, and stop making it so easy for your sister-in-law to dismiss your mother, or brother.

The key to any bullying situation isn't the bully or the victim. It's the witness. When witnesses stand up, step in, say - in word or deed - that nastiness won't be tolerated in this crowd, then bullying stops.

When witnesses cower or shrug, or when no one supports the brave ones who do step in, then the bully gets a clear message: "Carry on." Declining to engage is enabling her.

So, please stop wringing your hands and respond to every negative blast, direct or otherwise, with a firm message: Not here, not now, and not to my family. If you're concerned that it will put your brother in a worse spot, remember, he isn't his wife's only victim, nor is your mother. The wife's negativity poisons the shared air of your family gatherings, and every single one of you has standing to suggest she take her hatefulness somewhere else.


E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax.
Carolyn Hax
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