Big gulp, sighs and groans.
This is not an easy post to sit down and type. As I sit here, there is a bit of trembling and trust me, I have paused many times to consider if it’s worth it or not. But I have come to the conclusion that it is, in fact, more than worth the negative fall-out to share my thoughts with you on a subject that few are willing to engage:Bullies in the family.
Setting boundaries with family is a necessary and yet painful part of life. Easy sometimes but more often than not, boundaries are hard to set and even harder to maintain. Especially with family.
I love watching Parenthood on NBC. Oh man, that has got to be one of the best shows on TV. It’s real. It’s gutsy and they tackle everything parents, kids and inlaws have to deal with. Ideally, we might all have parents like Zeek and Camille(wouldn’t THAT be awesome??) who regularly host family dinners, offer wisdom without pressure or arrogance and love unconditionally all of their daughter-in-laws,son-in-laws,grandkids and friends of all of them. They are gracious and tender, funny and annoying, and always engaged. But, sadly, that’s a TV show and not reality for many of us.
Reality for some of us may make your skin crawl. It sure does mine. Some of us have , shall we say: colourful characters in our family trees. Now, colour can be a good thing. It can actually be great! But when the colour turns grey or black and sheds a cloud on every gathering, then I’d rather turn in my crayons for a one-way ticket outta Dodge.
In some families, there are bullies. And they’re not just pick on you because you’re the youngest or the shortest or have the worst mullet kind of bullies. No, there are actual family bullies who pick physical fights with their own kin, steal, threaten, belittle, judge, gossip about and undermine for years and years and years. And worse yet, there are abusive bullies. Verbal, emotional, physical and even sexual.
Oh Lord….I pray for the poor children and wives and husbands and grandkids who are being abused right now. Give them strength to leave. Help them to stand up and say “no more!” Bring them to a safe place physically and emotionally and protect them from any further pain…..amen.
I just needed to do that…because, I’ve been there. I’ve seen things and they’re so wrong. And at one time I was too shy and too young and too naive to believe that there were evil people in families. I have been blessed in my own family. I have been safe and loved and always cared for and it is unfathomable to me that many of my dearest friends and closest loved ones have endured horrible things at the hands of the very ones who should be loving and protecting them.
The sad thing is, in families especially, when boundaries are broken and lines are crossed there seems to be a collective disregard for reality. It is sometimes easier to ignore the truth and trade it for the familiar. And then, we all become enablers. And bullies survive and thrive for years because of their enablers. If you don’t say anything. If you don’t stop them. If you don’t speak up and say “no” or “enough”…the bullies are empowered.
Especially when children are involved, setting boundaries with family members to protect your children from being compromised or hurt is crucial.
Boundaries with children should include(but are not limited to): not being forced to hug or kiss an extended family member JUST because they’re family. I cannot tell you how gross and uncomfortable it is when an older man in a family forces himself on children because he feels he has a right to them by blood relation. If a little kid doesn’t want to hug an auntie or uncle or grandma or grandpa, then they never should be forced to.
Teaching our kids to respect older family members is great but expecting them to love and giggle, tickle and wrestle with someone they’ve rarely seen is silly. Every kid will respond differently but no child should ever be forced to show affection for an adult they barely know.
Recently my husband and I had to make a stand that was 20 years in the making. Long overdue but I guess we somehow thought things had changed or might change. The reality is: we were duped.
For many years we awkwardly forced ourselves to endure visits and unknowingly placed our children into an uncomfortable situation too many times. Gut instincts? Oh , they were there. But you know, when it’s family you talk yourself out of listening to your instincts. That is SO WRONG. God gave us radar as moms, dads, men and women to know when something isn’t right. And although I knew it, my husband did not and so I trusted that everything would be okay. It wasn’t.
Do you know that I don’t have one single memory that is good of going to my inlaws’ ? Sad. Christmases, summers, weekends, holidays~ so many missed opportunities to build lasting memories for our children. And all we have to show for it is a wake of destruction marked by deception, lies, gossiping, verbal confrontations, inappropriate physical contact between adults and children and witnessing the destruction of marriages and homes. You fool yourself. You want it to change and you hope and pray and expect that it will. And it never does.
And finally, one day, my patience and my naivety disappeared and that was the day my husband was struck by his own dad. He was abused as a boy and a teenager. But not since leaving home had his dad ever raised a hand to him~ until this past November. And the bully who always was there, reared his ugly head. My husband could have retaliated. And he could have submitted. Both were the expected outcomes as that’s how this family has operated for decades. But he did neither. Instead, he defended me and his children. He walked away and he said “no more” . Enough is enough.
Some bullies will always be bullies.
Even if they’re your family~if they abuse you verbally or emotionally or hold something over you as a threat to make you submit ~they are bullies. Small, pathetic bullies.
And the defenders~the enablers~ they’re bullies too.
If you don’t stop it, you’re just as bad.
Our family took a stand. We’ve lost a family we never really had. But my husband lost the only family he ever knew. All because the bully wants to win. The bully wants to feel strong and fierce.
The bully rarely apologizes. We wait. It might take a long time and it might never happen. The healing has only just begun for us but for the bullies, what do they have? Winning? Dominance? Threats? Violence? These are their constant companions and they have likely already moved on to their next victims~because that’s what bullies do.
You may think that an abusive person is not a bully or a bully isn’t an abuser. But they are one in the same. Bullies abuse others for power. It’s all about control. And yes, maybe the bully was himself bullied….or abused. But that is no excuse to continue the cycle. And there is simply no excuse for defending a bully or protecting them. The bullies become powerless when they are called out and forced to face what they have done.
Today is Pink Shirt Day. Wear a pink shirt in support of the movement to be kinder to one another and stop bullying once and for all.