Verbal Abuse

30 Jun

Letterbalm Yelling Man's MouthDear LetterBalm: My younger sister and I are close, but we live in different states, and she usually visits me. I recently stayed with her and her family for a weeklong visit. I hadn’t seen her husband and two teenage sons for several years. I was horrified at how they treated her. They kept up a steady stream of snide comments and laughter about her appearance, her housekeeping and her weight. They mocked her for having a part-time job, and they ordered her around to wait on them. I didn’t hear a kind word once. Her husband was the worst. My sister said to let it go. She told me this is how they are, and she endures this all the time. Is there anything I can do?

–Horrified in Harrisburg

How sad your beloved sister is being treated so disrespectfully by her family. Her husband is the ringleader of this sorry bunch; he’s doing his sons no service, and he’s abdicating his role as their father. Ms. L.B. notes that they are modeling their appalling behavior on his, with no consequences.  Since there’s no suggestion that she’s being physically abused, you can speak up the next time you visit them, in front of your sister and her husband. It’s important that your nephews know that at least one person close to their mother is on to them. They can’t blame her for telling family secrets because they were badly behaved in front of you. Be polite but firm (and privately urge your sister to enter counseling to help her develop confidence):

I am happy to see you again, but I must say something about the way you treat your mother. You may not realize it, but your behavior makes everybody around you very uncomfortable and upset because it is disrespectful, hurtful and unkind. Your mother works hard to give you a good life, and she deserves respect. How would you feel if somebody came along and mocked you and talked trash about you in front of the whole school? Why do you do it? You’re certainly old enough to know better. Did you ever think that you might be acting like spoiled little boys, not like real men? [To your brother-in-law:] None of this behavior is remotely funny or positive. It is abusive, and I expect better from you as their dad. Now, I don’t think we have to say anything more about this. Who wants to help me set the table for dinner?


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