#917: “How to set boundaries with people who think boundaries and hurt are manipulative? AKA Help implementing boundary advice?”

Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.

The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?

For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:

>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””

In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’

Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.

Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.

– A Weary Woman

Dear Weary Woman,

Here are your 4 new best friends:

  • “Okay.”
  • “Wow.”
  • “No.”

Them: [Bigoted remark]

You: Wow. [+ maybe one of the SPLC scripts to unpack it]

Them: “It’s manipulative if you say my bigoted remarks are not okay!”


Them: “There would be no problem if you just laughed.”


Them: “Your problem is that you have no sense of humor.”


Be a broken record. Let them be offended. Let them think you’re being manipulative. Don’t engage in detail or give them reasons. If they won’t stop or escalate, say “Welp, good to see you, time to go!” & get out of there. You don’t owe them continued access to your attention. Leave the conversation and try again another day.

Whatever you do, don’t smooth it over. Let it get super awkward. Be the party pooper at the bigot party. Get a reputation for being uptight and humorless and no fun.

People have a right to their opinions, speech, and votes. You have a right to think those opinions are crap and to think less of people when they spout them. Bigots think that “everyone” thinks as they do and that their views are “simple common sense.” What bigots are looking for when they say bigoted stuff to people who (as far as they know) share their race/class/orientation/disability status/etc. is solidarity and reassurance. Deny them this reassurance and solidarity. Deny them evidence that “everyone” thinks that way. That is your power here, and it’s a pretty big one, given the way your family throws a tantrum whenever you try to use it. You’re already doing the right stuff, now it’s just about holding the line and letting be as awkward as they are making it.

If they care about your good opinion, they’ll stop saying that stuff around you. If they don’t, they won’t, and as a result, you’ll drift away from them and spend less time with them. If that happens, it’s a choice they are making. I guarantee that your folks can and do control themselves in countless other social situations, they just thought they could take their metaphorical hoods off around you and relax. Teach them that they can’t relax and that they need to behave themselves all the time.

Maybe because you spoke up a moment of self-awareness will come to them, and they will have a change of heart, but I think we should all keep our expectations about that very, very low right now and not get too invested in redemption narratives. Whenever I set a boundary here in moderation & dealing with (thankfully rare) trolling, I get pushback along the lines of “Well, with that attitude how do you expect to convert someone like me to your way of thinking?” The answer to that is: I don’t know, I’m not necessarily doing to convince you. I’m doing it for myself and for the other people who hang out here, so that we can feel safe and have the discussions we need to have. When you push back against someone’s bigoted remarks, this Thanksgiving (for one looming example) or at any other time, you’re not necessarily doing it to change that person’s heart or mind right in that minute. You’re doing it for yourself, so you can live with yourself and know that you did your best. And you’re doing it for the other people in your family, especially kids who are watching, to say, hey, I am a safe, kind person who doesn’t put up with this crap and you can be one, too.

True story: In undergrad, a professor invited Antonin Scalia (that Scalia) to our class to talk about hate crimes legislation and civil rights legislation in general. He made essentially the argument that many bigots make about this stuff – “Well, you can’t legislate people’s hearts, so why bother?” This was in 1993/1994 and I don’t have my notes anymore, so it’s not quite a direct quote that you can attribute, but he definitely said something along the lines of “If someone murders you because you’re gay or black, why can’t we just punish it like murder? Murder is already wrong enough, why do we have to saddle it with this extra burden of figuring out intent?

What he was ignoring is the way that oppression is about systems, not personal intent. Hate crimes are terrorism, meant to send a message to people in the targeted group that the same thing will happen to them. It’s not just violence against one person, it’s a threat and should be treated as one. While it would be nice if every hate group had a change of heart, what we can control is making it harder for them to do violence to people.

You can’t legislate people’s hearts, but you can hack away the culture that normalizes their behavior one plate of mashed potatoes and awkward conversation at a time. The world needs you to be awkward and make it weird.





201 thoughts on “#917: “How to set boundaries with people who think boundaries and hurt are manipulative? AKA Help implementing boundary advice?”

  1. O Captain our Captain, could we have an open thread where we spill our guts about the impending holiday minefield and see if we can’t help each other find workable strategies for surviving it intact?

    (I don’t want to hijack this LW’s comments for it, unless you think that would be appropriate.)

    1. I agree. She usually does the Happy Holidays/Not-so-Happy Holidays, but I’m ready for a “post-election-my-family-members-are-idiots” Thanksgiving open thread. Ugh. My family and I live 1,000 miles away, but it’s still going to be awful.

    2. Is there an emotional grieving period for “My family raised me to be compassionate and now they’re out-of-the-blue bigots and I’m heartbroken about it?”

      Because that’s the holiday season I’m looking forward to.

      1. oh god please, yes, i need this thread so bad. i don’t understand how the same people who raised me to be kind and considerate and think of others before myself could have been conflicted about trump vs. clinton. there was an *obvious* choice to be made here.

        1. YES, me toooooooooooooooooooooo. I am heartbroken and feel betrayed that my Christian parents could support such a terrible man. I am struggling to find the words to communicate this to them and tell them I won’t be speaking to them for a long while.

        2. THIS SO MUCH! This weekend I found out my mother hated Hillary so much she didn’t vote for her. When I pressed her for a reason she couldn’t give me anything more than a vague “I just don’t like her”. I was so horrified and upset that I cut the visit short and cried from disappointment in her all the way home.

          1. I was so frustrated during the American and Canadian elections by the number of people who seemed to be basing their vote or lack-thereof on which party leader made them feel good about themselves. Don’t get me wrong – politicians who inspire are great (we miss you Jack Layton) and I understood as well as anybody the need to oust the Harper government. But so many people seemed to be saying, “I’m voting for the Liberals because Justin Trudeau is young and cool and sexy”, rather than “because the Liberals’ policies are sound”.
            Meanwhile, too many people looked at Hillary Clinton and went, “I dunno, voting for her just isn’t really me, you know?” As if elections are about making a statement rather than doing your civic duty.
            Imagine that you have a job. Now, even people who love their jobs usually have at least a few things they don’t like about them. And some people really hate their jobs and wish they didn’t have to do them. But there is one thing about this job: it requires a certain amount of people to show up and do it on this one particular day, or the entire country is going to slide into a lake of pig shit.
            This shit is going to end up, by the way, on everybody. And the impact of landing in that shit is going to splatter far and wide, including into other countries. Some people will just get a little shit on them, which is bad enough, but some people are going to wind up neck deep in it. And some people are going to drown.
            Now you wake up on a Monday morning. Maybe you go, “Yay! I love my job!” or maybe you go, “Okay, it’s Monday, time to get up and go to work,” or maybe you go “UGH. I hate my job so much, and I detest my boss, and I have massive ethical qualms about what we’re doing.”
            Would we not tell the latter person, “Jesus Christ, all you have to do is one thing you might find kind of unpleasant for one day. You can half-ass your job the rest of the time, you can organize and form a union, you can even quit and start a new company yourself, but for this ONE DAY, get the fuck up and do your job so we don’t all wind up in the shit!”

      2. Weary fist bump. I’m ditching the family for almost all of the holidays because I don’t want to have to listen to my formerly environmentalist mom go on and on about how the moon is causing the shift in seasons (which is not, she hastens to add, global warming).

    3. I never see my family of origin on Thanksgiving because most of them are awful. But this year is probably going to mean a lot of awful family for people who don’t usually have that problem. So I made an offer on FB: Friends or even friends-of-friends welcome at my house if they’d rather not sit next to racist Uncle Al. As long as someone I know can vouch for them not being a serial killer, they can come eat my food. Not had anyone take me up on it yet, but the offer’s there.

  2. Would it be against the “no armchair psychiatry” rule to say ‘LW, you might have a case of the Your Family Is Abusive’? Because boy HOWDY red flags all over this football field.

    1. Last I checked, abusive isn’t a disease or a disorder. It’s a behavior.

      Personally I’d be in the ‘scorch the earth’ camp if someone pulled out the “your problems are only problems because you don’t react exactly the way *I want* you to!” line, but YMMV.

      1. I’m a huge fan of the awkward, pointed question – although I recognise that 99% of the time I’m in a safe place to do that – so if someone came at me with the “You’re trying to manipulate me into not saying [I]x[/i]!” my response would be a firm “You’re right. I am. Why do you think I’m doing that?” and then let the silence streeeeeeetch.

        If it’s immediate family I would add some out-loud musings as to how we were both/all raised in the same house, in the same place, at more or less the same time, by the same people, so how come I can tell these things are wrong and they can’t, hmm…?

        1. “my response would be a firm “You’re right. I am. Why do you think I’m doing that?” and then let the silence streeeeeeetch”

          I like this. 🙂

    2. It is pretty gaslighty to tell someone that their efforts to stop someone from hurting them are manipulative, isn’t it?

      1. yeah, abusers using anti-abuse terminology to mask what they’re doing and scold the people they’re bullying into compliance is A Thing unfortunately. Lundy Bancroft wrote up like two abuser subtypes that do that. (The ‘sensitive guy’ and the ‘victim’?)

    3. I was resisting saying almost exactly the same thing. I have abusive people in my family. They get really pissed when you don’t think their shitty jokes are funny. My sense of humor is fine (per, like, every single other person in my life I am not actually related to) but their privilege and lack of empathy for others is showing, knowhutimean?

  3. They’re trying to manipulate you back, LW. Trying to control you. Demanding that you react the way they want you to, punishing you for being hurt by their poor behaviour. “It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you?!” That is some gaslighting bullshit right there.

    1. Yeah. The thing about manipulative people is that they will never admit that they are being manipulative. They might however accuse you of being manipulative in turn. This is one of those cases.

      Your family, OP, is not treating you well right now.

    2. There is no”manipulate you back” here, except of course in the gaslighter’s mind. I’m sure that’s what you mean, it I think it warrants emphasis, considering the LW thinks their family has a point

      LW: my family is exactly like this. My stepfather and his family come from some serious abuse, and think that what you describe is normal. My mother is a pathetic enabler. THEY DO NOT HAVE A POINT. I just want you to really know that they don’t.

      1. True! I think I meant something more like “twist everything around and turn it back on you.”

    3. Fascinating. So when my family says something cruel to me, and I cry…I’m not just crying “out of spite?” I don’t just have to sit there and silently take it in order to show them that I’m listening?

      I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenage self that.

      1. While you’re at it, could you let teen-me know that crying because I was afraid my mother was going to harm me and/or herself, based on such vague clues as her screaming that she was going to do these things, was not in fact ‘being too sensitive’, ‘overreacting’, or ‘taking things too literally’.

        Hugs if you’d like them, particularly if you’re still dealing that dynamic.

  4. Oh Weary Woman, I’m so sorry to hear that your family is subjecting you to that kind of treatment. Setting clear boundaries isn’t manipulative (their accusations are; you’re feeling unbalanced in that moment because accusing someone else of doing what one is doing oneself is a common gaslighting technique – see also “calling out racism is the REAL racism” or “using your free speech to criticise my speech denies me free speech”), it’s straightforward and direct, and you’re not trying to control their behavior – they’re free to spout bigoted stuff all they want, though they shouldn’t do so – you’re defining the terms on which you will interact with them. If they won’t accept those terms, then they don’t get to interact with you. Their offence is predicated on the assumption that they are entitled to both your attention and validation of their bigoted beliefs, but they are not, not even because they raised you (your parents made that choice*, not you – “You owe me because I chose to procreate and didn’t shirk my responsibility to care for you,” is a very common parental manipulation strategy, and while you don’t mention it specifically, I wanted to note that it’s bullshit in case they do deploy it, given the behavior you describe).

    Speaking of meeting racist, sexist Supreme Court justices: William Rehnquist was from my home town of Shorewood, WI, and while I was in high school, our village was going to hold an assembly in the high school auditorium to present him with an award they were creating to honor people from Shorewood who had achieved prominence in some fashion. So a group of our more activist Left wing students (including me) organized a massive walkout for when he came on stage to accept the award. They canceled the assembly rather than have him face the negative social consequences of his views and actions, instead holding a private ceremony with just a dozen or so people in an office. Ironically, I was one of those people, as I was the primary photographer and photo editor for the school newspaper, and they wanted photos of him accepting the award. As I shook his hand after the photo-op, I told the sitting Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court directly to his face that he was racist and sexist and that his tenure on the court was a travesty (he didn’t respond, just dropped my hand and looked kind of conteptuous, and I walked out of the room right after that, heart pounding). I share this story a little bit to brag about speaking truth to power, but mostly to point out that even bigots with vast amounts of institutional power tend to be cowards who back down in the face of social censure – what underlies a lot of bigotry is fear, fear of the unknown Other, fear of losing power or status, fear of change, etc. If you can hold your boundaries, your family may not change their beliefs, but they might back down in terms of expressing them around you. It can be awkward or even scary, but if it helps, you can remind yourself that at least it’s not a Supreme Court justice (I’m not sure I could do the same now; the teenage sense of invincibility can be an amazing thing).

    *there are cases where this isn’t exactly a free choice for one or all parties, but being a victim of abuse or other violence oneself still does not excuse behaving in ways that are harmful toward others

    1. Much kudos to you, Johann7, for having the guts to stand up to Rehnquist; I am in awe.
      Side note, notice how the conservatives who whinge about safe spaces often create “safe spaces” where they are shielded from criticism?

      1. Oh yeah, it’s become the thing I bring up the minute they start crying about “free speech” when they get criticized for saying bigoted stuff–“Oh, it really sounds like what you want is a SAFE SPACE away from criticism of your opinions.” It has yet to fail to deliver me an absolutely poisonous look in return for that remark, but also rarely delivers a rebuttal.

        1. “Oh, it really sounds like what you want is a SAFE SPACE away from criticism of your opinions.”

          Ahahahha oh my god I love everything about that 😀

    2. First and foremost, that thing you did was awesome and I am filled with admiration.

      Secondly, sorry for the digression but I have people in Shorewood and I love them dearly but see them almost never because we live in the UK. They have had a rough year so if I give you this huge box of Jedi hugs, will you pass them on for me? You can keep one for yourself 🙂

  5. Wow, sounds like LW’s family is a lot like mine. My parents say this stuff too. Or they’ll yell at me until I cry, and then accuse me of “playing the victim” to make them look bad. Why am I going to their house for thanksgiving? I don’t know.

    1. Is there anybody there you WANT to see right now? You don’t have to go if you think it will be hellish, but if there are people you want to see, it’s good to connect with them and remind them they aren’t alone.

    2. OTOH if you are going mostly because “it’s what people do” or “it’s what I’m supposed to do,” and you won’t face financial or physical hardship by not going – it is an amazingly liberating feeling to just… choose not to do it. The day comes and there you are, happily drinking tea on your couch or going for a peaceful walk, instead of being yelled at for no reason. And you realize this moment was in your power all along.

      1. I am choosing not to go to my parents’ for Thanksgiving this year. It really is liberating, although I was dreading telling them. I went with, “I have other plans, but thanks.” (Because reasons are for reasonable people!) They reacted well when I told them, but we were in public, which was on purpose.

        I am sure my mom is going to complain to anyone who will listen, but she does exactly what your family does, LW. It is hard, but the Captain is right – you have to stand your ground and walk out if necessary. It was scary to do the first time, but my mom has never pushed my boundaries like that again knowing what the consequence would be. I have faith in you!

        1. I’m hosting thanksgiving this year because the thought of reverting to childhood patterns in the family home with dad losing his absolute mind if we aren’t normal rockwell perfect was too much to bear. This way i control the narrative and say what can and can’t happen while we’re at dinner, and since it actually is my house, i can kick out anyone who goes against what we do Under My Roof (and under my roof is an ally zone of safe speech, not a hateful place).

      2. Yep. I haven’t been to a Thanksgiving or Christmas with my mother’s family since she passed away (and I used to go nearly every year.) In fact, I didn’t see any of them for several years after she passed. When I did finally visit (not on a holiday), the visit only served to remind me why it had been years since I spoke to them. I haven’t looked back, and I rarely regret it. I miss the idea of belonging to folks who knew me when I was little, but I also realize that I never fit with them and have nothing in common with them. I wish them well…from a distance.

      3. Out on a solo walk a couple years ago, I peeked into a nearby non-denominational church’s Thanksgiving party. I soon found myself with a full plate- “take this last bit, so I can wash the bowl” and at a round table with strangers who were groaning over cranberry-stained paper plates. Around us clattered all the babies with slicked-back hair and unbending black patent shoes that one could wish for. It was the best thing that had happened to me in decades.

        1. It’s very nice when the universe sends you a quick note that you’re on the right track, isn’t it?

    3. ok look you don’t really need this but some people want/need an extra push. I give you permission to not go to them for thanksgiving.

    4. “Why am I going to their house for thanksgiving? I don’t know”

      You’re going because:

      1) maybe this time it will be different
      2) that’s what people do, right?
      3) You love them. Even though they hurt you, and mock your pain, you love them.

      If I know how awful it feels inside when your family act like that. I know the pain of loving people who pick at you until you break down, then accuse you of “turning on the waterworks”. The mockery, the disgust, the gaslighting – all because you “dared” to be emotional in the face of continuous abuse. I know what it’s like to convince yourself “This [occasion] will be different, last time was my fault, I overreacted. I’ll just laugh along this time, they don’t mean any harm!”, only to be met with the usual cruelty and bullying. You’re not the one who’s in the wrong, being emotional isn’t a weakness, and spending time with people who bully you isn’t compulsory just because they’re family.

      Trust me, I understand the cultural pressure to forgive anything and everything if the perpetrator is related to you. I know what it’s like to get baffled looks from friends or colleagues when you express dread at the looming holidays, and that feeling of inadequacy that wells up when people say things like “How could you hate [occasion]? I love it, I love spending time with my family, we do [list of fun things that don’t involve crying in a locked bathroom]]”. None of it is your fault. You’re not to blame for the lack of “Kodak moments”. You’re not wrong for being apprehensive about seeing people who make you miserable.

      Caps advice – about only going if there’s something in it for you, something worth the misery- is spot on. Time with your family isn’t compulsory, and even though the pressure to conform to social norms (like holidays back at “home”) is immense, here’s a tiny thought experiment:

      Could skipping Thanksgiving/Christmas/whatever you gather for, and the reaction that might cause, be any worse than being mercilessly tormented for funsies? Could that nagging feeling of being weird/rude/ungrateful for rejecting their invitation, be any worse than the damage that’s deliberately done to you whenever you see them?

      I have a huge pile of Jedi hugs if you need them, and I hope you won’t end up having a horrible time over the holidays.

      1. Thank you so much for this. Crying in a locked bathroom–you nailed it. That’s my childhood, teenage years, and all holidays since moving away from “home”. I’ve decided to go, because it will give me a pretty good excuse to not go for Christmas. The feeling of inadequacy that wells up when people say “why don’t you like [holiday]”: you described it perfectly.

        1. That sounds like a great plan! Think of it as your Christmas gift to yourself; a holiday without dread, without that knot in your gut as you wait for the inevitable bullshit to start. With any luck the prospect of a family-free Christmas will make it easier to get through Turkey Day.

          I wish you hope, that you can make it through your trip back “home” without too much pain.
          I wish you the strength to take their crap, knowing that it can be the excuse you need to cancel “family” Christmas.
          I offer you the solidarity fist-bumps of everyone who feels your pain, and the support of others who are bullied and abused by the very people who are supposed to love you.

          Finally – I’d like to share with you what someone told me, and what made me feel less “broken” for not eagerly anticipating time with my “family”:. That’s the knowledge that none of it is your fault. That you are entitled to, and deserving of love and respect, and that you have the absolute right to relationships not built on dysfunction and toxic behaviours. If that is too difficult for them, then they’re not worth the energy and headspace.

    5. I think the thing about ‘playing the victim’ is really relevant, at least to my experience. Despite being in my 30s, there’s a constant undercurrent to my interactions with relatives, even of the same age group, that suggests I’m not -really- upset by whatever they said or did, and I don’t -really- think the world is a worse place because they said or did it: I’m parroting some kind of party line or directive. If I use words calmly to express my upset, it’s evidence that I’m trying to control the discourse, just to make them feel inadequate, and don’t actually hold a contrary opinion to them deep down. If I become in any way agitated, it’s evidence that I need to be gently ignored or put in my place, because what I have expressed cannot be an adult opinion. And why am I choosing to parrot a party line, or let my emotions make a gathering awkward? Because, like all teenagers (I AM IN MY 30’S!) I just want to shock my elders, or glory in the negative attention.

      1. Like the Captain said, they think that everyone thinks like they do, and will use any excuse to dismiss someone else if they disagree.

        johann7 was right. They live in fear of the Other, of change, of being even momentarily wrong… but mostly, they live in fear.

      2. My family situation is not as bad as yours, but my mother does still think I’m a teenager. Like she has actually said, “Ugh, teenagers!” when I was insisting on something in particular. I was, IIRC, twenty-eight at the time. So I feel you on not being taken seriously. 😦

        1. My therapist was saying the other day that families assign labels to one another and those labels stick way after they’ve stopped applying. The bizarre act of calling a 28-year-old a teenager can only make any sense at all within that context! My own mother still calls me “the girl” and I’m a 34-year-old parent of a child who actually is, as far as I am aware, a girl.

          1. It took me until about age 35 (and some fairly drastic action, like refusing to continue phone calls) for my mom to really get past me being “the baby”. Although I give her credit for accepting it wholeheartedly once she did, and learning to rephrase how she put things. For example, anytime I went somewhere with 1 hour + driving time, she *insisted* I call her when I got home again. After our showdown, it became, “I know you’re a perfectly competent adult, but would you humor your old mother & call me when you get home?”

    6. That sounds really awful and painful. Think of it this way – even if you have no alternative plans for Thanksgiving and end up alternately watching TV and crying, isn’t that an improvement on being yelled at and crying?

  6. “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].”

    Okay, so it is really wonderful to skip through life, gaily saying my whatever comes out of one’s mouth without a care in the world. Like that kid in Kindergarten Cop, who’s always announcing that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.

    But, you know, there was once a time when I skipped gaily through life crapping my pants.

    I learned that there is a better way. Yes, it involves learning to monitor my body and pay attention to what might come out of it, which does take effort. But for that effort, I got to wear big girl underpants.

    I’m sarcastic, I know. I have a difficult time with the idea that one should be able to let one’s id run free in front of the loved ones.

    Because I love them. Therefore, I’m interested in increasing their sense of comfort and safety. So I feel like I should be *even less* of a jackass to my loved ones than to total strangers.

    Sure, it takes self-control. Because I want to crap on them even less than I want to crap my own pants.

    tl;dr – I agree with the Captain.

    1. I know you’re being sarcastic, but I think your example here could lead to some dialogue for LW:

      “Mom, if I ask you to make use of the toilet instead of crapping in my lap, am I being manipulative? Or am I simply stating that there are certain things I would prefer you didn’t do in my presence? This is no different. Your racist remarks are crappy and they stink and I don’t want them dumped all over me. Please find a more appropriate receptacle.”

      “Brother, if I step on your pinkie toe with my stiletto, and you cry because it hurts, that would not be you trying to ‘manipulate’ me into watching my step in the future. I would care that I hurt you and not want to do it again. Sexism hurts me. I am not crying AT you; I am crying because your actions are hurtful to me. Yet, it seems that all you care about is defending your right to step on my toes and blaming me for having feet. Why is that?”

      “Dad, you’re making a big deal out of this and it doesn’t have to be. If I tell you that the TV is so loud that I can’t hear what you’re saying, and I ask if you could turn it down when you’re talking to me, that is not controlling. Right now, bigotry is drowning out the conversation and it’s a major distraction for me. I am simply asking you to reduce that extraneous noise so that we can talk. That is not controlling; it is expecting common courtesy. Surely there are other people that you wouldn’t say these things to. Just put me on the list of those people. You have choices here and so do I. When you’re ready to turn the bigotry down, I’ll be glad to talk to you.”

      “Sister, if you flail around and punch me in the face, would you think that I am trying to ‘control’ all of your movements just because I ask you to be more mindful of them in the future? Would you accuse me of being ‘manipulative’ if I cry because my nose is bleeding? Would you insist that other people don’t mind being hit, as an excuse to keep doing it? I don’t think you would. So why do you say those same things when I ask you to be mindful of homophobia around me? I’m not trying to manipulate you; I’m trying to keep myself from getting hurt. I would think that that would be something you care about. But when I tell you that something hurts me, and you dismiss my feelings, and accuse me of being the problem, and then continue to do it anyway, then you can’t really be surprised when I don’t want to stand within striking distance because I feel the need to protect myself. I am telling you this because I don’t want that distance between us, because I want to trust that you don’t want to hurt me. But with the excuses and accusation that you’re making, that’s getting harder and harder to believe.”

      These family members are projecting and trying to manipulate the LW into accepting their bad behavior. LW is extending a courtesy by informing her family of the behavior that she finds hurtful, so that they have the option of not doing things that drive her away. Her family now has the choice of which is more important to them: their bad behavior or her company.

      1. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that there is a legitimate misunderstanding of what the words ‘controlling’ and ‘manipulative’ means. This will work if the family is operating in good faith, if this is a ‘oh I never thought of it like that’ situation. Unfortunately, to me, that doesn’t sound like what this is. I am admittedly biased due to my own personal history, but this really sounds like they’re defining ‘controlling’ and ‘manipulative’ as ‘you are expecting me to adjust my behavior rather than doing as I please, you are therefore Wrong and The Problem’. I know if I’d tried using these comparisons with my own mother, I’d have gotten “that’s totally different”, “you’re making it all about you”, and my personal favorites of “so you’re accusing me of (thing that is totally unrelated to the subject at hand and not the point at all)” and *especially* “don’t talk back to me, that’s disrespectful”. (Talking back and being disrespectful would automatically result in my point being immediately ignored and me being screamed at for hours.)

        If this is a situation where they’re more interested in being Right and just making the LW stop making them uncomfortable, logic will not work on them.

        1. Yeah, these are not the actions of a reasonable and healthy family dynamic. People who have that level of entitlement about other people’s attention and responses to their words will not be swayed by even the best explanations and metaphors, because it’s not coming from a place of misunderstanding. It’s coming from a place of entitlement and, ironically, manipulation. No amount of “that’s not what manipulation means” will help because to them, that very much *is* what manipulation means: “You are trying to get me to do something other than exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it.” They genuinely feel so entitled to do as they please, that they genuinely believe that asking them to stop doing something is “manipulative” and “controlling”.

          All you can really do with that type is stop engaging. Speaking from experience.

      2. I don’t know. The longer the speech, the more open to the accusation of ‘going on and on’, and the more analogies, the more room to debate whether X is really comparable to Y. Analogy War is not a fun way to spend the holidays.

        I advocate the family-acceptance judo flip: shrug and say, ‘I am who I am.’ A lot of pushiness around the right to say offensive things comes from the feeling that family should accept your ‘real’ or ‘informal’ self, and hence if someone says, ‘That’s really offensive,’ the thing to do is repeat the offending behaviour until Weary just Gets It that This Is Just How We Are. It’s confusing ‘actually accepting us’ for ‘admitting defeat’, but it happens, and demanding acceptance is at the root of it.

        So beat them to it.

        Family: Ho, ho, those silly minorities.
        Weary: C’mon, you know I hate those jokes.
        Family: It wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed!
        Weary: I am who I am.

        Bounce the Accept Me ball right back into their court. In the ideal conversation it doesn’t come into play at all, but since this is not that conversation, don’t let them force you to hold it all by yourself.

        1. I’d suggest something other than “I am who I am,” because that minimizes the evil of anti-minority attitudes that have infected this country.

          How about:

          Family: “It wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed!”
          Weary: “It is a problem whether people laugh or not. It’s racist/sexist/bigoted/etc and it’s wrong. It’s not funny.”

          1. It depends what Weary wants to achieve. If her aim is to convince her family to change their political positions, that’s one argument. But from the tone of her letter, it sounds to me like her first priority is just to get through family visits without having to listen to horrible remarks and being insulted if she objects.

            Besides that, if she’s sitting there thinking words like ‘evil’, her family are going to pick up on that, and it’s not going to help either personally or politically.

            You’re not very likely to convince someone to lose an entire set of prejudices by saying the exact right script over a dinner table. If I remember Bob Altemeyer correctly, the first step is often just showing, in a non-confrontational way, that not everyone shares your ideas. Even establishing that ‘Weary hates those jokes’ is a step in the right direction: if it can be established that it’s okay for her not to like them, that’s already a brick out of the wall.

            This is partly about politics, but it’s also partly about a family dynamic where it appears to be the received wisdom that Weary’s a hypersensitive control freak if she doesn’t like certain topics. If you’re cast in the family role of ‘the one who has issues’, nobody’s going to listen to your political insights; family roles are way deeper waters than social acquaintances. If Weary feels it’s her responsibility to change everyone’s mind, family events are all going to be tense for everyone. If she starts with ‘Be nice to the progressive at your table,’ that’s something everyone ought to be able to live with, and is probably a necessary first step to any other changes anyway.

          2. “Well, I fail to see the humor in it. That doesn’t really matter, though, because I asked you not to say that sort of thing around me. You don’t have to do as I asked, but I also don’t have to sit here and listen to you say those things.” + get up and go somewhere else. If you’re in the living room, go see if help is needed in the kitchen, or something like that. You don’t have to leave entirely, but if they keep badgering you, consider it. Also remember this: “I made my feelings on the matter clear. This is not up for discussion.”

            I know blunt declarations aren’t always the best idea, but at a certain point, you’ve tried everything else. Explanations didn’t work. Trying to be polite.

        2. “It wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed!!!”
          “I’m not laughing, and never will.”

    1. Yeah, you don’t have to feel like you’re a bad person if you hear someone say something bigoted and you speak up in the moment, but you can’t make them take it back. Sometimes just being there, and saying, quietly, “I disagree” is enough to make people feel less sure of themselves and more open to opposing arguments in the future.

  7. Firstly, thanks for an insightful & informative blog. I’ve enjoyed perusing & share when appropriate.

    Bad behaviour & constant boundary repair is wearying. I got to the point where I had to decide, was it worth it?
    Whilst there are a few family members I enjoy spending time with, I no longer visit or attend any gatherings.
    I came to the point where I realised that I could only be “in control” of myself & questioned why I was trying to please or interact with others when it made me miserable. Beyond that, nothing I did would ever suffice, especially as my values are different.
    “Alone, whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be, quite a lot!” Remember that Dr Seuss gem? I hold to that & try to fill my time with me things, that bring small pleasures.
    When people are being vulgar/ bigoted/offensive in conversation, they’re often looking for what reaction they can get. Hence: swallowed that, hook line & sinker. Don’t take the bait. If you can’t help yourself, try not to be swimming in a social setting where people fish.
    It’s hard when you want to belong, but the only responsibility you really have is to yourself & any dependants.
    Good luck, I hope things improve for you. 😊

  8. Oh, LW, I have so much sympathy for you. I have gotten up and left the room and sometimes even the house when bigoted relatives start in. They know where I stand and after several years of this they don’t bring up these topics in my presence.

    It was very sad to discover over the course of a few years how truly racist they are. They live in a red state bubble and believe everyone thinks the way they do.

    It’s gonna be awkward. It can’t not be awkward. That’s ok.

    I hope you can take care of yourself however you need to through the holidays. Lord knows that’s my quest for myself too.

    Captain, thank you so much for this blog. It’s an island of cheer in a sea of despair for me just now.

  9. [quote]What bigots are looking for when they say bigoted stuff to people who (as far as they know) share their race/class/orientation/disability status/etc. is solidarity and reassurance. Deny them this reassurance and solidarity. Deny them evidence that “everyone” thinks that way. That is your power here, and it’s a pretty big one, given the way your family throws a tantrum whenever you try to use it.[/quote]

    Oh my god, is that ever true. My husband and I have been dealing with this nonstop the whole election. We have a relative and his wife whose m.o. is, he knows he’s saying racist shit but he’s POSITIVE it’s because we’ve twisted his words and tricked him into it, and not because he’s actually racist. It makes him FURIOUS to not be able to spout racism unchallenged. He’s gotten into it with us on facebook untold times, and as he realizes the words flowing from his keyboard onto the screen are racist he becomes ENRAGED at having been made to look bad in public, and he is POSITIVE it is our fault.

    He doesn’t need any help from us.

    But anyway this week he and his wife both sent me a ton of really cruel texts and messages calling me a ton of really terrible names because Trump won and Hillary lost. In the last four days they’ve both texted me, totally unprovoked, to say that I’m a loser, hater, a liar, two faced, brainwashed by liberal media like the NYT while they send links to breitbart, and when I said those insults hurt my feelings they said it was too fucking bad, they were through “catering” to my feelings, and don’t give a shit if I’m hurt or not because they call it like it is and they’re tired of me being condescending and pretentious, and they’re positive I’m condescending and pretentious because I twist their words because somehow every time they engage me on facebook about politics they wind up spouting a bunch of racist garbage and that’s my fault somehow. Me and my liberal garbage east coast college education.

    I sent screenshots to my parents and they’re not invited to family Christmas now. I’m just disgusted.

    On the bright side, today my neighbor called me and told me to come over. He made me a cup of cinnamon tea, asked how I was doing, and then was like, “Yes, you’re devastated about the election. I am too. What are you going to do about it?” It was a perfect tough love pep talk and I’m spending tonight brainstorming ideas..

    1. This reminds me of what’s going on with a friend now. She was actually very “fed up” with politics for a long time, so I never bothered her about them. But she knew I was interested and following because I begged off a night out to watch a debate. She’d let me know she thinks interest in politics is stupid. I let her know that she’d forgotten I’d been pretty involved in politics before. When I told her it was important to me and hurtful to hear that she made loads of excuses and also said because I was on FB too much, people would think I’m obsessive. She had actually had her FB settings to see the very thing i posted ever, and was under the impression I was tagging her on everything. At any rate, instead of saying oops sorry, she continued to gaslight me. She avoided me for weeks, then told a mutual friend it was I who was avoiding her. Maybe six weeks later she blows up over some small thing I didn’t want to do and said I had thought I “know it all” and am “too good” for whatever. She really would not admit once this sort of thing was hurtful…. but pressed to answer what was the real source of the anger suddenly it was one thing I said months ago about filthy rich people wanting Trump… she’s not rich, but somehow took it personally. Instead of trying to talk about it, she exploded in a mush mash of the world problems….. cops needing bullet proof jackets, the bomb in NYC a while back, taxes and yes clown sightings. Anything to avoid the discussison of how shitty it was to imply I was uppity, a know it all or obsessive. I know her primary social circle including an abusive on again off again BF are pro Trump and she avoids politics. That’s why I never brought them up with her!! Yet the knowledge that I was interested and engaged bothers her and I think it’s worse because Hillary lost. One of her texts to me went “and what did you get for it”- meaning my efforts politically. I helped get a senator elected in NV and helped HRC get more votes than she would have.
      I thought I was okay with her thinking it’s bullshit, but this need to rub my nose in her disrespect …. it’s gone too far. Not seeing it as salvageable. Bummed.

      1. Gosh, I’m sorry to read of your pain over this. I’ve had to learn that a person who is deliberately hurtful, then flies into an attack of me at the very moment they should be apologizing, means we’ve reached the end of our walk together.

      2. I’m so sorry, EEB. I was in a similar situation myself recently. I haven’t been doing well physically for awhile now and it’s getting much, much worse. I know that I’m to blame for what’s happened as well because I didn’t want to tell my friends just how bad it’s got. I don’t want them to worry. I was only able to go outside of the front door once in 6 months, and that was to the doctors. I did say I was in phenomenal pain (in the leg I damaged in a car vraheand I’ve got an aortic aneurysm. Avoiding stress has to be a priority because if it ruptures, I’m unlikely to get to the hospital in time. I know this because it’s hereditary and my cousin’s aneurysm ruptured and killed him. He was 18.

        For a long time I couldn’t cope with visitors for two reasons. 1. I wasn’t physically able to get to the front door to let them in and 2. I was having to divert a lot of my brain function to mind over matter in order to deal with the pain. It was like acutely painful meditation. Anyway, I couldn’t talk to them coherently and deal with the pain.

        Right at the beginning of this degeneration cycle, my body was becoming a major problem and I had a long lost relative whom I didn’t know existed appear. I’m very glad that he did, but it meant me re-living a very painful part of my past because he had a right to know. So I was feeling very raw anyway. I made a passing remark to one of my friends that I was scared my body was going to sabotage my career plans (it has) and that if I could work at all, it would be soul-destroying to be so close and yet so far from my chosen career (because I’d only be able to get unskilled, minimum wage work).

        I thought nothing more of it until a few days later. I received a message which basically said it’s bad enough when a stranger insults you to your face, but when one of your closest friend does so, it’s intolerable. I asked which friend and she said me. I was absolutely astonished, stunned to be honest. I asked her what on earth she was talking about and she said that I was looking down my nose at her job. It never even entered my head, especially as I come from a long and industrious line of dustmen (garbage men) and my grandfather’s occupation is listed on my mother’s birth certificate as ‘Sewer Man’. I honestly don’t think she was gas lighting, but nevertheless, I found it really hurtful as I’m her biggest cheerleader.

        I also have to move house in less that 2 weeks, so as you can image everything here is chaotic. But I’ve been accused of deliberately isolating myself (I’m not) and most of my friends are acting as if I’m choosing to be like this. I’ve apologised to all of them for not being there for them and the amount of guilt I feel for letting them down is crushing. I’ve promised that normal service will be resumed after I leave house, even if does completely drain me. I know I need to state a bit more forcefully just how bad things are physically, but at the same I don’t want to shock them. I have to use a wheelchair indoors as well now. It’s even more annoying for me than for them that my body has bailed on me. Whether they mean to or not, they make me feel very guilty for my crappy body and I now feel I need to offer some form of penance.

        Sending you hugs EBB and hope it works out x

      3. It was too many instances like this that have led me to make a rule that I make clear to everyone:

        I do not discuss politics or religion with anyone I want to stay on good terms with.

        Period. End of story.

        Neither of those topics tend to lead to a positive result. Heading them off at the pass has prevented a lot of trouble and frustration.

  10. LW, I don’t have scripts for you, but I think this bit is worth unpacking for your own peace of mind:

    “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed”

    So: they say something, and then require you to laugh. They demand a certain reaction. They get offended if you don’t laugh or otherwise play along. At that point, who’s trying to control the discourse? Who’s using manipulation to get the other party to behave differently than they naturally would?

    It’s them. It’s always started with them.

    1. “Maybe there wouldn’t be a problem if this were funny. It isn’t.” For people who start on the ‘you just think you’re so much better’ you could reply, ‘Well, maybe I am.’ I think of the martial art of akido, where you use your opponent’s energy to unbalance them. But I’d much rather not be around people like this. Unfortunately I have a baby shower to attend, where my niece is an avowed Trump supporter. I’m just going to focus on BABY! and forget politics.

  11. “You’re trying to manipulate/control me, blah blah blah”

    “No. I am providing you with information. When you say that, it is unacceptable to me/hurts me/etc. That’s not okay and I will not accept it. If you continue to say it, I will leave. What you do with that information is entirely up to you.”

    “But blah blah bigoted rant.”

    *air, because you have walked away/left entirely*

    Yes, I know it’s not that easy. But it gets easier. You are not the problem here.

  12. When it comes to the idea that asking people to not say racist things is manipulative, I find it helpful to think about it this way. How much power do you have to “manipulate” or influence these people’s behavior?

    Are you their boss? Their parent? Do they live in your house? Do they depend on you for money or help? Do they actually feel controlled by your approval or disapproval of their actions? (It sounds they don’t care all that much about your disapproval, or they wouldn’t be telling you to just learn to take a joke.)

    The power you have over them– the power to say you disapprove, to be a “wet blanket” on social situations, to visit them less often or cut off contact with them– they have equal power to do those same things if they decide “don’t make racist jokes” is too high a price of admission for spending time with you.

    To me, that brings this situation pretty far away from “manipulation” and towards “people asking each other for things”. Because you’re right, it’s inevitable that people sometimes “”manipulate”” others in the sense that, you have needs or desires that require other people to do something, so you ask people to do that thing for you. Everyone who isn’t a complete hermit sometimes needs things from other people. The difference between that and actual, harmful manipulation comes from (a) how much of an imposition your request is, and (b) how free they feel to say no.

    Not telling racist jokes *when you are around* is really a pretty minor imposition. And you not laughing, or saying “that’s racist”, or not coming to family parties as often, are not horrible world-ending consequences. They *feel* like what you’re asking them is a big unreasonable imposition and what they’re asking you is reasonable and easy, because racist jokes are the status quo for them, but that doesn’t make it true.

    I think the crux of the problem is that for them to understand this situation as, at minimum, a conflict where both sides want something, rather than as “manipulation” where you’re imposing arbitrary rules on them for no reason, they’d have to recognize that having to hear racist stuff hurts you and that your hurt feelings are a problem they should take seriously. And it’s probably unlikely that they’ll recognize that. But I hope that at least *you* can feel confident that you’re not being manipulative, you’re not asking something unreasonable of them, your suffering in silence is doing *them* a favor and you’re not obligated to keep doing that.

    1. huh. that kinda makes sense of some things for me… like, even seemingly small requests can freak me out when I don’t feel like I’m allowed to say no. Whether I’m correct about that is besides the point; it affects my emotions regardless. And if I’m low on spoons, something that would normally be small can still be too much for me – so not only are there two ways for something to be objectively unreasonable, there are two ways anxiety can try and beat me up too. “I can’t and I have to” is often at the root of a meltdown for me, whether it’s triggered by my own mind or someone else or both.

      1. Try remembering this: while they are free to say what they want, you are similarly free to not stick around and listen to it. This is not your fault; you didn’t introduce the awkward & discomfort to the situation. The speaker did, despite knowing your feelings on the matter.

        In a way, it comes down to basic good manners. A polite person does not deliberately take action to make a situation uncomfortable, at least at a general family/social get-together. It’s called courtesy.

  13. My grandma’s favorite comment whenever I say “stop” is “oh, I can’t say anything in this house anymore, I should just shut up” and then proceed to shut me up by going on about how much she has to shut up now

    1. Oh I hear that one a lot. I usually respond with silence, “ooookay,” or something like “You’re allowed to say whatever you like, but you know I might not give the reaction you want.” If you feel really sassy, a good ole “Sorry you feel that way,” is pretty satisfying without being too combative. My patience for that line of conversation is wearing quite thin nowadays.

  14. Ah, LW. I can relate. For those of us operating in Trumpish environments, the carefully-scripted phrasings can come across as passive-aggression and weird, holier-than-thou elitism. If I used the SPLC lines or a phrase like “boundary-setting,” my family members would look at me like I’d grown a third eyeball. And not all of us are ready to alienate our whole families even if we do disagree with them politically.

    I have different advice:
    (1) Fight their humor with your own humor. If you get a bigger laugh, you win the interaction and aren’t seen as the priggish “PC police.”

    (2) Point out contradictions in their thinking, just as part of normal conversation rather than as an explicit “boundary-setting” move.

    (3) Change the subject in a non-sanctimonious way, like, “Aww, do we have to get into all that again? Let’s talk about something else.”

    (4) Just start to rudely zone out when they start up a racist tirade… “Uh-huh… oh… [check phone]… interesting… huhhhh…” Gradually they’ll taper off when they see you seem bored and aren’t engaging.

  15. My preferred tactic for racist ‘jokes’ from people with very thin skin is this: Don’t laugh, don’t acknowledge it as a joke, just keep looking at them like they said something nonsensical or like you’re expecting them to finish a sentence. When they ask why you’re not laughing, say ‘Oh, well, it wasn’t funny’ or ‘I don’t get it’ If they’re hoping to either get an affirming laugh or an opportunity to get mad at your for being the mean PC police, it gives them neither. If they ask you why you didn’t laugh (and if you can manage it or have the energy to get into it), you get an opportunity to blandly & directly tell them why you don’t agree, where it will be harder for them to get on your case, since they *did* ask.

    On the other hand, these family members sound really unpleasant and really determined to *make* you agree with them (or at least pretend completely whenever they’re around you). There may not be a way to effectively set a boundary, because you’re already doing everything right and they’re refusing to treat you with a little basic decency. Give yourself a pass for having tried to be reasonable, and do what you need to do with the information that they refuse to be reasonable back.

    1. I particularly like “I don’t get it”, especially said as cheerfully as possible. People tend to fumble explaining their bigoted jokes.

      1. I used to use that technique too. Works a treat on good people who thoughtlessly repeated a sexist or racist joke. Not at all on sexists and racists.

      2. I’ve done this. I find it works really well with a bit of wide-eyed innocence thrown in. People start stuttering and looking confused and suddenly they change the subject to ice sculpting or pie crust.

    2. Disclaimer: The attempt to make people feel awkward explaining their own racist jokes only works if the person is in fact ashamed of looking racist. “I don’t get it” and “it’s not funny” have gotten me bombarded with horrible links and lectures full of lies and sketchy sources, as though they think if they demonstrate to me that their racist views are correct, I will in fact then find their joke funny. Some people might decide the jokes aren’t worth the effort, but others will happily spend your next four hours steering the conversation back into racist conspiracy theory territory, while everyone else in the room sagely agrees with them and tut-tuts your liberal ignorance, see what college does to you, no room for alternative views at all.

      Sometimes your only hope at civility is to have a very clear plan from the outset to avoid politics and be an active participant to this end, throwing your whole conversational weight into hearing about Tricia’s Softball Career and Wendy’s New Van. Unless you have someone determined to press buttons, you may have a shot at keeping the group distracted by more neutral topics. And I’ll also throw in a hearty shout-out to ***playing with the kids***. Seriously, if you have kids in the family, they are your new best friends. I am not naturally inclined to children, but it is a hell of a lot easier to play Horse Princess in Space than it is to tirelessly steer the adult conversation away from what everyone else wants to discuss.

      1. Or washing dishes if, like me, you consider political discussions the eighth circle of hell and interacting with children the ninth. But there’s always some cleaning that could stand to be done, and even though I’m not naturally inclined to cleaning, I’ll happily go do it if the dinner discussion gets too hot to handle.

    3. I work with a lot of 20something men* who tend to buy into the whole ‘humor means being allowed to make fun of everything!!’ idea. I’ve developed a fondness for, “If you were funny I’d laugh, but you’re not.” It conveys the fact that, no, I don’t appreciate the jokes, while also not starting conversations I really don’t want to have at work. It’s a slightly risky tactic, in that it relies on the recipient not getting horribly offended by that blunt of a response, but if the people involved are of the thoughtlessly bigotted type rather than dedicated bigots it can shut down topics pretty effectively.

      *For context, I’m one of the few women working there right now. I’m also queer but currently dating a dude, so I suspect most of them don’t actually know/remember that I’m not part of the Straight Tribe. I’m not closetted, but the subject doesn’t tend to come up at work.

  16. The “broken record” technique is one I’ve personally found very useful, particularly when being pressed to do something: “No, thank you, I’m not hungry/thirsty/willing to go to that rally” repeated WITHOUT VARIATION, makes the one pressing get the message very fast.

  17. yeah one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is there’s no arguing with some people, it doesn’t matter how many facts, how much proof or reality you can show they will believe what they want. All you can do is make it not worth bringing up, don’t let them get their response.

    There is the tactic I’ve heard suggested for such “jokes” is you ask them to explain why it’s funny over and over again to really drive the point home. Make them explain, drag it out for everyone to see.

    1. Er, I just gotta say…some people will literally drag it out for hours. They will drag it into another conversation another day. They will drag it online. They LOVE being asked to “explain” and will lecture like a tenured professor at you if you let them.

      So, um, even if it works nine times out of ten, the tenth time is just, really not worth it.

  18. Dear Passing Through:

    Do you need to cancel hosting Thanksgiving? There are restaurants…

    Also as the host, you are more than allowed to say “No politics, period” at the holiday table. My grandma’s way of saying that was “We have a secret ballot in this country for a reason, you can all keep your secrets today.” Another way to do it is to say, “Lord, we probably all need a break from the election talk, right? But I’m happy to see you!”

    But if you want permission (from a random stranger) to say, “You know, I’m sorry, but I’m just not up to the whole thing this year,” well, you got it. I’m feeling on a visceral level that all this “we can all come together as a country/family” talk means “shut up and comply” and we don’t have to perform One Big Happy Family right now.

    1. Today I was listening to a podcast and the editor had replaced every instance of the host talking politics with soothing nature sounds. I want a set of headphones that does that for THE ENTIRE WORLD because sometimes (like this whole week) I need a break.

      I cannot, at the moment, come together as a big happy anything because I am currently a small unhappy. I will stop being a small unhappy when I am good and ready, but right now I need to not talk too much about politics because it makes me a much larger unhappy.

      1. There are apps that play wave sounds and stuff. They’re meant for meditation or napping, but I think if you turned the volume up and had it ready and tapped play every time someone brought up politics at the table, it would stop the politics talk really quickly.

  19. The thing about boundaries is that it doesn’t matter if other people like them. That’s why they’re boundaries. Boundaries aren’t something you ask others to respect. They aren’t something to be negotiated. They’re something you put into place and then silently (or not so silently) enforce (but I prefer silently). They’re deal breakers.

    My only script would be: “You’re right that I can’t control what you say, but I don’t have to stay here and listen to it.” Then leave. After only one or two repetitions, it would be: Brief awkward silence followed by “Wow. I have to go now.” After only a few repetitions of that, I’d leave longer and longer time periods between retries. So the first time you wait a few weeks before getting together with them again. (I don’t know how often you see your family to start.) The next time you wait a few more weeks. Following that you let the times between their insulting you until you cry move to a yearly get-together and then to every other year, etc.

    There’s a great thing about this system. It’s empowering– to them. They get to decide if they want to see you. The power is in their hands. If you think about it right, there’s nothing manipulative about it. (Don’t even bother trying to explain this to them. They’ll either get it or they won’t.) Look at it this way. If I go into a store and have to choose between the green hat or the yellow hat, the store owner isn’t being manipulative. Your family gets to choose between either seeing you at Thanksgiving or not. How is that manipulative? They get to choose between either insulting you until you cry or being pleasant. How is that you playing the victim? (Like I said, these aren’t real questions for them because I don’t expect them to reason this out.)

    You’re starting from a place of hoping for mutual respect. That’s great! They take your starting place and decide you get to respect them and their opinions (they get to do and say whatever they want), and they don’t have to respect you. That does not make them “kinda right” and I guarantee everything will start getting better when you stop twisting yourself into pretzels trying to see their point of view while they do nothing to see yours.

  20. I feel like there is a part of the LW’s letter that has not been addressed so far, but should not be ignored:

    “it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect”

    I don’t think there are scripts for that, sadly. I strongly suspect that this is one of those things where it is only possible to change one’s own behaviour, not the other person’s inside(sight)s. Anyone have any ideas/success stories?

    1. Perhaps because “mutual respect” needs to be a mandatory action, and the abusers are at best treating it like a concept?

    2. I didn’t read all the comments, so I apologize if this is a repeat, but, this part of the letter stood out to me: “I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate.”

      LW, you seem a person who deeply wants to be a good person, and your family is using that against you. CA has excellent advice on what to say and do, which should help you enforce your boundaries. I want to add a bit of advice about how to think about this accusation of being manipulative.

      There are two elements to manipulation: deception and power. For example, if someone “manipulates the data” of an experiment, they are being dishonest by intentionally forcing the data to show what they *want* it to show, instead of what it most logically concludes. Or manipulation is like blackmail or something, forcing someone to make a choice they do not want to make, under threat of legal or violent consequence.

      LW, you are being wholly and completely honest. You know that. And the consequence your relatives face for not doing what you want them to do is not cruel, or violent, or unlawful; it is simply that they must deal with your displeasure, and potentially their own sense of guilt, or, worse case scenario, the loss of a relationship with you. Those are really normal consequences that happen sometimes when people disagree.

      So, ease your mind. They are not “kind of right”. They are wrong.

      1. Hey, this is really good. I wanted to address that part of the letter too, but my logic kept being fuzzy. The deception and power thing makes sense.

        I do have a thought on the other accusation, “controlling.” For a person to have absolutely no control over what goes on in their family isn’t right. So yes, she does want some control. They have all the control currently, but are defining it as “normal” or as “everything’s fine” (as in “everything would be fine if you’d just laugh a.k.a. do our bidding”). The accusation “controlling” depends on the fuzzy meaning of control: it can mean simply having a little bit of control, the power to make a difference to a situation, but “controlling” carries connotations of wanting *absolute* control. So, the LW really simply wants a little power aka any say in the situation at all (as opposed to being reprimanded when she *doesn’t laugh*), and they’re turning it into an implication that she wants to dictate their every move.

      2. Yes, in my experience I have found that compassionate, empathetic people often avoid assertion because they don’t want to do the shitty things that have been done to them. And others displaying assertion was just a smoke screen to being manipulative.

        For example, if I want my friend to come to my art show I might say “It would really mean a lot to me if you came to my art show. I worked very hard on it and I want to share it with you.” This isn’t manipulative. It’s honest and vulnerable and relationship building.

        BUT many of us who grew up in homes where the silent part of this exchange was “and if you don’t go I will shut you out for weeks/throw a huge temper tantrum/talk shit about you to everyone/cling to this grievance for years and then throw it in your face.” So it’s hard for us to hear/say these assertive things and not FEEL the Clanging Bells of Manipulation ringing loudly in our minds/bodies. And this is why emotional abuse is so pernicious – it’s a total mindf*ck.

  21. One of the lessons I got from my Dad, who swam a big river to escape from a communist country where free speech was not a right:
    One has no right to tell someone else to shut up. If you don’t like what s/he is saying then YOU leave. I really can’t disagree with this logic and so advise LW to be prepared to do just that. If the offensive people are in HER house, however, then she can set the rules of engagement.

    1. Oh, I disagree — I think you definitely have the right to tell people to shut up, or to change the topic. If it feels controlling to you, maybe think of it as giving them a warning and a choice — you’re not saying they have to shut up, you’re just saying that they can either shut up or say goodbye to you, because you’re about to exercise your right to leave because you don’t like what they’re saying. But I do think it’s a good point to remember that, even with the best and most convincing argument in the world, you might not convince them to stop, and you can’t actually make them, so… it really is useful to have “Okay, then I’m going to leave, maybe I’ll see you in a few weeks” in your back pocket.

      1. Sounds like good communication to me. And the offender’s response can suggest future possibilities or let LW know they aren’t likely to satisfy LW’s criteria for a relationship.

      2. Nope, you don’t have the “Right” to tell someone else to shut up, just like you don’t have the right to dictate the choices they make. You do not get to control anyone else. You can suggest, you can inform, you can lay down your personal doctrine, but you cannot control them. You most certainly can remove yourself from that which offends you.

        1. Pray tell me where on this earth I can go to escape racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, religious prescriptivism, homophobia, transphobia, gender essentialism, colorism, sizeism, and ableism? Because I want to swim to that location but so far as I can tell it doesn’t exist, even if I were able-bodied enough for the swim. Your argument is from a position of privilege that assumes there is somewhere to go and the individual can get there– too often there are folks that must attempt to improve the environment they are in because they cannot be removed from it.

        2. You can ask them to stop their behavior and see if they do. You can make it clear that you’re not okay with something. Leaving is an option, but there are communication options before that, which is the subject of this post and the Southern Poverty Law Center Scripts. If you say “shut up” and the person thinks you are rude and doesn’t want to be around you anymore, that is also a consequence of speech.Your argument basically seems to be “You should leave before it gets to ‘shut up'” which, ok?

          I don’t like way this thread has become about back and forth hairsplitting with you. It is tedious and a hijack, so I’m going to ask you to go away from it and come back again some other thread, some other day.

          1. “Your argument basically seems to be “You should leave before it gets to ‘shut up’” which, ok?”
            I never said this and have a real dirty lens about people putting words in my mouth. It’s a common legal technique to designed to discredit and confuse. In any case, there were certainly lots of scripts and suggestions short of “I’m leaving.” What I said, and continued to make the point was: “One has no right to tell someone else to shut up”…. and… “You can suggest, you can inform, you can lay down your personal doctrine, but you cannot control them. ”
            I’m sorry you don’t like the way I defended my assertion and don’t get the hijack part either. I just made a comment – and defended it. But since this is Your column you, in this instance, have every right to tell me shut up and/or go away, and I am happy to do so. Ciao.

        3. I have the right to *tell* anyone I like to shut up. I don’t have the right to forcibly compel them to do so, true, but me saying, “hey, shut up already” is me exercising my own right to free speech.

          I’m pretty hardcore on the whole free speech, ‘I may hate what you say but I will defend your right to the death’, etc., etc., thing, but telling someone to shut up is not interfering with their free speech unless you’re a representative of the government speaking with the full might of the law behind you. A private citizen is absolutely allowed to tell another private citizen to shut their cakehole. Is it rude? Sure, in a lot of circumstances. Some circumstances require a little rudeness or forcible speech.

          1. Eek, sorry, I didn’t read to the end of the thread–didn’t mean to contribute to the hijack.

    2. Speech is free, but there is no right to a sympathetic audience or any audience at all. People can say what they like, but their audience can disagree, ask them to stop, or leave them talking to an empty room.

      1. “Speech is free, but there is no right to a sympathetic audience or any audience at all. People can say what they like, but their audience can disagree, ask them to stop, or leave them talking to an empty room.”

        All. This.

    3. If someone talked about the colour and consistency of their poop at the dinner table, are you saying you wouldn’t tell them to stop? Racist speech is no more appropriate or worthwhile than talking about your shit while people are eating.

    4. You don’t have the right to tell someone to shut up? I thought you believed in free speech. Look, you can’t force anyone to stop talking, but you can sure as shit recommend that they do, and hand over some consequences if they refuse (e.g. get up and leave, or tell them that they’re the human equivalent of a perineal abscess, only less responsive to antibiotics).

      1. You can say , My that’s offensive and I don’t ant to hear it. Then you have the right to leave.
        Sorry, I still stand by no one has the right to tell someone else to shut up. You can certainly tell someone, id you don’t shut up, I’ll leave but, you have to shut up , say something else, not ay that? No, you do not get to control anyone else’s speech here in America.

      2. Correct. You don’t have the right to tell someone to shut-up but you absolutely have the right to ask them to and spell out consequences. Not so hard to understand, not an outrageous concept.

  22. Just an example of how this strategy has worked in my real family. When I was young, my grandmother and her sisters would almost always end up fighting at family gatherings, yelling hurtful things at each other (admittedly, they would switch to Italian, but it was clear that they were being mean, mean, mean). Also, one of my great-aunts would often come out with incredibly racist statements and comments. My parents and my aunts and uncles told them that whenever that happened, they would gather up all the grandkids and just leave. And they followed through, effectively ending the party. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that only had to happen once before they got the message, and changed their behavior. Of course, that’s somewhat different from being the lone voice for non sexist, non racist, you know, civility, LW, and I empathize! It sucks that they’re putting you in this position. Sending you support and a hug, if you want one.

    1. I meant to add to my other post- be sure you park where you can’t get blocked in.
      And if you take any food, use disposable platters.

  23. Dear LW,

    language is all kinds of manipulative all the time, because when we open our mouths to communicate with others we usually expect something to come out of that effort, and the results we expect out of our communication are not necessarily the same that the other party wants. So, if it’s helpful, I’d say to forget about the manipulative angle of your and your family’s speeches (we could even say, for the sake of argument, that you’re all equally manipulative, even though I don’t think that’s the case) and to focus on the results you all expect from your exchange.

    What results do you want when you ask them to stop? Not to be hurt by others. Basic human right, that. A+ thing to ask for.
    What results do they want when they tell you to shut up and laugh, that you’re childish, that your feelings don’t matter, when they insult you? To hurt you. To control you. Insults are words or expressions specifically created to cause hurt. Your fear and hurt make them feel better about themselves, because inflicting pain on others can help people forget how crappy they feel inside. Hurting and controlling others are not basic human rights, nor are they acceptable things to ask for.

    So, I’d say that, allegedly manipulative wording or not, you have every right not to receive insults from others. If your family won’t give you that basic respect, I’d advise to follow the Captain’s advice and get out of there. You don’t have to put up with this.

    Best of luck,

  24. I think maybe a second issue is at play. By enforcing these boundaries, LW must imply that her “ideology” (as her family might see it) is more important than her love for and loyalty to her family. I am 100% not arguing that her family should feel free to say distressing racist things in front of LW (or ANYWHERE). I just want to point out that dynamic may also be affecting LW’s interactions here.

    1. That’s a really good point, LW’s family probably does feel like she’s putting this weird (to them, not to non-jerks) ideology of hers over her own family. I don’t think that changes the scripts at all, but I think it’s worth reminding LW that this is about her relatives ideas about family and their attachment to acting like gross racists, not about anything she has actually done.

      1. It’s also worth reminding LW that while she can’t expect a response of mutual respect, she CAN expect an extinction burst (wish I could add a link here) — a huge escalation of the obnoxious, hurtful behavior — when the toxic family members realize that she’s no longer sticking around to be hurt. It’s like the toddler screaming and kicking even louder when folks ignore a tantrum.

        LW, you may want to preemptively block their phone calls, texts and emails before you leave in mid-event (if that’s in your future). If there’s a chance that someone might apologize, maybe route their messages to a folder you could check at your convenience, with a cup of tea at hand.

    2. Similarly, by ignoring LW’s boundaries her relatives show that saying racist things is more important to them than love for our loyalty to her.

    3. Oh, yeah. I don’t have this problem with my own family, because even when we disagree about politics, we have a culture of talking it out–but my husband’s family very much has a culture of ‘shut up, get along, don’t start shit or you’re the problem’, and I… tend to butt heads with them.

  25. FWIW, I don’t think it’s manipulation when it’s an open, clearly stated request to get off your foot.
    They are projecting their manipulation spew all over the dinner table, LW. You don’t have to eat off the spew table.

  26. Once, when one of my children got his back up about having to do chores, I told him, in the most IDGAF tone of voice I could manage: “You don’t HAVE TO clean your room. And I don’t HAVE TO let you play on the computer.” He saw the light of sweet reason, and cleaned his room.

    Your relatives are free to tell racist jokes, and you are free to not laugh at those jokes. If your exercise of your freedom discourages your relatives from exercising theirs… you don’t have to GAF.

  27. LW, boatloads of jedi hugs, if you want them.
    I can’t add anything substantive because I’m still grappling with having very possibly burned some bridges in my family. I told them I wasn’t coming to t-giving, and said some very harsh things on FB, and I have no idea what the long-term outcome will be.
    Take care of yourself.

  28. 1. Asking a peer to do something for you is not manipulation, it’s a request. If your boss or your tyrannical granny is asking, the power difference might make it manipulative, but from you to a sibling, no.

    2. The best way I’ve found to respond to an offensive joke is to not get it:

    BIGOT: Blar blar blar [*+ predictably ugly punchline*]!
    MARTHA: [*A moment of silence…*] Uhm, so then what did the bartender say?

  29. Re Scalia on hate crimes, and “why should we try to figure out intent,” it bears pointing out that we have distinguished for many decades between premeditated murder, murder 2, and manslaughter. What is that but parsing intent?

    Hate crimes are by definition premeditated.

    1. Not necessarily. One time I was waiting at a bus stop and a bunch of young men there started hurling abuse at a gay couple who were walking by. The couple called the police, rightly pointing out it was a hate crime. There could have been no premeditation: the young men weren’t out looking for victims, they were just waiting for a bus and happened to see two gay men, and spontaneously started harassing them. Until they saw them that night, they had no idea those particular men existed – and they didn’t discuss it with each other before starting the harassment either, they just saw and started swearing and getting in their space. As far as those individual victims went, it was a classic ‘impulsive’ attack.

      The hatred predates the crime, but the crime itself is often spontaneous. That’s actually one reason why it helps to have hate crimes be their own category (though calling them domestic terrorism would be a more accurate reflection of why the laws exist). It allows for a crime that’s technically committed on the spur of the moment.

  30. Thank you for this. This was my exact problem with the SPLC article too (though I also appreciated that!). I already do many of these suggestions, but the results and shock of the election made me realize I let too much go. Making it awkward and “being a bitch” as I get dubbed have only been increasing my family’s self-righteousness in being racists and misogynists. Now I have a son, and I realize I can’t even trust them with him. Not only with their remarks, but with their tacit endorsement of this ugliness in our elected leader. Who’s to say that if hatred or abuse were aimed at my son, within or outside the family, it wouldn’t just be waived off? I know now it would be. I won’t be allowing this kind of talk around me and my son, and at the least it will result in my parents being unable to be left alone with him. At most, we won’t be seeing them at all. Which is difficult because my mother was our main source of childcare. But this is too important, and I will not put up with this in the world. I won’t change their minds, but I can show them there are consequences to their choices. And I’ll be accused of using my son as a weapon. It’s so sad, all around.

    1. I’m seeing this week (well, past few months actually) that it is nearly impossible to logic with a group of people that are operating on a strictly emotional level. I think the SPLC suggestions are great but right now people are riding the high of winning and can’t hear anything.

  31. Just want to second the fact that you DO have a right to say “no politics” if it’s your home! I did it, it was scary but I did it by email before the visit and they abided by it. Nothing makes you feel more like a servant than busting your butt to cook & serve people some nice food and then having to sit and listen to them talk about all the horribly unpleasant things THEY want to talk about while they eat it. And then doing the damn dishes. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO NOT PUT UP WITH THAT.

  32. LW, I recently read this piece on Vox that has been eye-opening for me, particularly in situations like this. The gist of the piece is that there are at least two different layers of communication happening throughout all of our conversations:

    “In every human social interaction, there are two kinds of communication going on. There are the words themselves, with their shared meanings. And there are the countless signals and cues being exchanged — tone, expression, body language, and bearing — about social dynamics and hierarchy.

    Every interaction is both an exchange of semantic information and a dance of social positioning…”

    Because oh boy LW, have I been in your shoes. When we announced our pregnancy to his parents, the woman who is now my MIL said, and I quote, “Oh, so the baby will be three-quarters white!” in response to my admission that I’m biracial. And when she later asked my partner why I’d suddenly gone so quiet, and he’d told her that I found her remark racist, she turned around and accused me of trying to drive a wedge between him and his family. And until I read that piece, I’d basically summarily dismissed her as being, well, just a bigoted asshole. Now, though, I can see that she was responding to a different layer of what I’d communicated: she either didn’t hear the part where I was incredibly hurt and offended, or she did, but assumed that it was manufactured in order to drive her place in this new social order I’d created merely by existing in her presence down below my own; she heard what I said as an attempt to devalue her place in her own son’s life, and fought back in the only way she knew how.

    Now, I’m not for sure that’s what is happening with you and your family, and I’m not saying you have to accept it. Communication is a two-way street, after all. But I thought I’d share this in hopes that it might give you an alternate strategy to leave the lines open, if that’s what you want (and you don’t have to want it; it’s not like I’ve reached out to my MIL at all with my newfound information, I’m perfectly happy to continue living out of sight and out of mind). It gives you the tools to be able to ask something like, “So, when I said x, did you hear x, or did you hear y?” where x is the semantic stuff and y is the social stuff. Because if they’re pushing back against the idea of boundaries at all, it sounds to me like they’re actually pushing back at what they perceive as limits to their social power, or challenges to their position in that particular social hierarchy, and hopefully by making that explicit you can also invite them to hear the rest of what you’re saying.

    Either way, the best of luck to you. You have the right to ask for what you need from the relationships you’re in, be those friends, family, partners, coworkers, and you have the right to walk away if those relationships continue not to meet them.

  33. My family Taunted and abused me since I was a child. They used my unusual hair color to call me out, and said I wasn’t part of the “real” family. Told me they were going to sell me to “an Arab” until it was hard for me to sleep and I’d wet my bed nightly from the terror and anger. One of them put my hair in a tight ponytail, then cut it off above the elastic. Before I’d reached my teens, I’d already decided it was pretty great if it was true I wasn’t related to them, as I thought they were terrible people. After 30 years, I decided to try to reconnect with one relative online, as she was ill and lonely. Shortly after, she sent me a “joke” photo off the internet of the same old ethnic marker shaming.

    What may be useful to this discussion, is I’ve learned there was sexual abuse among those people. It’s also my experience that any keeping-silent-coping the abused does seems to turn inside out once that person becomes an adult. They were abused and became abusers. I feel certain yelling back and rejecting those abusers kept me sane. Fighting back broke the abuse chain.

  34. Be the party pooper at the bigot party.

    Aww, I knew there was a reason I loved this site.
    Way to go, Captain.

    LW, this advice is way easier said than done the first 15-50 times, but it actually does get easier with practice.

  35. I’m so sorry you are facing this hard time, as are so many of us. I’d like to second the Captain in suggesting a restaurant, so you can leave early, or cancelling entirely. or putting a ban on politics. If you feel you must host, can you make it about giving thanks for things? I was out to supper with friends on the 9th, and first we banned politics from the table, and then we went around and talked about wonderful things from our past day or week that made us happy, and then we got happily tipsy together.
    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. That sounds like a truly lovely dinner.

      I talked to one of my parents and my sib and asked them to help me enforce a “no politics god DAMN it” with my other parent over the holidays this year. I’m hoping it can become the new normal, because that parent’s slow descent into a closed-minded, loud-mouthed, unpleasant boor where political and social issues are concerned has been very hard for me to deal with.

  36. Oh LW. I deal with this all the time, and The Captain’s advice is great! Those short responses she gave will truly be your best friends. I’ve been using them for a while now, and they are perfect. They get your feelings across and set a boundary without being overtly confrontational. When family members say something crappy in my direction, they want one of two reactions, either A) for me to concede and play along, making them feel victorious for cornering me into pretending to agree, or B) for me to take the bait and start a debate, so I can be written off as the condescending bad guy who ruins everybody’s fun. This third option does not satisfy either of these, so it just leaves the family member hanging. You don’t have to let bigoted family members trample all over your beliefs and emotions. I find the more calm and direct the phrases are said, the better they work. If you keep your cool while they have a meltdown because you didn’t cheer at their “ist” joke or rant…well…who is the one being problematic now? Lol

  37. Anyone have anything against the less-bigoted, but still racist stuff? Like, it isn’t jokes, but just information that demonstrates either a lot of cluelessness and white privilege (heck, a way to explain white privilege without immediately raising someone’s hackles would be nice).

    Example: My mil, who is generally a lovely person went “I’m glad MN elected the first Somali-American representative. Maybe she convince all those Somalis in St. Cloud who are so angry.”

    Me: “What do you mean, angry?”

    Mil: “They keep saying that their kids are getting bullied because their Somali and Muslim. But that isn’t true, the kids are bullying because kids can be really mean. Race has NOTHING to do about it.”

    Me: If their kids are getting bullied, that sounds like a problem

    Mil: Absolutely, but they’re just making it such an us-versus them problem and that’s not helpful.

    Me: Why do you think they think it’s about race? (Really wanting to say- “How do you know it’s NOT about race?” but trying to keep cool)

    Mil: I don’t know, but maybe the new representative can talk to them.

    That’s some racist beliefs right there, but I don’t think saying “That’s racist” is going to help.

    They aren’t making “jokes” they aren’t saying slurs, but a lot of what they say is really underpinned by racist beliefs or coded language.

    1. I like your approach of “why do you think they think that?” People who are ignorant rather than actively hateful sometimes truly just have never thought about why something might be.

    2. Yeah, this is my problem with a lot of people I know. Less explicit racism, but a lot of this underlying belief that OF COURSE bigotry doesn’t actually exist, so anyone who mentions it is just making things up to cause a problem (see also: my in-laws whenever the subject of BLM comes up). It’s harder to confront because it’s implicit, not explicit. I think the questioning approach you’ve mentioned here *can* work, but I’ve had mixed success with it.

      1. I sometimes just mention what I think about the situation without inviting them to change their stance. Like “I find it kind probable they are being attacked because they are not white.” The conversation might end there, but I know they have heard a contradicting stance even if they don’t agree with me in the moment.

  38. “I’m not really trying to *manipulate* you into not saying things like that. I’m *asking* you not to, and trying to explain why I need that from you.” It’s not manipulative to flat-out ask people to stop doing things that hurt you. It probably won’t really help to say that to them, but it might be a helpful thing to have in your mind when they start accusing you of being manipulative.

  39. Years ago while I was seeking out therapy to deal with my toxic mother-in-law my therapist told me that people can arguing away their behavior but it’s harder to argue away someones feelings. I’ve remembered that and used it over the years.
    Example: my husband (raised by his toxic mother) has a habit where if someone points out something that he’s doing that he doesn’t feel like it’s a big deal he’ll say “I disagree”. I know this comes after years of his mother screaming at him that all the things wrong in her life were all his fault.
    What bothers me is that he’ll say it to me when I know I have a legitimate reason to be annoyed. So I’ve started phrasing it this way “I am really hurt when you make fun of my fear of zombies in general but it makes me hurt and angry when you do it in front of other people.” When he tries his “I disagree” line I point out that I am telling him how his behavior made me feel and that my feelings, as upsetting to him as they are, are MINE and he can’t tell me how to feel. At that point I tell him that if my having hurt feelings is upsetting to him, he can easily help correct that by changing the behavior that created the feeling in the first place. I can’t say that all bad behaviors have changed, but I can say that the argument stops there.

  40. I met Scalia shortly before he died. Though I am a liberal, and gay, I appreciated his view of the Fourth Amendment and privacy.

    So I praised him for that and then said, “but in your Lawrence v. TX dissent, you essentially said that the government can legislate morality and dictate intimate relations. Doesn’t that clash with your view of privacy and the home as being sacrosanct?”

    He stumbled through why those things were different somehow- sex is morality, not private conduct- and it took all I had not to snap, “So my wife and I should have gay sex on the front lawn then?”

    1. I wish you had. If only to rattle his noxious little cage.

      “sex is morality, not private conduct” WTFl. That’s the most blatant attempt to redefine words I’ve read in a long time.

  41. I don’t know if we’re allowed to suggest resources on the thread (long time lurker, first time commenter), but Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) meetings are an AMAZING resource to help prepare for some of the conversations many of us are about to be faced with. There aren’t chapters everywhere, but there are chapters in many, many places (including in the South and the Rust Belt): http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/affiliated_groups_local_contacts . I cannot recommend them highly enough!

  42. I want to address your ultimate question. You say that you want mutual respect. That’s an excellent goal. The problem is that you cannot get any respect from somebody who keeps trying to put you back into your place. You think of yourself as a person trying to connect with other people, but they think of you as somebody who has to get back into line and themselves as the ones trying to enforce the natural order of things. Therefore, although you approach conversations as ways for people to learn about each other and arguments as ways that people figure out what’s wrong and how to solve it, they won’t. They already know what’s wrong: you’re being uppity. Yes, I went there. If they’re a bunch of bigots toward non-family members, is it such a stretch to imagine them applying that mindset to you?

    I suggest that first you stop hoping for mutual respect. That means no more talking to them about anything that matters to you. If they start talking to you, remember: don’t JADE. JADE stands for Justify, Argue, Defend, Explain. These are tools that people who believe in mutual respect will use to reach a mutually agreeable solution, but when somebody has already decided that you are the problem, they’re just a bunch of openings they can use to pick and pick until they draw blood.

    Second, assert your freedom from their decisions. Stay out of spaces they control; if you feel that you must go to a relative’s home, always have a way out that does not involve their consent. Don’t accept rides, loans, or household help from them. Someone else already posted about extinction bursts. This is when somebody who believes in keeping you in your place realizes that you are leaving it, not just wiggling around in it. Sometimes panic or rage will ensue. They may feel that you not being in your place is like somebody kicking a hole in their universe, or they may sincerely think that they’re saving you from throwing your life away on Those People. In any case, things may get ugly.

    Third, demand what one of my elementary school teachers called ROSR: Real or Simulated Respect. That is, if they can’t respect you, they must act as if they respect you anyway, and if they can’t even do that then consequences will ensue. Obviously you can’t send them to the principal–but you can lay out, in simple, dispassionate terms, consequences for disrespectful behavior. For example, “Please drop this subject. If you don’t, I will leave.” And leave. Apply the same consequences to anybody who doesn’t act like that but expects you to stick around the people who do because faaaaaamily.

    They’ll probably say nasty things to and about you, tell lies, etc., etc., etc. But that’s not on you.

    Your example may help younger members realize that there is a way to live that doesn’t involve buying into the family system. You may find that some relatives won’t act that way or encourage you to let people stomp all over you. But in the meantime, it may be best to turn to chosen family instead.

    1. ” The problem is that you cannot get any respect from somebody who keeps trying to put you back into your place. ”

      Thank you SO much for this comment. I’m also dealing with family claiming I’m manipulative because I set a boundary, and this shed so much light on why things fell apart.

      May I share quotes from this on my facebook feed?

  43. LW, I am sorry that you’re having a bad time of it. I think CA is right on all things. Another thing that could work is when you know someone is about to say something helpful raise your hand to stop them and say “Before you speak, do me a favor and ask yourself the following about what you’re going to say: is it kind? It is helpful? Is it true? Unless the answer to ALL three questions is yes, please know that I am not interested in what you’re going to say.”

    On another note…the fact that so many other people are so unhappy about this election makes me feel better about my feelings. I work in an office with Trump supporters. I recently discovered that close friends and relatives were supporters (although now they’re claiming that they hate the guy based on the increased violence towards minorities and women over the last week but too little too late). I have felt so alone. My husband, kids and I took last Wednesday off from work and school as a mental health day and we got teased about it by co-workers and students. It’s a scary place right now and I’m working hard to navigate the fallout from this election for myself and the three family members I live with. It’s just nice to know that I’m not as alone as I’ve felt this week.

  44. OP, I’m really sorry you’re having to deal with this.

    My Mom reacted similarly when I set boundaries with her about what mon political stuff I’d talk to her about. I labeled her reactions as not following my boundaries and acted accordingly. Her victim posturing led to us not talking very quickly, but my life was greatly improved by not talking to her so I have a hard time being regretful.

    1. Good for you!!! Yay!!! Keep on taking care of yourself 🙂 I will do my best to follow your example and keep enforcing my boundaries – that is truly the hardest part.

  45. Um, sorry if this is a derail, if so I will delete it.

    I just wanted to ask people here, like, okay. I know my family. It’s politically split; not exactly 50/50, but close. I know if someone says something racist, or pro-Trump, and I just say, “Hey, can we just not, like, talk about that today?” and change the subject, they’ll move along to the new topic. I just wonder, am I doing a disservice by doing that instead of calling out their comment as bigoted or racist? Is it wrong if I just really, really don’t want to argue, or potentially cry, or whatever? I mean, they already know where I stand politically, and it’s not like I’m my family’s lone liberal voice in a red state or something. They know my opinions, more or less. I just want to get through the holidays without getting in a big conflict. I don’t think I’m ready to get back in the fight yet.

    1. I think this is a matter of choosing your battles. I am more likely to get my ultra conservative friends and family to stop their behavior by saying “Guys, not today okay? It’s thanksgiving…let’s talk about the parade / football / having a turkey coma instead.” I know that calling them out on the racist, sexist, and xenophobic themes of their comments is only going to get them angry. If it’s important to you to spend the day with these people without strife and you know that one comment will go over better than the other than I’d go for enjoying the day and save the pointing out their issues for another day where it’s not so focused on togetherness. Or…be like me and just stay home, read all day and save yourself the overall headache of having to do either. 🙂

    2. lgmerriman, I personally think that it is totally okay for you to not debate politics with your family while it would be harmful to you to do so.

      Activism doesn’t require that you hurt yourself. It can require a lot of discomfort as you learn more about others and yourself, like, oh shit, I just thought a racist thing, why did I think that? It does NOT require that you put yourself in harm’s way, either physically or emotionally.* No one is capable of fighting all the time. Arguing in favour of a cause with people who don’t understand or agree with you is emotionally exhausting, and doing with your own family – over the holidays! – could cause real emotional harm. I mean, it can cause harm any time, but this is definitely a particularly fraught situation. If you need to take some time to rest from the struggle, that is okay. That’s why there are lots of us, so we can take up the torch for each other.

      If you feel you need to engage in some activist activity, but not this particular thing, that is okay too! There are many good and useful things you can do as an activist and an ally that do not involve direct confrontation with your family over the holidays. I mean, that is pretty specific. Other things you could do might include: making a donation to a cause you support; volunteering for an organisation you support; educating yourself more on the experiences of people who are marginalised where you are privileged; and, in contexts where you feel comfortable with it, letting people know your opinions and perhaps directing them to useful resources that will help them understand why.

      That last one also allows you to amplify the voices of people who do not share whatever privileges you might have. For example, if you were having a conversation with a friend and they made a comment about a particular “kind” of person and how “those people” behave, you could tell them that you aren’t comfortable with treating groups of people as if they are all the same, and then maybe later email them a link to a blog post by a person belonging to the group in question that elaborates on how frustrating it is to be seen as a representative for an entire group, or that demonstrates how many members of the group are in fact not just like the stereotypes. Or even just that one xkcd comic that lays it out quite well: https://xkcd.com/385/ [cn for sexism].

      But the main point is: yes, it’s okay to rest. Please take good care of yourself and remember that you are the person who knows best how to do that. You don’t have to take every single opportunity to argue in favour of your cause in order to be a legitimate supporter. That’s an impossible standard, and no one is qualified to make that kind of judgment anyhow. You can see those opportunities to get into arguments, and acknowledge them to yourself, and let them go. You’re still a good person.

      *jedi hugs* if you would like them.

      *I want to acknowledge that people do put themselves in harm’s way for activist causes at times, such as attending rallies where police are likely to harm and/or arrest people, going on hunger strikes, and many other types of protest. I fully support the right to choose to do these things. I do not think they are compulsory in order to retain some kind of “good activist” membership card or anything though.

    3. No, it isn’t wrong.

      Part of choosing your battles is thinking about likely outcomes: if you called them out for being bigoted, would that change people’s opinions, or would it just mean you had to listen to a rant about it not being racist/homophobic/wrong to think XYZ?

      It is no more wrong to say “can we just not talk about that today?” than to decide that I am going to hide in the bath for a while in the interests of calming down enough to sleep. If that will work, and let you enjoy Thanksgiving, you’ve succeeded in what the LW was asking for help with.

  46. Not really related to the bigotry angle, but our friend group has sort of experienced this WRT a friend who wants to control the entire friend group and have the only boundaries be hers. The main group has 30+ people, so obviously everyone can’t go to everything, But every time people have any kind of get-together that doesn’t include her, she “confronts” them about it and accuses them of being “exclusivist.” We’ve tried to explain that some things don’t include everyone (and she’s actually invited to most things? And usually shows up late or not at all when she says she’ll come? Or doesn’t contribute when she does come?) but she just gets shitty and flounces on the situation. She also thinks she should get to control who dates who, who’s friends with who, and generally things that are none of her business. If she can’t, she goes on about how people “don’t have the decency” to “tell her the truth” about things she has nothing to do with and don;t involve her.

    We’ve tried using our words, but eventually she’s gonna end up disinvited from most stuff. Actions have consequences and all that.

    1. In my friend groups, “eventually” would have been put on the shared calendar months ago and we all would have signed up to attend. That kind of shit does NOT fly.

      Not saying your group is doing it wrong; I’m actually amazed and impressed at the tolerance you’re showing here.

      1. Thanks for the support. She’s actually tried to go on other people’s dates because said people had double dated with others in the group, and it “wasn’t fair” that they wouldn’t do it with her. It’s very ridiculous and she’s very young, but….

        And I think in another friend group she would have been ousted already, but she’s not the only one who pulled the exclusivist thing. I’ve never had a friend group this large, so I was never exposed to the whole GSF thing, but wow, is it accurate. I think I’ll end up drifting away for other reasons as well, but it’s been eye opening to say the least.

    2. She sounds like my mother who has a narcissist personality disorder (NPD). Unfortunately, they don’t get better with age, they only get get worse. As Drew said, your group have been amazingly tolerant towards her. Part of NPD though means that if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. The more you say ‘no’ to them, the bigger the temper tantrum. It’s all proportional. They have no boundaries because they feel entitled to everything. Boundaries are for other people to ensure they suit her and prevent them from saying ‘no’. It doesn’t matter how much you give them, it’s never enough because they’re bottomless pits. They will suck everything out of you, then have a go at you for being empty. It doesn’t matter if she’s invited to most things. She believes she should be invited to all of them. And they should be all about her. She doesn’t have to contribute as she’s gracing you with her presence and her role is that of the Roman Emperor who gives the thumb up or the thumb down. As for her insistence that she has the right to know the truth about who is dating who, just be grateful she’s not my mother. She thinks that she has the right to know the personal, intimate details of relationships around her. She demanded to be told how well endowed her daughter’s new boyfriend was, if he was ‘any good’ and which ‘acts’ they’d done. In detail, blow by blow (excuse the pun) She had a right to be told the truth, apparently.

      Just to give you a heads up, when she’s dis-invited from stuff, she’ll escalate so badly, you’ll think that her behaviour now is that of a saint. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s the most important thing I ever saw about NPD was ‘If a Narcissist becomes unable to control you, they will make sure they control how everyone sees you’. In other words, she will be howling from the rooftops about how badly you’ve all treated her, when she was an absolute angel. She’ll want the world to join her in her condemnation of you all and will lie and cheat to get it. She will drag your names through the mud and will be hell bent on destroying those she believes wronged her. She’ll ruin all your friendhips/relationships and go out of her way to hurt those you care about, then blame you for it. She’ll want to leave you all alone and isolated, because that’s her worst fear. No one is allowed to say no to a narcissist and you’ll all have to pay. You can’t even negotiate with them, because they want everything and more. You can’t offer a narcissist 50% of your cake, because she’ll want the whole cake and any future cakes. Not because she actually wants them, but because she wants to trash them and destroy them. Preferably with you watching. Then she’ll tell the world that you didn’t want to share even a small slice when she was starving.

      Make sure that when you do dis-invite her, that you take measures to protect yourselves. Narcissists have no boundaries of their own, so don’t make the mistake of thinking she won’t go THERE, because she will. Think of the worst thing she could possibly do and guard against it. Put it this way, she’ll have no problem with using/hurting children to get back at you. In the meantime, start compiling evidence of her behaviour. She’ll say it’s all faked, but at least you’ll have it if you need to prove it to a neutral third party. Take care and stay safe.

      1. My mom was NPD as well, though not quite as bad as she could have been I guess? She was mostly the type to bitch about other people for “slights” against her, claim everyone was jealous of mundane shit, and make me sit and listen to her whine about her life and why everyone was so mean to her for literally hours on end every. day. But she wasn’t dangerous (in the traditional sense) and didn’t sabotage people. It runs in her family, I think, because a few of her sisters were the exact same.

        I think I’m a little different from most kids raised by narcissists because I didn’t really suffer that much? Like, she was annoying and I really wished I lived with someone else, but I didn’t really love her, and didn’t mind when she died. Our emotional connection was just so weak that we never really knew each other in a way that would lead to me loving/missing her. I think that says a few things about me as well, but it’s off-topic.

      2. Good lord, you must’ve met my uncle. Like, the post ‘cut out this abuse’ behavior you listed is freakin’ textbook .

        … Unfortunately for him, he went after my mother, who has a backbone, funds, and a lawyer, and me for a daughter. And I’m a vindictive lady with connections.

        I don’t think he LEARNED, per se, but.. he’s now at least scared enough of the consequences to leave my mother alone, and I’ll take it.

  47. Four months ago I started at this office. I tried to make friends, really. But they are all… well. Now I’m the awkward gal that doesn’t laugh at the mysoginistic, bigoted and/or classist jokes in the office. It’s a lonely road, but I feel it’s the right one.

    1. I’d like to offer lonely, right thing, jedi fistbumps from afar.

      I’ve been here for a decade. It was easier for me, a little, because I’m extremely private and tend to not have a whole, whole lot of overlap between my personal and professional lives. I managed to make a couple friends and that’s plenty but it was a long, awkward road to get here. Worth it, though.

  48. Before I finally cut my abusive, toxic, manipulative parents off… I started using the following:

    “Well that’s racist.”
    “*crazed laughter at how ridiculous they are being*”
    “Wait, did you really just say that?”

    Just to bounce the defensiveness back on them.

    It worked really well until their actual personal abusive of me and my family drove me to the edge.

  49. I had this problem with my family decades ago. My response was that I wasn’t laughing because racism isn’t funny, sexism isn’t funny homophobia isn’t funny and neither were any abuses of vulnerable groups. Transphobia isn’t funny either, but transpeople weren’t as visible then, so they weren’t a direct target of this type of ‘joke’. Any joke that can hurt, isn’t a joke.

    I insisted that my bigotted family members recognised that these were real people they were’ joking’ about who felt real pain. I wasn’t prepared to add to it by laughing. One was stupid enough to say that these groups ‘wouldn’t know’ if I was laughing or not. I went into a meltdown. I said I didn’t care if they knew or not because I knew AND my kids were watching. I also reminded them that I’m African descent on my father’s side and the biggest bigot was clearly of Indian descent. Nothing like a slice of hypocrisy with Christmas dinner. And yes, I was being controlling and setting boundaries, which I was not going to apologise for as their behaviour was shameful.

    I left them with two options. If we were at their house or that of a different family member who wasn’t prepared to call them on their racism and sexism (they weren’t homophobic, ironically), we would leave. And we did, several times. I explained it to my children on the way home that not standing up for what we believe in meant we condoned what they say. The next time it happened it was met by the stony faces of my two children who said, “Do you think it’s time to leave again, Mum?” This actually shamed some of those concerned into questioning if their ‘jokes’ were funny or not. If they were at my house, I turned the ‘My house, my rules’ adage right back on them. I told everyone, family members or not, that if they didn’t leave their privileges outside, they would not be permitted to enter my house. If they were stupid enough after that to try and tell racist and sexist ‘jokes’, or subject me to their personal jellyfish stings, I had a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule. They would be asked politely, but firmly to leave. They’d say “You can’t be serious”, but soon realised that not only was I serious, but that my children were watching and waiting for them to do the right thing. They apologised and stayed, so it worked. But I was fully prepared to chuck them out if it didn’t. I wasn’t going to allow my children to grow up believing it was ok to be anti-racist in theory, but not in practice.

    As for the ‘You are trying to control me’ and the accusations of manipulation, my response was “Yes, I’m absolutely trying to control your behaviour, because your behaviour sucks. You obviously don’t know the meaning of the word ‘manipulation’. It’s the opposite of what I’m doing. I’m asking you clearly, straight to your face, to stop being racist. There’s nothing subtle or underhand about it because I’m stating categorically that your racist jokes and personal attacks aren’t funny. I’m not going to give you a free pass on this, so if you want one, look elsewhere.” Of course they responded that MY behaviour sucked and I replied, “My ‘behaviour’ is about uniting people, reminding you that those different from you still feel pain. They’ve done nothing to you and they’ve been through enough without your unprovoked ‘jokes’, which reinforce the idea that they somehow deserve it. Your behaviour is just you insisting you have the right to be nasty to others. It’s unfair and very divisive. You think about that.”

    You should never feel bad, or let them make you feel bad, for standing up for what’s right. Let them say whatever they want, because all they’re doing is arguing for the right to be horrible without repercussions. You don’t have to either tolerate it or accept their attempts to turn it back on you. They’re like children who say that you insisting they put their coats on is because you’re mean. They’re implying they won’t love you if they don’t get their own way. My response to that was always, “Yeah, I’m really mean. You still have to put your coat on because it’s below freezing. Off you go.” You’ve done nothing wrong. It doesn’t matter what they say about you, it doesn’t change the fact they’re being racist. And if they want to spend less time with you after, well it’s their choice. That shouldn’t stop you from doing what you know in your heart is right. Life’s too short to spend it with toxic people, even if you do share DNA with them. Good luck.

  50. A few thoughts.

    1) Setting boundaries involves consequences. You can set your boundary, and they can cross it. But what happens then?
    You can’t just keep saying “don’t do that.” That’s not a boundary; that’s just nagging, etc.
    So decide, NOT in the heat of the moment, what you will do. And lay those plans.
    Countries have borders. They have armies that are ready to fight if an enemy crosses those borders. They have border patrol agents who arrest people who cross those borders. They train those enforcement agencies well in advance, well before they’re needed. They lay in supplies; they create forms; they buy equipment. Well in advance.

    So–you have a boundary. What do you do when people cross it? Decide that now. And lay in plans. So, you make sure the car is gassed up, and you have the number of a motel by the airport, and a brochure of things to do around the area instead of attending Thanksgiving dinner.
    Or, you bring a book and locate a corner in the basement where you can go read. Or (as you’re doing now), you practice your SHORT script that provides a negative consequence.

    But you need a negative consequence. It needs to be firm, and it needs to be truly negative for them AND it needs to protect you.

    2) Cap’n is right–don’t continue to debate. You’ve stated the border; don’t keep stating it, and don’t try to make them AGREE with you.
    Add this term to her list–it’s my favorite: “Nevertheless.”
    (note: no exclamation mark; that’s a one-word declarativ esentence)

    3) Make it be about them, and NOT about your feelings and your discomfort. Cap’n wrote this:

    “People have a right to their opinions, speech, and votes. You have a right to think those opinions are crap and to think less of people when they spout them. Bigots think that “everyone” thinks as they do and that their views are “simple common sense.” What bigots are looking for when they say bigoted stuff to people who (as far as they know) share their race/class/orientation/disability status/etc. is solidarity and reassurance.”

    So let them know that they have changed their status in your eyes because of that.
    Say: “I really think less of you when I hear you say that sort of stuff.”
    If you want to escalate It makes me wonder what other sorts of nastiness is hiding in there that you’re actually afraid to say. Do you speak about me that way when I’m not around? I don’t like to be around you when you say ugly stuff like that–it’s just to mean spirited.”

    Or: “Is this the only way you can be funny–to say mean-spirited things? I thought you had a better sense of humor than that. I’ve lost a lot of respect for you today, I’m sorry to have to say.”

    Or: “you seem so obsessed with this topic. I thought you had a stronger equilibrium that that.”

    And then pull away–because why would you continue to have a conversation with someone who is mean-spirited?

    4) Don’t make it about any of the “politically correct” terminology that is so scorned. Make it be about the basic truths–and terminology–that every decent person has always agreed with: mean-spiritedness; nasty; antagonistic; un-Christian (if it applies); unloving; promoting strife and division; unkind.
    Sometimes positive is better than attack.
    I happen to be a Christian, and just this weekend we read Galatians 5:22. Even if you’re not Christian, this is a great thing to remember: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.”
    And St. Paul said in Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
    So perhaps you say, “I prefer to focus on positive things–things that are noble, and lovely, and admirable. This conversation is definitely not that, and I would rather not participate.”

    Don’t TALK ABOUT your boundaries. LIVE them.

  51. I have very few family members because there were a few that were a clear and present danger and most of the rest were/are like LW’s fam….. I have limited energy and I never have seen the point of using that energy on them.
    Of the 5 people I have left only 1 is a more than 80% safe person for me. Me & Mom the liberals who believe in the public good and a social safety net, although sometimes she’s ableist we’re working on it.
    My father has like every ism and ist possible but he does his best to keep it out of my face and he tries very hard to be on his best when his Jewish son-in-law is around.
    My father has an SS tattoo, it’s not that old, it wasn’t a mistake and he still treats my husband with respect and consideration. Oh and he loves me beyond all things and tries to keep our conversations fairly neutral so he doesn’t hurt me.
    If my dad can do it, everyone else just isn’t trying very hard.

  52. If I can shut my piehole about Steve Bannon in the White House, then ANYBODY can shut their piehole about ANYTHING. It can be done, I assure you. If they won’t, that’s a different story, but it’s a reasonable request for the hostess to make.

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