#1006: Navigating family estrangement in the long-term

Hi Captain,

About five years ago I discovered that if I didn’t want someone in my life, I had the ability to say “Nope!” and walk away, even if that person was faaaaaaaaaaamily. Since then, I’ve exercised this option four times with family members, never lightly but without regretting the decision either.

Three of the four family members were people I did not have a good relationship already who exhibited patterns of incredibly inappropriate, harmful behaviour (with myself and other) and showed zero insight or awareness into why their behaviour was awful. I feel safer and happier with these people out of my life.

The fourth was…. different. A beloved cousin turned out to espouse absolutely terrifying, hateful beliefs, the kind that conjure up associations with white supremacist groups. I don’t know what the hell happened there (it came up on Facebook one day, it’s definitely not something my cousin talked about when we still lived in the same city several years ago), but living three timezones away and having no regular means of contact with this person, I didn’t feel able to intervene. After trying to challenge these beliefs and getting a response that *I* was the one who wasn’t seeing clearly and if I just would read these various resources I too would see the light and understand [insert horrifying white supremacist conspiracy theory garbage], I bailed. I cannot countenance having any more contact with this person. According to my mother, my cousin is sad and confused by my reaction and subsequent blocking on Facebook. I am agog.

Anyway, none of these estrangements is likely to resolve, ever. I’m okay with that (sad about the beloved cousin, but I can deal). The challenge is what next? My grandmother is having a milestone birthday in a few months, and I’m already planning to avoid the group celebration (which will have 3 of the 4 in attendance) and do something special with her one-on-one (mercifully living out of town makes this possible with minimal awkwardness–I’m just not “available” that day!). Which will disappoint her, but hopefully not too much. My mother is supporting me completely, but she also wonders what the hell I’m going to do about things like funerals, which is something that will very likely come up within the next few years at my grandmother’s age.

Also, what do I tell people? When I was first contemplating just making a brief appearance at the birthday party and then bailing, my mother agreed but also asked me for scripts for how to handle the resulting awkwardness, and I honestly blanked on anything but, “[Child] loves their Granny but doesn’t want to be around Aunt/Uncle/Cousin”, which seems… undiplomatic, to say the least. And not helpful at dispelling awkwardness when the rest of the family are unlikely to be sympathetic to my reasons (very “but faaaaaaaaaamily”).

At least with my dad (estranged family member #4), I feel much freer to say “He’s a shitty person and I’m glad he’s out of my life forever”. But with the extended family members, it feels like I’m not allowed to judge them or be open about why I don’t want to see them. I feel good about my boundaries, but weird about the on-going awkwardness of having them. Help?

-Stranger in an Estranged Land

Dear Stranger,

First, if any of these people you’ve stopped hanging with asked you why you cut off contact, what would you say?

Would it be some version of:

You did a lot of stuff that made me feel disrespected and unsafe, and when I asked you to stop you kept going. I don’t wish you any harm, but I don’t think I can have a good relationship with you, so I’ve stopped trying. Let’s keep our distance!


“I watched you advocate for some repulsive and hateful political views and I tried to talk to you about it you doubled down. I’m sorry to lose you, but I can’t be in your life if you think those terrible and violent things.

Or (with your Dad):

You’re a shitty dad and a shitty person and I’m glad you’re out of my life forever.

Remind yourself of the truth. These people know why they were cut off from your life, it’s not actually a mystery! And their shitty behavior is not a secret that you have to keep. If someone in the extended family were to ask about you + cousin, “Why aren’t you talking to cousin anymore? He’s so hurt and confused” you could say “Welp, did you notice when he became a Nazi? It’s not actually confusing, Aunt Jean.” See also the catch-all “We just don’t get along anymore, and I’ve stopped trying to make it work for now. Howabout that subject change?”

Dropping contact with family members really freaks people out. It goes against the Blood is Thicker Than Water/Your Family Will Always Love & Accept You ideals they were raised with. It also raises the possibility for them that if they behaved very badly you might cut contact with them, which…yes? You might? Family bonds are important but you have a right not to subject yourself to abuse in the name of those bonds.

Anyway, the first principle, for you or your mom might be “Don’t start none, won’t be none” aka “If I go to a family event I will not start conflict or trouble, I will just try to quietly avoid the people, but if someone asks me directly about what’s going on between us, I will tell the truth.

To build on that, what if you thought of funerals and other “the whole family will be there” events as neutral ground? What if you treated the estranged relatives less like enemies and more like strangers?

If you ran into a stranger or an arms-length acquaintance you didn’t like much at a funeral you’d say the minimum polite “hello” and then go talk to the people you came to see. You wouldn’t start a duel or try to rehash relationship troubles, you’d just ignore them. If they approached you trying to have a big conversation about whatever it is you’d say “This is hardly the place or the time to get into this. I’m here to support [grieving relative], let’s drop it for now.

As for “whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” scripts, especially for your mom to tell other relatives, why not the truth? And why not give her a way to not be in the middle of it?

  • “[Stranger] and [Relative] aren’t in touch.”
  • “You’ll have to ask [Stranger] about that, I couldn’t possibly tell you.”
  • “[Stranger] & [Relative] had a falling out. You’ll have to ask them about it.”
  • “[Stranger] & [Relative] don’t get on. It’s not my business why.”

Your mom doesn’t have to fix this or explain it or convince anyone in the family that it was the right thing for you to do. I mean, I think we should respect the fact that family members have expectations that she will and that she has been brought up with expectations that she will and even you sort of have expectations that she will do the explaining – her anxiety about this isn’t coming from nowhere! So, don’t put her in the position of being your diplomat and do give her permission to let you be “the bad guy” in these interactions. “Mom, I know this is super-uncomfortable but you didn’t cause this and you can’t fix this.” She’s passing on information that the cousin is super sad and confused about your estrangement, so, address that head on. “I’m sad too, but his beliefs are vile and dangerous and my attempts to talk to him about it were met with a stone wall. I can’t fix his sadness and he can’t fix mine as long as he believes those terrible things.” If she says “What about funerals? What do I say when people ask?” and you can say “I’ll go to funerals, etc. as I can and if people ask you uncomfortable questions you can tell them to ask me about it directly. There’s nothing for you to fix here!

You can also take pressure of your mom by forming your own, adult relationships with extended family members you want to be close to that aren’t mediated through her. Write them, call them, remember their birthdays, send holiday cards (or whatever the rituals of your family are) to the extent you want to. Create bilateral relationships instead of letting Mom be the clearinghouse. Then they can talk directly to you if they have a problem or a question.

The first time or two you go to a family event or avoid a family event will be the most awkward and then a new normal will emerge. It will never be comfortable, probably, but it doesn’t have to be fixed. You can’t fix a person’s bigotry. You can’t fix it when someone treats you badly. You don’t have to convince the whole family of the rightness of your actions.  They can think you made the wrong call if they want to. You also don’t have to give up your whole family if you don’t want to. Work to preserve the relationships you value (and that value you) and let the rest go.


168 thoughts on “#1006: Navigating family estrangement in the long-term

  1. I am estranged from my older brother, my only sibling, who still lives with my parents, so that does make things awkward sometimes. My immediate family knows what an asshole he is, so I’ve never gotten any pushback from them about not speaking to him anymore.

    I do have one friend who pulls out the “but faaaaaaaaaaaamily” card on me every once in a while, and has tried to meddle in our relationship (she contacted my brother before I was having surgery to tell him he should check on me, and recently sent me a social media post he’d made that concerned her and asked me to talk to him about it).

    I had to put my foot down and tell her clearly that my relationship, or lack thereof, with him was not her business, and any concerns she has about what he’s posting online she can raise with him directly.

    When other people ask why we’re estranged, I keep the focus on the fact that it’s not SAFE for me to be in contact or around this person, and my safety comes first.

    I’m sorry, LW, even when it’s totally the right decision for you to cut someone out of your life, the realities of navigating that often suck and are awkward and weird. My parents and I live in the same town, and I deal with interacting with my brother by keeping it polite, brief, and never giving him any information about my life or engaging with him about anything. As far as I’m concerned, I’m an only child.

    We’ve been estranged for so long that now we really are like strangers, so he’s more like this annoying, unwelcome houseguest who lives with my parents than my brother.

    1. YMMV, but I also found that being scrupulously civil to my brother on the rare occasions we did have to interact worked really well in my favor – then, when he started being nasty or behaving shittily, he was the one who had broken the social contract, not me.

      One thing I did find interesting is how many friends or boyfriends would meet him once or twice and think they knew him, and make comments like “well, he doesn’t seem that bad” or “let me offer some random justification for his behavior.”

      Reminding people that I’ve known him all my life and certainly knew him better than they did shut that down pretty quickly. I actually don’t care if someone I’m dating wants to hang out with my brother, I just don’t want to and don’t want to hear about it.

      1. Being excruciatingly polite to them is really awesome. You look classy, and if anything goes wrong, it’s their fault.

        The friends/boyfriends are experiencing an opportunity to show you who they are. If they do the “he doesn’t seem too bad” thing, you can respond with “Just because he didn’t do X to you doesn’t mean he didn’t do X,” and then, if they say, “That’s true,” and trust you, then you probably have a good egg. If they push back, then you know it’s one more person to drop.

        1. Generally agree, but I’ll put in a word for people whose life experience has been so different they don’t have the framework to understand abusive relatives. My now-husband once said something to this effect about a dangerous family member who presents themselves well to people outside the family. It was hurtful but he’s never done it outside that context, and I think he literally lacked the frame of reference to make it emotionally conceivable that people could act so differently with family and others. Though not anymore he doesn’t.

          1. Yeah, I still remember the time I finally “got it.”
            I had a friend who told me “I ran into my mother today and it ruined my whole day.”

            Having grown up with great parents, and having seen my high school classmates (the only one whose parent-child dynamics I’d ever observed) complain bitterly about how awful their parents were, with details like “she makes me come home by 11pm” or “he grounded me for not calling to say I’d be late,” I just sort of assumed that all parent-child conflicts were situations in which a child was chafing at a parent’s boundaries. And that kids should cut their parents some slack, they’re doing the best they can (and ditto parents cutting their kids slack).

            The idea that actual meanness could be part of a parent-child relationship was beyond me. I thought she was exaggerating.

            Then I went to Passover with this friend–and was breathless about how absolutely and relentlessly VICIOUS her mother was to her, verbally. And saw her big sister throw herself in front of my friend, metaphorically, with some random statement (“I went out with a plumber last week”–honestly, I think that was a lie) to distract her mom from attacking my friend.

            I came home and went immediately to the phone to thank my mother.

            And I had a special kindness for my friend from then on!

            People really don’t get it.

      2. oh gods! the people who try to tell you all about how you don’t really know/understand the estranged family member you grew up with!

        When my toxic family member was being extricated from the family I had to have a conversation with TFM’s neighbors with whom TFM had become very friendly. Husband neighbor was horribly indignant about what family was doing and very huffily announced “I’ve known TFM for 11 years and they would never lie to me.” I said, “And I’ve known TFM for 49 years and they’re a pathological liar.” And hung up the phone.

      3. Is there a term for “family privilege” or the equivalent? It feels like there should be a term for the experience of growing up with an unconditionally supportive family and then being well-intentioned and also clueless and also inadvertently awful when hearing about others’ less privileged experiences. Does anyone know if there is a term (official or unofficial) for “my life experiences have given me no frame of reference for anything but more-or-less decent family relationships” and the subsequent pattern of inadvertently problematic commentary?

        1. Hi Sol, I don’t know if there’s a recognised term, but I think I fall into that category! I was fortunate to grow up in a loving, supportive family: not to say my parents (and I!) never made mistakes, but I always knew they were coming from a place of love, because they proved that to me every day. Reading some of the LWs’ experiences on this site simply blows my mind, and breaks my heart in equal measure. It makes me hesitant to offer comments or advice a lot of the time, because I just don’t have the frame of reference, but this site has been a real eye-opener and reminder to check my privilege when listening to people who’ve had different experiences. Which is also really sad, because damn it, a loving upbringing shouldn’t be a privilege – it should be the norm!

        2. This is definitely a thing, very frustrating. My mom did it a lot to my ex, who had big reasons to avoid/ not seek contact with family.

        3. It’s definitely a form of privilege (I have it too), even if it doesn’t have its own name.

    2. I invited my younger brother to my wedding because I didn’t feel like having the fight with my parents if I didn’t, but told parents/older brother “He’s invited, but please when he asks, do not give him money to come. If he wants to save up (a year in advance, he has a good job and makes more $ than me) he’s welcome, but don’t give him the $ and think you’re doing it as a favor to me. We’ve talked exactly one time since 2011 and I’m good with that.”

      There was a little “but familyyyyyyyy” from my Mom (something something about pictures) and I was like, look, you don’t get along with him either, you ALWAYS fight, he makes you miserable, so think of it this way. I’m going to say hi to him for max 5 minutes and then go talk to other guests. You’re the one who is going to have to deal with him the entire weekend if he comes, pay for every meal, drive him everywhere, and listen to him spout his constant stream of nonsense. Is it that important to you that he be there? Make your decision, but don’t tell me it’s a favor for or a gift to me, because I don’t care about seeing him, at all, ever.”

      She keeps sending me his new mailing address and I keep deleting that shit. She keeps reminding me to call him on his birthday and it’s like, does he remember my birthday? No he does not! I know it makes her sad that we’re not closer, but I have known that dude for 39 years and we have never been close. He was an obnoxious ass at 4 and he’s an obnoxious ass at 42. When I invited him to the wedding he volunteered to be the minister and I was like “Nope, I’m good” and he was like “You know I’m a preacher, I can perform weddings” and I was like “Nope, thanks, I’m good” and he kept bringing it up, like, “I could do a prayer” I had to be like “Okay, you’re not hearing me, if you come to the wedding I want you to sit in your chair and BE QUIET the WHOLE TIME. NO PRAYING, no toasting, no extemporaneous speaking.” (He has a habit of hijacking stuff like Catholic funerals to “testify” and people are usually too shocked to stop him. Not me, not again.) Then he started in on his “plus one” because he was wavering between bringing his wife (ugh, she’s the worst) or this new woman that God had brought into his life who he was having an affair with (gonna go out on a limb and say she’s also the worst) or did I have any friends I could set him up with (nobody I hate and want to punish, so, that’s out)?

      And that’s when I got off the phone. The week of the wedding he emailed me to ask “When is it again” and also “Are you sure you don’t need me to perform the ceremony?” and I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew he was not coming. If he had shown up it all would have ended with burly friends hurling him into the bonfire.

      1. Wait, wait, wait. He’s some sort of evangelical something, with a wife, a girlfriend, AND on the make for someone new? Is he a preacher in a polygamous cult? Or is he simply that short on self-awareness? since “God brought” woman #2 into his life, I’m leaning toward polygamous.

        Which makes me all kinds of curious about what sort of preaching he would have done, had he performed the ceremony. It might have been entertaining for everyone but the bridal couple.

        Good on you for dodging that bullet. And for having a bonfire.

        1. Idk, hijacking other people’s life events to “testify” sounds spectacularly short on self-awareness, so it really could go either way.

          1. Truth. Either way, I (as someone completely unconnected and not actually hurt by it) find it so bemusing.

            Maybe after reading about some of the other toxic faaaaaaamily in the last letter, I reached my outrage max, and just looked at that and thought, “how very interesting,” rather than the “whaaaaa?” it should have been.

          2. Hijacking someone’s life event to “testify” about how Jesus made you a better man for your current mistress. Some people seem like they’re almost too ridiculous to be real.

        2. Polygamous evangelacles, in my experience, are not as much fun as they might sound. Usually it’s all a man on a power trip and about how god says women need to be obedient to men. And everyone needs to obey god. And hey conveniently this dude tots talks to god so next best thing is to obey him whatever the request!

        3. Yeah, sounds like a real winner, doesn’t he? I’ve been in evangelical circles quite a bit and would put this under the “screwed-up evangelical narcissist” category. I’ve seen if before though not face to face. Someone who’s doing the faith in a more woo-woo sort of way, being “led by the Spirit” (of God?? of narcissism?), and crucially someone who is a leader and they and everyone else thinks they are Important (otherwise they’ll get shut down so fast) occasionally it will happen that they go “but this new woman gives me such Feeeeelings, it must be God! It’s not really cheating, it’s an exception–God can make exceptions!”

          1. BTW apologies for any ambiguity, I was not trying to use “narcissist” in the clinical sense. I had that word more in mind for the other stories I’ve heard, anyway…

          2. Yeah, somehow they never quite follow the example of the patriarchs of old, who had multiple wives and concubines because the WIVES arranged it.

            Abraham had an arranged marriage, and when his wife couldn’t give him a child, SHE arranged for him to try with her handmaiden.

            Jacob wanted Rachel, was promised Rachel, worked for Rachel, and his father-in-law foisted Leah off on him, because she was older, and then promised him Rachel (again), if he worked for him for seven years (again). And who decided who he’d sleep with? The wives! They arranged the schedule, not him. And they arranged for the concubines, not him.

            He preferred Rachel, but they did not allow him to give her preferential treatment. And if he had snuck around behind his lawful wives’ backs, and took a lover, because of Feeeeeelings, he would probably have woken up missing something he really loved.

            Even Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law, OWNED that law about the younger brother taking over for the older one, if he died without issue.

            So, at first glance, that old patriarchy seems like the men controlling the women, so they can have more fun, but how it actually worked out, the women were in charge of the sex.

            But modern polygamists seem to be more about “woman must obey man, and man gets to have whatever sexy times he wants, for the glory of god, and suck it up, sweet cheeks.”

            My point is, polyamory can work out, if there is a proper balance of power, and everyone is fully-informed and consenting. I’m not saying Abraham or Jacob’s relationships were successful polyamory, though, because the concubines weren’t happy, and there was that whole issue with Sarah kicking Hagar out. But they CAN work out, ONLY IF everyone involved is fully on the same page, and no one feels coerced.

            Too much coercion in most modern polygamous marriages.

      2. Oh, lord. There was a kind of final-straw moment with my brother that led to me deciding that our already-distant relationship was now going to be no relationship at all, but we’ve never been close – not as children, not as teenagers, not as adults. He’s always been an entitled, selfish, aggressive asshole, and we’ve never really had anything in common or enjoyed each other’s company.

        I consider myself really fortunate that my parents recognize this about him and don’t try to guilt me into having a relationship with him, but their relationship with him has become a sticking point between me and my parents (as in, if you are willing to let him live in your house for years, rent-free, with no job, then please don’t complain to me about how stressed you are about the situation you created with him, okay? Bed, made, now lie in it, you know?).

        I have dialed way back on my relationship with my parents, because my brother owns a lot of guns and is irresponsible with them, and my father’s way of dealing with everyone is the proverbial stick-fingers-in-ears-and-la-la-la. Seriously – about a year ago I got a hysterical, incoherent call from my brother in the middle of some kind of psychosis, threatening to kill my parents, and when I called my dad HE got mad at ME for…answering the phone? It’s sad but I honestly would not surprised if I end up getting interviewed on the news after my brother goes on a rampage or something. But there is really nothing I can do, other than alerting the mental health authorities in the county where they live.

        Also, wow – your brother’s justifications are really quite…inventive.

          1. Thanks – it really, really sucked. I remember it distinctly because it was right after the election, and I was on my way to a protest when he called. He never calls me, so I thought maybe someone had died. He proceeded to go on a half-hour, nearly incoherent ramble about some seriously scary shit. I was considering just sending the police to the house, but didn’t know who was home, so I called my father at work – and then he proceeded to act like I was the problem for “letting my brother upset me” (um, maybe your sibling calling to say that he’s considering killing your parents is upsetting because…it’s upsetting?) and then got really offended when I suggested he store my brother’s multitude of guns somewhere not at the house for a while until he got his issues more sorted.

            I called a few mental health hotlines to see what my options were, which are basically nothing until he actually does something. At that point I washed my hands of the whole thing. My parents’ denial of how sick he is definitely helped create this monster, so now it’s their problem to deal with.

            I will be 100% unsurprised if I end up getting interviewed on the news after he does something terrible. I just hope the negligence lawsuits afterwards don’t eat up all my inheritance (kidding! Mostly.).

            It’s basically an entire bundle of suck, and I’m more angry at my parents for being so blind about the problems and enabling him for so long. The dysfunction, it is epic.

          2. @CommanderBanana

            The phrase ‘you shouldn’t let [X] upset you’ needs to be swallowed by a black hole right beside its vile cousin ‘you’re too sensitive’.

            I’m sorry you’re saddled with not only a crappy brother, but also a father who thinks he has the right to use your own emotions as a weapon against you.

        1. Wow what a terrible situation.
          I’ve always been a mind my own business kind of person unless it involves abuse of animals or (once) children, and I Hate a cop-calling-motherfucker but since you have spoken with mental health people (civil) perhaps you should consider calling in some sort of authority that can grapple with him better than family members? should he turn violent/psychotic? Gun “enthusiasts” want the liberty to have and to hold and to use their firearms so maybe they would be in a better position to -God forbid- disarm him?

          1. I told my father that the next time I got a call like I would have to send the police to their house. It really, really sucks that that is my only option. The county they live in has a mobile response unit for psychiatric emergencies, but there’s no guarantee that that unit would be the one responding. All of the other mental health care services require the person in question to contact those services themselves. My only option would really be the police and then having him involuntarily committed.

            Believe me, I am not a knee-jerk call the cops person and I know how dangerous involving the police can be. He has a long history of unsafe gun ownership, including riding around in a vehicle with loaded, unsecured automatic weapons.

            Every time I try to mention to my parents that hey, maybe he’s not the best person to own guns, it turns into this big lecture on how him owning guns is legal, blah blah blah, what is my problem with the guns, blah blah blah. It’s really frustrating. I personally don’t care if you want to own them, I just don’t think someone with a history of violent threats against other people should own them.

          2. It’s unfortunately still possible that the police can’t do much with just threats, depending on state laws and local jurisdiction. My uncle (who is now deceased, thank goodness) attempted to kill his son more than once, and threatened to kill his mother (my grandmother) and his sisters (my mother and aunt.) The family was told that unless he actually *succeeded* in carrying out an act of violence, he couldn’t be involuntarily committed for longer than a night or two.

            Like I said, I’m sure this varies by state and the local political will (this being a small town and the sheriff being well-acquainted with my uncle and possibly unwilling to jail him), but it was quite sobering to find that out.

            In retrospect, I suppose my uncle never used a shotgun when he went after my grandma and his son because what he wanted wasn’t to kill them — he wanted them to do what he told them to do.

        2. Wait- your father told you you were too sensitive because you were upset when your brother threatened to murder your father? I can’t even…

          When I finally realized that I had to cut Toxic Family Member out of my life, I told my mother I was going No Contact with TFM, and that if mother kept TFM in her life, I would go No Contact on mother as well, since TFM’s toxicity is so strong, it effs up everyone within two degrees of her and I was getting clean out. And the strain of TFM was killing mom and I wasn’t willing to watch it happen. Fortunately, mom that gave mom the courage to admit it was killing her and she pulled out.

          I hope your parents come to their senses before anyone is hurt worse.
          I hope for your sake that your brother doesn’t know where you live. And your parents, since they don’t sound trustworthy to keep that information safe from him.

          1. Yup. What makes it even more baffling is that my dad and I have a pretty good relationship otherwise. He’s one of the few family members I actually like and like to talk to, but he has this massive, weird blind spot when it comes to my brother and gun ownership. I really, really don’t understand where it comes from – it’s like the guns are a symbol of something else. And I don’t come from a gun-loving family, my dad is a WASP from New England, for god’s sake! It’s not like he grew up hunting or whatever.

            The subject has become so fraught that I can’t even bring it up, so we end up just dancing around this massive, horrible elephant in the room. As a result, my relationship with him has become pretty distant, because you can only hop over the missing stair for so long without getting worn out.

            I live pretty close to my parents, but my brother’s never actually shown up at my house before, and while he knows the general area where I live I don’t think he knows my actual address. I highly doubt he’d ever put in the effort to track me down, so I don’t feel particularly unsafe where I live, it’s more just being afraid for my parents’ safety because he lives in their house.

            I honestly don’t know how this will end. Every once in a while my brother will make noises about moving away but he never does. At this point I think the best thing my parents could do would be to set him up in an apartment somewhere else, or pay him enough to go live in a different state for a year and just…let him go. I’ve been hearing “this year your brother has to move out!” for like….8 years? Maybe longer?

            Aside from the mental illness, he’s able-bodied and a very talented artist. I think he were to get the mental illness better managed he’d be able to be independent, BUT my parents are also in complete denial about that as well, and unfortunately my dad is one of those “fix it with diet and exercise!” people who think that, like, a regular sleep schedule and leafy greens can cure depression or whatever.

            It just really fucking sucks, honestly. Sorry to unload here, but I don’t have a lot of people that I talk to about this. Half of my brother’s life has been eaten by this mental illness, and if he’d just gotten treatment earlier I think he’d be much happier and able to do the things he wants to do. I know he’s an adult, and theoretically there’s nothing stopping him from finding a therapist and such (he has insurance, a car, money, and time) but he just hasn’t, and they’re not encouraging him to.

        3. out of nesting, so replying here.
          Please don’t apologize for unloading. If you can’t unload here, where can you?
          I’m so sorry you have this in your life. It’s so exhausting, like having a sort of existential dread hanging over you, where you’ve always got one ear cocked in fear of Something Bad Happening.

      3. Then he started in on his “plus one” because he was wavering between bringing his wife (ugh, she’s the worst) or this new woman that God had brought into his life who he was having an affair with (gonna go out on a limb and say she’s also the worst) or did I have any friends I could set him up with (nobody I hate and want to punish, so, that’s out)?

        Every time another bit of your wedding story dribbles out, it just gets better. (Where by “better,” I mean “more morbidly fascinating for people who didn’t have to sit through all of that nonsense, and ugh, I’m sorry you did, but also you’re an excellent storyteller and thanks for sharing with us.”)

          1. A reply to Michelle C Young: It’s the best story because it has a happy ending, in which the Captain is married to her Fella and doesn’t need to see toxic family for a good long while!

          2. That’s probably happening; from “question #1000”:

            “Shouldn’t QUESTION ONE THOUSAND sort of sum up everything I think about conflict and awkwardness?” (Answer: No, that’s a book. A book that I am trying to figure out the shape of. A book that will happen.)

      4. He was an obnoxious ass at 4 and he’s an obnoxious ass at 42.

        I think your brother and my sibling are SECRET TWINS! 😀

      5. At my grandfather’s funeral, non-Catholics were banned from any speaking role, even scripture reading, which made for a short service.I remember thinking “gee, it’s not like I’m gonna get up here and tell everyone why predestination is correct and Catholics are wrong” but I guess Protestant hijacking a ceremony is a thing that can conceivably happen.

        Can I invite your brother to the next event where the jerk Priest officiates?

        1. I feel like this could me a marketable service that the brother could provide. I know a lot of disgruntle Catholics that go to mass under protest to make their parents happy.

        2. It happens more than you’d think. I can easily think of a few times it’s happened during quiet parts of Mass, for instance.

          1. Also, at every single atheist funeral I’ve ever attended, someone just *had* to make it about their own belief in Jesus instead of the intended secular grief ritual. Definitely something that happens a lot.

        3. My will, such as it is, includes the stipulation that if a funeral is held for me, it must not be in a church, the officiant is to be a humanist or UU minister, and there are to be no religious trappings – no hymns, no scripture, no eulogies about the afterlife or God in any way, shape or form. I specify this because I can too easily see my mother blithely assuming that of course I would have a Christian burial despite having been an extremely vocal atheist since the age of fifteen. It wouldn’t be out of any kind of malice – she just wouldn’t think about it otherwise.

          1. Not a funeral, but the vicar at my sister & BIL’s wedding went off on a little thing of his own. They had met with the vicar in advance and had discussed what was oping to be in the ceremony, and that fact that they were not either of them overly religious, but then he got sick so they got a different, very evangelical one on the day, who instead of giving a 5 minute address gave a 20 minute lecture, including a lot f stuff about how important a part of their life and marriage Jesus was going to be. Fortunately sis & BIL had their back to the congregation my sister and I were the only ones who could see their faces, and I am pretty sure that we were the only ones who could hear when my BIL whispered to my sister “Well, I don’t care what he says, we are *not* having a threesome with Jesus”

            I think because it was a wedding, we were all able to laugh about it, apparently he did something similar at a funeral a few weeks later and upset a lot of people by projecting his own, rather narrow and un-compassionate version of christianity onto the deceased, resulting in complaints to the Bishop.

        4. This happened at my Catholic grandmother’s funeral, and it was Awful (and I speak as a religiously indifferent atheist born and raised, but damn it, a funeral is not the place to evangelize!)

          1. Little Brother did this at my Grandpa’s Catholic funeral in 2011. Am I Catholic anymore? Nope. Have I forgiven him for it? Well, he’d have to say sorry first, so, nope.

          2. I’m so sorry. I thought it was bad when the minister at my super-Baptist great-grandmother’s funeral finished the eulogy with a Come to Jesus speech – “She would want you to welcome Jesus fully into your heart so you can see her again” – but as bad as that was, at least he was proselytizing for something she had actually believed in!

            I just cannot imagine how anyone would think that any funeral, much less a funeral in a different religious tradition, is an acceptable place to evangelize.

      6. “Then he started in on his “plus one” because he was wavering between bringing his wife (ugh, she’s the worst) or this new woman that God had brought into his life who he was having an affair with (gonna go out on a limb and say she’s also the worst) or did I have any friends I could set him up with (nobody I hate and want to punish, so, that’s out)?”

        Captain, to what address may I send the invoice for the cost of a new keyboard? Because I just spit iced coffee all over my current one. Please let me know.

      7. “Brother, I do have a role for you. We need a king fool for the ceremony. There is a nice lady named Willow MacGregor who will be attending and maybe you can get to know her before you take your seat in the giant Wicker Man. FANCY I know.”

        1. And I am now picturing Christopher Lee grinning and dancing, while singing “Sumer Is a Cummin In,” (or however you spell that).

          By the by, for a really hilarious horror movie experience, watch the original “The Wicker Man” movie, with the subtitles for the Nicolas Cage version. Yay, technical difficulties!

          My nephew had taken our DVD collection, and uploaded them to some sort of online back-up/sharing program. It’s legal, if you have the original disks, and you only share amongst your own family, or something, or other. Anyway, he assured us it was not piracy. But we discovered that remakes with the same title are problematic.

      8. Religious fanaticism… outsized and inappropriate regard for his own sexual prowess… is your brother Euron Greyjoy?

    3. oh WOW, your “friend” intervened in your estrangement without your consent? Sent him to check on you while you were vulnerable without your consent?? My eye is twitching over here. Yikes.

      1. She knew I was having surgery and I guess texted him to say that he should text or call me to see how I was doing (either before or after, I don’t remember – painkillers!) and he was really snarky about it. I guess her justification was that if something happened, he’d feel really bad about it if he hadn’t? Who knows. She has a good relationship with her sibling, but also has some super toxic family relationships she still maintains, and I think that colors how she views it. She’s definitely of the “but faaaaaaaaaaaaaaamily” school.

        The social media meddling was recently; I don’t follow him on any social media, and realized afterwards I should have just told her that if something about his posts was bothering her, she can deal with it herself.

        My brother is just an asshole, with a heaping helping of unmanaged mental illness on top of it. He’s mean, spiteful, and angry all the time, but he’s always been that way! Even when we were kids he was a dick. It’s gotten worse as he’s gotten older, the mental illness has gotten worse, and he’s gotten more bitter and spiteful at all the perceived slights and injustices towards him, but it’s just not my problem anymore.

    4. TW for abuse, self-harm.

      When I say that I feel your pain and offer ghost hugs of solidarity, it’s because we’re apparently in parallel lives, with only a few of the details differing. My parents operate under the delusion that they can actually stop my brother from killing me. Also, he would like to suicide-by-cop while killing me, so calling the cops when he is in a threatening rage (has also always been raging with self, other, and property-intended destruction since very early childhood) has that twist to consider. Sadly my parents minimize what he has done and said, the danger I would be in if I didn’t maintain the major boundaries I have developed. There are a few of us in the extended family now that do at least wonder about, and sometimes check in with them, if there have been news reports that could conceivably involve him. The biggest difference is I did try for many years to care and be there as a source of support, and we had some good times in the past, but the escalation of hate and rage clearly reached the nuclear point.

      1. I’m so sorry, Astral. It just really, really sucks, and it’s crazy-making to feel like you’re the only one in the situation who isn’t denying that it’s happening or that it’s completely not normal or okay.

  2. I have nothing to add except another script for your mom, which is: “Stranger is an adult, that’s their business.” Communicates to anyone trying to get her to intervene and make you reconcile that hey, the days when she could make you do stuff are Over so stop involving her.

  3. OP, I’m in the exact same situation. I went no contact with my parents, one sister and my brother a number of years ago – 5 in the case of my parents, 20 in the case of my brother (who is a skinhead Holocaust-denying neo-nazi with ties to Combat 18) and about 15 for the sister. I’m only really in contact with my youngest sister, with whom I’m actually pretty close. I also have occasional contact with a favourite uncle (who is as much the black sheep of the family in his generation as I’ve been in mine).

    I don’t care what the family say about me behind my back, and frankly it’s not my monkey to come up with scripts for any of the extended family to talk about it with each other. I found it gave me a huge sense of relief and peace of mind to be able to walk away from all the toxicity; discussing scripts would be allowing myself to be drawn back into all that crap again.

    There have been two family funerals at which I came in contact with the estranged members; one was my maternal grandfather, and the other was my paternal grandmother. My partner accompanied me to my grandfather’s funeral and he (6’4″) and my uncle (6’3″) stood either side of me (5′ 5″!) and faced off my brother without saying anything. Said brother held his tongue and stayed out of my way, the estranged sister ignored us, my favourite sister gave me a hug and sat near us and my parents were awkwardly polite. At the meal afterwards (in a restaurant), my brother managed to at least be civil.

    My eldest daughters (both adult) accompanied me and my youngest daughter to my grandmother’s funeral, which was in a church. Where I was actually more comfortable and at home, because at that point I’d been leading sung worship in my own church for a number of years, whereas the rest of my family are either atheists or else not regular churchgoers (or, in the case of my favourite sister and family, are Muslim). I kind of had something of an almost home turf advantage; I was able to be the graciously civil one, and it was the rest of the extended family and my late grandmother’s friends who were friendly and made me feel welcome without ever bringing up the whole issue of the estrangement. It was like there was a kind of buffer between them and me.

    The Captain is absolutely correct. A new normal does emerge, and it’s the most freeing thing ever when you can just let it go. I am completely at peace with having cut the toxic people out of my life, and if you project that to the people who are trying to rope you back into that – even at second hand like your mother is trying to do by raising the issue of family events – then it really does become very effective at squelching it.

    I wish you all the peace of mind that I have found by walking away from the toxic people in my family. Oh, and that old saying about “blood is thicker than water”? The whole, complete saying is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” – i.e. the family you make through the bond of friendship is far stronger than any formed by an accident of birth. SOmething to think about if anyone throws that little saying at you. 😉

    1. Unfortunately, the idea that that’s the complete saying doesn’t have much in the way of sources to back it up. I’ve heard that before, and tried to research, and came up with nothing. There is some strong evidence that “blood is thicker than water” has had it’s current meaning for at least three centuries.

      The following quotes are from a discussion on this topic from the linguistics reddit, I’ll link to the whole thread in a followup comment.

      “The closest “original meaning” I could find was from Henry Clay Trumbell. Trumbell, in The Blood Covenant: A Primitive Rite and its Bearing on Scripture c. 1898, claims that the proverb comes from an older Arab one, which can be translated as, “Blood is thicker than milk,” with milk referring to a mother’s milk and blood referring to strong love between two people (not necessarily romantic love, of course). He notes that English interprets the phrase as “family blood” is thicker than water and that we’ve been doing it wrong. He does not say that the original phrase in English was, “The blood of the covenant is thicker…” ”

      “the OED has an example [of blood is thicker than water] dated all the way back to 1737. If you’re curious, the OED sources A Collection of Scots Proverbs by Allan Ramsay.”

      If you have any sources to show the use of “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” I’d be more than happy to be proved wrong. I was a little sad to discover that this probably wasn’t true.

      1. Rather pedantic and irrelevant though to the main point of my comment, and derailing from the topic of the main thread just to pick at a throwaway comment at the end of what I’d said….

        1. I’m sorry about that. I actually quite appreciated the gist of your comment and thought it was helpful, with your advice from experience about handling funerals and embarrassingly I appear to have edited out the first paragraph of my post where I said as much.

          I just find it undermining of the main point that the ties that bind found family are powerful, and that being related by blood to someone doesn’t actually mean you have anything in common when misinformation of that nature gets spread, and I was truly interested to know if you were familiar with any sources I was not. I can quite see how it came across poorly though.

  4. “Howabout that subject change?”

    I laughed, and just really want this to be a thing someone says, word for word.

    Also, good for you, LW, for having a one-on-one with Grandma. As for funerals, I suppose arranging a one-on-one grave visit might be an option, or if you’re concerned about what the family thinks of you, make it a thing you do with a few of the good ones, in the days after the funeral. In other words, show up just late enough to miss the crowd, but not so late you miss all of them, and have a few of the good ones show you the grave. Word will get out that you came, at least.

    Or, don’t worry about what they think of you, and deal with your grief however you choose, and deal with your relationships in one-on-one or small groups, making sure to only include the good’uns.

    So sorry about your faaaaaaamily, but kudos for standing strong.

    1. Something I actually say on occasion is “Speaking of non-sequiturs, [New Subject]”
      It’s great, because it fits a standard conversation flow pattern (the whole ‘one subject leads to another subject, which leads to another subject, …’ idea). And if somebody thinks about the transition phrase, (and not just the new subject), it’s generally seen as humorous, and less forceful than a “Okay, new subject time!”
      If nothing else, it’s a good way to derail an awkward topic of conversation.

        1. My former roommate uses that one, and usually follows up by showing people pictures of Pallas Cats. They’re usually pretty diverting.

      1. I go with “Hey, look!” *point behind them* “A shiny change of topic!”
        If they persist, “I’m done talking about that/clearly we’re not going to agree/I support [X] and that’s not going to change, so let’s just drop it.”

    2. I used to know someone who used “So how about that local sports team?” Don’t know that it worked well since it wasn’t an actual subject change (we didn’t live somewhere with a team of note) but was a pretty clear “enough about that”.

      1. The accepted response in my circles to “how ’bout that local sports team?” is “They’re awfully tall this year…” Which makes for a nice acknowledgement that the discussion has now ended and we’re moving on.

        1. My dad’s roommate got caught rummaging through someone’s underwear drawer and said “How ’bout them Buffalo Bills?” We use that whenever we’re changing the subject.

  5. I’ll echo the ‘I’m afraid we had a falling out + SUBJECT CHANGE.” If you are pressed, just reiterate, “As I said, we had a falling out.” Repeat until the Awkward is clearly on Nosy Person Who is Pushing. I like the phrase ‘falling out’ because it’s not often used these days, and it usually stops people short, so to speak.

    This works equally well for your Mom.

    1. Oh you can also add, if necessary because of the Pushing-For-A-Reason: “Oh! Well I’d rather not say.” That sets a very clear conversational boundary, and if they continue, they are definitely starting to Look The Ass.

      1. I like, “It’s personal.” Sure, they can push, but it will still be personal the tenth time they ask, and the hundredth, so just repeat as needed, and they’ll look progressively worse.

      2. Another option for persistent askers is “We don’t get along. Stop looking for drama.” Put it back on them – they’re the ones making a meal of it by pushing for Reasons instead of minding their business and accepting that sometimes adults don’t like each other.

        1. I’ve also used, “I’d hate to hijack this event with a long, boring story,” because then it adds a teeny bit of pressure on the person who won’t quit asking to STFU and focus on the event at hand.

        2. “It would take too long to explain and it’s not that interesting” has worked for me well in the past.

    2. Falling out is also a pretty neutral term. It doesn’t cast blame on either side. It simply is. And while some fallings out (falling outs?) last for years and decades and life, others blow over pretty quickly, which gives it a sort of chronological neutrality, as well. “We had a falling out + subject change” could mean “I will never talk to this person again,” or “I need some time to cool off,” or anywhere in between. What it does always mean is “we’re not talking to each other at this moment,” and that’s all they nosy person needs to know.

      1. Completely agree – it’s a fair and somewhat cool phrase, that could mean both a lot and a little. For anyone to push for more information puts that person in the perfectly acceptable realm of a response such as, ‘Well, clearly I can’t say [and it’s bad form for you to ask]!”

        I like old-school responses, I think it brings folks up short. For example, more than once (when I had the forethought) I had a boss say something wildly inappropriate to me (somewhat under his breath) and I said, “I BEG YOUR PARDON?” And I said it just loud enough that others perked up. So he had to either repeat his crappy sexist comment in front of others, or grumble off and make some excuse. Honestly – very satisfying!

  6. For situations like this, I like playing the opposite game. It’s where you respond in the opposite, in a voice that is calm and neutral in tone and with a neutral facial express/body language.

    Them: You really should go talk to your uncle.
    Me. Actually, I shouldn’t + subject change.

    Them: Your cousin is really so confused about what happened.
    Me.: Well, it’s all crystal clear to me. Sorry she still doens’t get it + subject change.

    Them: He didn’t really intend to be so hurtful.
    Me.: Well, I really do intend to have no more contact with him + subject change.

    Put that on repeat and ideally they get the message that whatever reasons/rationale they have, you will continue to maintain the exact opposite.

    1. “He really didn’t intend to be so hurtful”… this sort of statement really bugs me. How the hell do they know what was intended?

      My MIL is in the habit of saying “well, I’m sure they didn’t MEAN “. My best guess is she feels obligated to defend the person who isn’t present to tell their side of the story. Even if it was downright egregious – like when another older female relative once asked my pregnant daughter if she was a garbage can(!!) when she had a second helping of something at dinner.

      It comes off as taking that person’s side and more than a bit holier-than-thou, not-so-subtly putting down the hurt and/or offended person right in front of her for saying anything about it.

      1. That was supposed to be “they didn’t MEAN (whatever crappy thing they said or did)”. Shouldn’t have used angle brackets the first time around.

        1. Huh, so the WordPress comment system eats faux HTML tags; I suppose you could try < and > instead (and then it occurred to me that if it DOES parse those as HTML, they will just show up as the symbols themselves, so I had also better say: &lt&semi; and &gt&semi;).

      2. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Intent is not a “get out of jail free” card.

      3. ooooh, I hate that too. Depending on my mood, my answer is some version of “I don’t care what they meant; I care about what they *did/said* and what they did stank.”
        And if it’s the noxious “meant well,” there’s always the pavement of a very special road.

  7. Please also consider that if these folks are awful enough for you to cut them out of your life, they are probably also awful to other family members who may secretly agree with you. If you stick to your principles, you may someday find you are not alone.

    I was the first person to cease contact with a particular aunt, and one by one she alienated all her other nieces and nephews. People who do this sort of thing rarely do it to just one person. You’re doing a good job taking care of yourself. You’re also doing a good job setting an example for others. (Not that “setting an example” should be the reason you do it. But perhaps that thought can help bolster you.)

    1. they are probably also awful to other family members

      I am 203498% in agreement here. Example: In my case, Sibling had always been very, very careful to be abusive toward me only when we were alone, or at least out of earshot of anybody else. Then there was this one time when they were recovering from a hospital stay, and several family members were at the house. In a haze of exhaustion, Sibling “lost their religion” and started screaming at me in front of an audience who had never seen them act like that before — though it was pretty ordinary for me to experience. When we finally fully estranged about 10 years later, it wasn’t out of the blue to a lot of people.

    2. Seconding this, and this might be a possible approach for dealing with large-group gatherings like funerals, LW. There aren’t any “official” estrangements in my family, but my uncle is incredibly toxic and a large swath of my family has nearly cut off contact with him. At the last all-family gathering, those who weren’t speaking to my uncle mostly stuck to each other and let him be his own obnoxious self away from us. Are there people in your family who you enjoy spending time with, who understand the situation, or who you can at least trust to…umm, not be white supremacists? They can be the people you sit with when possible, the get-away excuse when trapped with someone asking too many questions (“So sorry to cut this short, but I have to catch up with Cousin!”) and generally both a support and a way to visibly spend time with family while avoiding the members you’re estranged from. It might be especially helpful if you can find someone who you like, but who also is in your estranged relatives’ good graces, more or less. I have a relative who is very even-keeled and whose informal job at gatherings involving my uncle is to keep my uncle talking about his favorite innocuous topics so that the rest of us can get a breather.

    3. Thirding this – my youngest sister (the one I do get along with) isn’t on speaking terms with my brother either (he expected her to cycle 15 miles to go visit him only 3 days after she miscarried twins because he couldn’tbe added to get his car out to go visit her, which was the last straw). She’s not too keen on our other sister either.

    4. That’s often true, but not always the case. Some people like to pick out just one or two scapegoats in their immediate family to abuse in private, after isolating them by driving away their extended family many years ago (hi mom!). The few who saw her venomous side (my father, paternal grandmother, paternal aunt and cousins) have either passed away were estranged when I was still a toddler and have no interest in reconnection, and her side of the family and people who’ve gotten to know her more recently think she’s all sweetness and light and I’m the one at fault. So other than my sister, who manages to be close with both our mother and me, I am alone when it comes to blood relatives. But my sister knows the truth and we support each other, and I have close friends who are my chosen family, and I’m so much happier now than I was. It’s worth it!

      I occasionally get guilt trips along the lines of “your sister is such a good daughter to your mother [why aren’t you a better daughter?]”. But I rarely see the extended family, and they have a culture of non-confrontation so even when I do no one would directly ask or say anything. But with nosy friends I’ve found “we’re not close, SUBJECT CHANGE” to work like a charm.

      You’re doing a great job of setting your boundaries and maintaining them so well, that’s the hardest part.

  8. I’m so sorry, LW. I’m estranged from my father and that entire side of the family, and it never really gets easier. Whenever my mom asks about whether or not I’m in contact with him, I usually just give her a vague: “Not really, but what about SUBJECT CHANGE.” I think it frightens her that I could cut my father out of my life entirely, as it means I could do the same to her – not without cause, though we’re in a much better place now that I live across the country.

    Regarding the rest of that side of the family, I had to cut them off too in order to deal with the issues with my father. They’re pretty classic enablers who I couldn’t have an honest conversation with about my father’s behaviour. When he stole money from me, it was my fault for leaving it out. When he didn’t pay the rent, it was my fault for not just being able to cover for him. Does it mean I miss out on some important life events? Yes, definitely. But it’s worth it to preserve my own sanity around this issue.

    I don’t think it would be possible for me to have my family events be neutral ground, but only you can know your own situation and tolerance levels. Please stay safe. I wish you all the best of luck and send hugs if you want them.

    1. For me it actually did get easier. One thing I vividly remember my therapist saying was, “You don’t Have to be friends with these people”.

  9. I’m in a similar boat. Last year, I had to cut off contact from my father for my own safety. He’s always been volatile, but as I became an adult and asserted boundaries, he got more and more erratic and angry. Unfortunately, he’s refused to respect my wishes to not have contact. It’s been hard, but thankfully most of my family understands. My grandmother spent months trying to convince me to “forgive him,” but we had a good talk that went along the lines of, “I know you don’t agree with my decision, but trust me when I say this is the only way I’ll feel safe. I don’t mind if you talk about him, but you’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one because I still want you in my life.”

    One of my big concerns, like OP, is for, eventually, my grandmother’s funeral. It would terrify me if I was there and he was too because I know he would take the opportunity to press boundaries/confront me, but I hate the idea of missing the funeral and the chance to see my other family. I also, on some level, feel like skipping would be “letting him win.” It’s definitely hard to navigate the situation.

    1. When the time comes, do you think it would work to bring a friend who is emotionally and physically equipped to step between you and your father if he confronted you? An emotional (and physical) bodyguard?

      1. That’s a good idea. I would really hate to miss the event, but I would definitely need some back-up (and having one of my siblings join me would likely just bring more attention from him).

      2. I was just thinking that we’d talked about having “handlers” at weddings (I forget the actual term we were all using) and what a good idea it would be for funerals, too!

  10. The “get out of jail free” card for your mother, if people ask about your estrangement from certain family members, is for her simply to not engage on the topic and firmly say that any inquiries should be directed to you. It is fundamentally not her issue and she does not need to respond to questions about it.

    Your get out of jail card is simply to note that you find life to be better without having those people in your life. If you receive followup questions say that you’re really not interested in talking about it further and you’re not going to engage on the topic. It’s really no one’s business other than your own, and that shields both you and your mother. Smile blandly and move the conversation to the weather or whatever.

    And if you run across the undesirables at family events, nod politely, smile blandly, and move on. Do not engage.

    Don’t overthink this. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

  11. If you are concerned that come funeral time, your rotten family members can’t be counted on to not make a scene even if you are keeping your distance and just politely refusing to engage, you can speak to the funeral director prior to things starting. In their line of work, they are used to all kinds of family dynamics and can be quite good at steering people who need to be steered. They’re there to make the day run smoothly, so it never hurts to utilize their professional abilities.

  12. i will just echo that giving your mom permission to simply say “you’ll have to ask [Stranger] about that” or some variant is super important. i cut off a very close family friend with no word to him and he continued to ask our mutual friends and my family members what was wrong, and why i wouldn’t speak to him — everyone knew exactly what he had done, and supported me in my decision, but told me they were uncomfortable with his asking. i told them to say that – “i’m uncomfortable with you asking me about this. you’ll have to talk to NTG about it. if she won’t answer, you’re going to have to respect that” and it made things SO much easier on my family and friends who remained in my life.

  13. I am especially interested in this topic, the personal stories, and the solutions. My situation isn’t nearly so bad since my estrangement isn’t with a family member I have to see often, but I was left with a puzzle as to what explanation to give for my coolness. I had so many misgivings when I decided to cut the friend off since, as with the LW’s cousin, my associations were mostly good. He wasn’t even espousing well-known hateful stuff in the white supremacist line. It was weird obscure conspiracy based hate that I had to look up and that I think most people wouldn’t be familiar with. I actually looked up the sources he gave me (reddit, odd conservative online newspapers no one has heard of) and felt tempted to argue with him point by point. (Those aren’t legitimate sources! Random voices on the internet aren’t proof! I looked at the original video, and the guy didn’t say what you said he did.) I didn’t fall into the trap of arguming, but his tone was so reasonable and he played the victim so well that it’s nothing I could sum up easily. I almost wished (ALMOST) that I could sum up with “he’s a nazi,” but it was harder than that. It was more like “he accused this innocuous semi-public figure of horrible things, but there’s no evidence for any of it, and I don’t know why the far Right has a smear campaign against him unless it’s that he’s gone on record for having some liberal views.”

  14. “Don’t start none, won’t be none” is what I do with my father. I’m not willing to miss, for example, my sister’s wedding just because that fool is going to be there, but the deal is that there are ground rules, and as long as our father doesn’t break the rules, there will be no trouble.

    Among those rules are that he will not touch my children unless they initiate contact, and that he will keep his racist bullcrap behind his teeth when speaking to me, my husband, or my children.

    The other thing is that someone NOT estranged from him gets to call him up and remind him of the rules. I get a lot of “pleeease can you be civil at…” messages and my response is always the same: that I promise not to start anything, but here are the rules he has to follow, and I expect someone to make sure he knows the rules. And no, it won’t be me. I’m not having that conversation. I *HAD* it, years ago, and it’s over and done, and if they care SOOOOOOO much about performing harmony then THEY can have it to make sure he still knows the rules.

    So far, this has worked. I put this in place about 5 years ago, and most recently had to have the conversation 2 years ago, with sister #2 (I have a lot of sisters). When sister #4 got married this summer, she remembered the rules and the conversation on her own, got sister #1 to have a come-to-jesus-meetin’ with our father about it, and just let me know that he’d been reminded. All without me having to do a thing. People DO learn!

  15. If estrangement from family were easy, then we wouldn’t be estranged from them, would we?

    I think that more people than we realize have experienced some kind of family estrangement in their lives. They know it’s painful, they know it happens because the problem that caused it is intractable, and they know that the details are none of their business. Or they can be guided to understand that it’s none of their business.

    My sibling and I have been estranged for about 18 months now. But get this, members of my family who have known me and Sibling all of our lives already know that Sibling and I have always been very different people. They know that we’ve never really gotten along. If they ask me about Sibling, they should kind of already expect to hear something along the lines of, “Haven’t talked to Sibling lately. I guess they’re OK.”

    If they don’t hear “we’re estranged” in that statement, and they keep asking about Sibling, I’ll follow up with something along the lines of, “We both do our own things and we don’t get together. I haven’t talked to them in a while but I’m sure Sibling is fine.” If someone still doesn’t hear “we’re estranged,” then I’ll start repeating, “We don’t get along,” “I don’t know,” and “We don’t talk.” Again, you know, estrangement is not outside the realm of experience for people, whether it’s family or some formerly very close friend. It’s something that most people can get their heads around, and they’ll understand that they should quit asking and move along to a different subject.

    1. I think “we don’t get along” is the clearest message there. My brother and I barely communicate with each other due to distance and time zones and busy-ness, but we do like each other. Everything you’ve said except that part are things I’ve said when people ask me about him. So it might not be as clearly “estrangement” as you’re assuming; it may just read as “too busy to stay in touch” or “not good at communicating.” But “we don’t get along” is pretty unambiguous.

      1. Yea there’s a lot if people/ family I quite like and trust but I’m terrible at keeping in touch. I probably woildn’t clue in to passive-sounding noncommunication. Active noncommunication (“I don’t talk to them”) I would pick up on. (I think. Not always the most socially savvy person here)

  16. Agreeing with the Cap’n about the funerals advice. I wrote in to her on a quick-answers-on-Twitter day about what to say to my homophobic aunt at my grandfather’s funeral and she gave similar advice. Backstory: homophobic aunt celebrated my engagement to a cis woman (I am also a cis woman) by sending me a letter about how I needed to repent or go to hell; she doesn’t really keep her beliefs to herself. I had no interest in speaking to her ever again, but knew she would be planning the funeral for my beloved grandfather. I went anyway, with my dad, who had my back about the fact that we were there to celebrate my grandfather’s life and see the nice people in the extended family, not to fight with homophobes. I made nice with homophobic aunt for 3 minutes (what a beautiful ceremony! I can see how much work you put into it! Oops, gotta go catch my flight!) and avoided her for the rest of it, as did my dad, although he was prepared to distract her/extricate me as necessary.

    In that case, my calculation was that going to the funeral was more important to me than avoiding my aunt, especially with my dad as an ally. LW may have a different calculation, and I think either way is okay! But if you do really want to be at that event and it’s worth it to be awkward, you can definitely do this. You may even find that you have more support among the extended family than you expect! In my case, both of homophobic aunt’s sons came up to me at the funeral reception to congratulate me on my wedding and commiserate about/apologize for their mom’s awful letter. It was 100% worth it to me.

  17. Thank you Captain and everyone.

    Right after I sent my letter in, I realized an unspoken fear I have is that while I feel good about my boundaries *now*, what if I regret them in the future? The “but faaaaaaaaaamily” conditioning runs deep, I guess. So it’s really good to get more validation that I’m not wrong to assert these kinds of boundaries and that there is life after estrangement.

    I also really appreciate the guidance on how not to put my mother in the middle of this. That side of the family is a DRAMA-FEST (in no small part due to my grandmother, who gravitates toward dysfunction and raised her children in her image), so in fact estrangements both short and long-term are the norm (most of them from this one particularly toxic uncle, who has gone after each and every one of his siblings to alienate them at one point or another, and has recently started in on his nieces, nephews, and niblings, and is also my grandmother’s shining perfect boy/golden child since his eldest brother passed away) and growing up my mother was often stuck in the position of “diplomat”. I grew up watching her take on all the emotional baggage of her mother and siblings to hold the family together (“the rock”) and I even assumed that one day I would inherit that job, which is probably why I live on the other side of the continent now. I think I tend towards being confrontational to avoid being the peace-maker and it makes it hard for me to imagine getting through situations like these without a throw-down. I appreciate the guidance on finding a middle ground there, and also on not putting my mother in the same position that everyone else always has. (Vicariously through me reading Captain Awkward and recommending books to her, she has discovered boundaries and thinks they are “super great!” She’s a beautiful lady who’s grown into herself and her self-confidence wonderfully at age 60.)

    Alas, being conflict-ridden has not made most of the family more sympathetic to estrangement (“If I can learn to forgive and put up with Uncle Crappy Personality, why can’t you?” or “Yes, Cousin believes in [horrifying antisemitic conspiracy theory], but honestly aren’t you being a little too sensitive? None of us is perfect!” We’re very big on enabling abusive behaviour in this family, or else we’d have stopped having big family gatherings in the mid 90s). I suspect that my grandmother’s funeral may actually be the last large family gathering I have to navigate on that side. Well, maybe my mother’s funeral, but hopefully I have decades to prepare for that.

    (Mercifully on my dad’s side all his siblings that I care about completely understand where I’m coming from. He really is just a shitty person.)

    1. “Yes, Cousin believes in [horrifying antisemitic conspiracy theory], but honestly aren’t you being a little too sensitive? None of us is perfect!”

      …oh good *grief*. Would they let Jeffrey Dahmer babysit their kids? So what if he’s a cannibalistic serial killer, nobody’s perfect…

    2. “What if you regret this later?” can be asked about just about any choice, large or small, and no matter which option you take. I suspect those relatives wouldn’t have a good answer for “I also might regret taking your advice and going/talking to her, and I don’t want to risk that.”

      Somehow, the vague “what if”s of “maybe they would have changed, maybe you’d wish you’d done something different even if you know they’d have treated you badly again” get more importance than “what if you hadn’t subjected yourself/your partner/your children to another weekend of emotional abuse?” or “what if you had gone to Paris and tried some interesting restaurants, instead of spending two days of your vacation being attacked and the rest trying to recover enough to face day to day life?”

    3. Well, I mean… take this with a grain of salt?, if you would.

      Boundaries, and the bigger ‘you are cut off’ situation, really have a two-way street, yes? Boundaries are If/Then, and the Boundary-Pusher didn’t respect it, and so…there you are. BP is cut off.

      But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is PERMANENT – because IF, and only IF – BP works within the boundaries set, things might change. If BP works within the boundaries, shows real remorse and/or sincerity about [whatever you need] then maybe the relationship shifts.

      That’s completely up to you. Hope that made sense? But again, only if ANY of that works for you.

      1. Yes, to this! You should’t “forgive and forget” someone who continues to do the awful thing, and shows no remorse. But if they make the changes necessary, then you might (it’s totally up to you), choose to forgive, at that time.

    4. Hoo boy, LW, I have a ton of snarky answers for “If *I* can learn to forgive Uncle Crappy Personality” XD none of which are helpful.

      On regrets – well, if Cousin gets sense and pulls themselves out of whatever toxic online community they’re currently inhabiting down the line, you can always extend an olive branch. I mean unless you’ve really burned bridges by killing their pets or insulting their mother or something. Same goes for other crappy family members. This isn’t a case of family members you like but life keeps getting in the way of getting together and then one day they’re gone and Oh If Only We Had Made The Time, Etc. These people have done, and continue to do, things that hurt you.

    5. Something I’ve said to people who have pushed me about an estrangement:

      “I understand this isn’t the choice you would have made, but it’s the choice *I* have made, and I’m asking you to respect it.”

      Lather/rinse/repeat as necessary — I keep it in a very boring, even tone.

      And, yep, you can always change your mind, if they change the behavior that led to the estrangement. You don’t have to feel like you’re making this choice NOW AND FOREVER. If it’s the right thing to do in the present, that’s enough of a reason.

      (Obviously, the other person gets to make their own choice about whether they want to make up in the future . . . but if they genuinely had a change of heart and regretted their previous behavior, it’s possible that they would understand and forgive your need for distance when they were acting badly.)

    6. Well, if you do regret the estrangement later, I suppose you could initiate contact with them again. Either that, or eat some good chocolate.

      Feel better?

    7. I come from the same type of abuse-justifying, drama-centered extended family. I’ve gone virtually no contact with a couple of family members for reasons of various mixes of abuse toward myself and others. Unfortunately my mom will likely protect both forever, minimize or deny what they have done. Because I do differently, I am “being too sensitive,” “people will think something *really* bad happened.” Ugh so much ugh. Some of my now-stock replies. “Yes, I *am* sensitive, and I still have nightmares, but the panic has decreased, so I’m grateful for that.” “They are welcome to think that” [to myself: something really bad *did* happen!!] “This is such a nice time we’re having, I don’t want to talk about that now.” I sometimes do explain what did actually happen, because my mom has told a story that greatly minimizes what happened and expresses her frustration that I’m not making it all “okay.” I do at least have one relative who is defending me a bit, at least. Because, nope, it is most certainly not all okay, and it is nowhere near within my power to make it so. I sometimes struggle to find the energy to take of myself!

      Overall, I have some rather strict boundaries with the rest of the family, don’t do holidays, live a major transportation endeavor away. So far I also feel very proud of the boundaries I have learned to set, given how I was socialized/groomed. Have no regrets. But I am still regularly sad and angry and I still put a lot of energy into maintaining the boundaries in order to keep some lovingkind connection to people I care about, deflecting, tuning out, refusing to get into the drama of it all, figuring out what level to disclose to others when it’s relevant for it to come in new situations. Started seeing a therapist again to work through all that gunk and how it’s impacting trying to make new, good connections. It’s also difficult because I do care, I have the empathy/caretaker/diplomat/counselor personality and want to see them all in far less pain. The groomed stubbornness, “faaaammmmiillllyyy,” etc is so strong in all of them, so I recognize that the only chance I can impact the system is maaayybee by example of how to do something different. I have made several friends over my life (albeit now spread out across the country, sadly) who have been estranged from an immediate family member at one time or enduring, so we can kind of support one another at least!

    8. What if you regret it?
      I’ve been asked that a lot. It took me a little while to come to the realisation, but eventually a penny dropped for me.
      I am a fully grown woman, in early middle age. My big-girl pants are well and truly on. If I regret things, I will deal with it. I have dealt with many things over the years, and the sky didn’t fall in. 🙂

    9. I cut my dad’s family out when I was 18 y o. There was no special falling out, I just didn’t go to their meetings any more and told my parents that they weren’t to give out my phone number or address, leaving my relatives without possibility to contact me. We had measures to make sure I didn’t have to much time with them at my sibling’s funeral. They were very sad and didn’t understand it at all.
      (I had reasons. I won’t go into them.)

      After several years, I reconsidered my decision – they weren’t all bad, just the nice ones always came with the terrible ones – and started to write some cards and sometimes call some people, and asked if I could visit them. I essentially made them to “small doses friends”.
      Now, I have a pretty okay relationship with most of that family. I still don’t want to spend a lot of time with all of them in a room (it’s only funny for 15 minutes and then it gets to the “no longer funny” part of terrible), but they sometimes call, I sometimes call, etc. And from the more estranged ones I do get the “invitation to X” official mails and send a “too bad I can’t, wish you a happy party” card.

      Probably helped that in their eyes I was young and there was never a falling out, just me not wanting contact with them – but anyway. If at some point of it you realize that Aunt Berta might be awful but you still feel better if you send her a holiday card, you can do it. And while there’s no guarantee for a reunion to be able to happen, it’s pretty probable that Aunt Berta would be happy and relieved to hear from you and write a card back or call you (the “but family!”” works in her, too!).

    10. Dear LW, I feel you so much on this: “growing up my mother was often stuck in the position of “diplomat”. I grew up watching her take on all the emotional baggage of her mother and siblings to hold the family together (“the rock”) and I even assumed that one day I would inherit that job, which is probably why I live on the other side of the continent now.”
      I’m also on the other side of the continent from my family and I’m coming to realize that some of this is due to a self-preservation impulse. One of my brothers and I were talking (he lives on another continent) and both of us are a little unsure why we chose to be so far away, as our faaaaamily is “not that bad”. I’m glad that you are confident that your mom will use the scripts writen for her (my mom would only use them if that was truly the only information that she knew on the issue).

  18. 1. awesome pseudonym

    2. i’m sort of in the slow process of becoming estranged from my youngest sister. i say “slow process” because she’s still in high school, and i’m living with my parents at the moment for Reasons, so… awkward. the whole “treat [relative] like a stranger/distant acquaintance” thing is working really well for me, though, because it reminds me of the amount of closeness i actually want to have with her (none) and the amount of attention/emotional labor/etc i actually want to invest in her (no more than the couple who stopped me the other day to ask directions to a particular restaurant) and the amount of her drama/pointless fighting i actually want to engage with (zero). the base level of detached politeness is good because it doesn’t easily escalate to anything else, and it’s so much easier to ignore her meanness now that i’m taking it like i’d take any rude thing said to me by a random stranger on the street, ie “wow. i wonder what the hell’s wrong with THEIR day. [moves on w/ my life]”

    there was some minor pushback from my mother at the beginning, since she’s an only child and has a PAINFULLY romanticized idea of what sibling relationships Should Be, but even with constant daily contact everybody settled into this new normal really quickly.

    so uh that’s my testimonial for this product, the fine print at the bottom of the ad says i’m not a paid actor, etc etc

  19. My husband’s older half brother, Ted, was furious that Primo did not want to be the back-up trustee for Ted’sSon (who has mental disabilities). (Not the trust from Primo’s parents.) He tried to pull the, “But family!!!!!” argument, even though ButFamily!!!! didn’t stop Ted from

    1. Saying he was going to contest the will after Primo, Ted, and Jack’s father died (and disinherited all of them, but still made Primo the executor of the will and the trustee for the trusts for the four grandchildren).

    (Also? Don’t do that. It’s your money. Leave it to whomever you want. But if you disinherit someone, don’t dump all the work on that person. That’s just mean.)

    2. Threatening legal action against Primo for not getting Sly’s lawyer to come to Sly’s hospital room to update the will.

    3. Screaming at Primo when Primo declined to reimburse Ted $875 for Ted’s flight to their dad’s funeral. (Ted used frequent flyer miles for his ticket, but could have bought a ticket for under $400.)(I don’t think Primo should have given Ted any money to attend his own father’s funeral.)

    4. Writing nasty emails to Primo that Primo was “punching above his weight” in dealing with Ted.

    5. Trying to drain his own son’s trust – again, the son with mental disabilities, the son who will never be completely independent. Trying to drain his own son’s trust so he and his wife could do some remodeling on their house and take a “trekking” trip to Switzerland.

    6. Telling Primo he needed to “check Primo’s math” on a check Primo sent to Ted from Ted’sSon’s trust, implying that Primo, who was Phi Beta Kappa and summa with his BSEE (that he got at age 19), compared to Ted’s degree in German, is either stupid or dishonest.

    There’s more, but you get the picture. Family is not everything. Being a kind person is everything.

  20. LW, while I think that making some mental preparations for likely future events is a good thing, I also caution you to avoid borrowing future trouble too much. I have found that people who are accepting of my estranged-from-my-mother state “for now” start saying “but what about [future thing]?” and it starts to feel a little like a roundabout way of convincing me to reconsider my current stance. Like, because something may not work at a future date, that means it’s inherently flawed and should be reconsidered.

    And maybe something in the future will change for the better, and future-you will redesign boundaries to respond to that change, that’s OK and doesn’t mean that you’re wrong *now* or that you’ll regret what you’re doing *now.*

    (And, for the record, I haven’t spoken to my mother since 2008, and I have not yet regretted it.)

    (Also, also, a grad student at my University was researching children who estranged themselves from parents. She put out the usual “research call for participants” email to everyone with a university address, and within a few hours she had something like 100 replies. We are MUCH more numerous than it seems on the outside.)

  21. I have never gotten the double standard of being expected to be polite to someone because they’re family, no matter how abusive they are. I’ll play by the same rules they do.

    And other family who keep bringing that expectation up are not trying to make peace, are not being neutral, are not trying to do anything beneficial for me. They’re taking sides. And acting surprised when the side they don’t take blows them off for it.

    “You say I should be more polite to John. Have you told him he should apologize to me for all the abusive things he’s done over the years? No? Then you’re taking sides. His side. Which tells me everything I need to know about *you*.”

    Don’t let them make their malice-ridden do-gooder meddling be about your or the estranged relatives. It’s about *them*.

    1. I’ll bet the abuser, in most cases, has at least one of the following privileges:

      1. Older generation than the victim
      2. Male gender

      Remember, RHIP: Rank Hath Its Privileges (I’m being sarcastic here).

      Unfortunately, many, many, many people still operate under that rule, even if it is not conscious. American society still operates this way, even in 2017.

      1. #1, yeah. #2, depends on the type of abuse. Non-physical abuse, not at all in my experience. It’s cultural. Where I grew up, women tended to have very strong personalities, which manifested in one of two ways:

        The pillar that anchors the family, and woe to the poor, stupid SOB who messes with them.

        Cast iron, malice-ridden do-gooder bitch who *will*, by GOD, make you a better person for your own good even if it kills you (in ways that benefit her, personally, every single time).

        Men tend to be either passive (but often stubborn as hell about things they do care about – pick your fights) or single.

    2. Keep in mind that giving an egregious person the cold shoulder/cut direct IS “being polite,” in that it is a recognized etiquette option, when more forgiving options have failed.

      1. I’m not so much for giving them the cold shoulder as I am telling them exactly why I’ll have nothing to do with them. The most effective way to get someone I want nothing to do with to leave me alone is to piss them off so much they want nothing to do with me. And if others don’t like it, they can join the main offender on my shit list.

        (It helps that I’m a loner by nature, and have no problems with only have a few, carefully chosen friends. Friend help you move, but real friends help you move bodies.)

  22. When I was 11 my 18 year old 2nd cousin groped my thigh. At dinner. I ran from the table, got my parents, told them. I don’t know what they did, but I never saw Kenny again.

    For years afterwards my great aunts would bring up how sad it was that we didn’t see [Kenny and Kenny’s immediate family] or how fabulous Kenny was as a kid or whatever. My parents and I, and eventually even my grandparents, would shut that to down fast: “You mean Kenny who tried to molest me when I was 11? Nah, not so fab.” Also from my father: “I am not sad I no longer see my cousin and his repulsive son, Kenny. Kenny groped Morley when she was little.” And my mother: “Nope, I’m not going to be anywhere Kenny is. He groped Morley.”

    I’m telling this story as an example of successfully pushing against “but faaaaaamily”.

    1. I’m so sorry your cousin tried to molest you. EEEEEWWWWW! But god for your parents and grandparents for protecting you from a child molester!

      I’m willing to bet that you’re not the only little child Kenny has tried to assault.

      1. My grandparents weren’t actually helpful for several years, but eventually were ok. And Kenny died fairly young.

        I wasn’t affected by it – probably because my parents acted promptly.

        My point tho was that they pushed back against my father’s entire family. And the extended family backed down.

  23. Please to remember:
    Anyone who brings up your estrangement and/or the underlying cause and then insists on hashing it out AT SOMEONE ELSE’S PARTY (or funeral! good grief!) is being rude.

    If you (or your duly delegated agent, Mom) choose to deflect the conversation, that’s polite. If you continue to deflect in the face of loud and/or continuous insistence, that’s still good manners.

    Railroading someone into a discussion they don’t want is not Nice.

    Sometimes it’s hard to remember that choosing not to cooperate while someone else is pushing you at doesn’t make you the bad one.

  24. My motto is (and has been for over 20 years!): Friends are the family we make for ourselves.
    I am literally closer to my friends than I am to most of my family. I have cousins, aunts and uncles that I likely won’t see alive again. I saw my youngest sister this past weekend and it was the first time in three years that I’ve seen her, despite the fact that I live in the same town as my mom and sister is always over there visiting. I have three older half-brothers that I haven’t seen or spoken to in nearly 20 years. I haven’t spoken a kind word to my father since I was 14, any words since I was 19. None of these people are people I want to spend any time with. My time spent with these family members make me feel things that I don’t want to feel: anger, frustration, shame, guilt, sadness, anxiety. I have been physically, verbally and sexually abused by some of these people. I have been robbed. I have been belittled and ridiculed.
    I had a therapist once ask me if I would let a stranger on the street treat me the way some of my family members have treated me. No? So why let these people have that power? It was an Aha moment for sure.
    I have stopped spending time with people who upset me and my life has been better for it. At first I got push back from my mom about not attending events but over the years she has come to understand that this is just who I am. It doesn’t mean that she still doesn’t try to make me feel guilty. Last summer she got mad at me for referring to my oldest friend as my “sister from another mister”. Mom hated that I thought of anyone other than blood relatives as family. She ended up getting really pissy with me about it. So I went on a month long campaign and started publicly thanking my friends on social media for their roles in my life and how they fit into the family I’d created for myself. At the end of the month I wrote that while I loved most of my family, very few of them were people I considered friends and that all of my friends had a role in my life that easily took on family-like characteristics. Passive aggressive? yes. But my mother hasn’t said a negative word about my friends since.

  25. Article – https://extranewsfeed.com/tolerance-is-not-a-moral-precept-1af7007d6376

    On: the appropriate limits of tolerance.

    — The balance of rights has the structure of a peace treaty.

    Unlike absolute moral precepts, treaties have remedies for breach. If one side has breached another’s rights, the injured party is no longer bound to respect the treaty rights of their assailant — and their response is not an identical violation of the rules, even if it looks superficially similar to the original breach. “Mommy, Timmy hit me back!” holds no more ethical weight among adults than it does among children.

    After a breach, the moral rules which apply are not the rules of peace, but the rules of broken peace, and the rules of war. —

    Closing: We seek peace because on the whole it is far better than war; but as history has taught us, not every peace is better than the war it prevents.


    Best of Luck to you LW! Best to maintain your ground & enjoy the real peace you have found now.

    1. Yup: if you ignore the constraints of the social contract, you’re no longer subject to its protections, either. Going high can be a contextually effective and useful rhetorical/social strategy, but it’s NOT a moral mandate. Reciprocity is reciprocal – treat others as you* wish to be treated, and, by the same token, the way others treat you indicates how they should (expect to) be treated by you (if they treat others well, they should have a reasonable expectation of being treated well in return; if they treat others poorly, they should reasonably expect to be treated poorly).

      *This is the general you, not a specific person – someone who treats you, personally, well but abuses others does not deserve good treatment from you, personally, just becasue ze has never harmed you, personally.

  26. It’s always amusing to me when people pull the whole “blood is thicker than water” line. If you use the entire quote (“The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”), it actually the completely opposite meaning. The family you choose is more important than the family you’re born into. Let the “but faaaaaaaamily” people stick that in their pipes and smoke it.

    1. Regardless of “real” or “original” meanings, that’s one of those arguments that makes me think, Is that the best reason than you can give? OK, so it’s harder to separate from relatives than from unrelated friends, but is that the only reason to want to spend time with these people? Not “we know and understand each other” or “we take care of each other” or “I like them” but “we’re stuck together by shared bodily fluids”?

      It’s like defending a statement because, legally, you had the right to make it: if that’s your best or only argument, you’re admitting that you can’t defend what you said as true, useful, or interesting.

    2. I’m just gonna start replying with “And maple syrup is thicker than blood! What does that have to do with anything?”

  27. Cutting off the relationship with relatives seems to trigger public stigma. I have read an article which says that this actually happens far more frequently than one would imagine. The affected parties hide this part of their lives because they do not want to be labelled. However, sometimes this is the only healthy solution.
    A lot of readers have reacted to that article, and they have got releived that this secret problem is much wider and they should not be ashemed of this.
    However, one can blame themselves for not being able to fix family relationships which should be an evidence. In reality, very different personalities can live in the same family. On the other hand, all grumpy bosses and colleagues have relatives who are supposed to tolerate that unpleasant people.

  28. I’m coming from a slightly different place, as I am the one who was cut off. My sister-in-law disagreed with our choice of guardian for our child and wrote a nasty text to my husband. He replied basically “This isn’t your decision, we chose based on what is best for child, and you have exactly no say.”

    Her response was simply a text saying “Never talk to me again.” And you know what? We haven’t. And it’s been a glorious relief to not feel like we were bound to someone who, were we not related, would never have been a part of our lives. I doubt I would have had the guts to cut her off myself, so honestly I’m really glad she did!

    1. And I’ll bet it burns the hell out of her that you don’t try to send panicky little messages through third parties, begging for forgiveness. 🙂

  29. Subjects like this, I have a “one boring answer” rule. The first time you ask me about X, I say “Ah, long story, nothing important. How’s your dog?” If you keep asking, okay, you had your chance to drop it, let me tell you about that Nazi prick.

    (This is, obviously, for times where I don’t mind telling the story but I don’t want to stir shit up.)

  30. I missed being at my grandfather’s deathbed because my family refused to make any space for me unless I was willing to be in the same room as my sexually abusive, angry, stalker father. My family don’t know that the abuse was sexual (but they know he financially abused my grandparents and is a terrible person.) They didn’t invite me to my grandfathers funeral, or even tell me when it was. Faaamily unity is way more important to them than being kind. My father was keen to exploit the death as a chance to ‘reunite’ with me and my brother.

    My grandfather was a very kind man with a great deal of integrity. The thought of not being there with him as he died really broke my heart. A friend asked me if my grandfather would have expected me to subject myself to my abusive family and I realised that he wouldn’t. My grandfather loved me and wouldn’t want me to suffer, he’d be appalled at his children’s actions. Genuine family don’t harm each other or stand by watching others getting harmed.

    My choice was to find another way to meaningful say goodbye and remember my grandfather. I did it in a way free of ego and the weird performative bullshit my Faaamily trades in. I’m sure they feel that my choice means they can skip out on telling me when my grandmother dies, which hurts. But again, my Grandmother is truthful to the point of bluntness and I can’t imagine her wishing I would put myself back in my father’s reach in order to attend a ceremony.

    I’ll always miss my grandparents and wish I could be at the farewells. It does makes me angry not to be free to do that. My relatives have created the problem and I can’t safely participate, so I have to look after me.

  31. Blood is thicker than water–and a lot more flavorful.
    My aunt estranged me 27 years back by treating my introversion, and being more interested in things/ideas than people, as some sort of disease. She wouldn’t cut it out after I set her straight. Mother and cousins made faint sounds of sympathy but not much else. I decided I would be civil to the aunt at gatherings and that was it. Mother points out that said aunt has a talent for making people feel “soiled”. I pointed out that I was not sticking around for that. I asked her if she would expect a black person to stick around with a racist relative, or a gay person to visit a homophobe, and she did one of her trademark clam-ups.
    I don’t see why I should be content with being in the last group of people it is still okay to dump on…that’s what it felt like, although I know darn well there’s plenty of other things people get wrongly dumped on for, and it seems new ones are being come up with all the time. I guess some people just need a scapegoat. I don’t, I just wish everyone would shut up, or at least be nicer. At least the aunt is over 100 and *that* part of the problem will solve itself soon enough.

  32. I have people in my family I consider myself estranged from. I never reach out to them. I never go to one-on-one things with them. But I don’t avoid all family functions because of them. At weddings and funerals and the like, I just avoid them and avoid commenting on them. I ignore any pointed comments about how I am abandoning the family etc. (you could totally respond with your reasons why in this case- I just would rather get out without a conflict than explain my reasons. The people who matter know). But there are also people who are so terrible that it IS worth avoiding 100% of everything they come to. I think it is worth separating your family into these categories. It might be that you Dad is someone where the best option is to skip events if he will be there. But maybe with your cousin you can use the avoidance strategy?

  33. Unless you have a very small family that makes avoidance impossible, I would attend family events – especially funerals – and do exactly as Captain has suggested. I would treat these estranged family members as no more than strangers that I happened to be standing in line with at the grocery. Polite small talk in the smallest amounts possible if I simply can’t avoid conversation at all.

  34. I read the last paragraph differently, in part becasue LW identifies person #4 as their White supremacist cousin earlier: I think they was saying that when discussing the cousin (person #4) with their dad, they felt able to say that he’s a shitty person with whom they wants no further contact, not that they wants no further contact with dad, and that they doesn’t feel able to say the same thing to family members who are more distant than their dad.

    At any rate, the advice still holds. I’ve actually been to funerals with people to whom I was very close once and with whom I no longer have contact, and this was exactly what I did. It worked well – people were there for the funeral and supporting the immediate family of the deceased, so I didn’t face any attempts by third parties to reconnect me with anyone. Being in the same general vicinity with someone doesn’t mean one must interact with that person.

    If people do get pushy/involved, there is no reason to lie or obfuscate or deflect – be direct (though not vindictive; you’re just relaying information in response to an inquiry, not stirring up drama or escalating conflict) and move on from the very boring subject of your desire not to interact with some people in the world, even when they happen to share some genes with you.

    1. Ah, reading through all comments now, I see that LW responded, and my read on the dad paragraph was wrong, so good call everyone on that bit. 🙂

  35. This is my brother he made my shoulders go up to my ears so much last time he visited my doctor could tell just by touching my shoulders unfortunately I cant cut him off yet because my niece and nephew are still too young to keep in contact on their own and my dad would not let it go because faaaaaaaaaaaaaammily so until my dad passes and my brother’s kids get old enough they can contact me on their own I will have to endure.
    It also made worse by him generally seeming likable with limited contact.

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