#1099: “My family keeps pressuring me to make peace with my abusive brother.”

This is behind a cut for sexual violence and violent threats.

Dear Captain,

I barely know where to begin. I (she/her) used to be close to my brother (he/him), but we no longer have a relationship.

When I was 19, I was sexually assaulted twice, by two different men that I knew. I went through very helpful therapy and essentially felt like I moved on with my life. Then, when he was 19, my brother raped someone – a friend of mine, younger than me. It happened in exactly the same way that it happened to me. I was horrified, but glad she confided in me so I could confront it (with her permission) head-on. It traumatized me as well, and to this day I have nightmares about it.

He reacted… badly. He cried, and self-blamed, but in the ‘now I am so distraught you need to comfort me’ way. I tried to talk to him about accountability, but he was having none of it. Our relationship disintegrated.

Unfortunately, this coincided with me meeting my current partner (he/him). My brother became obsessively convinced that this was the fault of my new partner ‘poisoning’ me against him. Through a series of small escalations, this led to my brother threatening my partner’s life. Since he owned a gun and was making very vivid threats, I took him seriously.

My parents did not, and to this day do not, believe that Brother could ever harm someone, which I found patently ridiculous given that he had assaulted a friend of mine (plus some other clear indicators). They refused to discipline him, send him to therapy, etc. So, I filed a restraining order, which I ultimately dropped due to family pressure (I still regret this).

Four years later, Brother is still living with Parents, now with a girlfriend. My parents and I have been through therapy, and have established a tense/sad relationship. I have left the door open for Brother – I have made it clear that I am perfectly willing to meet with him in a mediated space, specifically with the therapist that guided my parents and me through this. He has known this for a year, and has not reached out.

The ball is in his court – but I still get pressure from extended family and friends about ‘just letting it go’. When I use scripts taken from other CA posts, I get told “I’m just asking a question” or “well you should think about it.”

How can I respond to quickly end the conversation, and make it clear I never want to talk about it again, without then being crucified in the court of public opinion?


Tired of Being Accountable For Everyone’s Feelings

Dear Tired,

Your family has identified you as The Reasonable One (the one who does’t rape people or threaten people with violence) in the situation. It’s safer in their minds to approach and pressure you than to walk into the lair of the rapist and say “y r u so horrible?” They have the mistaken idea that there is a middle ground to be negotiated between “don’t rape people and threaten to murder them” and “wanting to be safe from rape & violent assault.” There isn’t.

They can’t undo the wrong that was done to you or the wrong that your brother has done. That is painful and awful, but they need to sit with that awfulness and not try to make it your problem to smooth over. I am tempted to advise you to make the next time someone in your family sidles up to you and tries to broker a peace deal upsetting and unforgettable, for them. To this end, naming the behaviors is incredibly powerful and important. Don’t let people get away with referring to what happened with euphemisms like “all that business.” For example:

  • “My brother raped my friend and he threatened to murder my partner. How do you suggest I make peace with that, exactly?” 
  • “My brother is a rapist and he threatened to murder [Partner Name]. I’ve done all the reconciling I intend to do.” 
  • “My brother raped my friend and he threatened to murder [Partner name]. Instead of asking me why I won’t reconcile with him, let me ask you: Why are you so interested in me making some strange peace with a rapist and would-be murderer?” 
  • “You go hang out with him if you want to; avoiding him is how I ‘let it go.'” 
  • “Yes, I will be angry about this forever. Yes, I will be afraid of him forever. If you’re so anxious for peace in the family, you can go hang out with him – nobody is stopping you. Me keeping clear of him is how I ‘let it go.'” 
  • “You want me to ‘let it go’, but you’re the one who chose to spend [holiday meal] pressuring me to forgive someone who raped my friend and threatened the person I love with murder. What are you getting out of this?” 
  • “I do still have a problem with the person who raped my friend and threatened to murder my partner, yes. If you keep bringing this up every time I see you, I’m going to have a similar problem with you.” 
  • “You seem to have a lot of feelings about what I do about my rapist brother – maybe you should go tell them to your pastor or a therapist, I’m not really responsible for how you feel about it.” 
  • When they talk about making peace for the sake of your poor poor parents, you can say: “I do feel for my parents. It’s not their fault that he raped someone or threatened to murder my partner, but they chose to enable him once they knew what he did. There is a reason our relationship is strained and I have the therapy receipts to prove it. That said, it is really, really none of your business, so if you’re done talking I’m going to go say hi to Grandma.” 

When someone won’t take no for an answer, it can be psychological and strategically beneficial to lose your shit, selectively. Raise your voice if you want to (practice with a friend or a counselor or your partner beforehand, sometimes that can help). Make it super fucking awkward for them to bring this up to you ever again. Show them that the amount of polite you have been before now is a gift that you have given them, a gift that can be rescinded if they can’t behave themselves. It’s okay to make a scene, to get as angry as this question makes you feel. Let them think you are “shrill” and/or unreasonable for a hot second. “Ruin” everyone’s day the way your day gets ruined every time someone close to you becomes an apologist for your rapist brother. You might not change their minds about who is right and who is wrong, but you hopefully will communicate that continuing to beat this dead horse in your direction will strain their relationship with you.

I don’t think a comfortable relationship is possible in a family that enables a violent person in this way. I think you’ve been doing your best up until now to deal with an impossible situation, and if what you need from me is permission to stop working on this or trying to make right a thing that might never be right, a thing that is not yours to make right, well, you got it.

Here’s a song:

206 thoughts on “#1099: “My family keeps pressuring me to make peace with my abusive brother.”

  1. My goodness. Spot on advice Captain. I have never commented on a post before, but this one made me so sad for you LW. I’m sending good vibes your way.

  2. “I get told “I’m just asking a question””

    “My question is why are you coddling a rapist?”
    “Did my rapist brother put you up to this?”
    “Why don’t you think rapists should suffer consequences?”

    My experience has been that people who are “just asking questions” suddenly find questions uncomfortable when it’s _them_ getting asked. If you want to use the Captain’s advice to make them as uncomfortable as they’re willing to make you, well, they brought those weapons to the table and indicated it’s okay to use ’em.

    1. And if you don’t feel like having the discussion, there’s also value in “And I’ve given you my answer. I’m sorry it’s not what you’re looking for, but Brother knows what he needs to do to change it. If you have a problem with that, take it up with him.”

    2. My other favorite response is, “Well, I just gave you an answer.” Because how is ‘just asking’ any different from…whatever they think I think they were doing instead?

      1. My standard with the 7-12yr olds I work with – Kings & Queens of the Repeated Question – is “You already asked me that, and I already answered.”. If they persist I make them actively repeat back to me what my original answer was.

        Sounds like LW’s family members are acting like 7yr olds, so it might be worth a try.

    3. My experience has been that people who are “just asking questions” suddenly find questions uncomfortable when it’s _them_ getting asked.

      This is my experience, as well—I generally encounter this type of person on social media as with friends-of-friends (or idiot-relatives-of-friends) who are hijacking someone’s political news post. They’re extremely reluctant to state their own opinion flat-out, but they will cross-examine those of other people (but only those whose opinions differ from their own) to death in the name of “playing devil’s advocate”, “offering a different point of view [which I refuse to admit is mine]”, or “testing the strength of your arguments”, as though they are some sort of impartial moral or intellectual arbiter who is only interested only in ensuring the quality of the debate (or in order to heroically save the thread from becoming an “echo chamber”), even though no one asked them to.

      It’s because they know they can’t flat-out state, “I bet your friend was asking for it,” or “I think you and your boyfriend overreacted to your brother’s threats; I doubt they were that serious,” because that’s taking a side, which means they might have to defend it, and they know they can’t. So in order to change the LW’s mind, they try to pretend that they’re neutral and could be swayed to her side if her arguments are good enough, and then “show” her that because her arguments aren’t good enough (since they aren’t taking her side after hearing them), she must be wrong and should reconcile with her brother like they want her to.

      The Captain’s strategy of naming the behavior works here, too, it’s just naming the behavior of the questioners, as well:
      “You’re asking me questions as though you’re some sort of neutral third party. The only way that’s possible is if you think I’m lying or exaggerating, and/or if you don’t think rape and death threats are that big a deal. Either way, I’m not interested in discussing this with you any further.”
      “You seem to be setting yourself up here as some sort of mediator. Did someone ask you to do this? Because I know I never agreed to have you act as one.”
      “Your questions are all geared toward convincing me to reconcile with my brother. Your time and effort would be better spent convincing him to go to therapy.”
      “After over a year of dealing with this situation and be questioned about it, I guarantee you that there is nothing left for you to ask that I haven’t already considered. The fact that you keep bringing this up makes you look like a prying ghoul.”
      “This situation does not involve you and I do not owe you any explanations.”

      It will feel awkward as hell to say some of this stuff (and the “prying ghoul” line is probably a bridge-burner), but people who think they’re being really slick and subtle do not like having their gambits called out, so once you do, it’s highly unlikely they will attempt them again. The point of this and the Captain’s advice is to return some of the awkwardness and discomfort that you already feel because of these people back to them.

      1. You may want to avoid wording anything in a way that resembles telling them how they feel about anything; that’s just going to mire you down in more arguing about their feelings than you want to deal with. This isn’t about their feelings, it’s about their words and actions.

      2. > they know they can’t flat-out state, “I bet your friend was asking for it,” or “I think you and your boyfriend overreacted to your brother’s threats; I doubt they were that serious,”

        Or, more likely, “But raping [people they know, maybe not strangers] and threatening murder [against people they know, maybe not strangers] are within my accepted range of behavior, if they’re counterbalanced by being a good bro.”

        1. Agreed!

          It’s going straight on my shit talk list right next to “unmitigated asshole” X-D

    4. Another one that may work is:

      “What do you think Brother should do about this?”

      Their true answer is probably “nothing, I’m not holding him accountable at all”, but they won’t want to say that. They’ll have to focus on what he could be doing to make amends.

      Depending on how they answer, you could go with “You should tell him that”, or “It’s difficult for me too”, or “If you really think what he’s doing now is his best, then you have an even lower opinion of him than I do”

    5. Or even “so just because he’s family, he should be allowed to rape my friend and get away with it? Would you be pushing for forgiveness if he had raped you/your daughter/your wife etc?”.

      I have so much anger towards this situation, LW, and I am so sorry that you have to deal with it. Especially since you have similar trauma in your past that can’t be easy to carry when everyone is so intent on excusing such a horrific act.

  3. Jedi Hugs. You deserve none of any of that.

    In the law, there’s this concept of “personal jurisdiction,” and a court needs to have it over someone before it can issue enforceable judgments about them. The Supreme Court of Paraguay can issue a death sentence for me, but it means fuck all because I’m not in Paraguay.

    Maybe you can decide that your unreasonable relatives’ court doesn’t have any more jurisdiction over you than the Supreme Court of Paraguay has over me–they can try to crucify you, but they’ve really just got two pieces of wood.

      1. I’ve got a special folder for all the wonderful comments and bits of advice I’ve screenshotted* from CA and readers.

        *A real word I just now made up

        1. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

          (Joking aside, I’ve seen it before. Also, it fits the rules for making a word in English and is therefore a real word. I use it as a verb as well because something I do in my is capture screenshots to use in my documents.)

  4. You may be crucified in the court of dysfunctional family opinion, but that is the thing about dysfunctional families…they wield that odd little stick a lot, and it’s like…please read this as if it is a new phrase…Who. Are. They. To. Judge. You are right, they are wrong…the only reason they don’t know that is because they are living in Opposite World.

    Anyways, I like all the possible responses outlined but there is no One True Response to fix the level of absolute denial and dysfunction your extended family is showing here. So just as you are at peace with being out of touch with your brother, let them hold their little kangaroo courts if they need to and you just maintain your boundaries and make your best life.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. It is indeed so….grrrrrrr-inducing.

    1. I would go a step further, myself. You can tell a lot about someone by who judges them. Being “the one who won’t let us get away with rape apologetics” is a GOOD thing to be. That’s a badge you can wear with pride.

      The judgement of awful people is sometimes more of a credit to your character than the accolades or approval of good people.

      1. “The judgement of awful people is sometimes more of a credit to your character than the accolades or approval of good people.”


        If all the assholes in your life dislike you, you are doing it RIGHT.

  5. I’m wondering if I’m at all related to the OP. Because I have this role in my family. Granted, my sibling didn’t rape anyone, but she seems to have grown up with NONE of the consequences, while I got all of them. Hate to disagree with the Capt. but on the last point, it kind of is your parents’ fault your brother raped someone. This is not the first time he didn’t have accountability and they continue to enable him. While I hope you can emotionally let it go (and know it wasn’t YOUR fault your brother raped your friend…because as much as your parents want you to think that, you are not responsible for your brother’s actions or his feelings), continuing to stay away from him is the smart thing to do. He’s already told you who he is. Believe him.

    1. I think the moment we decide that rape is the fault of someone who isn’t the rapist we get into some sticky territory. I see what you’re saying and there’s a discussion to be had about consequences and accountability but can we agree that it’s entirely OP’s brother’s fault that he raped someone because he made that choice and did that thing because he’s a giant twatburger? The parents are just responsible for their own shitty behaviour after the fact.

      1. Well, the thing about fault is that sharing doesn’t always mean lessening it. For instance, imagine if you want to kill someone and you say “hey Traffic, gimme your gun so I can kill Bob,” and I go “Sure thing – here ya go, Belle,” and then you take my gun and kill Bob. You’re 100% responsible for killing Bob – you’re not less to blame just because I loaned you my gun. However, I am also to blame for what you did. Could you have done it without what I did? Would you have? Maybe, maybe not, but I still did something to contribute to that situation.

        It’s sorta the Joint and Several Liability legal policy: both parties can be independently considered 100% liable for something, because they both were sufficiently in on it. Now here, I’d say Brother 100% to blame, but parents maybe also *some* percentage to blame, in a way that does not lessen Brother’s blame.

        1. Let’s curb this back-and-forth about parental responsibility, it doesn’t really help the Letter Writer’s situation with the extended family.

          1. Apologies since I started it. And over identifying with the OP isn’t helpful of me either.

      2. Agreed. LW’s parents have their own wagons of bad to pull; they may have chosen a lot of the contents, but they didn’t choose Brother’s.

      3. Just a quick note, could we avoid epithet’s like “twatburger” when criticizing a rapist? Since “twat” is a word for female genitalia? Personally, I have a problem with any genitalia words being used as negatives. Thank you, and sorry to nitpick!

      4. I agree. At the same time, if LW’s parents have any kind of conscience then they feel like they fucked up. They raised a rapist. But it’s easier for them to minimize and act like the LW is just being unreasonable/hysterical than admit that their son is a rapist who threatened their daughter’s boyfriend.

    2. Putting the blame on the parents for what the brother did isn’t reasonable, IMO. My sister has done some REALLY REALLY shitty things and anyone saying that the blame would be on my parents would really upset me because they raised me as well and I didn’t turn out like that. In fact, I’ve had several conversations with my mother where she blamed herself for my sister’s actions, and I had to point out that she raised me the exact same way and it’s not her fault my sister did what she did. It’s also not my parent’s fault that my sister has refused to seek help, or acknowledge that her decisions have hurt other people. My parents HAVE held my sister accountable, and she still chooses to blame everyone but herself. I consider myself lucky that my parents understand why I’ve cut my sister off and while they haven’t, they don’t push me to forgive her or “let it go” anymore (my mom did at first because she’s very attached to the ‘happy family where everyone gets a long’ idea, because if it’s not a happy family, she blames herself …but I employed a lot of the tactics that the Captain suggests, and that’s of the past).

      Lack of accountability does not equal ‘raised him to think it was okay to rape someone.’ Enabling someone or choosing to ignore their bad behavior once that person is an adult is not the parents’ “fault.”

      Are the parents 100% innocent in this? No. But they didn’t make him do it either. Our parents are responsible for a lot of how we turn out and the values that we hold, but at the end of the day, we guide ourselves.

      1. Thank you for this. It’s helpful regarding my husband and his brother right now.

      2. This! I too know some people who turned out badly despite having great parents and having siblings who turned out fine. I also know people with horrible siblings and parents who turned out to be really good, decent people in spite of them. Nature *and* nurture matter, but nuturing the heck out of a bad apple won’t get rid of the rot.

      3. There are also families which are abusive and one of the kids turns out fine and the other does not, where this could be a codependant response to reassure the abusive parent, so ymmv. Just so it’s clear turning out ok doesn’t mean you had a good parent.
        What these parents are guilty of is not holding their son accountable, and not supporting their daughter now, so they do get blame for that.

    3. she seems to have grown up with NONE of the consequences, while I got all of them

      Have you read about the scapegoat/golden child dysfunctional family system?

        1. I can’t find any that don’t skirt the borders of the “don’t diagnose” rule but the phrase Jenny used pulls up some good search engine results.

  6. Insert angriest face ever here. I have no better words than the Captain. This makes me sick, that somebody values their peace of mind more than anything else, that they are willing to inflict untold pressure and guilt on somebody who was blameless, just to NOT have to hold the perpetrator accountable. Rage, rage, rage.

    So yeah, LW, be LOUD. Ask why it’s so important to them that YOU make amends, that YOU knuckle under the pressure, that YOU do the emotional work, and that HE, the one to made the threats, did the rape – does nothing. Ask why it’s OK that your friends life was changed forever, and they’re OK with not holding brother accountable for that. That you and your partner now have to deal with brothers threats and they’re OK with Rug Sweeping For Life. And then shun the fuck out of them, and tell anybody who asks WHY, in chapter and verse.

    Stop being the family reasonable one, the quiet one, the peaceful one. Make them as uncomfortable as they and your brother have made you. Spread the word.

    1. I agree that in addition to the Captain’s scripts, it may be helpful for the LW to point out this massive double standard.

      “Why is the burden of fixing this on me? Why do I have to make peace, while he – the cause of all this – gets to do nothing, not even go to therapy?”

      I can’t imagine that they’ll have a great answer for this.

      1. Well they certainly won’t have a logical answer for this, but they might have plenty of truisms or biblical quotes or whatnot to shut down the LW. It’s hard to see beyond my own family to how others might act, but in my family pointing out the double standard would be seen as childish “it’s not faiiiir” behavior that would solicit a “teaching moment” about how I should take the high road. I’d never put myself out there like that to my own family— but maybe other families aren’t like that. Maybe this is really good advice for normal families (if there is such a thing).

        1. Of course they could have a justification or response, but – in my personal experience – those are either easy to shut down or easy to walk away from. When they’re applying pressure under the guise of “we want family to love each other” it can be hard for some people to get angry or push back against a goal that seems, on its face, to be a good one.

          When they start in with the “it’s your responsibility because you’re a woman” or “that’s just how guys are” or “you should take the high road, while he remains low… which was exactly what caused the problem to begin with” it can be easier for people to push back against that. The LW’s mileage may vary, but if she’s finding it hard to push back against these people, framing the convo in another way might help.

          1. Yeah my relatives used to pull that ‘but faaaaamily!’ And I said ok so he’s genetically related and that means I have to put up with abuse? How is that fair? Each and every time. Did they get the msg? No. But it did stop that particular argument. Mostly I just learned to realize no amount of logic was going to make them respect my boundaries. And I cut ties with every single abuser in the family and many enablers then cut ties with me. And it was tough at first but I built my own family of friends and I wouldn’t go back to that for anything. You can also try ‘yeah he’s family! Maybe you should give this love your sis lecture to him!’

      2. “Because he’s a guy” is a 100% possible answer from some people. Definitely not a great answer, but LW may want to prepare for the possibility of doubling down for shitty sexist reasons. It sucks, but sometimes families just. suck.

        1. “because he’s a guy” is probably the genuine answer for a lot of them whether they’ll give it or not.

          1. If we’re forearming the LW with ripostes, a good shutdown for this would be, “He’s not the kind of guy I need around.”

            There are so many guys who don’t rape people or threaten murder. Why run yourself ragged trying to re-establish a relationship with a guy who does?

        2. Yes, do be prepared for that. I literally had a family friend – childhood friend of my dad’s, an honorary uncle to me growing up – who, when I decided I was done trying to emotionally parent my father out of being an abusive alcoholic and cut off the relationship entirely, tried to convince me that I needed to yet again be the one to give in and work to accommodate my dad’s issues and do all the emotional work of the relationship, because, and I quote “Well, guys aren’t very good at this stuff. Women are so much better at it, you really need to cut him some slack.”

          I just about lost it at him. I had spent 20 years cutting that man slack already, he’s a grown adult who made the choice to have children while I certainly didn’t choose to have him for a father, and somehow this is still some kind of nurturing I am obligated to give him (at great personal emotional cost, mind you) purely because he’s a man and I’m not?

          I’d never expected to actually hear it said outright like that, so it really blindsided me. So…yeah. Seconding the warning on that one.

      3. I would absolute lampshade it with something along the lines of,

        “I’m so happy you want US BOTH to come to some sort agreement and are taking the time to speak to US BOTH. Can I ask what you’ve already said to him as well as me…?”

        Willing to bet so very much it’s exactly zilch…

      4. And the LW has already compromised. The compromise is, she is willing to meet with her brother in a mediated environment. Since he’s unwilling to meet her there, the busybody crapsack ambassadors are asking her to give further ground. Though I have no idea a statement like “You know what, I’ve changed my mind. I was asking for him to meet me with a therapist to meditate. But since he keeps pressuring me through you and other relatives to skip straight to the relationship we had before he raped my friend and threatened to kill my partner, I don’t want to hear from him at all.” would go over. Probably not well.

        1. YES. This is one of the things that’s making me most angry about this situation. The LW has said she’s willing to consider the possibility of reconciliation (though she’d be absolutely within her rights not to). But the brother will have to do some work as well, and this for some reason isn’t acceptable. Nope, she has to do ALL the work even though he’s the one who fucked up. Ugh.

  7. Good for you, LW, for setting and maintaining boundaries for yourself. The Captain’s advice is fantastic here, and I hope you remember through all this that your boundaries are entirely reasonable and right. I have always known that I would never maintain a relationship with a rapist, no matter who they were in my life and no matter what their connection to me was previously. That is a 100% rule to have in your life.

  8. YES. Tackling the actual problem—him—would be a confrontation, and that makes them uncomfortable, but so does the rift in the family. So far it’s been easier for them to try to pressure you to get in line than to deal with either the confrontation or the discomfort.

    Make it clear that hassling you is going to result in both for them anyway.

  9. I love the Captain’s advice here. This family is pressuring the LW because, deep down, they know that can’t change her brother and that trying to change her is their best bet for getting what they want. They’re not doing it because they think, objectively, that she’s being unreasonable. They just want to the problem swept under the rug and they’re pressuring her to go along with that.

    I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a criminally violent child. I suspect that a decent portion of their “he wouldn’t actually hurt anyone” stance is just straight-up denial because the truth is too difficult for them. The LW has no obligations to make this easier for them, though. It sounds like she’s been handling this with an amazing amount of strength and she should just trust her gut in handling her brother in the future.

    1. I watched my mother trying to grapple with that one — what do you do when you have a criminally violent child. It’s a nightmare. It tends to be much worse if that child is a boy and the parent in question is a mother, from what I’ve seen. If you try to protect others from that child, pretty much the whole society lines up to demonize you as an evil unnatural hag of a mother.

      It led to some behavior that could seem wacky. My mother and my brother were estranged when he died. She suddenly flipped into constantly talking about only good things about him and her sorrow that he was gone and how much he meant to her and a lot of stuff about “wonder moments”. It came across as crazy, but people tend to be patient with a mother whose child has died before her. Now I’m finally understanding that she wasn’t crazy at all — she was reacting to crazy-making pressures of society. His death meant he could no longer harm anyone and she no longer had to constantly ask herself what her responsibility was in being a parent of a monster who was loose in the world. She could finally just be a sad mother. The crazy-making horrible pressures were gone.

      1. I am so, so sorry for your mom. Having lost 2 children, I can totally relate to her behavior.

  10. Wow, someone whose brother is as nasty as mine was.

    LW, you already know your brother is a bad enough person that staying far, far away is the only healthy option. You seem to have accepted that for what it is.

    The other family members haven’t. They’re still holding on to an image of this guy that is fundamentally different from what he is. The healthy thing for each of them is to let that image go and grieve for the person they wanted him to be while accepting that person doesn’t exist. The grieving process has to happen for them to get real with the situation.

    But the thing about grieving processes is they are wacky and unpredictable and each one is different and progresses at different rates at different times. One of the practical results of that is that people from dysfunctional families do their grieving over different parts of it at different times and at different rates. This can perpetually drive new wedges between them, because each person feels like they are the most clear-sighted about what is happening and what should be grieved for while the others are clearly doing it wrong.

    I’m speaking from experience on that one.

    You’re much further in the process of accepting what your brother is than the rest of them are. You know they’re in the wrong, because the facts are incontrovertible. But each of the others will continue in the mistake of thinking you’re in the wrong if it doesn’t match with their own slower progress of dealing with the whole mess.

    And some of them aren’t ever going to want to come out of the fog. They want to not feel uncomfortable. They see something they feel discomfort over, and they try to make you bend into contortions to hide it from their sight. They’re in the wrong of course, but what do you want to do about that?

    What you need to process and probably have to grieve is that this whole group of people aren’t going to be what you want them to be or even anything healthy to be around. They condone rape, after all. It’s likely time to consider a life without them, without people who condone rape. You want to not be crucified in the opinion court *of people who condone rape* — that’s the problem you have to solve — wanting the good opinion of people whose good opinion is the lowest, dankest insult.

    1. This is such a kind, helpful comment. Thank you. I’m in the same boat, the H.M.S. Whoopsie-my-brother-turned-out-to-be-a-sexual-predator-and-our-whole-family-is-sick. I’d been in therapy for years before my brother got charged with his felony, and I’ve got very firm ideas of what went wrong and why, but I’ve certainly held other opinions about it over the course of my healing journey and I might change my mind in the years to come (although not about the predation). I crave validation about what I went through, but my family members can’t offer it to me, and I can’t offer it to them when they need their own (rape-apologizing, victim-blaming) perspectives validated. So what kind of a relationship can I have with my family members? The kind where we don’t talk about these things? The kind where we pretend everything’s okay? I’m working on tolerating invalidation or disagreement over emotionally-charged topics, but like you say, sometimes the facts are uncontrovertible. And sometimes the price of agreeing to disagree is just too high.

      I think sometimes you have to back off, hope your family members find their way through the fog and into the light, and realize they need outside help and support to do that — as a family member, you probably aren’t in a position to change anyone’s mind unless they’re truly open to listening to you, and even then, these conversations come with a lot of risk for those of us who have been hurt by our loved ones when we’ve opened up before. But you can’t MAKE people come correct. You can’t get them to accept truths they’re unwilling or unready to accept.

      Being the first one out of a dysfunctional family is so hard and so lonely.

      1. I’m so sorry you’re in that mess. It really sucks to have to ask yourself what kind of people your family are and are they the kind of people you want in your life.

        I hope you’re able to paddle your lifeboat far from HMS W-m-b-t-o-t-b-a-s-p-a-o-w-f-i-s and its polluted storms to beautiful clean warm water.

      2. It is hard and lonely. You have to face ostracism for being the only one willing to do the right thing, and worse, you have to face ostracism and condemnation from the very people who are supposed to love you no matter what.

        If that weren’t ugly enough, there’s how parents affect us even in adulthood. The massive amplification of what they think and say, held over from when their approval literally meant life or death, never really goes away. When they’re fundamentally off, it takes a lot of time and effort to unpack and stop reacting to their programming. Shoot, that’s true even with the most flawless parents alive.

        What does that mean in practical terms? Humans are fundamentally social, which means that the normative cues we allow ourselves to be surrounded by will shape who we are more than we want to admit. If we surround ourselves by people who condone rape, for example, it has corrosive effects on our thinking in a multitude of ways — it corrodes reason itself. And if that group includes a parent (or more than one), the corrosion of thinking and feeling is amplified and accelerated.

        The flip side is that ostracism, the more complete the better, was the one thing found to actually work on offenders in the Duluth domestic violence research.

        So the practical upshot is that while one may have some fond daydream of remaining true to oneself while being around such people, the reality is that is not how our brains work. And participating in the condoning social circle means participating in the rapist/abuser’s beliefs that their behavior is acceptable and without real consequence, so they may as well keep doing it.

        Sadly, there is nothing about this situation that does not suck for you. The best you can achieve is condemnation for doing what is right. The good news is that when you clear such people out of your life, you’ll be amazed at how much space and energy there is for all kinds of good things you didn’t even know were possible. That space makes room for meeting better people and building relationships of all sorts with them. It is the best shot at happiness and peace that you’ve got, but what you have to go through to get there is ugly and painful. You will find yourself amazed at how much brighter the world is when you make it to the other side, though.

      3. Whew… this entire sub-thread is really good and I appreciate the conversation so much. Mayati, I really feel for you — I was the whistle-blower when my cousin confessed that her dad was molesting her and her sisters. That was awful for a really long time when I was younger and there was more that I had to negotiate, and now that thirty years have passed, it still gives me a lot to think about, but it has gotten easier. I separated myself from most of my maternal family, and sadly, it never got better. I just knew that if the abuse had happened to me, they would have swept that under the rug too, and I couldn’t accept that for me and I couldn’t accept that for my cousins either. None of it turned out like I had hoped, but I put my energies into other people to fill that hole, and the people involved in tolerating that terrible situation have died off or moved over the years, and my life got better, as Helen said. Hope you get there too. I think you will.

    2. your last line really, really resonated with me. The judgement of bad people is sometimes better than the approval of good people when it comes to proving your moral character.

      I learned this in my own life. My mother saying “you’re horrible and selfish and think only of yourself and it’s sick” actually means “you have boundaries and do a good job enforcing them”, for instance.

      If Hannibal Lector says that you just threw the worst dinner party he’s ever been to, is that really a searing condemnation? And what would you say of someone whose hospitality he raved about?

      1. It does make for some interesting humor when you’ve fought your way free of caring what such people think. I’ve been through quite a few rounds of people getting worked up because the buddy of some wacko stalker was running around saying bad things about me, whereupon people feel the need to repeat to me what StalkerBuddy has been saying. Cue rounds of me saying, “I’m supposed to care what *StalkerBuddy* thinks of me? Why on earth would I ever do that?”

    3. Helen, that last paragraph in particular is gold. Been there, done that. It’s hard, but better than falling into line for the rest of your life.

  11. I have a similar Thing with a family friend. I do not bring it up, and honestly while I think the above scripts are good ones, I feel like they may lead to more exhausting conversations than you want. Whenever you give a reason, people see it as an invitation to argue. You set a boundary, and it’s not to be argued about – so you don’t need to give a reason because the point is that you get to make this decision and it’s not contingent on whether they think your reason is good enough. Re-set the terms of the disagreement – it’s not, “Am I justified in cutting out my brother based on this set of facts?” – it’s more like, “Do I have to talk through/justify my adult decisions at all?”

    My favorites:

    “I don’t talk about that, and so if you want to I’m going to excuse myself.”
    “That’s too difficult for me to talk about. I’m sure you understand.”
    “I’m uncomfortable with this topic; let’s move on.”
    “We’ve already explored this in a lot of detail – at [time] and [time]. If I ever have something new to share, I’ll like you know but for now nothing has changed.”

    If they don’t drop it, you walk away. These are obviously not folks who feel an ounce of shame for guilting you, so all you really can do is opt out. Sometimes that means you leave wherever you were and go home. Doing so has a similar effect over time to making things awkward – it shows them that you’re not going to argue about this and that you mean it.

    Losing your shit might be a deterrent, so it’s worth trying, but in my experience it drained my energy far more than whoever was poking at this sore spot on me.

    1. This is an excellent point. The Captain’s advice is a great first step, but even then there’s no guarantee that they’ll respect her decisions. And if they don’t, she has your advice to fall back on.

      This is absolutely a boundary that they need to respect, or get cut off. If they’re still in therapy together, she should bring this up.

    2. I think this is a difference of personality. For me, it’s the keeping my cool that takes effort, not the losing my temper. (I’m a Hulk-type.) If LW is the chilled out by nature type, returning the awkward to sender in the loudest way possible might be a drain. If the LW is like me, deploying the reaction you always have anyway but usually tamp down is A) a relief so great it’s almost pleasurable and B) no effort whatsoever.

      1. Same.

        And speaking from personal experience, there’s a lot to be said for establishing yourself, family-wise, as ‘the one who is only calm on the surface DON’T OVERSTEP’ vs ‘the one who will take what you dish out feel free’. Once I had one or two solid ‘I’m not budging, the line was back there and WHOA are you over it’ loud moments, people stopped dishing their nonsense my way. It was remarkably freeing.

        1. Yup, change your identity from ‘the reasonable one’ to ‘I can absolutely be reasonable if you are but I can also bring the fiery heat of hell, the chill of the arctic and I can also give you the ‘I am out of fucks and vaguely disgusted with you in a bored way’ silent look before turning away.

          In short, there are things you can’t be ‘reasoned’ out of believing. Which is reasonable!

      2. I’m with you.

        I rarely raise my voice, but relatives wondering why “wonderful Cousin X” isn’t around was guaranteed to have me yelling “You mean Wonderful Cousin X the pedophile who groped me when I was 11? I don’t wonder at all.”

      3. I agree this comes down to temperament! I wish I had more energy to argue or make a scene, but at this point in my life I don’t. I know that others around me have proportionally more energy for that than I do for this would play into their hands.

        For me, this advice sounds nightmarish – I’m also somewhat sensitive and the folks in my immediate orbit are big arguers and would *love* nothing more than to escalate an argument about this until I’m flustered and in tears. If the LW is like me, the above advice is self-preservation.

        I’ll also put one more plug for – are you giving them any new information? If you haven’t been crystal clear already, the scripts are great, but if you have and their argument is just that (really) you agree on the facts but disagree whether they should matter, well. That’s honestly a very different conversation, at least for me. It can feel profoundly damaging to have to argue that your trauma, your friend’s trauma, or your (true) version of events should matter with people who steadfastly disagree. You deserve to feel validated in choices that protect you, not to have to justify them to anyone else. You do not *owe* them any type of explanation, even for the self-interested purpose of getting them to drop it.

        1. I second this question: “are you giving them any new information?” If the answer is no, temperment and conservation of your energy should determine how to deal with the situation.

          I suggest coldly stating “This subject is closed” or “we have already discussed this” before leaving. If it happens again I would let all my feelings (e.g. anger, disgust, disbelief) show on my face before leaving.

          Take care LW.

  12. LW, your situation sounds eerily similar tto my own. I ultimately decided I don’t care to maintain relationships with people who excuse and enable my violent brother’s criminal behavior, and who expect me to fix everything for everybody. Why should I participate in their collective insanity? Why should I expose my children to that? Fuck them one and all, LW. You and Partner are invited to my house this Thanksgiving. Best of luck to you.

  13. Once you’ve made other people very uncomfortable, it’s also helpful to declare what you want in explicit terms:

    “No one in this family will ask me this question or speak about reconciliation again in my presence EVER.” Change subject without giving them a chance to respond.

    During the “making them uncomfortable” process maybe the most succinct shutdown I can think of would be “I’ve already let it go, that’s why he’s not in prison for rape or death threats. You should let it go too, and never discuss this with me again.” (or if not prison, then whatever the consequence of rape + death threats your brother could have faced).

    Good grief LW I’m so sorry you have this entire situation (that your brother created) hanging over your head when you’re with your family!

    1. “I’ve already let it go, that’s why he’s not in prison for rape or death threats. You should let it go too, and never discuss this with me again.”
      A++ script

      1. That is a really good one.

        There’s one problem with it though — it would make her sound like she’s committing to never testifying against him in the future when he attacks someone else. And trust me, people who condone rapists will have no problem coming after LW with furious outrage when that day comes for breaking her “promise” and generally accusing her of being evil, perhaps even taking ugly actions against her for her “wrong” she is committing.

        We’re talking about people in a sick system (LW’s family structure) that has flipped right and wrong. There is no win to be had here. Trying to win, even just with a clever shutdown, buys into the sick system and keeps LW hooked into it.

        1. There’s one problem with it though — it would make her sound like she’s committing to never testifying against him in the future when he attacks someone else

          I didn’t hear it that way at all. I heard an unveiled “yet” – implying that not only later crimes, but even further discussion, would lead LW to call the cops.

          I am not disagreeing with your interpretation, though – I commented because it’s interesting that we read the remarkable so differently.

          You’re probably correct about the way the LW ‘s self serving relatives would act.

          1. Uh, no. That’s not “my” interpretation of that comeback, nor is it a question of whether it is a reasonable interpretation or not. It’s a question of what certain people are likely to do with it. And people who condone and coddle a rapist will turn it to their own purposes. The LW’s family want her to join in circling the wagons to protect and coddle the rapist, and they will seize on what suits their purpose. They’ve made it quite clear that the rapist son is the one they prioritize over LW.

          2. I didn’t (and don’t) disagree with your take on how the LW ‘s family will act.

            I disagree that those specific words are more likely than other words to provoke the rotten behavior.

        2. I didn’t consider that it could be read as an implied promise rather than an implied threat, but you’re right, it could be. I also didn’t consider the LW taking future action against the brother (for offenses already committed) because I got the sense the LW had no intention of pursuing legal action anymore (though of course she could change her mind and/or he could reoffend). Though in that case I get the sense the family would give LW hell whether she had “broken a promise” or not.

          But mostly, yes I so agree that the cleverness or snappiness of a “comeback” in no way relates to its usefulness. Sadly there is no cosmic sassiness score. If the statement isn’t being read as an implied threat, then it’s little more than bickering within the bounds of the sick system. LW should be the judge of how her family would likely react– threat or promise.

  14. Also, as a bit of a side note, this is one massive red flag:

    “…in the ‘now I am so distraught you need to comfort me’ way…”

    If you ever need a heads up that someone doesn’t give a single shit about your feelings or about how their actions affect you, it’s when they expect someone that they’ve wronged to comfort them when they “feel bad” about what they’ve done. They may has well just say, “My feelings are important and deserve attention, even from someone I’ve hurt, but other people’s don’t have to be considered.”

    1. “Yes, we all feel pretty horrible about the rape you committed and the death threats against My Partner”

      You aren’t “not forgiving” him by refusing to maintain contact with him.

      You don’t owe him mediated discussion.

      You don’t have to keep trying.

      You aren’t wrong to refuse to make efforts toward reconciliation or keep the window of opportunity open until he gets around to not being a death threat making rapist who makes others responsible for his feelings about what he did to others.

      You don’t have to make any efforts to appear reasonable by your family’s standards.

      You never have to convince them that you’re being reasonable.

      You are allowed to not want to be around someone based on their past actions. You don’t have to even be actively angry at them to do so.

      1. This. You can forgive someone without reconciling with them. It sounds like you (LW) have worked through your experiences with your therapist and done your forgiving. You don’t sound bitter or vengeful, which is the point of forgiveness – processing and letting go of our own negative feelings.

        Reconciling and rebuilding a relationship takes two, though. You’ve done your part of the work. It doesn’t sound like your brother has done his part, namely, admitting his guilt, taking responsibility, and making a genuine positive change in his behavior to demonstrate that it won’t happen again. The ball is in his court. If he wants to sit there with it until the ball is a slimy lump of rotten goo, well, that’s on him. Your brother broke your relationship with him, not you, and it’s on him to show that he’s changed if he wants it restored. Don’t let anyone convince you that you have to go over to his side of the court, pick up the ball, put it in his hand and beg him to throw it. You’re an adult, not a dog.

        Granted, this isn’t a strategy specifically for dealing with your family, but I find it’s sometimes helpful to clarify where responsibility lies and whether I’ve done what I believe is necessary to have a clear conscience about (my part of) a situation, because (for me) it provides something of a shield against attempts at guilt-tripping. Maybe this perspective will help give you some of the same confidence in pushing back against your family.

        To be very clear: I do not think anything LW mentioned in the letter should remotely weigh on her conscience, but the whole point of guilt-tripping is to convince the target otherwise. The idea is to not leave any regrets/guilt – related, unrelated, valid, or otherwise – available re:Brother for guilt-tripping-relatives to leverage. If that means apologizing for that one time in third grade that you stole his Hot Wheels, or something, send him a letter and a new Hot Wheels car or whatever it takes to get it off your conscience. Write a letter about [thing you wish you’d done differently] to him, and then burn it. Anything. Just don’t leave any openings for attack. Be confident in your own choices and decisions, and use some of the scripts here to return fire.

        1. Yeah….and if LW decides to not be willing to try to reconcile with her brother if he ever comes around and wants to, that’s perfectly ok, normal, understandable and would be a healthy choice. (Not knocking others who do reconcile – I’m saying if she didn’t want to, it would be healthy to choose not to, even if he wanted to)

  15. Another phrase that may be useful.

    “Don’t ever bring this up again.”

    An exercise that may be useful.

    “If you bring this up again, I will ______________.”

    Spend time thinking about what you would truly be willing to do. Call the police and begin the process of getting a restraining order–since you suspect your family might be trying to force you into contact with a violent person you need police protection. Hang up immediately. Walk out of the setting immediately. Get all of your brother’s threats and read them out to the person who brought it up. To their entire family. To their church. SInce their goal is to sweep this whole thing under the rug, it could be surprisingly effective to tell them that every single time they pressure you to get together with your brother you will recite every single one of his threats back to them, alone or at family gatherings. They want to ignore it. Like calling him a rapist every time they bring him up, this will make them see that trying to force you to ignore it will only make it more prominent.

    1. Replying to note, I’ve found repeating phrases works in part because I can be calm while doing it. It’s not making a scene (which to me often feels like I’m playing a part), it’s the adult equivalent of being sent to their room. They say something I’ve made it clear I’m not up for, I repeat, by rote, exactly what they don’t want to hear.

      1. If you view human interaction as a series of short playlets, everything’s a scene, and there are times having your lines well enough memorized to avoid someone else’s attempts to shift the scene the way they want it to go is the best kind of scene to make. I’ve been practicing answering questions with questions on the advice of my therapist.

        LW, because I think I’ve forgotten to say this to you — you are not alone and your family is behaving horribly to you. I agree with the Captain and most of the other commenters.

  16. I’m so sorry, LW. I have been through different but the same. I had to explain my sexual assault in my defense to my own parents.

    I’m echoing other commenters as well as the Captain, and even as an attorney: The truth is an unassailable and total defense. You don’t even have to offer baited questions in response from others with words like “are you coddling him?/picking sides/shouldn’t rapists be treated X?”

    State the facts straight flat out, with no judgment and no emotion, and take no bullshit ugliness in response.

    “My brother raped a woman and threatened the life of my partner, so I have nothing to do with him anymore.”
    But family/get along/whatever the hell all/

    “As I said, my brother is a rapist and threatened the life of my partner. I’m not sure how much clearer I can be.”
    But/but/but (And really, who continues on after that? but if they do….)

    “Brother raped a woman and promised to harm my partner. There is no gray area for me – if there is one for you, I can’t speak to it.” AND WALK THE FUCK AWAY IN EVERY SENSE OF THE PHRASE. Hang up the phone; excuse yourself from the table; walk out the door, spend the night with a friend; get on the next plane home.

    You have this, LW. You know what to do and you know how to take care of yourself. Sending you every Good Thought.

    1. You had to defend being sexually assaulted to your parents? So fucking ugh and I am so fucking sorry.

  17. Be shrill, LW! Shrill and loud and use every one of the Captain’s scripts! You have been amazing, you can stop absorbing the awkward for everyone else. Return it sender, with all evil bees the are sending you. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  18. In addition to all of the excellent advice above:

    These people are not your friends.

    No one who genuinely cares about your well-being is going to pressure you to resume this relationship without some accountability and amends at the very least.

    Family can be so twisted by this kind of dysfunction that they may be genuinely unable to see it–totally in denial. This doesn’t excuse it but does provide some reasoning for this kind of pressure. (I’ve experience it myself, in different but equally destructive circumstances. I know how draining this is.)

    But anyone outside of that family doesn’t get any kind of pass. If they care about you, they are not going to pressure you to be close to your brother. Full stop.

  19. “Show them that the amount of polite you have been before now is a gift that you have given them, a gift that can be rescinded if they can’t behave themselves”

    Captain, thank you for this. Those of us who have been Raised to Be Polite have often been trained the opposite – that politie is something you must be at all times.

    Yes, LW. Be shrill. Be loud. Make a scene. Anyone who would pressure you to forgive…while not pressuring him to get help/be accountable/admit to his wrongdoing is a POS that doesn’t deserve the friendly side of you!

  20. LW, This is my alternate song for you. There are moments in our lives where people around us are running around trying to place blame and make everything nice and pretty. They don’t want to address the problem, or fix it, they just want to feel like things are going to be okay again.

    Be Bernadette Peters: – https://youtu.be/bxZUT1-9Wik?t=59s

    Or if you prefer, Meryl Streep – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAZpLyCN9Zw

    Be the witch. Embrace it. Let them fear bringing up this topic and whisper that you’re SO MEAN. They aren’t good, they aren’t bad, they are just nice, and so who cares what they think?

  21. Dear LW,


    Count me on Team Make Them Uncomfortable.

    I rarely had to do it more than once per relative, and each instance lasted several years.

    Jedi hugs if you want them. I think you’re pretty amazing.

  22. I’m so sorry, LW. The Captain is right that they have cast you as The Reasonable One, and they’re trying to get you to play that role – the One Who Forgives, the One Who Makes Peace. It’s deeply unfair to you, but you already know that.

    I agree with the comment above that maybe it would be a good idea to consider how much you want these people in your life, if this is the price of admission. The Captain’s advice is good; make it uncomfortable for them. But if they’re not willing to stop pressuring you, it might be good to think about what you’re willing to do then. It sucks that your brother is the one who did horrible things, and you are the one who may need to walk away from your family to protect yourself/your mental and emotional health/maybe future kids if that’s something that’s in the picture for you.

    If the answer to “Do I still want these people in my life under these circumstances?” is “Yes,” that’s entirely ok. You’re an adult, and that is something you get to decide. If you think a few sessions with just you (or maybe you and Partner) and a therapist would be helpful, that could be a good option to explore, too. And if the answer is “No,” or “I’m not sure yet,” that’s ok, too. As long as you are taking care of you. These people have shown through their actions that they are willing to put enabling your brother and the appearance of a happy family above your mental health and comfort, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that they’re putting that above your partner’s life.

    There’s no way to say that that doesn’t sound dramatic…but the situation is dramatic…also drastic. Maybe your brother wouldn’t actually do what he threatened…but he has already hurt someone else for his own pleasure/sense of power/whatever motivated him to rape your friend, and that’s not an encouraging track record, to say the least. Now…for what I’m about to say, please keep in mind that I am in no way a legal, medical, or mental health professional…so keep that in mind. That said, you said that your brother threatened your partner because your brother believed that your partner “poisoned you” against Brother. The implication I take from that is that your brother doesn’t really think of you as an independent person, capable of making your own decisions on this. And that what Brother really resents is what he sees as Partner threatening Brother’s “control” over you/the situation. You know Brother better than I do, so maybe this is complete BS, but it’s one of the things that occurred to me while I thinking about your letter.

    However you decide to deal with this, I wish you the best of luck and a happy, peaceful life. Please come back and update us. Know that you have many people here as your invisible cheerleaders.

    1. That stuck out to me also. Like women aren’t allowed to be human. Men are in control and women are just there to do whatever the male wants.

  23. Ugh. “Boys will be boys” = “Boys will be abusive and you will make excuses for it because…reasons..?”

    Also, yeah, it sounds like LW HAS “let it go” and her entire family is Making A Thing out of their estrangement, taking on a bunch of emotional labor for her abusive, emotional infant of a brother because…reasons..?

  24. A LOT of people have the wrong idea of how forgiveness works. People like the LW’s family see it as something both essential and deserved, like clean water, that she is defiantly withholding to make them feel bad, when all they want is peace, love and joy! Never mind the fact that Brother has not done one damn thing towards even signaling that he’s thought about starting to move in the direction of acknowledging his wrongs.

    Anne Lamott says basically forgiveness means you’re done. You’ve put down the rope in the tug of war and have quit trying to wrestle a different outcome out of the universe, or perception of reality out of a person. It doesn’t mean you want to have lunch with, be in the same city as, or ever speak to, said person again, or the people around him who were cheering him on.

    LW, your decision to forgive Brother or anybody else is yours and yours alone. You don’t owe it to anybody else, not now, not ever.

    1. This is just so full of insight, and wonderfully stated. Thank you for this.

    2. Hi, goddessoftransitory – re your quote “Anne Lamott says basically forgiveness means you’re done.”
      I agree with the process that you describe but not with the term used. As I see it, what many people describe as “forgiveness” – laying down the burden of rage and pain, and moving on beyond the hurt – is actually what some psychologists define as “positive detachment”.
      It’s just that society prefers to use the word “forgiveness” as it has a nice, cosy sense of everyone making up and making nice, to smooth things over – whereas “detachment” sounds a bit … chilly.
      I have to say that I can live with “chilly”. Here is a web page defining positive emotional detachment, if this helps anyone: https://www.emotionallyresilientliving.com/detachment-is-the-key-to-achieving-emotional-balance

      1. Thank you! I despise the word “forgiveness” for the exact same reason. When people get told to “forgive” it always seems to be about pressuring them to shut up about how they were harmed, not about helping them move on and heal. I’ve heard a bunch of different definitions of forgiveness that actually sound remotely helpful, but that word is just too tainted for me to use.

        For me, I can only even *consider* giving out the “we’re all buddies now!” version of forgiveness if the person who harmed me sincerely apologizes (which includes demonstrating a complete understanding of what they did wrong and why it was wrong) and makes amends. LW, if it’s any help, I firmly believe that handing out forgiveness to any old asshole, regardless of whether they have ever even tried to make things right, cheapens the concept of forgiveness.

      2. @Planegirl, thank you for this! I too dislike the word forgiveness but have experienced this form of detachment and now I know how to call it. Yay!

      3. I think of it like debt: companies will “forgive” a debt when it becomes apparent they will never see that money and the pursuing collection is so costly as to be not worth the hassle. They will not, however, extend credit again to that entity.

        I had people telling me for ages that I needed to forgive my mother, that I needed to do it for me, that it was nothing to do with her, but my old ideas of forgiveness as hugging and loving and bygones and all that kept rearing up and I’d nope hard. Then someone pointed out the “bad debt” analogy and… it clicked for me. Forgiving her doesn’t mean forgetting or letting things go back to the way they were or giving her another chance—it literally just means I stop expecting her to ever make things right. I go on with my life and expend that energy on other, more worthy people; I extend my emotional “credit” to people who won’t let me down.

      4. Glad to help, folks! Personally, I see the benefit of moving on with your life, but I really wish that someone would destroy the f-word by fire or nuke it from orbit or something.

    3. Exactly! I can forgive a shark for attacking, but I’m not going to get in a shark tank with it. That’s a different thing entirely.

      Harmful people who haven’t changed are still harmful to be around. And even if they have changed, the stress of being around them can still be harmful if there’s some trauma there.

  25. Another thing I want to add….which may be useful for ammunition in your family conversations, or may just help you in your own mind:

    It doesn’t matter whether your brother actually intended to, or even was capable of, carrying out the threat against your partner. Making such a threat–even if he were 100%, without a doubt, verifiably unable to carry it out–is a really good reason to remove someone from your life. The threat doesn’t need to be credible to be completely unacceptable behavior. (And I believe you that it WAS a credible threat…my point is just that it should be a dealbreaker regardless.)

    It’s kind of like the whole “oh, they were just joking!” excuse for people behaving badly. Well, I don’t want people in my life who make jokes like that. The end.

    1. If that’s their idea of a joke, how do they act when they’re serious?

    2. Additionally, if he ever spoke or corresponded with another person about his plans/intention to murder Partner, then he’s committed conspiracy t commit murder. Which is, IIRC, a felony in most jurisdictions.

    3. tw: suicide

      Thank you for this. For years of my childhood/adolescence, I got the ‘stop being so sensitive’ line from my mother when she’d throw temper fits and scream about hurting or killing me, other family members, and in later years herself. She wasn’t being LITERAL, she didn’t MEAN it, she was just VENTING, what was my PROBLEM?

      I’ve taken bitter amusement from the fact that the suicide threats didn’t start until after our physical states equalized to a degree that I was no longer afraid of physical violence from her, and she could tell I wasn’t. But this was still just uncontrollable/meaningless venting. Right.

      Of course, it wasn’t long after that that I came to the realization that she’d demolished any love I ever had for her so thoroughly that I genuinely wouldn’t grieve if she ever did harm herself.

  26. Since Brother has been told clearly where the lines are (and frankly they sound generous), it would be quite fair to include him in your refusals. For instance:

    Q: ‘I’m just asking questions…’

    A: ‘That’s between Brother and me.’

    If they’re so concerned for him, they can let you respect his privacy, right? And it is between you and him! You’ve told him what it takes, he’s not doing it, the ball’s in his court, that’s between you and him.

    As to ‘just think about it’, my temptation would be to say, ‘Oh, I’m thinking SOMETHING, but I don’t think you’d enjoy hearing it’, but if you want to avoid a confrontation then probably that’s better to think than to say. You might try something like, ‘If I promise to think about it, will you promise not to raise the subject again?’ If they agree, you can think, ‘Yep, still anti-violent crime here’ and you’ve kept your promise, and you can then remind them they promised if they do it again.

    (Though that said, I agree that this justifies a confrontation. You probably will get cast as the Problem One if you do it, but that might be a price worth paying.)

    One more thing, LW: you didn’t ask this, but given that rapists are often repeat offenders and Brother is evidently not someone who takes responsibility for the harm he causes, you wouldn’t be unreasonable in assuming he’s still a danger. If it comes out he’s raped somebody else, have you considered how you’d cope with that? It may be another issue to raise with a therapist if not, or at least have some kind of basic plan in place. (Eg, Will you cut him off entirely, or do you have other conditions? Would it trigger a mental health crisis, and how can you look after yourself if that happens?) Obviously I hope he proves me wrong, but it might be wise to string a safety net up just in case. (Though that said, if it feels like pointless obsessing and makes you feel worse, don’t do it – you know best.)

    And I am SO sorry all this has happened to you.

    1. As to ‘just think about it’, my temptation would be to say, ‘Oh, I’m thinking SOMETHING, but I don’t think you’d enjoy hearing it’

      I once told a friend: “Oh, I’m thinking about it, all right” in such a way that I apparently gave her the heebie jeebies. She never brought it up with me again, either.

      (I also occasionally swallow the urge to say: You don’t want to know what I’m thinking. Hell, I don’t want to know what I’m thinking and I’m the one thinking it.)

  27. Ugh, your family and friends. “Let it go.” JAQing off? “Think about it.”
    “What exactly are you suggesting I ‘let go’? The fact that he raped my friend or that he threatened to murder [name]?”
    “You ask – I ask: why are you okay with the fact that he raped my friend and threatened to murder [name]?”

    As has been said, they are pressuring you because you are showing them up as cowards when they don’t walk away from a person who rapes and makes death threats. They know you’re right, but they don’t have the guts to be right alongside you, so if you would please just “let it go”, their consciences could lie quiet.

    If they give you crap about being the reasonable one, “I am being reasonable. It’s very reasonable to have nothing to do with people who rape your friends and threaten to murder [name].”

    Make them uncomfortable. They’re effing WRONG to stand by him and they’re digging deeper by pressuring you.

    I’d give people one make-them-uncomfortable answer like the Captain suggests, and if they bring it up again, I’d let them know they’re in dangerous territory:
    “I am quite comfortable with my decision to cut him out of my life because he raped my friend and threatened to murder [name]. I am now considering whether to cut out of my life people who pressure me to change my mind because they apparently are okay with the fact that he raped my friend and threatened to murder [name].”

    Although frankly, I’d probably already be cutting people off. Even if they stop bugging you about it, they’re still supporting the person who raped your friend and threatened to murder your partner.

  28. LW, don’t worry about the court of public opinion. Every decent person in the world will support you.

    The only people who will crucify you for your decision are people who are okay with rape and murder threats. Fuck them and their opinion of you. They have a good opinion of the man who raped your friend and threatened to murder your partner. Fuck that.

  29. Aside from specifics, I am in a very similar situation. Family member did really, really terrible thing (and other terrible things), caused real, actual harm to me, and the family keeps telling me to stop making a big deal out of things.

    First of all, my therapist keeps telling me that dysfunctional systems hate it when people are healthy. You are making healthy decisions.

    In my case, I had decided that I would only participate in family things if they were big enough that I could pretend this family member were a stranger, like funerals. Still, people would ask if I was going to go just this one time. It’s such an important thing. Whatever. Finally I did raise my voice and named damaging actions very graphically. It felt so gross and ugly, but I realized almost as soon as I said them that the reason that they felt gross was that THEY ARE GROSS. I had been keeping all of this yuck out of the conversation, and I was the only one being drowned it in.

    I love that Capt says that it’s okay to ruin their days like they ruin yours. We tend to feel like we’re causing the problem if we acknowledge the problem. No. There is no need to act like things are okay because they aren’t. Go ahead and be flabbergasted that people are asking you to be okay with something so terrible. Act like they’re saying that Ted Bundy is soooo handsome. It’s a messed up thing to say.

    I realize that this is hardly coherent. My point is that your letter asks what you can do differently as if you’re doing something wrong, when in reality you should be asking, “what the motherless goats is wrong with these people?”

    1. Really sorry they did what they did to you. You keep taking care of yourself like a boss. Xxx

      1. Seconding Ice and Indigo! Realizing you’re the one drowning in yuck is a revelation that needs to be acted upon.

    2. First of all, my therapist keeps telling me that dysfunctional systems hate it when people are healthy.

      This times a thousand. One of the best ways in which my therapist helped me is helping me to understand how ridiculous my ex was being when he got upset with me for making healthy choices for myself.

      1. +infinity!

        Also, “What the motherless goats is wrong with these people?!” is absolutely stunning, perfect language! It’s very pointed and yet you could say it in front of small children without anyone getting on you for swearing.

    3. “the family keeps telling me to stop making a big deal out of things.”

      Shine, both you and the LW have this random internet stranger’s permission to ‘make a big deal’ out of it. Because what happened IS a big deal. Whether they’re in denial about it doesn’t change that.

  30. It may seem strange to use a workplace solution in middle of “but faaaaaaaammilllyyyyyyyy!!!!” but – document.

    People are treating the Reconcile question as if it is brand new every time it comes up. Cluebat, it’s not new. Get a little notebook, write relative’s name on top of a page, and write the date of every time they ask you to reconcile. Do this where they can see it.

    People don’t like to be proven as nags, even for a decent situation.

    I think the sight of that little notebook coming out as they start to ask you to Reconcile For Faaaamilyyyy might shut the question down.

    Good luck, OP.

  31. I’ve found there’s something to be said for being really unreasonable on some topics. Specifically, topics that people keep harassing you about. When you’re reasonable about it–you let them say their peace, you disagree peacefully, they get to walk away feeling like they at least raised a point worth considering–they keep bringing it up, even if you ask them politely to stop.

    On the other hand, when you become the unreasonable one–meaning not that you get violent, but that you cut them off and loudly announce “I am not discussing this again, stop bringing it up!!!” the moment you realize they’re talking about your brother again, you refute their ‘innocent questions’ with a loud-and-easily-overheard “He’s a rapist, rapists are disgusting and terrifying, why do you want me to spend time with a rapist, do you not care about my safety”, you generally make a very obvious scene–all of a sudden, the topic isn’t so satisfying for them. In fact, they walk away feeling like the entire topic is too touchy to bring up again, and like magic, it suddenly stops coming up.

    Now, this doesn’t work in all groups. It mostly works in groups where you’re getting these questions because the people around you don’t like conflict, and you’re The Reasonable One so they feel like they can put it on you to resolve whatever conflict is going on. But in that context…it really is like magic. If you can become known as the person who makes a scene whenever this very specific topic comes up, conflict-avoidant people will not bring that topic up with you. This sounds like your situation, so maybe give it a try?

    1. I second this. When all you get for being the Reasonable One is more misery, then it’s time to stop. The Captain has a few good scripts. This is a good script. Find a way to be “unreasonable” that feels natural to you. That won’t always be making a scene or getting loud (although the above comment is a great script if it does).

      Here’s another idea. Whenever they bring it up, reverse-proselytize. Get pamphlets on rape and sexual assault and talk to them about how dangerous it can be to normalize that kind of behavior in a family. Give them the pamphlets. Lots of them. Tell them that you’re concerned that, if this is how they behave, they might not see the signs of rape or abuse happening to their children or the children around them. Invite them to lectures about rape and sexual assault in the community. Talk about the groups where they can get free or low-cost help, which they clearly need if they think that kind of thing is normal.

      Anything you can do to make it more uncomfortable for them to bring it up with you than to not bring it up will help. Their only goal is silence and ease! If you make it clear they won’t get it this way, they will probably stop.

      1. I like this a lot. Pretending that your family are actually functional and proceeding as you would if they were can be effective. I like responding to “the thing you are doing is upsetting me so much I can’t stand it/it’s going to kill me” with “you should talk to your shrink about that”. “I don’t have a shrink”/”I don’t need a shrink”. “Then I guess you’re not that upset/From what you said it sounds like you are in real danger. I googled a list of highly rated therapists in your area let’s make an appointment.”
        If you bring this up every time they say they are upset at you about x, guess what. Same goes w calling the cops/ambulance for anyone who says they’re in danger. Take them at their word like you would if they weren’t lying. You can’t be sure they’re lying, right? Act like a stranger would if they got that call/info.

    2. The thing is, the very definition of “reasonable one” as meaning “accepting horrible treatment” is dysfunctional.

      Wanting the questioner to force Brother into therapy would be unreasonable.
      Wanting the questioner to produce a Tardis and make the whole situation not happen would be unreasonable.
      Going off on someone who had been lost in the Andes for twenty years and honestly didn’t know about the backstory, would be unreasonable.

      Getting angry about what Brother did, and about the kind of sick manipulation the family is subjecting OP to, *is* Reasonable! Any truly reasonable person would get upset about it. And there’s nothing unreasonable about showing that you are righteously angry!

      1. Oh, definitely! In the normal definition of the word ‘reasonable’, this is a reasonable kind of outrage, and it’s reasonable to act on it.

        But in this particular kind of conflict-avoiding family dynamic, ‘reasonable’ has a different definition. If family conflict is The Worst Thing (worse than rape, worse than death threats, etc.), then within the context of that dynamic, making a scene and letting a conflict continue is Unreasonable, and letting the conflict go/rugsweeping it is Reasonable. This is dysfunctional, for sure, but I think it’s worth acknowledging how the dynamic frames things. Basically, I’m saying that in this situation, it’s OK and even useful to do things that LW’s family would define as ‘unreasonable’.

  32. LW, This may first sound like it isn’t related, but hold on. I am 58, married at 20, and never (by choice) had children. I am an only child. My mother was determined to have grandchildren. For years I endured, as diplomatically as possible, her attempts to talk/con/guilt me into giving her grandchildren. On that topic, she had no boundaries, and ignored or belittled every reason I gave. The biggest reason was my mental health issues, which to her dying day she denied that I had–but that’s a different topic.

    On one visit to see my parents, when I was in my late thirties (so I’d been dealing with this pressure for at least 15 years) Mom started in on having grandchildren again, and I lost control. I didn’t say anything, but I gave her my Bitch Face. Now, my Bitch Face has been known to freeze water and terrify the younger engineers who worked for me during that time period. I turned it on my mother, and the shocked expression on her face was remarkable. She quickly changed the subject and I never heard another word about grandchildren.

    My point is that if you’ve been trying hard to defuse these annoying people by being your best diplomatic self, it may not take many good pushbacks like the Captain or other commenters have recommended before everyone gets the idea that this is NOT a good topic of discussion with you. If it’s a real break with what you’ve been doing before, they can get the message very quickly.

    1. I hate it when people talk about their grown children “giving” them grandchildren, anyway.

      Like, give them to you for what? Lunch?

      It’s altogether a creepy way of thinking about relationships.

  33. “If he wants to make amends he can start by turning himself in to the police for raping my friend and threatening to murder my partner.”

  34. LW, this is a horrific situation to be dealing with. I think one of the most useful techniques may be being an extremely broken record: “Because he’s a rapist.” “I don’t defend rapists.” “Stop trying to make me reconcile with a rapist.” This keeps the focus entirely on how vile your brother is, and off of you–and generally speaking, ‘being a rapist’ is considered in many places to be an understandable and non-negotiable reason for immediate relationship severing. In a normal family system, it’s a conversation stopper because everyone immediately understands why it is that nobody wants to be around a fucking rapist.

    Another thing I would seriously recommend is to tell your relatives who are trying to dump their uncomfortable feelings on you is to be blunt and what might feel rude to you: “Wow, your bad feelings are your problem. Not mine.” “That’s a personal problem.” “That is your problem to deal with, not mine.” “If you want to encourage [brother] to change for the better, that’s your problem, not mine.” “Stop telling me about this./Stop talking to me about this. That’s your problem.” Emphasizing that you understand this sick dynamic and refusing to participate in it can be very powerful.

    I hope this works out for you, LW. And that your brother faces justice and is prevented from harming anyone ever again.

  35. I recently had a situation where a family member wanted me to knuckle under on something to keep the peace. Normally I’m a very quiet and peacemaking type of person. But this particular topic, I can’t and I won’t. It is my hill to die on. So instead of smoothing things over, I got louder and visibly riled and spoke sharply to them. And like magic, they were the one to back off.

    I agree with the Captain’s advice and many people in this comment section that making a scene is the way to go. Make it clear that this is your hill to die on and you’re ready to go down fighting, and the people who thought you’d just roll over and play The Reasonable One for them may get the message.

  36. I am very sorry, OP, that you have to deal with this.

    I am also sorry that your family seems to think rape and death threats are not a big deal. I’m sorry you are in the midst of such horrible people.

    If violent criminal behavior wins their acceptance and approval, it’s not worth worrying about their disapproval.

  37. You don’t owe your family shit just because you’re family. More often than not (as illustrated here) “family” really means “free pass to treat others like shit because of DNA” and it’s a bunch of crap. Your brother is a rapist. Your family is siding with a rapist. That in itself is fucking terrible, but YOU ARE A RAPE VICTIM! YOUR FAMILY IS ASKING A RAPE VICTIM TO FORGIVE A RAPIST. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THEM.

    Seriously, fuck those people. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I’m sorry you were raped. I’m sorry your friend was raped. I’m sorry your brother is a rapist piece of shit.

    1. Nah they’re not asking her to forgive him they are asking her to ‘let it go’ which is worse. They are not comfortable with her discomfort so they’re pressuring her to suck it up and smile when the rapist of her friend is around. No one look at the turd in the middle of the carpet! My family is lihe this. Guessing hers has worse dysfunction than just this if they not only managed to raise a rapist but are victimizing their rape victim daughter all over again. My guess is there’s all kinds of dysfunction this poor woman will be unpacking for some time.

  38. I’m a big fan of asking if the person spoke with the offender. If someone brings up Bob the Rapist, and starts whining about fammmmmily, ask them if they’ve spoken to him about it because you’ve given your terms.

  39. LW, I’m so sorry that you don’t have a family that loves you/makes you feel safe. It’s really hard to give up the idea that your parents will love and protect you. But you’ve done a great job so far. Move forward with your partner, and create the family you deserve.

  40. I have had GREAT success with the “Calmly name the shitty behaviour”. I have found it works even better when you pull in/address to witnesses, usually witnesses who have been set up by Problem Relative/Friend to provide cover so you don’t make a scene. Turn to the witness and calmly deliver your script. In my case it was “Oh! It’s not just that I don’t like M, it’s that M raped me! So it’s super weird that Problem Friend keeps casually talking to me about him, because I’ve asked Friend to stop many times because I’d rather not hear anything about M. So that’s the awkwardness you’re sensing now.”

    I’ve had mixed success with Make A Scene, personally, and have decided that’s a hard line for me: If you’re someone who only takes my emotional well-being seriously when I Make A Scene, you’re someone I don’t want in my life at all.

  41. I lived through this, and cut off all contact with brother when I became a mom. I took a lot of flak. 20 years later, about 4 years ago, he contacted me. He’d been sober 10 years and was clear and clean and in therapy and on medications. I had nothing to do with that–he did the work himself. He knows I trust him only so far, but a lot farther than I used to.

  42. LW, everyone else has had wonderful and constructive things to say about how to handle this going forward. I don’t have that for you, but I do just want to express my deepest condolences for what you have been through as a result of your brother’s actions. I can’t imagine if one of my loved ones did things like that. It must have been a truly painful experience for you and I’m just so, so sorry your family, and in particular your brother, has let you down this badly. You deserve better.

    1. Seconded. You’ve done the right thing all along, it’s horrible that your family are making it worse when the should be giving you support and respect, and I’m really sorry. If it’s any help, you sound like a really cool person.

  43. LW: I’m so sorry. I’m also sorry your family are being jerks. You’ve done way more emotional labor than you should have to around this. Good for you for setting hard boundaries. A big WOW to your fabulous boundaries. You know of course this guy isn’t going to meet you in a mediated space bc then he will have to own the moniker or rapist and harasser. Of course he wants you to let it go. Please never let it go. He has shown you who he is. Please if the victim is willing encourage her to report to police. You are a witness since he admitted the crime to you. Sure your family will be angry but maybe when a court convicts him they might begin to see him for what he is. And my guess is that he will get nastier as the case unfolds. Blaming everyone but himself

  44. Oh and ‘it can be strategically beneficial to lose your shit’ yes to this!!! One thing I’m learning as I age is that the whole idea of women ‘being nice’ equating to ‘being conciliatory’ or ‘being forgiving’ ‘being silent.’ Losing your shit is not bad. My parents and many relatives are so dysfunctional I early on resolves to never lose my temper or get angry in a fight but that’s not the way. It’s not wrong to lose your shot if what you are saying is about the issue and is attempting to resolve it. It’s not abusive or dysfunctional to be angry or loud or unforgiving. Those things are separable and I’m sorry for how long it took me to learn that. Your relatives are trying to silence you so they can go back to pretending all is well. Good on you for refusing to play

  45. OP, I’m so sorry for the terrible things your brother has done to you and to people you care about. It’s pretty sh!tty that your family has been pressuring you to sweep your needs and feelings under the Rug of Family Reconciliation.

    There’s been so much excellent advice and support here. I heartily co-sign letting people know that your politeness is a gift that you can decide not to bestow.

    One minor suggestion—IME, phrasing certain things as questions undercuts their power with boundary-less people. So I’d vote for a script of assertions (“I will not reconcile with the person who raped my friend”) over questions (“Why are you pushing me to reconcile with the person who raped my friend?). It’s a small rhetorical strategy, but I think it’s useful in laying down boundaries. There have been certain conflicts I’ve had where making that rhetorical shift from question to assertion has helped me lay claim to my own power.

  46. Another thing to consider is the way the human mind hates “open loops” or “unfinished business”. Our cultural narrative around crime and forgiveness may make your family members, unfortunately, feel like your “lack of forgiveness” is a splinter they just can’t stop picking at until they get the closure they’re fantasizing about. In a similar situation with a sadly baggy family member, being explicit about not wanting to talk about it wasn’t enough,. When I also added that they would be the first to hear if I started changing my mind (in my head, thinking, i.e. When Hell freezes over), the nagging stopped. It was as if they suddenly felt they’d taken productive action. It may be just too much to bear, throwing them that bone, but it was worth it to me when it worked.

  47. LW, I am so sorry that you’re going through this. I’m going to be in a similar situation when I move out in the future. When I do that I’m also planning on cutting off my abusive sister and I know all of my family is going to be pressuring me to make up with her like 20+ years of abuse can be shrugged off.

    When I first said to my grandma that I hated my sister she kept digging as to why and I said to her “Grandma, I’ve already said why. I’m not saying it again” very firmly and in a tone that said I was not open to negotiating. This was after I had explained all the abuse with examples to her. It’s like she thought that if she pressed me enough times I would come up with a reason that she found valid. In a different situation I’ve picked a phrase (“She is not invited, this is not up for discussion, since you keep arguing with me don’t bother coming.”) and said it repeatedly til the person trying to make me invite someone else huffed off.

    I’m personally in favor of serving the awkwardness back at them with a side of making it clear this isn’t up for negotiation. It really does get easier to set a boundary and serve the awkwardness over time.

  48. Maybe?

    “No amount of forgiveness, reconciliation, or kindness on my part will transform my brother into a good person who does not rape people or make death threats. He will not change if he doesn’t want to change. He has you and my parents in his life, and this is still who he is. Also, you are not obligated to enlist every relative and family friend to help him. You have your own life too.”

    Fuck martyrdom.

    1. BirdieBee… wow…i would like to amplify your script:

      “No amount of forgiveness, reconciliation, or kindness on my part will transform my brother into a good person who does not rape people or make death threats”

  49. LW, you sound so kind & brave & strong, & it breaks my heart that those things happened to you.

    i think the captain’s scripts are good. i think you can make as much of a scene as you want. i think you can clap in people’s faces between words like the irl version of that emoji-thing while shouting HE IS A RAPIST THAT’S WHY if you want to.

    but if you try being confrontational & it leaves you feeling shaken & less powerful, i hope you remember that you don’t have to. if it turns out that you feel more powerful if you just walk out on people mid-sentence when they start pestering you about your brother & go do your favorite thing instead of becoming aflame w/ righteous fury, that choice is just as valid. you are powerful. find the response that reminds you.

    as far as the court of public opinion goes, there are many of those courts. maybe you are going to be crucified in the rape (& death threat) apologists’ court of public opinion, & i am so deeply sorry if anybody you still love is sitting on the bench there. but there is, for instance, another court of public opinion in the comment section right here, & we all can see the work you’ve already done to heal & we all believe fiercely in how powerful you are.

    1. beautiful comment. seconded. we’ll probably never meet, LW, but we’re all here standing with you.

      1. I like that idea of the court of public opinion being *this* one. So I’m going to borrow some recent language from Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who in an infamous case this last winter (TWs everywhere) told young women to “leave your pain here [in the court] and go out and do your magnificent things.” I love that.

  50. Does Brother’s Girlfriend have enough information to make an informed decision about staying with Brother? I’m putting myself in her shoes. She probably knows there’s some sort of estrangement with LW and that LW is angry with Brother. She may know the parents’ interpretation of events. (Or the reason for the estrangement may be so untalked about that she’s never heard.) She may have heard words like “rape” and “threat” thrown around. (Or not.) Very likely she sees Brother as a charming guy with an irrational sister. It’s certainly not LW’s responsibility to warn Girlfriend, but I see it as a kindness to present a brief statement of the facts as to why LW is staying away. It could be a brief letter stating “On this day, this happened. On this day, this was said.” Definitely mention the gun. Then, for future, all just-a-questions can be referred to the same letter.

    1. I would file this under “it would be nice to warn the girlfirned, but also, the Letter Writer takes risks…including risks of GETTING MURDERED…if she upsets Brother’s girlfriend or domestic routine in any way. The girlfriend is unlikely to welcome or believe anything the Letter Writer says, and extremely likely to inform the violent brother of an attempt to interfere. If staying away is working to keep the Letter Writer safe, maybe keep staying away? It sucks to see a situation that might be preventable unfolding, but with abusers we can be so limited in what we can actually do before the fact. I do not think we should put additional burdens on survivors to somehow think they can prevent abusive people from acting out again, or to put themselves at risk in service of this goal.

    2. I agree with the Captain. This isn’t a literal missing stair at work that needs to be reported under OH&S legislation. This is someone with a gun who has threatened LW’s boyfriend. If girlfriend asks LW directly she doesn’t have to lie, but otherwise why volunteer for more abuse?

  51. Long time reader, first-time commenter. OP, it sounds an awful lot like your brother is the “broken stair” of your family. It’s not impossible that your parents might finally see the light and stop making excuses for him, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’m sorry for everything you’re going through, and I hope you’re at least able to convince the people trying to force you into “reconciling” with him to leave you be.

  52. Here’s the deal if someone tries to tell you “be the bigger person!” or “take the high road!” or whatever:

    Standing up for morals and refusing to compromise with evil IS being the bigger/better person. Having the moral high ground–by refusing to ignore death threats and rape–IS taking the high road. There is nothing laudable in excusing rapists. There is nothing virtuous about pretending someone didn’t threaten to murder your partner. No, not even if it’s for faaaaaaaamily.

    You know what’s morally reprehensible, though? You know what’s being a smaller person and taking the low road? Glossing over evil. Ignoring it. Enabling it by acting like it isn’t a big deal or that it’s just some sort of personality quirk.

    Just keep this in mind if anyone tries to pull this on you. By refusing to compromise on such a serious matter, you already are being the bigger person. You have already taken the high road. And if anyone wants to meet you, they’d better get on that high road too, and stop excusing rapists.

  53. 121st-ing [or whatever] everything here. What I went thru I don’t want to describe, but when one of the perps was dying, I was off doing my own thing. At least I wasn’t pestered about that, but a parental figure pretends not to remember those abuses despite having been right there when most of them happened, and now pretends that a relative repeatedly dumping on me for being an introvert and another one being a bossy, snarky epithet, aren’t problems. The former I have definitively told to knock that crap off, the latter is…pending. Plus, said parental figure keeps trying to diagnose me with Asperger’s after having read some Temple Grandin books, but that never felt right. Yes, I am getting counseling.

  54. LW, I’m so sorry any of this has been put on you to carry, much less all of it. You don’t have to be reasonable about this, you don’t have to be consistent in your response to the people who are pestering you about it, and you don’t have to find a way to react to it that everyone can agree is “objectively” right. We love you and are proud of you for taking the best care of yourself that you can.

  55. LW, I am so sorry this is happening to you! That your family is defending someone who tried to murder your fiance and has raped your friend is inexcusable! Thankfully, my family is not like that at all, but if they were, I think Captain’s advice is spot on. Name the behaviors. Don’t sugarcoat anything. I hate when people try to sugarcoat bad behaviors too. When your family tries to tell you to forgive and reconcile with him, I would say one or all of the following:

    “I do forgive him, but for the safety of my fiance and friend, I would rather not come into contact with him until he sincerely apologizes and repents (i.e changes and makes amends) for his violent behavior.”

    “I will forgive him IF he sincerely apologizes and repents. Honestly, YOU are not loving him by excusing his bad behavior and making it my fault instead of his. One day, someone will call him out on it, and he will not escape justice. This is why in good churches, there is something called church discipline. When someone does something really bad and is not remorseful or repentant, they get kicked out of the church. This gives them a chance to think about what they did, and make amends so they can be received back into the church if they really want to. “

  56. LW: I am so sorry that you and your friend were sexually assaulted. I hope the 2 people who assaulted you and your brother served prison time.

    I was molested as a child by extended family and almost died at the hands of a boyfriend. The following is what I started doing after being pressured to “let it go” and “forgive and forget”. When questioned or pressured by family, I would say “Would you forgive and forget if you were molested? Or your child? Or your grandchild? Would you be ok with spending the holidays under the same roof as the person who molested you? Or your child? Or your grandchild?” Followed by leaving and extended periods of no contact and/or the direct cut, never speak to again.

    When questioned or pressured by friends to “forgive and forget” that my (ex)boyfriend beat me into a coma or to “get back out there” (start dating within months of almost dying, not flinching every time someone raised their voice or a man tried to touch me, even to just shake hands), I would say ” Would you forgive someone who beat you into a coma that lasted 6 days? Could you just forget about it? How, exactly, do you forgive and forget that someone almost killed you? If I had died, would you suggest that my parents forgive and forget? When he gets out you should call him and see if he’s ready to start dating again. I’m sure he’ll be ready for a relationship after a few years in prison”. Those particular “friends” are now people I used to know.

    I’m lucky. I survived. I had therapy. I found a wonderful person and have a family. No one tells me how to act or who or when to forgive and forget or any of that BS. When I wake up screaming from a dream reliving what happened (rare now, but almost nightly right after), my husband holds me, reassures me that I am safe and takes care of me. He doesn’t say “get over it and go back to sleep”.

    Don’t let people make you feel like it’s your job to make everything better. Put it back on them and if they can’t stop pressuring you, stop going around them. We have suffered enough. We get to do and be around people who love us, support us and want only the best for us.

    1. Wow. Really sorry you were treated so badly. Big admiration for getting yourself the happy life you deserve.

  57. Hi LW.

    I’ve detached from my own brother due to abusive behavior over a number of years. He also threatened to kill me, and with enough emotion that I took the threat seriously.

    Below are some of the ways I respond when extended family and friends ask about my relationship with my brother. If they don’t know about my brother’s abusive behavior, then I’ll tell them something along the lines of:
    – “We don’t have much in common.”
    – “We’re very different people.”
    – “He’s said and done things that were very damaging. I don’t want to get into them. Because of what he’s said and done, I’ve chosen to detach from him.”

    If the people who ask about my brother are aware of his bad behavior, then I’ll say something like:
    – “I’ve had some bad experiences with him. I’ve learned that it’s better not to be in contact with him. I wish him all the best.”

    I tend to stick to generalizations when I speak about my brother. I do this because sometimes those who ask about him will deny or minimize details of abusive behavior. For example, when I tell them my brother threatened to kill me they might say:
    – “Why would he say something like that?”
    – “Your brother would never do that.”

    It helps to remind myself that it’s OK to detach from people who have harmed me.

    I hope things turn out as well as they can.

    1. Dear Black Lab and LW,

      Black Lab, your experience and suggestions are very helpful.

      The rather vague “explanations” regarding detachment work really well with people who do not know (and 99% don’t need to know) the gory details. I use them when asked about my (very uncomfortable) relationship with my DIL: “..don’t see much of her; we’re not very close…both very busy…” etc.

      Giving out the Gory Details of family dysfunction, threats, and other bad behavior engages the listener and invites drama. Using explanations like:” Some hurtful things were said and done; I’ve moved on; and I won’t discuss them” in my case usually works if I’m questioned further and want to enlarge on the topic a bit. But, I find that it’s healthiest and most comfortable for me to stick with the Vague “Explanation”.
      I do the Broken Record Thing or abruptly change the subject, if the probing continues.

      I am very sorry for your situation, and wish you strength and courage to reach the best outcome for YOU.

  58. I feel like the only proper response to “you should let this go” is “I don’t hang out with rapists. Why do you?”

  59. Dear LW: I am so sorry you are going through this grossly disturbing situation. My instinct would be when people say things like
    “I’m just asking a question” or “well you should think about it” to gasp “ohmygod, what is wrong with you?” and turn and walk away. But that is me. Captain offered a lot of good scripts. Do what causes you the least distress. You don’t deserve to suffer from this inexcusable bullshit any more that is absolutely necessary.

  60. How can I respond to quickly end the conversation, and make it clear I never want to talk about it again, without then being crucified in the court of public opinion?

    I don’t know if this will really be any comfort to you LW if you do still get crucified in the court of public opinion, but I think it’s your jackass family and friends who should be worried. They’re pressuring you to act like buddies with a rapist! A rapist who threatened your partner’s life! Fuck them!

    LW, you get to decide whose opinion you give a shit about. It might suck a lot to have to accept that not all of your family & friend’s opinions are worth caring about, but it’s still a choice you get to make. I’m suspicious your family has you convinced that it will be the end of the world if they’re unhappy with you and that’s just not true.

    What’s the worst thing that could realistically happen if second cousin jerkface or great aunt pushy thought you were a jerk? Would they badmouth you to their/your other jerk relatives? Would that make things awkward when you go to large family gatherings? Would they call/email/send carrier pigeons and hassle you? What if you just didn’t go where jerks are? What if you just didn’t take the call/open the email/take the note off the pigeon? What if you just shrugged and thought to yourself “go ahead and hate me, deadly-threat-making-rapist-coddler. go right ahead.”? What if you just turned around and walked away when they started up with their jackassery again?

    Just being related doesn’t mean you have to respect someone, spend time with them, or give their opinions a second thought. It in no way makes you a bad child/cousin/sibling/nibling/etc and it in no way means you’re “disloyal.” Your extended family and jerk friends are the ones who are being disloyal to *you*, LW. They should have respected you enough and cared enough about your wellbeing to have never done any of the shit they’ve pulled but they fucked that up. It’s really on them to try to fix their relationship with you, not on you to placate a bunch of jerks who don’t act like they care about you at all.

  61. I am so sorry and also angry this is the situation your family have put you in. I have a similar situation going on and for a few years my closest relatives (who I didn’t want to cut off) were in denial. That manifested in a refusal to acknowledge that I was in therapy and had been diagnosed with complex PTSD. I also had to hear a lot of minimization, self pity and pressure to let it go.

    What helped me was to validate my experiences because it was a massive part of stabilising my C PTSD. I couldn’t please my family’s wish to erase the past *and* also be at peace with myself. I couldn’t sit in the metaphorical darkness with them *and* also have light and love in my life. That was painful to realise but it helped me choose my wellbeing over the court of public opinion.

    I didn’t have to cut them off but I did pull way back from regular contact. I kept our family meet ups superficial and light, exiting when I was put under pressure. I stopped trying to console them about their faaamily feelings. Ellen Bass ‘The Courage To Heal’ workbook has some helpful exercises on boundaries and disclosure with family. Captain Awkwards advice inspired me to use a lot of boundary enforcing. There was a phrase ‘I can survive your displeasure’ in one CA post that was my mantra during tense family moments (I literally had it as a phone backscreen to look at during panic attacks!)

    After two years, my mother finally started a dialogue of listening to me and sharing her guilt that she let me down. She made a reconcillatory gesture of helping advocate when I needed her for a medical assessment. I was surprised but now we really have healed things. I am glad I stuck it out to give her time to choose to be a better parent.

    You can view this as breaking a generational cycle, it shouldn’t be a role put on you, but kudos for your integrity in ending that cycle of denial. You rock. You are valuable. Your big heartedness is a gem this world needs.

  62. CA posts usually hit 400+ comments by the time I get to them and this one has fewer so although I don’t really have anything to add that hasn’t been said, I’m going to +1 a lot of the above in general and also just add this, in case it helps, because mercifully it’s NOT the case for a lot of people and so maybe you aren’t hearing it enough in your life in general:

    LW, I believe you; there is a monster in my nuclear family too and my whole life has been a series of terrifying times spent at home trying to understand why everyone else wanted to pretend like it wasn’t happening while it was happening, right there in front of them, to me. so; I know how you feel and I think what you’re doing holding your ground is amazing, and I know how hard it is, and I’m glad you know that it’s the right thing, because it is.

    now I’m in my 30s I think I do understand the way most other people react, to some extent – people just, just, just do not want to believe that they live in a world where these things can happen, or are happening, or did happen. or are real. and we, being the Emperor’s New Clothes kid who’s like ‘UH, NO, LOOK IT’S RIGHT HERE GOING ON RIGHT NOW’ are the person refusing to let them live the way they want to – so all of their pleading for you to ‘be reasonable’ or ‘let it go’ or ‘think about it’ isn’t so much (for them) about you, or even really about what your brother did, it’s about…terror, and mutinous refusal to look at the scary thing, and maybe other stuff, deeper down. like, for my mum, who does this ALL THE TIME, it’s about how if she admits there is a problem with how my dad treats me, she then has to address ‘but also, I married him’ and ‘it took me 55 years to realise men couldn’t do this sort of thing to women and now I have to re-examine every relationship I ever had’ and so on, and so on.

    that’s not your fault or on you in any way, but I find it can sometimes help when faced with the chorus of ‘sit down, you’re rocking the boat’ to remind myself that though it feels personal, an attack on me and my choices, in a lot of ways it kind of isn’t. it’s just them freaking out going DON’T MAKE ME LOOK AT THE THING. which in turn can make it easier for me to respond with ‘uh-huh, YOU can behave however you want about this, and I am going to keep behaving the way I want to’ and remind them that my decisions aren’t about them, either 😐

  63. LW, I support your entirely reasonable desire not to be treated as a sacrificial lamb just to keep your family’s dysfunctional bonfire lit.

  64. LW, I hear you. I validate your very real, very reasonable concerns. I too, am being pressured to forgive, accept, and now-enable (wtf?), the abuse of the golden-half-brother who has announced that he is dragging his mentally-ill family to live with my elderly mother. And because I/you/we say “no” or question his past abuses, or even DARE to question the false-reality presented onto us… we are now being scapegoated, discarded, and shunned?! It’s not fair, it’s humiliating, and constantly being pressured to change, but told to accept others abuse… is exhausting and disrespectful to you, as the victim.

    All this advise is spot-on, and I would also like to state – enthusiastically – that seeking support from a therapist (in my case a clinical traumatologist specializing in C-PTSD with supports for adrenal fatigue) – was paramount to overcoming the programmed guilt, toxic shame, and utter abandonment I felt from my family of origin.

    These scripts are great, and I’ve already practiced a few when my Mom tried to guilt me into stopping my therapy… when you change, when you grow, when you establish these boundaries… it vibrates the dysfunction… and eventually cracks it… and then the pieces start crumbling. Best of luck to you, thank you for asking this question!

  65. LW, if nothing else, the Captain’s scripts will give you the absolute feeling of liberation 1) speaking your truth, and 2) drawing your clear boundary line right through the Field of No Fucks Given. I too will be afraid of my brother forever, but I have you and Captain to thank for a whole lot of scripts to use the next time my Aunt suggests it, even though I have told her exactly what he did.

  66. This made me want to send you a letter about my family for the first time. I just don’t know how I’d even word it. But just reading this helped so much. LW, I hope this helps you too.

  67. I just want to add that the relatives who want OP to “let it go” may not be doing this just because she is the easier one to confront, but because it is really hard for us to believe that such awful things are touching us so closely. Rape and death threats are done by horrible monster-people who certainly are not our very own brother/son/cousin/neighbor. By asking OP to “let it go” they may really be saying, “I’m telling myself that reality isn’t that awful, please support this comforting narrative for me.”

    Of course, they probably aren’t conscious that they are doing this.

    There are many excellent suggested answers here. It would be great if there was an answer certain to elicit a response like “Why, you’re right, how ridiculous of me to ask you to pretend all that was not so serious.” They may come to that conclusion later on, or not, but few people will respond to a challenge by immediately admitting they were wrong. Your answer is still correct, regardless of how they respond.

    1. I think they are conscious that’s what they’re doing, hence the desperation. They need a rape survivor to rubber stamp this shitshow so they can feel ok about comforting the rapist in the family.

  68. “well you should think about it.”

    “You think I haven’t?” And pointedly walk away/hang up/log off.

  69. This so hits home for me although in a much less serious way. My father was a mean and emotionally abusive man. I cut off all contact with him in early adulthood although I occasionally saw my mother. At my mother’s funeral a very nosy friend spent 1/2 hour telling me how lonely my father was and how I should be spending time with him and forgive him. I wish I had your words then Captain.

  70. I mentioned an aunt and a cousin, but some of the real damage happened in childhood/teens, with parents. And it’s taken decades to really start to realize how bad that was, and how bad certain people were for letting it go on right in front of their faces. No one ever really stuck up for me, and telling me nowadays to “just let it go” is more of the same crap.
    She wagged her finger at him after I reported the hand-in-the-pants incident, telling him if he did that again she’d leave him, and he didn’t, just went on with the bellowing and hitting (me, never her). He was later sorry for that, but he moved on to fat-shaming me when I grew up and she didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with it. I had had enough. Their own relationship went down the drain, she staying with him only for the money and wondering why I timed my visits for his being away. Finally I said, “You remember telling me about the repairman who touched you wrongly when you were little, and how you dreaded seeing his car for months? Well, imagine seeing that car parked where you were planning to visit.” That shut her up. But several of his younger relatives also didn’t want much to do with him, and when he croaked, I suspect I wasn’t the only one to let out a big sigh of relief.
    But this covering for other people, saying stuff like “Oh, they’re just *like* that”, “they are too old to change”, etc., doesn’t work well around me. Yet another cousin started laying that forgiveness crap on me once and I shut it down. It is shit’s nature to stink but I flush it away. When I was young, if I did anything wrong I heard about it from all quarters, but adults who did something wrong–if it was to me, anyway–got nothing except a half-assed chiding once in a blue moon. And I’m supposed to just forget it now, when not enough change has happened?
    Enough attempts to keep a peace that was never really there, to make the youngest person the expendable one. How utterly bogus. And large thanks to all of you coming up with better words than I usually have at hand, and refusing to let these creatures use you for toilet paper any longer.

    1. Fuck that noise. You keep being your awesome self, flushing the shit away from you.

  71. The original meaning of the word, “Nice” is ignorant. So it’s easy to be nice to people when you don’t know everything and you don’t realize how bad they are. Once you have all the information, you’re done with nice. Go for broke on these people’s heads and feel free to find new people to fill those roles in your life. Best of luck.

  72. I’ve found with people like this, sometimes it’s best not to resist them, but just acknowledge them. I often use “thank you for your input.” Then, when they keep trying to press the issue — because that’s not the answer they wanted — I shift to “yes, I believe you said that already. I understand your point.” And when they ask what me what I’m going to do about this issue they insist on bringing up, the answer is “nothing. But thank you for your input. I understand your point.”

    1. When my (abusive) mother was harping at me incessantly about my daughter’s chronic illness (which she didn’t believe in, although a number of medical specialists disagreed), there was a point at which I just started saying “Thank you for your advice. I’ll be sure to take it under consideration.” in the flattest possible tone. I’d repeat it ten times during a phone call.

      She did eventually get the message and lay off (that specific subject, in that time period — but it was a relief not to have to deal with her dangerous, medically-ignorant bullying when my kid was seriously ill.) Sadly, cutting off contact isn’t an option at the present time, but I did find that tactic to be one that she had trouble getting around.

      1. You are kinder than I am. I like hanging up. Initially of course you will be the villian, a monster, there will be incredible tantrums and fireworks. Its called an extinction burst in animal behavior. Then they’ll behave. Every once in a while they’ll test you, you can warn once then hang up. Pretty quickly they’ll be flawless. You might even hear a sincere apology, after a couple of years. If they can behave around non-family they most certainly can behave even better around family. The speed of this change is astonishing.
        A lot of people mentally run away from bad things by lying to themselves about reality and then insisting everyone else work to maintain their lie, like your mom and the LW’s family. It doesn’t mean they don’t know what reality is. It doesn’t mean they don’t know what the right thing to do is. Hold up a mirror by refusing to play along with the lie.

  73. There is a very real problem in using any script with a dysfunctional family; their language is constructed differently. It sounds the same and uses the same words, but the semantic constructs underlying the words is totally different.

    Imagine me telling you that I walked home last night along the pavement. Depending on whether you are from the US or the UK, (or indeed elsewhere) you might be happy or horrified. Each of us understands the words used, but they connect to different meanings underneath. Unless we carry on and drill into those meanings we may never realise that our understandings don’t match. This is what it is like talking to members of a dysfunctional family system; not only do we have to use our words we also have to challenge the connections underlying those words. Meanwhile they are going to resist changing what they understand. They simply cannot deconstruct their world view to admit what is true; the cost would be too high.

    I think there does come a point when we realise that trying to use our words to people who have completely different semantic constructs is never going to work. There can be no communication other than on the most facile, most superficial level. We may well understand what they are saying; they might quite literally never be able to understand us.

    I think, therefore, if anyone came to me with suggestions of mending fences that I didn’t actually break I would just reply, ‘That is an interesting suggestion.’ and leave it at that.

    1. This is a good point. Seemingly positive aphorisms like “you can’t change other people so you need to change yourself”, which could be an actual positive thing is also a weapon in an abusive dynamic, as we see with the LW and her family. Same with the concept of family loyalty or love. Many many many double edged swords.

  74. What would it feel like to walk away from them completely for a decade? Have all your emotional needs met by people who are not these people? How would you react to what’s going on now from a place that secure? If you can’t imagine a decade, try five years, or one year. You can actually do it and see.
    At this point these people still have the power to profoundly hurt you. What would it be like if they didn’t?

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