One of the ways that toxic people and toxic systems show themselves is in their reactions to boundaries. We set some boundaries to protect ourselves from my brother’s bullying behaviors, and in this video I discuss how my parents responded to those boundaries.
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Table of Contents
Full video transcript
NOTE: I have added heading and made some minor edits for readability. In some cases I have added clarifying information which is designated in [italics in square brackets].
So I’ve been having this conflict with my brother. Now my parents have taken a side in it and just said, you know, that we should just let it go. And [that we should] ignore his rude behavior towards me which is deliberate and he has no problem with, despite the fact that I’m actually the one here who’s trying to recover from serious trauma.
But we all need to protect his right to be rude! Anyway so—enter the pandemic!
Pandemic Church Meetings
So the pandemic hits and all church meetings go away until they end up going virtual. And so now we’re not seeing any of my family in person because it’s COVID and Oregon was closed much longer than most places.
And so we’re not seeing them, and that’s turning out to be a good thing for our mental health.
But in the church meetings online, over Zoom, they’re still taking pot shots at me or at my husband.
And my brother has had a couple of points where he’s taken the opportunity to suggest, very clearly and directly in public church meetings that Brian and the other elders are just preaching because they are full of themselves.
No one says anything about how that’s not an appropriate statement to make. To judge people’s motives like that and slander them for nothing other than motive, which you can’t prove!
No consequences for him. He’s just able to say what he wants and everybody’s writing it off as, “Well, that’s how he is, and you know he’s immature. And he’ll grow out of it, and we should just ignore it and be a bigger person.”
So that’s gone on for a while. And my parents are not happy with the fact that, if my brother is present in an event that the family’s invited to, that we won’t come.
A crisis point
Then the big crisis shows up. My brother, the older of my two brothers, and his wife, who live in New York, are coming to visit and my mom wants to have all of her kids and grandkids all together for a family meal. Even though she knows that we’re not going to show up if Jay’s there.
Brian and I talk and we are firm with our boundaries and we go over to have a conversation with my parents.
We communicate our boundaries
So we show up at my parents’ house to talk with them and say, “We’re not going to come to the family barbecue because Jay’s going to be there. He’s bullying me, and he’s bullying our kids, and he’s harassing my husband.
And we’ve confronted him on it twice and he doesn’t see a problem with the behaviors. So we’re just not going to subject ourselves to it, and so we can’t come to this big family barbecue that you want to host, Mom & Dad.”
And my parents, we didn’t… So we didn’t give them all those reasons right off the bat. But they knew because it’s not—this is an ongoing problem. We just said, “We can’t come to the barbecue.”
My parents’ reactions to boundaries
And at first they’re like, “Oh well that’s too bad.” And then later, they’re like, “Oh well, you know, are you busy, or why can’t you come?”
And then they say, you know, “Are you not able to come because of what’s going on with Jay?”
And we’re like, “Yeah. That’s why we’re not coming.” Which they knew, but you know, they wanted to try to find any reason to avoid the issue.
They’re like, “Oh well, we wish you would just kind of, get over that.”
An unrelated conversation?
It was interesting because we were also having a conversation about Bible things, because my dad is a preacher and my husband was a preacher at the time. We were both preachers at the same church.
And we’re having a conversation, because we’re talking about story of Tamar and she was raped by her half brother. [the story is in 2 Samuel 13] So we’re just discussing this with my parents.
When bad things happen to good people in the Bible
And I’m pointing out that I’ve come to recognize that the reason, sometimes, those stories of horrible things that happened… The reason those things are included in the Bible aren’t to show that the victim did something wrong. But rather because that’s what happens in real life.
A victim can be even doing something good, and wicked people take advantage of them. Like in the case with Tamar and her half brother, her father even asked her to go over and take food to her sick brother. And her sick brother—being sick in the head too!—takes advantage of the situation and rapes her.
NOT the victim’s fault
So she wasn’t even doing something bad! She was doing what she was told to do by the king, by her father, and her brother took advantage of the situation.
So there’s no way you could say that it was her fault in any way, she performed, that she was doing something wrong.
And my dad has a hard time with that statement. That, you know, she wasn’t doing anything wrong, but she still suffered this.
So there’s two events here that seem unconnected, but you’re going to see that they are connected.
First is, we told my parents that we’re not going to come to the family barbecue where my mom wants all of her kids and all her grandkids. We have all the grandkids, by the way. All my siblings and myself—she wants us all to be there for this barbecue and we aren’t going to come.
We’ve told her this because Jay my younger, the younger of my two brothers, is going to be there. And he’s a bully to me, and we’re not coming.
We also have this conversation we’ve had with my dad about how when the Bible records bad things happening to good people, it’s not necessarily because the good people did something to deserve it.
The story is there to show us that sometimes bad things happen to good people because there are wicked people in the world. And it’s not because the good person did something wrong.
Abusive and controlling systems attack people who call them out. But this survivor is not going to stay silent. Cyclebreakers and boat rockers, this is for you.♬ Speechless (From “Aladdin”) – Rachel Panchal
The church Bible study
So as it happens, that night is our Bible study at the church, which on Zoom currently because it’s a pandemic. And we are reading Genesis chapter 34 where Dinah is raped.
And I didn’t really want to go, because I have grown up hearing (when the story isn’t avoided altogether)… I’ve grown up hearing people suggest that Dinah got raped because she went and talked with, because she went to the daughters of the land. Who were unbelievers, who were idolaters, and she shouldn’t have been there, and that’s why that bad thing happened to her.
What I’ve been taught
I’ve grown up hearing this. I, just… given what I’m going through and what I’m sorting through, with the sexual abuse I suffered as a teen and trying to sort through all of that. And the guilt I carried and shame I carried for so long that shouldn’t have been mine to carry…
I just don’t even want to be at church that night! Because I—I just think I’m going to lose my brain. My mind’s just gonna explode if somebody gets up there and says that it was her fault!
So we start into the chapter and some Bible study and my dad goes on a rant. He says Dinah allowed herself to be seduced by this guy Hamor and she also, and she was complicit in her own rape! And my daughters are in the room.
There’s a dead silence after he finishes his rant, because like, he went on a tirade, and nobody’s really quite sure why.
What my Dad meant
Except Brian and I. We know what this is about. This is, this anger is from the fact that we are telling my parents, “No, we’re not going to come to this barbecue.”
But he’s taking advantage of this verse as a way to be angry and to put a dig into me about my situation and how I was abused! And I’m just, Wow.
My husband’s answer
So the room’s silent. He’s gone on this rant and nobody says anything. There are five other elders present who could say something and no one says a thing.
My husband, who is the youngest of these men in the room, pipes up and says, “What you are saying has no basis in either the Hebrew translation or in the context. Dinah was raped and it was not her fault!”
And…awkward silence again.
The impact on my daughters and I
Meanwhile, my daughters and I—this is all over Zoom, so we’re watching a screen. This is all happening, right? And we’re hearing from the screen.
My daughters and I are shocked. My girls are just trembling, terrified, upset. They’ve watched their grandfather get livid about this issue, and then he just said something really horrible about what happened to Dinah. That it was her fault!
Meanwhile, I am in the midst of a full panic attack. I don’t even know what to call it, but I was trembling. I was like, literally shaking with all the emotion of, “Wow! I can’t believe my dad just said that!”
But I knew it was coming! That’s the kicker, right? I knew something like that was coming because we had told my parents that we weren’t gonna come over and this was not okay.
And the fact that I knew it was coming, hindsight now, I look back and I was… I knew it was coming because I knew I wasn’t safe with them.
Finishing the church meeting
Anyway, so the meeting continues. Nobody else says anything they just move on and keep discussing other stuff in the chapter. Moving on like nothing happened, and I excused myself and um…
Church ends, and it takes me like a full half hour to get control of my body again. So it’s not just shaking with rage and fear and whatever else.
@dinkumtribe Anxiety tips series, part 2: grounding exercise- “box breathing” #anxietyrelief #anxietytips #groundingtechique #dinkumtribe_anxiety ♬ original sound – DinkumTribe ADHD family travel
The private confrontation
And I finally tell my husband, “I’m gonna go over there and talk to him.” Because my dad and my mom’s next door at that time.
I said, “I’m gonna go talk to him,” and he says, “I’ll go with you.”
So we go, so we go up and I knock on my dad’s door. And he opens it and he’s just looking at me, like, “Oh nothing happened.”
Like he hasn’t just, half an hour ago in our church Zoom call, stabbed me in the heart, literally, with his statement that Dinah’s rape was her fault!
And he’s just looking like, a normal self, like nothing’s wrong.
Only one other time
And I’m standing there, and I am barely holding tears back because this is my dad! I have only ever directly challenged him once in my entire life.
And that, the one time I ever did something he was not happy with and stuck with it was when I met Brian. I was gonna, I knew that Brian was the guy for me and I was going to date Brian.
And my dad one night, when he realized that this was happening back at that point, he didn’t speak to me for weeks. I had to go and restart the conversation and fix things between he and I. Because he just went around in a funk for weeks because I was dating somebody who he wasn’t okay with.
Anyway, I’m standing there in front of my dad. And he opens the door like, “Oh what’s up?”
And I just look at him, and I said, “How could you say that? How could you say that Dinah was complicit in her own rape? That she seduced Hamor? How could you say that?!”
My dad knew my story. I had told him what had happened to me, and yet he still got up and said that!
He didn’t just say it, like, stupidly.
He said it in such an angry, rage-filled way, that there was no doubt in my mind, that the reason he was saying it was because he was trying to jab at us—jab at me! He wanted to wound.
I just stood there. I’m like, “How could you say that?”
He doesn’t get it
And so then he backpedals, and tries to say, “Well I mean, I didn’t, you know, I didn’t really mean she was complicit or whatever. But you know, she allowed herself to be seduced…”
And I can’t even remember how many other words he came out with that basically meant that she had a part in it.
I just said, “Wow.” I turned and walked away.
My husband stayed just long enough to say, “This is why there are problems in our relationship with you guys.” I went back to our house.
The next day
So the next day I woke up after I’d confronted my dad. There was a WhatsApp message on our church WhatsApp group where he apologized for his behavior in the church meeting the night before.
He said that he finally, that after several hours of talking with my mother, he finally recognized that, “Oh, actually, what happened to Dinah in Genesis 34 wasn’t her fault. She really was raped and she had no fault in the matter.”
Yeah, so he made this apology on WhatsApp. He planned this, he said that he planned to apologize in the meeting, next week’s Bible study meeting.
A private apology
And he had also sent me a text and said basically the same thing: “I’m sorry. After talking with your mom a lot, I realized that no, she wasn’t complicit at all. It wasn’t her fault, and what happened to you wasn’t your fault either—it was mine, and the man who did it.”
You know, and then that, he wanted to… My dad wanted to come over to apologize to me in person.
I couldn’t manage that. I couldn’t manage it at that point. My emotions were too raw.
So I told him, “Yeah, I can’t do that right now.”
And he wanted to apologize to the girls too, because he realized that they’d heard it also (our daughters).
I said, “We can’t answer right now. I’ll get back to you.”
Considering the situation
So I thought about whether I was ready to let my dad come over and apologize in person to me. After he said what he said about the abuse.
And I realized… First of all, I have to say that, that is the, only the second apology I can ever remember my dad making to me when he’s done something in a rage.
But it was a very good apology. It wasn’t, there was nothing wrong with the apology.
Forgiveness versus trust
However, the work I’ve been doing to understand abuse, to understand what happened to me all those years previously with other people… I knew that, though I accepted the apology, and though I forgive him…I forgave him in that moment.
I still forgive him now, as in, I have no expectation of anything. My trust had been shattered completely by his behavior. In a public church setting no less!
(Sorry, my throat’s really dry from talking and stuff so)But my trust had been completely shattered. His behavior that night broke me.
And so, after a day or two, as I gave myself space, I wrote him a note.
I said, “I forgive you. Thank you for the apology. I would consider, you know, I will consider what you said. I forgive you. I do not trust you.”
And I probably, I don’t know, said some other niceties, whatever, you know, basic stuff. But the basic gist was, “I need to see changed behavior because words at this point mean nothing to me.”
That did not go over well.
The abuse continues
The very next Sunday that he was at church, after making his public apology, the very next time that he preached at church, it was about forgiveness and not being bitter.
For the next six months, between him and my brother, regularly they were talking about forgiveness and not being bitter. And the anger in the family, and the problem in the family—in church, in prayers and in preaching.
Next video in the series- Our Story: When Leaders Ignore Abuse
©️ Copyright Jennifer D. Warren, 2023.