family bullying
Bullying, nit-picking, constant criticism, intimidation, manipulation, lying, upsetting comments? Read this

Bullying in the family

Case history #101

Before becoming involved with my husband’s family I had always been a very upbeat, independent person. I enjoyed living life to the fullest. My faith was always a secure place in my life.

In order to explain my experience of being bullied by my husband’s family I will start with his life story. He has shared the following with me. My husband was bullied by his father a lot of his life, often being put down in front of his cousins and younger brothers. His Dad would encourage the younger brothers to join in at home. For example, as a teenager, his Dad told him he was too fat and needed a training bra. He also told him he should get a girlfriend or he would turn out like a homosexual. It particularly became worse when he worked for his Dad and started expressing his own opinions and coming up with different ways to do things at work. He has always worked hard and was not allowed to take sick days when he was sick. His Dad usually made him work most Saturdays, in addition to working long days, mon-fri. When I married him our honeymoon was the first holiday he had been allowed in two years, even though his Dad took holidays during that time.

While at work his Dad constantly criticized and made fun of him, encouraging the other workers to laugh at him. His Dad would tell him he was fat when he took off his shirt to work in the heat and made fun of other aspects of his appearance and competence. My husband was so afraid of making a mistake, that he would often make them in his nervousness. One example of how his dad would treat him: my husband had an injured knee that his Dad knew about. During breaks his Dad would get unreasonably irritated with how my husband would rest one foot on top of the tip of the other and would tell him to stop doing this. One day my husband forgot and when his Dad saw this he wound up and kicked his foot off of the other one as hard as he could, even though he knew that that was his sons’ injured leg! My husband was incredibly hurt.

In the first year of our marriage I witnessed his Dad unreasonably yelling at my husband and his mom. I was tempted to say something but I didn’t. Instead I simply walked past them, out the door, and waited for my husband in the car. When we got home his Dad called him and told him that he couldn’t believe how disrespectful I was! I wasn’t the one being verbally abusive! After that at family meals with his parents and brothers, I would usually be ignored or spoken over, by most family members. Once his family found out that I was bothered by derogatory racist jokes, they increased doing that to try to upset me. We were both now targets, and we were stressed out when ever we were expected to visit and so we stopped visiting with his family as much. When I first married him we used to see his family a few times a week. We started avoiding them more and more. My husband never defended me and now admits that he would encourage his family to believe that I was keeping him away so that I would be blamed for staying away instead of him, (the truth was it was because of how his Dad was treating us that we didn’t want to visit). My husband was tired of being the target. He was still hoping for his families’ acceptance and approval, and our marriage paid the price.

I slipped into what I now know to be called a reactive depression, struggling with chronic severe insomnia due to the stress that was ongoing with his family and now with our marriage, which was being affected too. Although I’m no longer depressed I still haven’t overcome the insomnia and it’s been 4 yrs, but I am hopeful this will improve as we put an end to the bullying. For a day or two before we would see his family I would not be able to sleep much at night, and then after seeing his family and experiencing the inevitable bullying I would usually not sleep well for 1-4 wks afterwards, depending on how hurtful the experience was. It was a constant cycle as we would still usually see them every month. The adrenaline I was often experiencing, due to the stress, caused me to feel jittery a lot, and I lost my appetite. At times I would feel so nauseous, that my stomach would start to heave. I started having digestive problems and when I was at my most stressed I would have constant diarrhea. I lost weight without trying and dropped to 51 kg’s, a weight I hadn’t been since I was 13 yrs old. Sometimes I joke about it – I could run an add; “Want to loose weight fast? Find yourself a good serial bully or two and watch the pounds melt away! Nothing like stress to loose weight without trying! Come join my husbands’ family, and you’ll loose weight in no time!” But the bullying I was experiencing was not funny at all. My outlook on life was no longer positive and hopeful. My self esteem plummeted. I lost confidence in myself. I began to question my faith, which had always been a place of security throughout my life. I no longer recognized or liked the person I had become.

I believe my husband’s family (parents and brothers) picked on me because I stood up for how he was treated, because I objected to the way women were treated in his family, and because I objected to the derogatory way they often spoke about people of various ethnic backgrounds. I would have been embarrassed if my friends had heard what was said. I only objected in a very peaceful and objective way, or simply stayed quiet, not laughing at the put downs. For example, I have close friends of various ethnic backgrounds, who have shared their hearts with me over some of their experiences with racism that have devastated them. I spoke one on one, gently with my husband’s two younger brothers, telling them of my friends’ experiences, explaining why the derogatory comments about these different cultures offended me. The next thing I hear is that his Dad is accusing me of calling him a racist! I never spoke to his Dad and I never called anyone anything. During those same talks I said to his younger brothers that while they were not responsible for their mom they could show their dad that his behavior towards their mom was inappropriate when he called her fat or criticized her cooking, by saying something like “Dad, that wasn’t a very nice thing to say.” He has made derogatory remarks regarding his wife’s weight, my husbands, one of my sister in laws, and one of my husband’s cousin’s wife (behind her back), as well.

Other incidents happened and now I finally understand them and peoples’ responses to me. One incident near the beginning of our marriage was how his Grandpa (his mom’s dad) would always try to touch me or hug me at family get togethers. My husband phoned his Grandpa and politely but firmly told his Grandpa that he wasn’t to try to hug or touch me any more. His Grandpa ignored this and one day he tried to hug me again in front of everyone. I tried to get away, ducking behind my husband. His Grandpa started to dodge around my husband, still coming after me, and I finally spoke out firmly saying “No, don’t touch me, I don’t want to be hugged!” My husband tells me that his family has been joking about how his Grandpa is overly friendly (touchy) with girls for years, but who do you think everyone got mad at? You guessed it, ME! Years later we find out that his Grandpa claimed, that when my husband called him, my husband accused him of trying to molest me! We never used the word molest and I can imagine that everyone thought that I told my husband that his Grandpa tried to molest me, and are livid with me! It only happened at public family gatherings and he only tried to hug me or brush against me at times when I was not expecting it, which is bad enough if it’s unwanted.

After our 3rd yr of marriage, my husband’s father retired for a time, so my husband and his cousin started trying to finish and frame for other contractors. I had watched what a good job my husband had done at organizing the construction of our first home (which I encouraged him to build, and helped him get financing for), and encouraged him to become a contractor himself. I helped him get financing then as well, and got him his first contracting job. This had always been my husbands’ dream. While working for his Dad he had asked him several times to let him oversee an entire home, while letting his dad make all the profit. His Dad would always tell him that he would let him one day, but after 13 yrs of faithful work he never did. His dad paid him a low wage for years. My husband would be allowed to manage things (but never the whole job), while his parents were on holiday. He was never paid likewise. I overheard his dad’s sister ask his dad if he would let my husband try to run things one day, and he responded saying that my husband could never handle it. I spoke up and said that I definitely believed that he could, and I was right. When his parents found out about the job I got for him they tried to talk him out of doing it, telling him he couldn’t handle it. They both refused to help him figure out how to do the warrantee paper work to start our business, even though he had been helping them with their accounting at tax time for years. They even tried to convince his cousin, who works with us, to discourage him from taking on the job. Yet when he succeeded, who do you think tried to take credit for his success, even claiming they got him the first job that I did? Yep, they did!

Right before the birth of our first child, my husbands’ father told him that he would never accept me as his daughter in law and that he wouldn’t come to the hospital after I gave birth. (Years later he did apologize for saying he would never accept me, but he refuses to acknowledge or show remorse for the way he treats my husband). He did end up coming to the hospital but refused to hold our little girl, even with my encouragement. My husband was incredibly hurt when, 10 months later, we walked into his younger brother’s wife’s hospital room, and found him holding this son’s new little girl. From then on his Dad made a point to often ignore our precious little girl, and to flaunt how much he adored his favored sons’ daughter in front of us. He would occasionally be friendly to our little girl when we were going along with the bullying.

So why are the younger two brothers favored, while the older two are not treated as well, vented on, and not valued? This much I know; my husband’s parents were from different parts of the country, his mom came for a holiday or wedding or something like that and met his dad. We don’t know how long they had a relationship for, but we do know that she was pregnant at 16, he was 21, and they married in mid March, having their first son in early August. Both my husband’s father and mother came from religious families, and we wonder if there was external pressure to marry? I’ve heard that the first son was very colicky and cried a lot, and then they were surprised to find they were pregnant again 3 months after their first son was born. My husband was born exactly a year after his older brother, in early August. They lived out where my husband’s fathers’ family originated. My husband tells me that his dad told him that when he was 3 yrs old, his mom left his dad, taking the boys, and came back to where she was from. He told me that his dad followed her and then sought legal advice. After a brief time they reunited and my husband’s dad sought employment in construction. As a kid my husband says he often remembered hearing his parents arguing, and then his mom crying afterwards. He tells me he remembers his dad wistfully referring to a past girlfriend he had prior to his marriage.

My husband’s parents decided to try to have another child and it took them a few years to succeed. This occurred again with their fourth son. My husband’s younger brothers are 7 and 11 years younger. I wonder if these two sons represented a fresh and hopeful start in their marriage, but perhaps because his parents still had not really dealt with all the possible past hurts and bitterness, his dad needed someone to vent his frustrations on? Thus I wonder if my husband’s father treated he, his older brother and his mom as scapegoats, projecting his bitterness, anger and disappointment onto them. My husband remembers his older brother was treated similarly to how he was, and how he tried to avoid home as a teenager. I think if his dad treated everyone this way he would isolate himself, thus I believe the favoring of his younger two brothers began. To this day they favor the younger boys, the grandchildren treated better, ours not acknowledged or babysat as much. Those two brothers were and are given significantly more materially, this is not admitted to but certain things financially do not add up, plus things done financially to a lesser degree that we do know about. I believe these brothers are encouraged to be a part of the bullying and I sometimes wonder if they are rewarded for their efforts as well, especially in covering up for their parents to the other relatives. I believe these brothers understand what is happening and they take part in it. I believe that the oldest brother may still be trying to gain approval and supports our being bullied in hopes of getting this elusive acceptance from his father and family. We hear the older brother is very angry with us and we don’t know why. We are wondering if his mom or dad lied to him about us to pit him against us in order to try to distract from the real issue, which is his parents’ poor behavior.

At the five year mark of our marriage I had a second miscarriage the same week we moved into our 2nd new home. Instead of being supported I found myself being mob bullied by my husband’s family, and was heading for, what I now know to be called, a stress breakdown. At this desperate point I was finally ready to acknowledge that my husband was putting his family first and allowing them to treat me horribly during a time when I was already grieving. I didn’t realize that the label for what his family was doing was called bullying. I gave my husband an ultimatum and he finally agreed to go to marriage counseling with me. Our professional marriage counselor said to him that unless he put me before his family our marriage would fail. It was from that point that the change in our marriage began. He has significantly improved since then in the way he stands up for me when his family tries to bully me. Since finding and showing this site to my husband, he is finally seeing, and I think grieving over, the way his family truly is- a painful realization. From what I can see in other relationships in his extended family, I think that bullying some of the women who marry into his family has happened before. Go for the vulnerable new comer mentality I guess. God forbid she have her own opinion and moral values that she won’t give up in the face of the family Hierarchy! Then when she reacts to this treatment they paint her as the villain and let her take the fall for all the family dysfunction.

After counseling we began confronting his family on how they were treating us. My husband’s father then said to him; “I am praying for the wrath of God on you,” and “You will live a short life because you are disrespecting your father.” I don’t think the bible meant that respecting your parents also meant allowing them to be verbally/emotionally abusive towards you without question. His Dad did later on apologize for saying that to my husband. His parents also started saying they wouldn’t listen to anything we had to say that was from a counselor or a psychology book.

Their bullying of me escalated since then and now most of his extended family believes me to be the bad guy! Several good friendships that we once had with some of his relatives are now destroyed. At first some of them tried to relate with only my husband, but when he told them that he would only have relationship with people who accepted me too, he was dropped. The cousin who works with us, as well as his wife and both sets of their parents, have been accepting and supporting of us throughout this awful experience (although experiencing some backlash for it), including us in their family events where most of the rest of his extended family has ostracized us, especially me.

One of his other cousin’s wife, who we used to visit with often, yelled at me in front of a large family gathering, referring evasively to things I had done to my husbands’ family. I was stunned and did not defend myself. We wrote asking them to explain what I had done, but she denies talking to my husbands’ mom and won’t tell us what I had supposedly done. She seems personally mad at me about something, and after reading the bully site I wonder if his mom lied about something to get her mad at me, and isolate us further from the rest of the family. We know his mom has falsely spoken to other family members about me because they have admitted it to my husband, all be it reluctantly, after he specifically questioned them. One person (who I will not describe because I have not asked their permission and I don’t want this person targeted) came up to us saying that they was not surprised we were staying away from his family and they believed something like this was inevitable because they saw his mom as always having to be in control of everything. This is the only person I know of, other than us, that has seen through his mom. One of my husband’s younger brothers threatened my husband with physical violence when my husband wrote his brothers and parents confronting them over their behavior towards us. My husband always wrote in a calm and objective manner, we kept all the letters and it’s a good thing we did as his mom tried to claim he wrote something that he didn’t to try and make us look bad to the extended relatives. The same brother who threatened my husband with violence (his email was titled “Family Is Forever Until Death Do You Part” and he threatened to come over to our house and ‘knock some sense’ into my husband), wrote my husband saying that I, his wife, was DIFFERENT, that I had different values and that others’ thought there was something wrong with me, and that his family only accepted me in the beginning of our marriage because I was his wife. He later went on to write that he believed I had an evil spirit and then he amaturely diagnosed me with a bizarre psychiatric disorder, telling my husband to get me to a doctor quick. What’s so strange, is that he hadn’t had any contact with me for a year by that point, so why was he suddenly saying all that? I wonder if someone was influencing him to say those things about me. Then this same brother’s wife wrote my husband underlining bible verses for him about having a contentious wife, and told him she thought he was sad ever since he married me. This same couple spoke badly about me to two trades that I deal with for our business, one of whom also lives down the street from us. This same brother told my husband he’d be flipping burgers at McDonalds if it wasn’t for his Dad, and he called the verbal abuse his dad spoke to him, constructive criticism, claiming that that was why my husband had succeeded on his own later on. His family does not want to acknowledge that I was the one to encourage my husband to start our business, and that it was me who encouraged and helped him reach his dreams.

We let his parents come see our kids as long as they come separately (they are like a tag bully team when they come together and they back up false accounts to others over how the visit was), and agree not to bring up issues in front of me and the kids (his dad still has never come). We always have his cousin there to witness and find his mom behaves herself when his cousin is there. After giving birth to our second child my husband allowed his mom to come see our new baby the next day, making sure she first agreed to not bring up issues in front of me. I had been in labor 41 hrs and had lost a lot blood (a specialist tore my umbilical cord off trying to get my placenta to come out). They had to quickly put me out and remove it to prevent me from hemorrhaging- it was scary. Anyways we didn’t have his cousin there and part way through the visit his mom walked over to me and stood over me, where I sat, leaning down into my face, and proceeded to verbally assault me. I was exhausted and my senses went into overload. Her eyes and tone of voice were angry and I found it difficult to concentrate on the things she was actually saying. When my husband confronted her about this and how she had promised not to bring things up, she said she was trying to settle our differences because “she felt God telling her to do this”. When my husband tried to defend some of the issues she had just brought up she looked at him and said “I’m surprised you’re bringing up issues, I thought you said you didn’t want to discuss any thing!”, denying what she had just done. You can bet the brothers and extended relatives heard a different story from what really happened! Oddly, when we encouraged her to hold our new baby, who she had come to see, she avoided doing so.

My husband prefers to discuss issues with his family via email so that he has a record of what they and he have said. His brothers will communicate this way, but his parents usually refuse to. His Dad will, however, send him a nice card via email, and then later that same day leave a nasty phone message for him. When my husband calmly confronts him over the message his Dad says he refuses to talk with him when he is being so “negative”. It makes me wonder if it’s a set up so that he can show to others the nice email card sent and then my husband’s response to the nasty phone message left, that perhaps no one else knows about.

Confusing things happen, like his dad sent him a nice email card which said it was OK if he didn’t respond. Then later that same day his dad left a message on his cell phone saying something like “You must have call display because you didn’t answer me. There are some things I want to discuss with you. You can’t hide from me, I know where you live.” Then when my husband calls him back and calmly but firmly leaves a message for him not to come to out house, but to call him instead (he doesn’t want me or our kids to see any conflict) his dad leaves another message saying he can’t believe the hatred that my husband has for him! My husband never responds in kind, to the mean things said.

I believe my husband’s mom likes the attention of people seeing her as a martyr in all this, and having people feel sorry for her. She seems to be able to manipulate others’ perceptions over this whole situation very well. She seems so nice. In the beginning she came to me and said that I could always feel safe telling her straightforwardly if she had done something that hurt me, that she wanted to have very open communication with me. I took her at her word and when she broke a big promise to me and I let her know that it hurt, she turned it on me, with my husband listening, saying to me; “you know you’re lying!” It felt like she was egging me on, trying to get me to accuse her of lying back. But I was trying to get to the bottom of why she didn’t keep her promise (she denies making the promise), not accuse her of lying, so I said back to her that I wouldn’t accuse her of lying like she did me, because I didn’t think that was a very nice thing to say to someone. She immediately said she took back her accusation of saying “you know you’re lying”, (remember, my husband was witnessing all this). Also, before this, she confided in me some of her hurts with her husband and with her childhood and encouraged me to share mine with her. I held back because something felt off, but when she encouraged me to share again I couldn’t see what harm could come of it so I complied. I believe she then used this information against me. For instance I shared with her that I had experienced a mild sexual assault when I was a young adult. Years later, when we confronted my husbands’ father about ignoring our daughter while pouring attention on the other granddaughter, the excuse given was that he was afraid I would accuse him of trying to molest our daughter, because of my past! I never told his dad about my past, I wonder who did? Anyways, he often wouldn’t even say ‘hi’ to our daughter at a public get together, and I don’t know how they could think that I could misconstrue him saying ‘hi’ to her as anything other than that. Also he would ignore her even when I wasn’t there too, so that allegation is completely unfounded. I would never have left my daughter to be baby sat there if I had suspected him of anything like that, so think that was a complete fabrication to cover for his coldness towards our daughter. Now we would never let our children be babysat there because we know we shouldn’t trust him not to be verbally abusive to or in front of them. The last two times we picked our daughter up from their place, when she was 2 ½ yrs, my husband and I noticed that she acted solemn and more quiet than was normal for her. Maybe this was a coincidence, but with his pattern of behavior we aren’t taking any risks.

When our daughter witnessed the way his parents started speaking to us after we confronted them, she started to hang back when ever she saw them, clinging to me. To cover for this his mom started saying that our daughter was becoming reserved, just like me! It’s one thing to falsely accuse an adult, but my daughter was not even three years old yet, for goodness sakes! To me that really exposed the level of deceitfulness his mom was willing to say to cover for everything.

The day our son was born his father left a message on his cell phone telling him that he had 3 other good sons and that he didn’t need my husband.

His Dad and brother said that he should stop confronting his parents’ behavior, telling him that one of the other brothers was so mad they’re not sure what he would do, (hinting at violence).

Regretfully, I did start to wonder if maybe I some how did deserve all this abuse. I thought that for all this to keep happening, maybe there really was something about me that was at fault. I didn’t feel good about who I was anymore. As events occurred, especially before my husband started standing by me in all this, the emotional pain was so overwhelming that at times I had thoughts of wanting to kill myself to end the pain I was feeling, but I chose not to because I had a child and I refused to leave her that legacy.

Because of my daughter (and now my son as well), I pressed on to the truth and to life. I didn’t believe that I was worth it, to confront everything and everybody that was in the wrong, but for her sake I started to do this. She deserved a mommy who was happy and strong, not someone who was like a broken, empty shell. I am trying to make my heart realize that the truth is, I am worth this too.

Wasn’t scapegoating what they did to animals in the Old Testament? They used me to try and cover for and dump on, all the baggage in their life that they don’t want to deal with and that keeps spilling out its’ foulness. I refuse to be their modern day scapegoat. To allow my children to witness the way my husband and I have been treated would deeply hurt their self- esteem, as children identify their self–images with their parents. As much as I am able, I will not expose my children to witnessing this. I will also never agree to be a part of bullying anyone else, either.

When I found Tim Field’s site on bullying, it banished once and for all the belief that I was in any way deserving of this abuse. I finally started to see myself in a new light. I stopped disliking myself. I realized I was being targeted because of my strong moral values, my refusal to go along with the bullying of others, and for no other reason than that. Now I know that I’m not mentally weak. I was just having a normal stress reaction to a horrible situation that most people would be affected by. Now I am starting to have confidence again in the faith that I have had since my childhood.

As I have been realizing the truth over everything that has gone on, I am starting to like myself again. Due to all this stress, I am still struggling with reactive anxiety, but with my faith, I am working on that.

For me I think the way to get past all this is to hold onto to my faith and remember that this abuse is not my fault, and to realize my husbands’ parents and brothers are just trying to take out on me their emotions, and the resulting havoc, from all their undealt with baggage. I think for me the road to freedom and emotional separation from this whole situation is to set boundaries with his family and limit the time we spend with them in order to limit the negativity they add to our family life. As well as to keep forgiving them, but this is a struggle, because they keep doing new things to hurt me, and are far from remorseful. It really hurts to have almost an entire family wrongly judge and reject me. I know I need to work through the resulting pain, but what I really want to do is try to keep focused on my own wonderful family rather than the misery my husbands’ family keeps trying to spread onto ours.

I have heard this quote; “Evil prevails when good men do nothing.” Thank you, Tim Field, for doing something to take a stand against evil.


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