I have two problems. Actually, I have more like eleven hundred of them, but here are two of them. I have a pretty strange family. I am distant from them, so I don’t see them very often. They have a world of problems. My kid sister (in her twenties) is either anorexic or bulimic. I don’t really know the difference. She’s skinny as a pale toothpick, but won’t eat hardly anything. The next one up the ladder is my brother who’s hugely overweight, and will eat you out of house and home. My next in line sister is a serial divorcer. She believes in marriage before you have children; so each one of her four children has a different father. She divorced all four of them. She is currently setting up number five.
Even though this is a pretty dysfunctional family, everyone is an okay person. No thieves or murderers out of the four of us. When we get together, we normally get along pretty well, at least for a while. Not seeing each other but every couple of years probably helps too. Believe it or not, they’re really not the problem. My problem is my best friend. A couple of weeks ago he was over having a couple of beers with me. Everything was chill. Then he starts up. “So how’s your family in Utah? Your sister, how’s she doing? When I asked, “which sister are you talking about?” he says: “You know: the one who starves herself even though she looks like a stick.” Then he continues with talking trash (but it’s all accurate) about each sibling. “Your giant brother: doesn’t he know he’s a heart attack on a plate? And your sister: is she still competing with Elizabeth Taylor’s marriage record?” Etc., etc. etc. I was looking forward to a nice evening with my friend, and Mr. Ultimate Buzzkill screwed it all up. Is there anything I can do with my friendship?
Dear Mr. Friend,
Allow me address your question at the end of my answer. In the meantime, you have experienced a strange, though common phenomenon I term, Being Forced To Defend Someone You Don’t Want To Defend. I first discovered this in working with abused women. They would unleash their anger and fear of their abuser to me. As a young therapist I would listen and try to take it all in. Some of the abuse was beyond comprehension. But as my style is interactive, I would eventually comment something like, “when in your relationship did Mike turn into a monster?” I would then be met with an explanation that he once was the love of her life. Or perhaps that he is a good father, or.......... I quickly realized that I was “making” the woman defend this creep by saying something negative about him. Then she missed her next appointment.
I quickly realized that it is a typical response to defend someone you know, especially family, when they are getting’ dogged. This is like some kind of involuntary reflex. The maddening part of this is, the person on the receiving end may be thoroughly disgusted by this person – and then they are compelled to defend them. Talk about making a person crazy! Angry ex-spouses do it all the time. Teenage girls talk smack about their friend’s friend with extreme frequency. How about your husband trashin’ your family? The examples are endless. They are also improper. Your wife is having a hard time with her mother? Learn to be sympathetic, and keep your trap shut. Don’t “make” her defend someone she’s angry at. Why would you? Help her out.
So Mister Friend, you may need to instruct your friend, Mr. U. Buzzkill to keep his opinion of your siblings to himself. I doubt if it was done with malice, but we can help our friends rise above their stupidity. Take a calm stand, speak up and save your friendship.