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When Defamed By Family

Growing up I often played with and adored my cousin M who was four years my senior. Somewhere about junior high we had a falling out and things deteriorated during high school. I must admit that I felt wronged and was a bit bitter. My senior year of college M got married. My Aunt, her mother, made a big deal about wanting everyone possible to attend in order to have an extended family photo taken. In a weaker moment of judgment I didn’t even ask for the day off. I sent my regrets and never gave the matter a second thought. My cousin got incredibly ill the day of her wedding. She even had to leave the altar to throw up (this is important later).

After the wedding I am treated even more poorly at family events and holidays, but not just by M but also by her sister G and my Aunt and Uncle. At first I chalked it up to my not being at the wedding and “ruining” the group picture, but no one says why they are being mean. I started avoiding family gatherings if at all possible.

Fast forward two years. I go to my grandparents for Easter and am miserable. Not one relative outside my immediate family and grandparents have spoken to me. I have no idea of what sin I have committed. Cousin G approaches me at the dinner table and says, “Great Aunt E told us that you told her during the ceremony that M was pregnant when she got married and that is why she was throwing up.”The room was silent. I was aghast. Luckily I remembered that I hadn’t attended the wedding and the wedding pictures would prove it. I answered with this information and the silence deepened until Cousin G pronounced that, “Oh yeah, I remember that now. Well, we knew that it couldn’t be true”. The room felt physically lighter.

So, now here is my problem. Should I confront Great Aunt E? How terrible was this? It would be bad to say such a horrible thing and especially bad at the wedding no less…It is worse to then repeat such a thing to the party in question…but to make a thing up about someone who couldn’t have said the horrible thing in the first place? I feel like she purposefully defamed me but I have no idea of why. This isn’t something that could have been said on accident. Conversely, now that my entire family knows that I didn’t say said terrible thing I have reentered everyone’s good graces and then some. I am invited to everything and Aunt now goes out of her way to include me in things that I had formally been snubbed on. Should I just be glad that I could clear myself and move on? I really want to know why and let her know how much hurt she caused. 0817-11

Every extended family has an issue of this type at least once in a lifetime.   One way to insulate oneself from becoming the family pariah based on gossip is to have an impeccable character.   If one is known for being excruciatingly honest, this works in one’s favor to cast doubt in the minds of those who hear slander.  Sometimes it takes years to achieve that level of perceived character but since family relationships last for decades, it is well worth the investment.

The storyteller’s situation highlights the need for someone to have gone to her and asked the simple question, “Did you really say this?”    Anytime you hear negative reports about another family member, particularly one that has the potential to split family members from each other, I do think there is an obligation to either completely dismiss it as hearsay slander you won’t be party to or to have the courtesy to ask the accused for their side of the story.  There is a proverb that says,  “The one who states his case first seems right,until the other comes and examines him.”    You hear one side of the story and it seems right….until you get the other side of the story and the whole picture comes into sharper focus.

With that in mind, the OP may want to confront Great Aunt E with the question, “Did you say this about me?,” if for no other reason than to confirm what Cousin G is claiming her great aunt said and give Great Aunt E the opportunity to defend herself if she’s been misunderstood.   If Cousin G’s report proves to be true, one can express to Great Aunt E how that kind of bad and untrue report is damaging.

The other option is to say nothing at all to Great Aunt E once the report is confirmed to be true.  There are times when the value of confrontation must be weighed with the cost of what will be achieved.  Over a year ago, my father-in-law indignantly asked me why I had allowed XXX to happen. I replied that I had no idea what he was talking about.  His response was, “Well, then someone is lying to me.”   To end the confusion, I produced emails that had been the only form of communication on the matter and proved that I really did not have a clue about the situation and had no culpability in it.  I was not offended that my FIL confronted me….he was offended by the situation and he was getting to the bottom of the problem. I never did address the matter with the extended family member who had lied because it just wasn’t worth it.  I knew the truth, my parents-in-law knew the truth and that was enough.    Sometimes you need to go through life confident that you know the truth, God knows and maybe key family members know and it is OK.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kitty Lizard August 23, 2011, 8:26 am

    My husband used to have this maddening commend he’d use which consisted of:”He has no reason to lie.”
    It used to drive me to distraction – largely because it obviously used to mean that I DID have a reason to lie. He used it on the most meaningless things. Finally, at the office one day, he didn’t get a message about a Power Squadron meeting (which he usually skipped anyway). The guy who used to call was in his 80s. I didn’t remember the call. His legal assistant didn’t remember the call. This guy would walk past me in the grocery store as though I didn’t exist – that’s how cognizant he was of me.

    Dear hubby finally looked at us and used his trump card: He has no reason to lie – Over a stupid Power Squadron meeting – no less – and our legal assistant – called up our phone system, which showed all phone calls to our number and voila – no phone call from his number. DH never used that phrase again.
    Victory was ours. Bwahhhhaaaaa

  • LovleAnjel August 23, 2011, 8:33 am

    How old was Great Aunt E? It’s possible she confused someone else for the OP, so whoever the tattler was “got away” with this. I’m also floored that someone saying “she’s pregnant” about a bride would tear a family apart like this. The bride’s close family also had to have known the OP didn’t attend the wedding, especially if they footed the bill. How come no one else bothered to say that she wasn’t there? It seems like there is more going on underneath all this.

  • Bint August 23, 2011, 8:38 am

    Not one single relation who knew this story remembered in *two years* that you hadn’t been there and couldn’t have known? Despite the big group photo? And in two years nobody confronted you or mentioned it to your parents despite everyone apparently being so upset about it? Not even the bride’s sister realized that her cousin – who had been incredibly close to the bride – wasn’t there? And the bride was off with her too?

    This story makes no sense and I don’t believe that set-up. It just doesn’t work.

    Assuming the OP is truthful, her family are lying. They all knew she wasn’t there – or many of them did – and they just wanted to b*tch behind her back, probably for not attending the wedding, until it got out of control. It is a deliberate ostracism by some very mean-spirited people.

    If G says ‘we all knew’ the OP hadn’t said it, why on earth else would they have been so off with her?

  • Ames August 23, 2011, 8:43 am

    I don’t know, but this whole story seems weird to me. Out of all the attendees to the wedding, surely someone knew she wasn’t there and in two years could have said so. She did say she sent her regards. Which would mean they knew she wasn’t there. And wasn’t in the extended family picture. Maybe it’s just me.

    In my family, if two people are fighting, ususally the rest of the family gets pulled into it. I try to avoid conflict, and I know when to pick my battles, but, I’m not going to let anyone just flat out lie about me.

    I would have gone to the Great Aunt and asked. It didn’t say how old she was, maybe someone did say that to her and she got confused. Even still, there were people that knew she hadn’t gone, someone could have said something.

  • AS August 23, 2011, 8:49 am

    Seems like G wanted to clear it up with you, which is why she asked you directly. Glad everything is clear now. I like admin’s suggestion to confront Great Aunt E too.

    I think uncalled for gossip is present everywhere. I used to work at a place a few years ago, and there were way too many bad gossips floating around about me. I heard quite a few, and I could never get them cleared because when someone confronted me, it was already too late. I guess I was “that employee” from the word go. I at least got to clear it up with one girl who did not believe others, and she stayed a good friend of mine. I don’t understand why someone should spread lies about anyone, but I chalk it up to the person being unhappy with life or something like that.

    The worst are gossips, IMO, are the ones that in-laws spread about a newlywed family member. They never had any time to prove themselves, and family members have known other family members for longer than the new family member by marriage.

  • Just Laura August 23, 2011, 8:57 am

    This has never happened to me within my family, so I can’t imagine the level of frustration and indignation the OP feels.

    I feel the Admin’s advice to simply confirm with the person has worked well in professional settings. A coworkers thought that I had said something in poor taste about her. The person relaying this information had failed to give the entire statement, which was actually quite complementary. She was immediately mollified.

    Remember that poor woman who was fired from the USDA because someone took her statements completely out of context? http://www.ajc.com/news/usda-reconsiders-firing-of-574027.html
    Had anyone just done a little research (either asked her about it first, or simply watched the speech in full) they would have realized there was nothing racist about it. Instead of spreading rumors and believing them when they reach our ears, it is best to go to the source.

  • Hemi Halliwell August 23, 2011, 9:14 am

    It’s pretty sad when your own family tells lies about you. Unfortunately, it happens all the time.
    Since you obviously were *not* in the family picture, why did it take your family so long to realize that you could not have made that comment about the cousin throwing up b/c she was pregnant? (Sounds like Great Aunt E likes to “stir the pot”. The family apparently knew of the rift between the cousins and Great Aunt E probably thought the bride was pregnant but to avoid the family treating HER badly, she blamed it on the cousin who declined to attend, thinking no one would be the wiser.) Also, why wait so long to ask if you had made the comment?

  • PNJ August 23, 2011, 9:27 am

    I had the same thought as @LovleAnjel. How old is Great Aunt E? Does she have all her faculties? The reason I am saying this is I have experienced older family members who confuse great-nieces and grandchildren all the time, especially when there is a large family and lots of children to remember. It may be that someone did indeed say this to Great Aunt E, she just remembers it being the OP. In my opinion the fault lies with the other family members who believed it and shunned OP without verifying that it were true.

  • Littlepixie August 23, 2011, 10:26 am

    OP, this is just how family is. If you want acceptance, unconditional love and un-ending support, you turn to your friends. If you want judgement, criticism and malice, yout turn to family. You DO NOT have to tolerate being treated in this way because “it’s faaaaaammmmmilllyyy” If I were you I would never attend another family gathering. Who needs this kind of abuse?

  • --E August 23, 2011, 10:46 am

    OP, since you are back in everyone’s good graces, I say just let it go. There’s no benefit in stirring up more family drama.

    Since gossip seems to travel well in your family, it’s very likely that the story of Great Aunt E falsely accusing you has made the rounds, and she is getting whatever consequences she deserves, most likely people mistrusting her reports for the rest of her life.

    She is a Great Aunt, so I would guess she’s at at age when people start looking for signs of mental deterioration. My grandmother used to mix up who she was talking about, or even who she was talking TO (particularly on the telephone). One day we all realized she was an unreliable source and that was that. We still loved her, but didn’t take any of her claims at face value anymore.

  • Wendy August 23, 2011, 11:09 am

    Unfortunately, this echos one branch of my family. For reasons completely of mystery to my parents and I, one set of cousins will decide they’re mad at us and not want to speak to us for weeks or months. Or they tell each other stories/lies about us. Since we all live in the same general neighborhood, this gets on the nerves after a while. If confronted, they deny (all the while shooting daggers out of their eyes). Then, suddenly, we’re all buddies again. It’s usually the women who act this way and the men (father and sons) can’t figure out what’s going on either. They confront their wives, who deny all…you get the idea. We’ve given up trying to figure this all out and hold them at arms length.

  • MellowedOne August 23, 2011, 11:18 am

    My advice is simple and practical. This whole scenario would have been avoided if it were put to use:

    If you are offended and find it difficult to ‘forgive and forget’, then discuss it with it the person so as to mend fences and re-establish the relationship.

    If you have offended someone, offer them a sincere apology as soon as possible. If you are unsure, go to them to find out if you have offended them. And apologize for the offense/misunderstanding.

  • Riri August 23, 2011, 11:20 am

    So sorry you were ostracized and treated so poorly! Saying that at a wedding *is* incredibly rude, so I guess people were just eager to create a villain and skipped the logic (the fact that OP wasn’t at wedding at all, and not in family picture!). Glad that you’ve moved past it now. Maybe you should confront Great Aunt E, just to get the full story… what happened was hurtful, and she should know she hurt you. Hope something like that never happens in my fam!

  • Virg August 23, 2011, 11:44 am

    I have to confess I’d be pretty bent out of shape if my family ostracized me for two years over a comment without making any attempt whatsoever to verify it. Sure, she’s back in their good graces, but I’d have trouble letting them back into my good graces so quickly, especially since the evidence is so crystal clear that she wasn’t even present to make the statement. I’d wonder what they must think of me to take such strong action for so long without so much as a blink at trying to find out if it’s true.


  • Harley Granny August 23, 2011, 11:45 am

    Sorry….I don’t give someone a pass just because they are old. Now if she didn’t have all her faculties, then maybe…but only she is excused. The rest of the family should not have gone along with it.

    So if this really did happen the way it’s relayed to us….go to Great Aunt and say…I was told the most disturbing thing….and tell her what you were told. Then leave it up to her.

    As for the others? They showed their true colors and have some major amends to make.

    I have two family members that have done me wrong…I have forgiven them but at this stage of my life I just don’t care about them. If they are there, they are there….if they are absent, they are absent..same way with speaking to me…I just don’t care if they do or not.

    You need to decide if you want these people in your life and at what cost.

  • SHOEGAL August 23, 2011, 1:46 pm

    I agree that there is something strange about the story. My first thought was – the other family members who attended the wedding should have known the OP didn’t go – why would a family photograph be needed to prove this???!?!? The OP’s immediate family could have verified this – and I am somewhat miffed to think that such a remark could have torn an entire family apart. I also have trouble comprehending that absolutely no one from the extended family would talk to the OP – and be so rude as to ignore her at a family gathering or that the OPs immediate family didn’t get wind of the remark she was accused of saying and tell her about it.

  • livvy August 23, 2011, 2:22 pm

    I’m with Virg, I’d have a very hard time forgiving people for treating me badly over some gossip they hadn’t even bothered to verify. I would give them the chance to make it up to me though, family is important, and I wouldn’t just walk away (even if they would) unless they were actively toxic people. (These sound a little judgemental, maybe willing to believe the worst, but not agressively bad.)

  • LEMon August 23, 2011, 2:30 pm

    Having been the ‘invisible’ person, the one everyone always assumed was at something, I can picture this. Since her relations with the family were not negative at the time of the wedding, I can see the assumption that she was there being made. People might have thought “I don’t remember seeing her, but if GAE says she was there and said that, then I guess I just missed seeing her.” As for big family photos, I have a few of those … somewhere. When the last time I looked at it to see if someone was in it, I don’t remember.

  • Jenna August 23, 2011, 2:40 pm

    I also think it is possible that the great aunt mistook the OP for another family member. I find it unlikely that no one in that family remembered that the OP was absent.

  • Sarah Jane August 23, 2011, 3:01 pm

    I’m confused about the timeline here. If dear Aunt E DID, in fact, say this about you, and THAT ALONE is the reason they have snubbed you for TWO YEARS SINCE the wedding, then she had to have told them this shortly after the wedding, at which time the wedding itself should have been recent enough for the bride’s family to remember that you weren’t even there.

    I agree with Lovele Anjel…suppose for argument’s sake that you had actually been at the wedding and you had actually made such a silly statement about the bride. Is that enough reason for NO ONE outside of your immediate family to be speaking to you two years later??

  • the-Not-So-Divine-Miss-M August 23, 2011, 4:08 pm

    If it were me, I would have spent some time wondering why my family decided to cut me for two years without once looking at the photo or confronting me about it. I would definetly try to speak with the great aunt, since she apparently holds such strong evocative boycotting prowess to make the family react that way. Gently, perhaps, discreetly, absolutely, but I would want to get it all cleared up

  • David August 23, 2011, 10:32 pm

    Great Aunt E sounds like a member of my own family. Unfortunately she is getting on in years and is losing the ability to remember who told her what, so she will say things and mis-attribute them.

    If it would give you peace of mind, go talk to great aunt E about it.

  • Maryann August 24, 2011, 1:56 am

    Ouch. Nothing in the world bugs me more than being lied about. I’m just glad the OP had proof that it wasn’t true. It’s nice to read about a happy outcome to such a painful situation.

    Sometimes, maddeningly, there is no proof and no one to believe you. And in some cases, you can’t have built any trust with the people involved. (I once literally had a total stranger lie about me to another total stranger who happened to have power over something important to me, and I had no proof. To this day, I don’t know what the motivation was for the lie, unless it was random maliciousness.)

  • Kirsten August 24, 2011, 2:06 am

    What sort of family would ostracise someone just because she suggested the bride was pregnant on her wedding day?

  • MellowedOne August 24, 2011, 7:01 am

    A wound, depending on its severity, will become infected and worsen over time.

    There were assumptions made by both parties, feelings were seriously hurt, but no one bothered to take the time to make matters straight in an adult manner. If it were something slight, it’s easy to forgive and forgive. In this case, the situation ran deeper, requiring intervention to repair.

    A good lesson to learn from. If we always wait for the other person to reach out to make amends, then we may be waiting for a long time..and all the while bringing unnecessary anxiety on ourselves.

  • Silvia August 24, 2011, 7:06 am

    In a small family like mine, we would know exactly, even years later, which family members did not attend a particular wedding. My husband has 5 siblings, my sister’s ex-husband had 6 siblings. When those families get together even for small events, it’s hard to remember, even immediately afterwards, who was there & who wasn’t. I have a cousin with three 20-something daughters & I have to look carefully to tell them apart. I was just out with a group & we took pictures. You don’t realize who is missing (taking the picture) until you compare to a different picture. Keep in mind that most people look for themselves first in a group photo. I’m just saying that it’s completely plausible that they didn’t realize that she attended. Keep that in mind when you send your regrets to a wedding. They’re fine with it & won’t give it a second thought. OP may have thought she was snubbing them but she was just another name crossed off the list.

    Great aunt may not have all her faculties and confused the OP with a similar looking young lady. She may have not willfully defamed the OP. On the other hand, even if she knew who said it, there was absolutely no reason to hurt the aunt’s family by relaying the information. The GA should have told the person who made the pregnant remark that it was not a suitable thought to express and then not repeat it herself. Not knowing the aunt, it may be possible that she thought it herself & put the words in the OP’s mouth in order to weasel out some information. Unfortunately, I’ve know people like that.

    It’s crazy having to defend yourself against gossip that can so easily be shown false. I had a co-worker do that to me also. Once I heard the rumors, I was easily able to completely disprove them. The accusations did not make sense & there were loads of witnesses. The problem is that people don’t usually think critically. They hear a piece of gossip, even from a semi-reputable source & they repeat it.

    That said… what world are you living in that brides are expected to be virgins? I don’t think it’s my place to speculate on the virginity or lack of virginity of anybody but really, so insulted that they shunned the OP?

  • Alexis August 24, 2011, 8:26 am

    What’s the point of trying to back into the good graces of people who would treat you appallingly, & believe lies about you? This is about emotional abuse, not etiquette. it’s only a matter of time before they all decide to punish your for some other imagined transgression. Do you really need people like this in your life?

  • Enna August 24, 2011, 9:02 am

    I agree with what’s been said before about Great Aunty’s age. My darling Grandma gets things muddled up – but also my Grandma likes those rose tinted glasses and can have a convienant memory so it can be trickey to see between the two. If she claims anything outragous or untrue she is reminded nicely and at times a bit more firmly. I can’t help wondering if Great Aunty THOUGHT the bride was pregnant herself.

    I also agree with the post that one comment about the bride being pregnant would be so offensive. If it was done in a rude/judging way then that’s rude but still not rude enough to justify being marginlised in the family. Have to admit I made the assumption that the bride could be expecting if she was sick and I very much doubt if no one else thought the same. But the assumption I made would be one out of care – is the Bride okay? Has she got ante care? When she has the baby she is going to be so happy. Rather then judging her.

  • Otter August 24, 2011, 9:19 am

    Maybe Great Auntie was speculating herself, wanted to spread a bit of juicy (false) gossip, and blamed it on the only family member who could not defend herself because she wasn’t there. I would definitely ask her about her comment. She probably has a history of doing this.

  • --E August 24, 2011, 10:47 am

    It’s interesting to see the varied responses, from “You should let it go, no everything’s fixed” (my response) to “I would never talk to those relatives again!” (several other people’s response).

    This says to me that family dynamics are a very individual thing. OP needs to consider what the ramifications are in her family. In my family, not talking to someone really isn’t done–the family isn’t that large; we’re only four generations in the USA, and we marry and have children late (yes, even in the oldest generation). We’re widespread enough that if one of my cousins was angry and me and not talking to me, I don’t think I’d even notice until the next wedding or funeral (which could be decades!).

  • Jojo August 24, 2011, 11:32 am

    OP needs to ditch her family. It’s just petty to ostracize someone for such a silly comment in the first place – I’ve been to a number of weddings where the bride has announced proudly that she’s a few months along in her pregnancy. It’s a fair assumption to make.
    And to continue a grudge for so long? It’s time for OP to find some wonderful friends to share great times with rather than attend family gatherings with people who are as quick to judge someone harshly without the facts.
    I come from a family where relatives’ characters have been smeared by one individual, as a result I avoid all of them as not one has ever asked me if any of the false accusations made against me are true- they just take this person’s word as gospel. In all honesty, I cant say that I miss a single one of them.

  • Ginger 630 August 24, 2011, 6:15 pm

    I agree with Jojo – OP needs to find other people to spend time with! They gave her the silent treatment for TWO YEARS because of something they THOUGHT she said?! Honestly, maybe it was best that you didn’t have anything to do with them. I find it so odd that no one asked the OP or her parents if the statement was made. They just took Great Aunt E’s word for it. Is Great Aunt E a gossip? Is she known to make false statements about people?

    Great Aunt E had no right to say something that was untrue. Being elderly doesn’t give her a pass. If she had Alzheimer’s or dementia, maybe that would be an excuse, but then again, the other relatives would have taken her comment with a grain of salt.

    I think you need to confront her. “GEA, I heard you said *this* about me. It hurts me to think that you are spreading false things about me. I felt like everyone was mad at me for two years and now I learn that it was because of a statement you made. I hope that you didn’t say such a thing about me, but I want you to know that I don’t take matter like this lightly. We’re family and if you have something to say, please say it to my face and not behind my back.” Your aunt will realize you are not one to be messed with and will think next time before making false statements.

  • Cat August 25, 2011, 9:48 am

    I have suffered from this all my life. My family is full of these people: lies, hateful comments with no basis in reality, letters full of accusations, etc. I have decided it is not worth the drama.

    I finally wrote two of my half-sisters (after I had been informed that they had decided they and their sisters never needed to see me. They’d just get all the “news” about me from a “third party” as they were happy just talking about me among themselves) and I said, “I am so sorry that our relationship did not work out. I wish you and your family all the best.” I have not spoken to them since. This is why God makes people who are not your family.

  • Hannafate August 26, 2011, 11:33 am

    I’ve been among groups of people who behave this way. It’s like they love to have an excuse to snub someone, so they don’t question dirt.

    Fortunately, I wasn’t related to these people, so I could just dump them.

    But, yes, this Kafkaesque situation really happens, and it sucks. Which is why I don’t play that game.

  • Ruth August 28, 2011, 7:31 pm

    I don’t know if it’s worth addressing with Great Aunt E. However it’s definitely worth suggesting to the family that they take what she says about people with a grain of salt from now on. My grandmother is 88 and recently our extended family has begun to suspect that, in general, her assessments of people/stories about interactions, can’t be relied on. We know she can’t entirely be relied on because of incidents which have occurred within the family (and which the family was smart enough to discuss right away so that there was no period of confusion).

    It doesn’t seem to be dementia, simply her own way of justifying her reactions to things…i.e. a person she hired to help her clean accidentally threw away the one newspaper she wanted along with the 100 she didn’t and therefore this person must have been fired previously for incompetence and had a terrible track record with employers–something we don’t think she would’ve had any way of knowing. She went on and on about it, and my aunt who’d hired the lady said afterward that she was pretty sure none of it was true.

    At 88, it’s really hard to do much about it. Knowing is the most important thing, so that people can say “Grandmommy said ‘X’…but I wanted to run that by you.”

  • Fung October 20, 2011, 10:29 am

    The OP was redeemed by cousin G, I wouldn’t confront great aunt E. I don’t see any use in it, E might lie about telling the lie and she even might get more fuel from the confrontation to slander the OP even more. E might be miffed that OP didn’t showed up at the wedding and was looking for an excuse to lash out. I also don’t think OP won’t get the answer she’s looking for.
    Not confronting might be in OP’s benefit, it shows she’s not bearing any grudges and that she’s above E’s low actions. The family since then has tried to make up for their bad behaviour in order to show how much they regret it. Take their efforts to heart and be gracious and grateful for it.

    I myself has always done my best to make sure that what people see is what they get, I don’t wear masks or pretend to be anything else. The message has always been clear to both my very extended family and my friends do know who and what I am and what I stand for. I’ve experienced that an ex-colleague had tried to speak ill of me, but no one ever believed her, she did however made things very difficult for me and other colleagues but they’ve all told me that they didn’t believe any ill word about me since they know what kind of person I am, unfortunately our new manager who didn’t knew me that well and believed her, it took long and difficult months and with great support of my colleagues to get things straight, then she was the one punished for her lies. I believe in Karma, great-aunt E will get hers back for what she’d done to you and others.