DEAR ANNIE: My husband and I went to dinner with his sister and her husband, who live in another state. We are all in our 70s. We have never been “family” close. We have children and grandchildren; they do not. We have pets; they do not. We run in different social circles. They are wealthy; we are comfortable.
While at dinner having casual conversation, my SIL interrupted me and, with a sneer on her face and a nasty tone, said very quietly so our husbands couldn’t hear, “You’re stupid.” It was like a slap in the face. I have not been able to overcome the insult. I have spent the last several years, with professional help, living with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem and had made good progress — until her remark.
I know I’m not stupid. I worked long hours at a challenging legal job for 40-plus years. I raised two children as a single parent; both are very well-adjusted adults doing well in their careers. While working long hours in the legal field with a very demanding boss, I was also caregiver to both my parents and my husband’s stepmom. I am my husband’s fourth wife and, after getting married, discovered he was verbally abusive which contributed to my low self-esteem. But I took the “bull by the horns” and fixed that problem because I didn’t want another divorce. He is no longer verbally abusive, and we are happy.
But the “you’re stupid” remark is something I cannot forget. I told my husband when we left the restaurant what she said and told him I would not go with him to meet them again. He called her the next day while I was out, and then she called me (crying) to apologize. But a forced apology cannot erase the words or the damage they caused. I am not interested in a relationship with this SIL. But I do need to get that remark and how I felt — and still feel — about it out of my head. It has brought my depression and anxiety back in full mode. I had to renew my meds because of it, and years of progress have been set back. Why does an adult woman who supposedly has better social skills than I do say something like that? And can it be forgiven and forgotten? Because I’m having a hard time. — Feeling Stupid
DEAR FEELING STUPID: Your sister-in-law might as well have been talking to a mirror. Her remark had absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with her. A mentally stable person with normal self-esteem does not go around telling people, “You’re stupid.” She must, deep-down, feel pretty darn bad about herself to say such a thing to another person (let alone a family member). Whatever the reason, if this is the first time she’s said such a thing, and since she’s apologized, I think you should try to find it in your heart to forgive her. As you showed in your letter, you are an incredibly strong, intelligent woman. I applaud your return to therapy, rather than just resuming medications, as well. Hopefully, your sister-in-law will also seek counseling and sort out whatever would cause her to say such a thing in the first place.
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