Dear Prudence

My Dad’s Facebook Conspiracy Theory Posts Are Driving Me Insane

I spend hours trying to refute them, but I can’t compete with his echo-chamber feed.

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Dear Prudence,

My dad is super right-wing. I turned out pretty liberal. We’ve always disagreed a lot. The first time I was eligible to vote, I chose a Democrat. My father wouldn’t speak to me for a month because I “betrayed my family’s values.” When I left for college I got better at ending conversations if he couldn’t stay civil or give me a chance to speak. I’m 30 now, live across the country, and have a mostly functional relationship with him. He hasn’t yelled at me in years. But I feel stuck in a terrible cycle of trying to rebut misinformation. He’ll share something outrageous and untrue on Facebook, and I’ll spend hours researching what he’s said, fact-checking, refuting errors, supplying credible sources. But if I refute one thing, there’s three more a few days later, sometimes things I’ve already addressed. My siblings chime in sometimes too, but it’s mostly me resisting him. I can’t compete with his echo-chamber Facebook feed. I feel like I’m running repeatedly into a brick wall.

Eventually, I make him agree not to talk to me about politics to protect our relationship and/or he agrees not to post political things on Facebook. Even my mom will ask him not to post because so much of what he does is false. This lasts for a little while, and then he starts making offhand comments on calls or tags me in a post again. (I don’t follow his feed.) Then I take the bait on something egregious like a conspiracy theory. I feel like I’m betraying my own values if I don’t challenge his views or statements, letting him spread misinformation. Whenever I see this kind of thing, I can’t get it out of my head. I have mock arguments with myself, my ability to focus on my own life disappears, and my husband starts to worry about me. How do I stop the cycle when every time I try my dad only respects my boundaries for a little while?

—Not Arguing, Just Repeating

Without attempting to speculate over what motivates your father, let’s look at his track record: He’s not interested in having a conversation with you about politics. He never has been. He’ll either withdraw or attempt to punish you for disagreeing with him, and when that doesn’t work, he’ll antagonize you, ignore you, repeat himself, lob out distractions, and waste your time. He doesn’t absorb new information when you present it to him. He doesn’t respond to your carefully crafted arguments; doesn’t check his sources; and doesn’t share your values when it comes to debate, disagreement, authority, or learning. The reason you feel like you’re running into a brick wall is because that’s exactly what’s happening—all he has to do is post something outrageous, let you start researching the situation and carefully marshalling a series of counter-arguments, then post three more outrageous things, and watch you tire yourself out, over and over again. Whether he does so out of malice or sport or some other reason, I don’t know, but he knows what works against you, and that’s why he keeps doing it.

One part of your solution is obvious and fairly easy: Block your father on Facebook. Then he can’t tag you in a post and you won’t see his conspiracy theories and misinformation. The larger problem—that your father enjoys getting a rise out of you—will still exist, but you’ve already found a number of ways to deal with that in other areas of your life. You’re not making changing your father’s entire personality your job most of the time—just on this one platform. Nor will it harm a relationship that can perhaps best be described as “mostly functional” to say, “I don’t think the way we interact on Facebook is very helpful or productive, so I’m going to stop.” The trick, I think, is to assume that for the rest of your life, your father is not going to be helpful to you when it comes to setting and maintaining your boundaries. Assume that he will be at best neutral and at worst deeply antagonistic, so that you don’t require his agreement or assent when it comes to said boundaries.

Help! My Mom Used to Hate My Grocery Store Job. Now She’s Calling Me a Hero.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Justine D’Souza on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m an autistic woman and freelance writer in my early 20s. Currently I live with my parents for financial reasons, though I should be able to move out soon. Once I do, I might stop talking to my mom. She has gone through my room and taken items on numerous occasions. She also complains about how “puffy” and “pregnant” my stomach looks, gets disturbingly angry when I write about something she doesn’t like (like policies about sex work or drugs), accuses me of secretly being a sex worker without evidence, blames me for the sexual abuse I survived as a teenager, and tells me I’m a “gross person” or that my face “looks bad” when I get acne. If I react by crying or getting upset, she accuses me of “making a scene” to embarrass her. If I flinch when she’s screaming at me, she accuses me of “trying to make it look like [she] beats [me].”

If anyone criticizes her behavior, she accuses them of “abusing” or “gaslighting” her. Every so often she’ll tell me that I make her suicidal because I’m a “bad kid.” Once she even threatened to drive the car off the highway to kill both of us. She often denies that certain fights even happened. My mother’s behavior makes me feel incredibly unsafe. It also seems to be getting worse as time goes by. While she does see a therapist and psychiatrist, that doesn’t seem to help. According to my grandmother, Mom has always been like this. Yet I feel sort of horrible cutting her off. After all, she’s probably mentally ill. Dad says Mom isn’t self-aware enough to understand what she’s doing. Is it wrong to cut someone out of your life because of something they’re incapable of controlling or understanding?

—I’m the Adult, She’s the Child

Whether your mother suffers from a mental illness that may affect her behavior is relevant for her therapist and psychiatrist. It is not relevant when it comes to the question of “Am I entitled to stop speaking to someone who screams at me, steals from me, and threatens to kill me?” The answer to that question is always, always yes. Your mother may be suffering from one or more mental illnesses, and your mother may very well be in pain. Neither of those possibilities justify, ameliorate, or excuse her abusive behavior. Nor does it mean that you should accept at face value your father’s claim that she’s incapable of making decisions. He is not her psychiatrist, and he does not make these claims from a position of any recognized sort of authority. He makes them in his capacity as her enabler, safeguarding her from ever experiencing appropriate consequences.

It’s understandable that you might feel anxiety, sadness, or guilt at the prospect of cutting your mother off, partly because that’s a difficult prospect for anyone to contemplate, and partly because both of your parents have gone out of their way to convince you that you are in some way responsible for your mother’s pain and/or happiness for your entire life. But your parents’ claim, that you somehow owe it to your mother to let her abuse you for as long as she likes, on the grounds that she is “probably” mentally ill, is merely another abusive tactic. I hope you’re able to move out very soon, but in the meantime, please consider reaching out to a friend or a therapist of your own for support while you’re still living in the house. You deserve assistance now, not just in the future when you’re able to put some physical distance between you and your parents.

Dear Prudence,

I’m eligible for the full amount of federal stimulus money. I am in my early 30s, single with no kids, and lucky enough to be able to work from home. My department has all received 20 percent pay cuts, but I’ll still be able to make rent and eat. I know that I need that money far less than a lot of people right now, and I would like to donate it. However, there is a voice of caution in my head saying to keep it for the potentially volatile times ahead. My industry has been decimated by the current crisis, and I just don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep my current employment. I have little savings from years of freelancing and some debt I am trying to pay down (though have put those plans on hold beyond the minimum for now to have cash on hand). What should I do, knowing that there are people out there in dire need right now, but also knowing there’s a chance I might be there with them in the future?

—Stimulus Dilemma

One solution would be to set aside some of the stimulus money for your own savings and donate the rest. The tithe is a common split between giving and donating, where one keeps 90 percent and gives away 10 percent (traditionally to one’s religious community, but it can be applied elsewhere). It might help to figure out how much money you’d like to have in savings (say, six months of rent, bills, and expenses) before making any decisions. If money continues to be tight, are there ways you can volunteer your time to any local relief or mutual aid organizations? Are there errands you can safely run on behalf of any of your neighbors? Does your local food bank have any specific requests you might be able to fulfill? If you don’t have the protective gear to do such work safely, or are yourself at high-risk, are there ways you can help out behind the scenes, say as a volunteer dispatcher? There are so many ways to be useful to others right now. Don’t think that this particular check is your only opportunity to help people whose need is presently greater than yours.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

I have, I guess, a “good” problem: I’ve been having a lot of sex for the past two years. I was in a long-term relationship for a long time, and when it ended, I really wanted to make the most of singledom while I’m still young. Now, two years later, I’m dating casually and hooking up once or twice a week. The trouble is that while I previously felt no hesitation at all to enter (relative) monogamy for years, I now crave sex with strangers and find myself less satisfied with just one partner. I actively keep distance from the people I date because of this. Am I warping my mind by jumping from stranger to stranger? Is this a phase? Would it be better to invest in one person for a while? I’m not sure whether I should check myself, because I do want another long-term relationship down the line.