To try to rectify this situation, I have reached out to many family members for help navigating this, I have apologized profusely many times (despite being the one who was originally slighted), and reached out to other family members in a sort of 'normal we have a relationship way' by sharing mundane parts of my life to try to drown out the drama of my aunt with positivity. My aunt's perceived victimization persists despite her agreeing to move on from this conflict months ago. The current result is now that many members of our family are either explicitly or implicitly not speaking to one another, and many more relationships are strained.
This whole situation has me scratching my head. I am not describing this conflict in a way that is inconsistent with the facts. Just to be sure I wasn't going crazy despite my aunt's compulsive lies, I have a record of nearly every interaction I have had with any family member since this began (also because many of my communications were electronic and recorded already). So, I have gone back to see if I was out of line for asking for an apology, or if I did anything to victimize my aunt. As far as I can tell (and I'd be happy to share this information with an outside professional to assess this), the thing that most upset her was to expect her to admit wrongdoing. It is true that she 'expressed regret' (she told me later she explicitly did not use the words apologize or sorry -- wow, good for you! successfully saying sorry not sorry!) but has since taken back even that expression of regret.
To me, this boils down to a conflict about conflict. It is about the ability to say sorry. And, I think in the particular case of my family, the idea that the older generation should never be questioned by the younger generation, and can never be asked to admit wrongdoing if it is against anyone in the younger group. Now, I am empathetic to the plight of the older generation in our society. Research demonstrates how hard it is to grow older. People stop paying attention to you, you are expected to fade into the background, especially in the case of older women. I get that struggle. Despite that, I don't think a healthy response is to expect what they might think of as 'respect' which is really just a kind of abusive authoritarianism.
As a researcher and a sociologist, my mind often goes to the social or systemic aspects of what might seem like personal conflicts. In this case, it seems we are in a culture of not admitting guilt (the sociology of sorry). Or not caring who we hurt or offend. Another family member to whom I reached out for help told me to "back off and shut up," hardly an olive branch for moving this conflict toward resolution.
So, then my mind asks: what does the psychology literature say about refusing to apologize? This Scientific American article describes research about the benefits of not apologizing: retaining a position and power and saving face. I get that in this situation, my aunt is getting both of these things out of her refusal. But the article continues, refusing to apologize comes at a cost for all involved. For the person refusing to apologize, it limits their ability to accept constructive feedback and, ultimately, personal growth. And in the desire to grasp onto power by not admitting mistakes could lead to weakness (in this situation, the loss of control over the now cascading levels of conflict with everyone else who is now involved). Refusing to apologize also has social consequences, both for the relationship involved and people's general perception of the non-apologizer in a community.
So, where to go from here? Part of my trouble with academic research in general is that it is really good at describing problems and less good at suggesting solutions. Part of the reason for that is because many of these problems are learned at a society-wide cultural level and can't be addressed solely individually. Knowing this is why we moved out of the U.S. and as each day passes (including with this current conflict) we are more and more sure this is the right decision. Some of the same family members who lament the state of U.S. politics and culture daily are the ones mocking us for moving away. Which illustrates even more clearly the extent to which most people don't see how they are individually impacted by a dysfunctional society.
But, here's where it would be helpful to turn away from social scientific sources and toward more philosophical ones. I am re-reading a book now The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, widely considered to be the best book ever written on love. In it, Fromm suggests that love is something that can only come from a solid foundation of psychological health and emotional maturity. That is, it is literally impossible to having a loving relationship with someone who is unhealthy in these ways. Fromm, a philosopher, a psychologist and sociologist, explains in great detail the ways in which modern capitalistic society keeps individuals from being healthy, and therefore from being able to truly love.
Fromm describes a cultural phenomenon that I have experienced in droves lately:
One other frequent error must be mentioned here. The illusion, namely, that love means necessarily the absence of conflict...the 'conflicts' of most people are actually attempts to avoid the real conflicts. They are disagreements on minor or superficial matters which by their very nature do not lend themselves to clarification or solution. Real conflicts between two people, those which do not serve to cover up or project, but which are experienced at the deep level of inner reality to which they belong, are not destructive. They lead to clarification, they produce a catharsis from which both persons emerge with more knowledge and more strength.
So, I guess for me, it comes down to a sick culture producing a sick individual who is then unable to address the conflict from a place of inner reality. This conflict could have lead to growth for both of us, and then allowed us to speak more clearly about expectations and boundaries in our relationship moving forward. This is my original message to my other aunt (the 'back off and shut up' aunt) asking for help: