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#673: My insufferable brother is ruining all the time I spend with my family + Winter Pledge Drive.

Dear Captain,

I have only one sibling, an older brother. He is in his late thirties and still lives with my parents. He’s never lived on his own, whereas I moved out as soon as I could at 18. He has a BA in Accounting, he works full time, he pays rent to my parents and handles his own laundry, etc, but he still has never wanted to move out. My parents have threatened to make him leave in the past, but they’ve never followed through.

He’s always been socially awkward and a loner, and most of our family suspects he has some variety of mental illness/personality disorder/is somewhere on the autistic spectrum/etc, but after one failed try at family therapy when he was four, my parents have never gotten him professional help. My dad has his head in the sand about it, and mom doesn’t know what to do at this late point in Brother’s life. Brother is in complete denial that he could benefit from therapy or medication or even a diagnosis.

Within the past few years, he’s gotten fixated on politics and turned into a walking uber-conservative caricature. Worse than that, he’s become paranoid, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic … the list goes on. He’s not quiet about his beliefs, and he is constantly turning every conversation about the most innocuous subjects into a political rant. He spouts hate and vitriol against liberals and everyone who isn’t like him. He doesn’t listen to dissenting opinions, he talks over everyone all the time, and he gets very upset and ragey very quickly. I am a liberal, and I consider myself a feminist and fairly well-read about social justice issues. I am also bisexual, but not out to my family, and have lots of friends in the LGBT+ community. A lot of what he says is extremely hurtful to me, and it’s very difficult for me to listen to without responding. He often gets angry at me for arguing and then turns things personal and belittles my intelligence and life choices. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for five years, and being called stupid is one of my buttons. Brother knows this.

Whenever I’m around him, I try very hard not to engage, to just ignore his ranting and remind myself that he has serious mental/emotional issues. But I have trouble even talking about neutral subjects, because he seems hellbent on twisting everything into a politically charged fight. He’ll even interrupt the conversations of others. I have walked away many times. I’ve (mostly) accepted that he doesn’t care about me or my feelings (or is incapable of doing so). He ignores conversational boundaries I’ve tried to set. He never asks about me and my life, nor did he show any concern when I was being abused, even though I tried to reach out to him. I’ve never felt like I had a real brother, just some mean asshole who lives with my parents. This makes me incredibly sad, and I feel guilty whenever I snap and say something back to him.

Do you have any advice on how to handle things better? I want to be a good sister, but I honestly don’t know where to start to help him at this point, especially since he has no respect for me. I would just like to be able to be at their house without feeling so constantly insulted and harassed.

Sincerely,
Stressed Sister

Dear Stressed Sister:

If you like, you can do what you are already doing (changing the subject, trying to respectfully disagree, disengaging from conversations with your brother), but you can try it a little more strategically and make it more clear exactly what you are doing and why. I try to use a strategy of “two attempts at redirecting the thing, then OUT” to preserve my own sanity and conserve my energy and to turn a boundary from something I express into something I enforce.

The first time he says something awful, you can say “That’s racist/sexist/homophobic/repulsive, and I disagree. You and I should not talk politics with each other, ever, so let’s change the subject please.” The second time, “When I asked to change the subject, that means I don’t actually want to hear any more about _____. I don’t want to argue, I just want you to stop talking at me. Let’s talk about something else, like (neutral topic!).”

The third time, “I’ve asked you twice now to change the subject. I’m through discussing this with you.” Then leave the room. If he follows you, insults you, talks over you, or won’t stop engaging with you, leave the building. You do not have to debate him or win the debate on the facts or convince him. You get to decide, unilaterally, to be done with these conversations.

You can also try using “When you _____, I feel ______” language. This works better if you focus on behaviors rather than his views, for example:

  • “Brother, when you talk over me, it makes me feel hurt and angry. Please stop.”
  • “Brother, when you interrupt me, it makes me feel ignored and frustrated. Please stop.”
  • “Brother, when you call me stupid or insult my life choices, it makes me feel hurt and angry. Please stop doing that.”
  • “Brother, I asked you twice to stop talking about x. I’m not interested in an argument. When you ignore my wishes like that it makes me feel frustrated. Please stop.”
  • “Brother, when you call me stupid it makes me feel small and powerless. You know some of my history with that word, so, why would you do that?”

You can try talking to him, but the important thing is that you give yourself permission to leave when he won’t respect the boundary you’ve set. Leave in the middle of dinner. Leave even if it makes it awkward for others. Leave even if it means “embarrassing the family” or “making a scene” in front of Jesus, The Buddha, Prince, the ghost of Maya Angelou, Rogelio de la Vega, Captain America, and your city’s mayor.

To be honest, I don’t think a functional relationship with your brother is salvageable, certainly not in the near future, so my advice about dealing with him is all about protecting yourself. Yes, he most likely has some problems that aren’t his fault, yes, he should have been treated long ago, but “mental illness” and most certainly “possibly being on the autism spectrum” do not a raging asshole make. When someone says hateful things and actively trolls you with insults that he knows will hurt the most, WTF are you supposed to do? You can’t Bigger Person him into not verbally attacking you. Forgive yourself for the times you snapped back at him for calling you stupid and belittling your life choices. Forgive yourself for the times you actively dislike him. If you weren’t blood relations, would you hang out with him, ever?

Forgive yourself, and remind yourself that he has choices about his views and how he chooses to express them. He has choices about the kind of relationship he wants with you. Does he act this way at work? Did he act this way at school? Does he treat his boss and all his coworkers the way he treats you? Or does he just choose to antagonize you, his little sister, specifically, at home, where he can get away with it?

You have a brother problem, but that’s not the only problem. Your brother is the one who makes obvious, undeniable trouble, and who all your life was the one who was “different” or “troubled” or “disordered.” But as a child, he wasn’t the one who had control over whether he got the help he needed. And now, when he mistreats you, he’s doing it in your parents’ house, presumably in front of your parents. So how do they react to him, in the moment? When he says something racist or homophobic, do they speak up or do they just let it sit there? And how do they react when and if you speak up? Out of curiosity, how many times in your life have you been told to be patient with him, shushed if you yelled or fought back when he mistreated you, and groomed to tolerate how he acts by your parents? How many times have you heard variations of “He can’t help it, but you can!” or “Just ignore him!” or “You are lucky you don’t have his problems to deal with, so we expect more from you!” Girls whose brothers don’t have diagnosable things going on grow up hearing those messages, too, under the general umbrella of Boys Will Be Boys and Girls Will Behave Extra Hard To Set A Good Example. BTW, these messages all translate as “We’ve given up on trying to influence him to behave himself, so we’re going to go with influencing you so at least there will be less conflict overall.

I suspect that if you followed the strategy above, to the point of actually leaving, your parents and your other family members might react with some dismay. “Where are you going? Why are you leaving? Brother is just being brother, you know that, please don’t go.” You’ll be treated as if you are the one making the scene, not the adult man who is following you around the room saying terrible things to you. Reminder: You are not ruining (holiday) by leaving a place where asshole family members are assholes to you. (Holiday) is already pre-ruined for you by having to deal with assholes, and leaving (or skipping the gathering entirely) is the way you have a fighting chance at un-ruining things for yourself.

My other suggestion is that when these things get heated to the point of you walking away, be very explicit about what you are doing and why when you talk to your parents. “I’ve told myself, I’ve told him, and now I’m telling you: If he verbally harasses me at these gatherings, I’m going to have to leave.” “Guess I reached my Brother limits early today, see you next time.” “I asked him politely several times to stop what he was doing, and he chose not to. I guess we’ll try again another time.””I can’t ‘just ignore him’ when he’s looming over me calling me stupid. Couldn’t do it when I was 8, can’t do it now. See you all next time.””I’m not psyched about missing dinner either, but I didn’t bring earplugs, so, gotta go!” They may not get the message, but you should still send the message: Asshole Brother goes unchecked in their presence? They will see less of you.

There are also “When you _____, I feel _____” statements you can tailor for them.

  • “When Brother says terrible things to me, and you ignore him or tell me to ignore him, it makes me feel hurt and frustrated.”
  • “When Brother deliberately antagonizes me, and I ask him to stop, and you stand by, watching, it makes me feel incredibly angry.”
  • “When Brother is rude and disgusting to me, and I try to stop it, and you treat me like I’m the one being rude, it makes me feel invisible, like my feelings don’t matter to you.”
  • “When I come here, I get constantly insulted and harassed by Brother. That makes me feel unwelcome.”
  • “Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but when Brother says homophobic, racist, and sexist things to  me, and I disagree with him, I sometimes wonder if you tacitly approve of all his views. That makes me feel scared, that you might also agree that women are (terrible thing), gay people are (terrible thing).”

If they raise the “It’s not his fault/he can’t help it/he probably has (diagnosis)” defense, you can say “I agree, he probably does have something diagnosable going on, something that would probably improve if he actually got diagnosed and treated for it. I hope that he will take those steps with all my heart. I’m not his psychiatrist, though, I’m his sister. I don’t have to get to the bottom of his psyche to ask him to treat me more gently.” Whatever he has going on inside, he needs to stop standing on your foot.

Be prepared for a lot of friction if you start pushing back on your brother’s behavior in a direct, explicit way and absenting yourself when he crosses the line. Changes to the status quo of how you all work might feel odd and even threatening to both your mom and your dad without them necessarily even understanding why. Their fucked-up dynamic of daily life with your brother and the way he treats you only works if you all tacitly agree that it’s normal. If you stop agreeing that it’s okay and normal, then they might have to face some accountability for the way things have happened, or contemplate changing things in the future, and suddenly you might become the problem. In families where there is an identifiable “black sheep” and an identifiable “good kid,” you’d be surprised at how quickly those roles can flip around when a parent’s sense of control is threatened.

Further suggestions:

1) If you have access to counseling, take advantage of it. You could use a safe sounding board about the issues in your family that isn’t your family. Your family roles have all calcified in some recognizable patterns of dysfunctional families – troubled “scapegoat” son, dutiful daughter, the identified patient – and I think a pro could help you process a lot of things about how you grew up and how your adult relationship with this family works and does not work for you.

2) Make a conscious effort, perhaps a year-long project, to see your parents as much as possible outside of their home and outside of situations where your brother will also be. If you live far away, that might mean inviting one or both of them to come visit you for a bit sans frère. If you live close that might mean friend-dating your parents. You could them to do things singly – get season tickets to a concert series or theater season and make one of them your date, institute Monthly Mom Brunch/Breakfast With Dad – and together, like inviting them to come over to your house periodically for dinner. Sometimes have it be just you and your folks, sometimes, if you’re comfortable (or really uncomfortable and need a buffer) invite a few of your friends to be around, too. If you can, find a shared hobby or favorite TV show and make a point of watching it together. It may be weird, especially in the beginning. You may have to make it awkwardly clear that your brother is not invited. You may have to focus more on your mom and call it something like ‘GIRLS’S DAY, FOR LADYPERSONS OF A WOMANLY PERSUASION ONLY,’ because for some reason people are more accepting of single-gender exclusion. If they resist, insist that brother has to be invited, call you selfish for not wanting to be around him, are never available for plans, etc., remind yourself that they are making a choice. If they want to live in the fantasy that their children get along and are close to each other more than they want to have an authentic relationship with you, their actual child, that’s a hurtful, sad choice, but it is a choice.

Oh, also, think of aunts/uncles/cousins, etc. who you like and who are generally allies to you. Write to them, call them sometimes, and invite them to do stuff with you, too, when you can. Try to cultivate one-on-one adult relationships with them that aren’t mediated through your parents or just at big family events. You deserve to have your family in your life and to not have every interaction with them shadowed by your brother. This way if you skip some of the big family gatherings, you’re not missing out on having a connection with your family.

Speaking of which, 3) Make a “family events with brother” budget that’s maximally respectful of your time and your energy levels. When you go, put on your best “don’t start none, won’t be none” attitude, do your best to get along, and when it gets to be too much, leave. When you can’t face going, don’t go. If you always smooth everything over at your own expense, the pattern will never change. He will be awful to you. They will all enable it. You will snap sometimes, because, who wouldn’t? They will make you feel guilty for saying what they all think and entreat you to smooth it over.

If you disengage, and engage only on your own terms, the pattern might not change. It won’t necessarily heal your family or “help” your brother, and it won’t make everything whole again. At best it will give you some breathing room. You don’t deserve to be verbally attacked by someone with the passive participation and consent of your other family members. You don’t have to be the sacrificial lamb who makes them all feel benevolent and okay about themselves. If you put a little distance in your sibling relationship in order to take care of yourself and to build a more pleasurable and supportive family structure for yourself, it is not a failure of your empathy.

———————–

It’s a bit late this year, but for the next week it’s one of the semi-annual awkward times where I awkwardly shake the tip jar and ask readers with the means and inclination to throw a dollar my way if you can. Maintaining the site is a labor of love, but it is actual labor, and reader contributions make a real difference to my quality of life and ability to keep content free for everyone. Many thanks for your support, and for reading and leaving great comments.

P.S. The Onion is on it: Once-Loyal Enabler Betrays Man By Suggesting Therapy

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176 comments
  1. TheUdoon said:

    “Yes, he most likely has some problems that aren’t his fault, yes, he should have been treated long ago, but “mental illness” and most certainly “possibly being on the autism spectrum” do not a raging asshole make.”

    As someone actually on the spectrum who sees all sorts of ignorant garbage said about it way too often, thank you so so much for saying this.

    • Just Plain Neddy said:

      Seconded by this mentally ill aspie. ASD may make other people more difficult to understand, but it doesn’t – of itself – make you not care about treating them well. The common myth that those of us on the spectrum have no compassion or conscience about others is a bit like saying that a dyslexic person obviously has no imagination because they find it difficult to read a book. But every time someone’s awful behaviour hits the news and someone mentions the possibility of autism, everyone relaxes and says “Oh that explains it!” No it doesn’t, and it sure as hell doesn’t excuse it.

      • diloolie said:

        In my ASD experience, others who are autistic can be more compassionate and sensitive to others than allistics, because we know that we might not have the whole picture and focus more effort into it so we don’t seem ‘incomplete’.

        ‘Course, that assumes you actually care what the other person feels like, so it’s not applicable to all auties.

        Just chiming in to agree that brother’s problems aren’t ASD or mental health, they’re due to a severe case of Asshole.

        • cruelmistress said:

          Not just your experience– there are studies that back up that peeps on the spectrum feel more empathy and their problem is one of expression– which may result in unintentional rudenesses as perceived by others, but nothing akin to the Brother of LW, who is a toerag who has been told– repeatedly– and redirected– repeatedly– and persists in deliberately hurting others. That’s not autism. That’s assholery. Autism is to be understood, assholery is not to be tolerated.

    • rydra_wong said:

      As someone also on the spectrum (and mentally ill) — yeah, but.

      I agree that LW’s brother’s possible mental issues don’t excuse his behaviour, and absolutely don’t require the LW to put up with it.

      Letting him hurt and abuse other people isn’t doing him any favours either, and given that his behaviour’s so bad that it’s driving the LW out of the family house, then dragging that fact into the light may be the best thing the LW can do for everyone, painful and awkward though it will be.

      Not that the LW should do this stuff for their brother’s sake — just having the right to protect themselves is enough.

      But the conspiracy of silence where everyone’s known for decades that the brother’s got some mental shit going on but nobody’s willing to push for diagnosis/treatment isn’t helping anyone.

      And it might make things easier for the LW if they can think of breaking the silence as a potentially-positive thing for their brother too.

      Unfortunately, I do know of more than one person on the spectrum who’s ended up getting sucked into extreme right-wing conspiracy websites, through a combination of naivety (not being able to register HOLY CRAP THIS SHIT IS CRAZY) and finding comfort in a simple explanation of the world that gives targets for anger and pain. If you’re isolated and bitter and confused, something that tells you that it’s all the fault of women/Jews/Muslims/LGBT people/etc. etc. etc. for cheating you out of your rightful life can be dangerously appealing.

      And some people on the spectrum do love the idea of ourselves as super-rational Spock-like creatures of pure reason who just don’t fit in because we’re superior to all those social conformist sheeple (mercifully, this is a phase I grew out of, but I can very easily see how someone can go down that path).

      So. I’m wary of saying that LW’s brother’s behaviour is absolutely nothing to do with his mental issues.

      Could be, of course; could be he’s someone with possible mental issues who’s coincidentally a raging asshole, just as plenty of neurotypical people are raging assholes in the same ways.

      But it could also be related.

      And if it is, then forcing the issue of OH HAI BROTHER’S BEHAVIOUR IS A BIG BIG PROBLEM is the first step towards getting the brother the actual professional help that he should have got thirty years ago.

      The LW can’t make that happen (and it’s not the LW’s job to make that happen). But it might help them to feel more positive about setting and defending their boundaries.

      • cruelmistress said:

        Yeah, it seems possible and perhaps even probable that Brother has an Issue of some kind– which even if I were a Qualified Professional I could not diagnose via secondhand anonymous internet forum accounts– but Cap’s advice targets the behavior, as does yours. Whether that behavior is a tangential result of said Issue or an unrelated case of Asshole from a neurotypical person is irrelevant. In either case, the best thing for LW is to set a hard limit on the behavior, and the best thing for Brother (if we are compassionate and care what the best thing for Brother is, which I waffle on tbh) is to have a hard limit set for him.

      • Knights Who Say Knit said:

        This. Excusing bad behavior of any sort with “oh, he’s* just autistic; he can’t help it” does a huge disservice to the rest of us autistics who don’t act like that and don’t deserve that bullshit stigma to be attached to our neurotype, but it also does a huge disservice to the person being excused this way, who is much likelier to change bad behavior if people actually call him on it and allow him to change or seek help and maybe become both kinder and happier. Brushing off or excusing bad behavior, on the other hand, normalizes it, and even if you know you’re being a giant asshole, why would stop if everyone around you is acting like it’s perfectly normal and ok, or worse, like you’re incapable of acting better than you are.

        *I say “he” here specifically because I’ve never seen this pattern of excuses being made for autistic women/girls, often not even when the behavior in question is something that she legitimately can’t help and isn’t actually harming others, but I’ve seen it often for men/boys who are autistic, or might be autistic, or are completely hypothetical guys made up by internet commenters to excuse various forms of asshole behavior like sexual harassment. Which is not to say that autistic boys/men don’t get the same bullshit stigma as girls/women do, or that autistic girls/women can’t also be giant assholes, just that this pattern of excusing certain types of asshole behavior with a real or hypothetical autism diagnosis is an incredibly gendered phenomenon.

        • Helka said:

          I love your last paragraph. This is a really good, and really important observation — the “what if socially awkward! what if autism!” arguments get trotted out so easily when it’s in defense of guys’ bad behavior, but when it’s for women, “socially awkward” and its attendant labels get used more like further condemnation rather than excuse.

          • Paulina said:

            Yes! “What if the woman is socially awkward and thus has a very hard time dealing with the asshole’s aggressive behavior” is not a question that tends to get asked in such situations. And yet, the aggressor’s ability to pick and choose targets often speaks to far greater social savvy than the target has.

        • Light said:

          Yeah, I have seen this way too often- the attitude that it’s not his fault if he’s socially awkward/autistic but if she is, well, it’s on her to straighten up. Not to mention the fact that socially awkward women often get targeted because they’re easier potential prey. Yay for high school. Not.

      • wordiest said:

        “And some people on the spectrum do love the idea of ourselves as super-rational Spock-like creatures of pure reason who just don’t fit in because we’re superior to all those social conformist sheeple (mercifully, this is a phase I grew out of, but I can very easily see how someone can go down that path).”

        In all fairness, a lot of people, whether neurotypical or neuroatypical, do go through some phase where they feel superior and think they have far more of the answers than they do. It’s a pretty common part of adolescence and young adulthood for many people. It can take many flavors, and maybe people on the spectrum are more prone to that particular variant of it, but I don’t think the other variants are any less annoying. So, I don’t think you can really hold an annoying phase against neuroatypical people. However, an annoying phase is very different from active bullying, and this brother is also old enough that this isn’t just a phase. Plus, even if it were just a phase, it is totally okay to see a sibling going through an annoying phase and decide that you can’t cope with them during it, and limit your contact and protect yourself until they get over it.

        The one thing I always wonder about though in families or social circles that do “Oh, that’s just X, you know how X is” excuses… why can’t the people coping with X get similar exemptions? Oh, you know how I am, I just can’t handle being yelled at – gotta go. I feel like you should be able to say, “Oh, I’m just the sort of person who gets hurt when someone abuses me, so I need to leave when X abuses me. You know, that’s just how I am.” and “Yeah, that’s just how X is. We all know he’s abusive, but you know not being willing to be abused is just how I am.” It just seems weird that the exemption for the abuser is made, but not for the abused. I’ve just never understood that.

        • code16 said:

          I feel what tends to happen is, as the Captain said, ““We’ve given up on trying to influence him to behave himself, so we’re going to go with influencing you so at least there will be less conflict overall.” People don’t want to deal with conflict, and the abused is easier to target than the abuser.

          But anyway, actually commenting to say, that is an excellent though and I am totally putting it in my armory of perfect-refutals-of-things.

        • Y’know, I would really love to see the Captain do an extended treatment of culture around “That’s just how I am” and “Friends accept you for who you are.” I think those got started from a good place, about being good to each other around race, cultural background, sexual orientation, religion, etc. But I feel like I’m seeing those phrases used a lot to cover nastiness, selfishness, and abuse, just as Wordiest describes. Surely there are grey areas (“I joke when I’m nervous, sometimes at moments when others think that humor is in poor taste or insensitive; that’s just how I am.” Okay or not okay?), and I think there’s some productive discussion to be had there.

          • wordiest said:

            That would be neat. It’s an area that I’ve given a fair bit of thought to, because I do feel that both a certain amount of acceptance is appropriate from friends, and also that “that’s just how I am” is a terrible excuse for mistreating someone. I’ve mostly resolved it by deciding you don’t need to decide whether or not it’s an okay way for a person to be, just whether it’s a compatible way for someone to be who you spend time with. For a trivial example, I crack my knuckles and joints a lot. I kind of have to; I’m not put together very well, and it’s painful not to. I try to tone it down or avoid it right in front of people who I know get really annoyed by it, but I probably couldn’t comfortably live with somebody who was bothered by it, because it’d be an issue too much. I wouldn’t say I’m wrong or they’re wrong, but we’re incompatible. On a more annoying front, I have real trouble not laughing if I am really upset about something. In practice, this has been most often an issue if I have to give somebody bad news that I feel really sorry for their sake about… exactly when laughing is horribly inappropriate. And I can’t always control it. It’s not a good trait, and it is something I work on, but I’m not sure I can stop it. I do need friends who can accept that, but I can easily imagine that being a serious trigger for somebody if they had certain kinds of past experiences. So, again, easy to go, well, maybe we’re not compatible for closer interactions where this could come up. Contrariwise, cannot be close friends with anyone who feels if they have to modify their behavior or put extra thought into it when around me, then it’s just not worth it to them. I have a ton of health issues, and that often involves thinking and varying behavior. The simplest example being that I’m legally blind, so using words rather than head nods or other visual cues, not throwing items for me to catch, etc. If you can’t manage these sorts of things, it’s just not going to work, and I don’t have to spend effort trying to figure out whether or not you’re a bad person for not adjusting to me to decide that you’re clearly not a person who fits well into my life. Not needing to decide what is right or wrong, but merely what works and doesn’t work for me is a very freeing way of looking at most problems.

        • roramich said:

          A+!!

    • Therese said:

      Totally agree with this. It happens I know two brothers who both have schizophrenia. The way their symptoms manifest is amazingly similar, and yet one of them makes good company and the other doesn’t. The first is thoughtful, considerate, and actively working on self-care and self-monitoring skills; the second is demanding, blamey, highly aggressive, and right-wing. People make excuses for the latter brother all the time; I just don’t buy that he can’t help it, but rather they’ve taught him that he can get away with anything.

    • Shiny said:

      This autist must also agree. It makes me especially sad to see this woman feeling so guilty over this. She shouldn’t. Seriously, the “I have autism” excuse generally doesn’t fly in actual communities of people with autism (not without being called out by at least someone), at least as far as my experience goes, because it’s bullshit. So if people who actually have the disorder don’t put up with it… why exactly should anyone else be required to?

    • Jenny Islander said:

      Asyouknowbob, it may make one’s personal list of “This is how to be a polite and considerate human being” and the general consensus list of “No, this is actually how you do it” be non-congruent. But there’s talking happily about something you like because you think other people might like it and can’t pick up on their cues to shut up, and there’s–well, the situation in the letter. Yikes.

  2. I like using the I-statements for the parents, but I’m not so sure with the brother. It requires good faith which he hasn’t displayed. My fear is he’d use it against the LW. Some people, when they know where to press to hurt you, will just do it more rather than back off and apologize.

    Good luck LW, this sounds really difficult and frustrating! I hope your parents will catch the drift and stand up for you. At the very least, commit to plans with you outside of the house where your brother can’t hurt you. Jedi hugs

    • JenniferP said:

      I don’t think the brother will suddenly “get it” or even back off if she uses I-statements, but I think it might disrupt the pattern and force how deliberate his behavior is into the open when she’s no longer arguing with him about the issues themselves, but calling his behavior out directly as hurtful.

      • Clementine Danger said:

        I’ve also used it in the past as proof of good faith to others who may be present for it, like my parents (LW’s situation is eerily similar to mine.)

        “Mom, don’t accuse me of being mean to Brother. I’ve politely asked him twice to stop. You were there for it, you saw me do it, and you saw that he ignored me when I was reasonable and polite.”

        So that kind of forced people to acknowledge that actually, yeah, maybe I’m not the problem. It’s not exactly Being The Bigger Person, because that doesn’t work, it’s making a display of how reasonable you are and forcing people to acknowledge that. It’s not ideal, but it’s helped in my case. It took a long-ass time, but eventually I got some people to say “yeah, you know what, maybe there’s only one person being unreasonable and ‘flipping out’ here.” Didn’t change Brother’s behavior, but it did recontextualize everything from “sibling fight, how sad” to “holy shit our son is an asshole.”

      • John said:

        And if nothing else, it can be a positive thing for the person making the I-statements as well. For me, doing the exercise of identifying “what am I feeling and what is causing me to feel this” in the moment is usually extremely beneficial to my own mental health.

      • Charlene said:

        In my experience, “when you _____, I feel _______” statements work when both sides want to communicate and respect each other but just can’t find the words.

        When one side is deliberately combative, dismissive, or emotionally abusive, they do far, far more harm than good. Telling someone how you feel is only safe if the person won’t use your feelings against you. And a guy like this will likely twist any “I feel” into “you’re irrational and therefore wrong”.

        • Helka said:

          This matches my experience. I made the mistake of using I-statements with an emotionally abusive partner, and they made things way, way worse. Telling her how I felt was an invitation for her to pretend that my feelings were an attack on her.

          • Og said:

            Same here. It became about how my feelings themselves were attacks; that if I felt upset by poor treatment, my hurt by itself was a “punishment.” In the LWs context though, I think making a show of being reasonable is a good idea even if the emotional openness isn’t. I might go for less specific responses, more along the lines of “X behaviour is upsetting and I won’t tolerate it,” rather than “X behaviour is making me feel Y,” where Y is an exact or vulnerable-sounding feeling like hurt/sad/angry, which can be easier to exploit.

        • pielord said:

          COming from a background with a verbally and sometimes physically abusive step-father (I know, how cliche), I can attest that sometimes – generally often – the “When you do ___” statements get misdirected into “Well you’ve done ___ in the past as well” in order to continue the argument/abuse and to abdicate themselves of all responsibility for their own actions.

      • Groovy Biscuit Intervention said:

        I think also, doing this removes any possible vestige of doubt that brother could be unaware of the impact he’s having (i.e. the behaviour being purely related to whatever undiagnosed issues he may have going on) and make it explicitly something he knows about and is choosing to do (i.e. being an asshole). At which point, a ‘nope, I am done with this’ is clearly an entirely rational response.

      • Yes. Using I-statements can foster more open communication, which works when both parties *want* to build bridges, but when someone is actually trying to hurt you it just gives them a direct pipeline for all their bile.

        My little brother had a similar dynamic with my parents, (which prompted a BUNCH of different unfinished/unsent letters to my favorite online advice columnist over the years 😉). And it hurt SO MUCH to watch him verbally abuse them and physically intimidate them in response to their good-faith I-statements.

        It did help to communicate with my parents using the more neutral “I feel angry when he says these things to you”, “I feel scared when he yells at me and then smashes furniture” when I told them I wouldn’t be coming home last Christmas. We planned a family brunch for New Years day instead, and that shorter and more structured interaction (plus meeting in a public place) worked much better.

    • Just Plain Neddy said:

      Yeah I was thinking that. “When you do X, I feel hurt” works really well if you’re dealing with someone who wants to avoid hurting you. Not so much if they don’t care or if that’s their intention. I may sound a little bitter here, but I was very badly bullied, growing up, by an older sister who frankly was/is (we don’t talk anymore) a really awful person. My parents’ way of dealing this was always a “when you do this / say this to Neddy, it really upsets her” talk, rather than any kind of actual discipline – and the result was that she got constant feedback that made her better at making my life miserable.

      Pretty sure a lot of teachers do this with bullies, too.

      • Laughing Giraffe said:

        Yup. There are definitely situations where “you’re upsetting me” is a feature for that person, not a bug. In those situations, the authority figure/boundary setter needs to go with “this is not acceptable, and it needs to stop, or there will be consequences” (and follow through on those consequences, of course.)

    • FlyBy said:

      Yeah, in my family I-statements generally resulted on the person doubling down and saying that it was my fault for feeling hurt. With a heavy dose of “and don’t try to manipulate me by acting hurt”. It was not a safe thing to do. I still don’t use that word construction with anyone.

      • Baytree said:

        Hooo boy, does that sound familiar. My dad called it “therapist talk,” which was not a complement since he thinks therapists are useless and manipulative. Using I-statements was a pretty sure way to escalate something from an argument to a screaming match.

        • God, sounds like my Dad, who calls it “Oprah bullshit”.

          • the little pink house said:

            My very well-meaning mother, under the impression that I was a terribly egotistic child and trying to correct for it, scolded or even at times mocked me for I-statements. She said straight out that “the school counselor did you NO favors in teaching that to you,” because it only reinforced my objectionable, self-centered belief that other people should care about my feelings.

      • Xenophile said:

        TW: dv, suicidal ideation

        My Vader ex used to do that. Any time I told him his actions hurt my feelings he would accuse me of trying to control him and eventually threatened suicide at the drop of a hat. I would say, “When you ignore me and flirt with your ex in front of me, I feel like I don’t matter to you,” or even “When you drink, I’m scared you’ll hurt me again,” he would say, “I hate myself and I want to die and it’s your fault I feel this way.” I think the utility of this sort of language varies and the LW knows best whether this is a safe strategy. As others have pointed out, it might not be safe with VaderBrother but might be useful with their parents.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        I also have a visceral tendency to want to run screaming from I-statement use. Probably because my own experience with them has been that they have been ways to “politely” phrase things that are still just as abusive as they always were, with an added bonus of “YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MY FEELINGS SO THERE!”

        Much better for me has been the variants on “no, you need to stop.” [failure to stop occurs] “You didn’t stop, so I’m leaving now [or other appropriate consequence].

    • Astral said:

      Sadly, it can be also be worse than simply using the I-statements against someone. The last time I tried to de-escalate and stand up for myself using I statements, my brother went into an even worse rage, slapped me, hurled awful obscenities at me, and threatened to kill me in a descriptive, realistic, way. In front of my parents, who only asked him to apologize, and his response was equally unsettling. As was his response to my sister who identified this as a “committable” threat and wondered aloud about calling the police. He has been to many doctors and been on many medications. At their “best,” the medications have only made him numb and zombie-like.

      I no longer see my parents in their house. I will only see the whole family in public or at an extended family members house with a lot of people present. My parents have become “small doses” family, because if I spend long enough, they (mostly my mom) will try to guilt me into “forgiving” because I’m the “bigger” person. The minimization and denial are deep. Extended family members are shocked to hear what actually happened from me, since my my mom described it as a “tiff,” and I appear to be dramatic and over-reacting, (and stated or implied to be a selfish daughter to refuse to ever go to their house, especially because they are increasingly experiencing chronic health problems.) Since then, more stories of how she has protected abusive family members at the expense of the abused have surfaced.

      So, while I so hope that the LW’s situation is much less severe, I do have to caution that the pattern of behavior describes can worsen over time, that parents can double-down on the “head-in-the-sand” reaction, and to make sure to protect oneself, whichever strategy chosen. I am definitely a happier, healthier, more confident, less panicky person since setting those very difficult boundaries, but I still have to deal with occasional bouts of guilt, anger, grieving.

      • winter said:

        I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with this situation. It sounds terrible, and frankly, terrifying. Good on you for sticking to those boundaries, even though it’s extra guilt-trippy with family…

  3. Kittentastic said:

    Ro really hate people using “that’s just how s/he is” when expecting you to take abuse and lie flatter for someone else. You can always rely, “I can’t tolerate his behaviour, that’s just how I am”.

    • Legacy of Silence said:

      That is beautiful, and I plan to use it in the future. Thank you.

      • Kittentastic said:

        Glad you could make sense of it with all the typos!
        Ro = I
        Rely = reply

  4. Yowza. I had to go and look at pictures of baby giraffes to get my shoulders down from round my ears after reading this. Poor you, LW, what a horrible situation, particularly as your parents are totally making the responsibility for smoothing the waters yours instead of the person who is actually at fault.

    • Its not until you mentioned it that I realised my shoulders were nearly meeting my ears too.
      LW, I too hope your parents start picking up on this and take your side. Good luck.

  5. V said:

    This really resonates. One of my uncles is like that. All family know and treat him as a “missing step”. Seems like this is the same. Each family is different, but mine complain about him on his back. Then acomodate him. Until some of us started to get fed up and started to talk. Sure is “unconfortable” for the ones who usually enable him. But that’s their problem, not mine. If I have to put up with his insults and “alternate” reality where he is the best whatever, better that everyone else and no one deserves their successes but he is misstreated by the system so even if he is “brilliant” can’t get the job he wants, they can hear me say things as I see it. And what I see is that he’s a jerk.

    I’ve notice that when I phrase it like “don’t interrupt me, it’s rude” it’s more effective. Because it’s a statement difficult to argue. Of course he keeps doing it, and faced with reality, he shouts even more. But his support in the family it’s shatering because by calling him on it, the others are starting to see him as the missing step. The more specific the comment, the more effective. Like “I don’t like you insult my mother and I won’t have it”, the better.

    Of course it helps that I’ve support from my parents, and that I’m not the only one who have notice his stepping out of line.

    When you interact with other family members, try to find out who thinks like you, who knows he’s a missing step. Speaking with them could help you. He won’t dare to insult you if you have allies at the time. So you could try to bring along some family/friends when you are forced to go to your parents home.

    Also (and this is *evil* advice) if he becomes agressive or hurfull and you can’t run, try saying to him “and yet you are the one unable to live on your own”. And say it in the most condescending tone you could manage. That would hurt him. A lot. It won’t help him, but it would teach him that you aren’t a doormat, that hurt you means you’ll hurt him. He’ll probably back off. Not good, but you don’t have to take the abuse like a “nice girl”.

    • DarcyPennell said:

      I am in a very similar situation to the LW and I have to say, think hard before using the strategy of responding with hurtful remarks in turn. For one thing, there’s been some excellent advice here on showing the parents that this really is all the brother, not the LW. That’s no longer true if the LW starts trading barbs. Also, speaking from personal experience I’ve been in some pretty horrible exchanges with my horrible sibling, sometimes I stood up for myself, sometimes I didn’t. I can live with that because I never stoop to her level. There were times that something cruel was on the tip of my tongue and I really wanted to say it, both to shut her up and to get her back for the horrible way she treats me. But I didn’t. Knowing that that’s not who I am has been important to me & has helped me get through the terrible treatment from horrible sibling, and our parents’ enabling/almost encouraging of same.

      • Emma9 said:

        My domestic terrorism is from a parent, but I’ve been in the same situations. The ‘the better you know someone, the easier it is to hurt them’ law applies on all sides, and there’ve been times I’ve chewed my tongue raw to hold back the vicious targeted TRUE shit I wanted to hurl back when I was being attacked, but I’m not wired to be able to consciously hurt people. (And sometimes I feel angry at THAT, like my hands are tied behind my back in these fights, but it’s still a more peaceful start of mind at the end of the day.)

    • JenniferP said:

      As satisfying as it would be to say “Hey Brother, why don’t you drive your race car bed to under your 1995 Cindy Crawford poster and have a good think about that,” trading insults isn’t going to make the situation better and it’s going to give the brother ammunition that “both sides are just as bad.” Plenty of people live at home and shaming them for that is very culturally- and class- specific in a way that I can’t really get behind.

      • schneetoday said:

        “Plenty of people live at home and shaming them for that is very culturally- and class- specific in a way that I can’t really get behind.”

        Yes. Thank you for saying this.

      • Clementine Danger said:

        And a thank you from me too. Living with my parents as an adult wasn’t my choice and I don’t like being shamed for it.

        • barb said:

          And even if it were your choice, it’s still nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a common household structure all over the world, because it can be a good way for family members to be together and support each other. I’m not in that sort of structure, but I know it’s definitely worth respecting.

      • Launchpad McFail said:

        Joining the chorus of thank-yous.

        My brother has made occasional use of the “well, at least I don’t still live at home” line to end arguments. I’ve refrained from pointing out that, yes, not only do still I live in my mother’s home but a) I hold down a job which helps pay for that home while our mom’s on work leave for cancer treatment, and b) I look after his son five nights for free a week for free because he can’t afford childcare.

        I’m really sick of nearly everyone in my family showing me nothing but sneering contempt for living at home and working a lower-paying job than they think I should have for my level of education. Hasn’t it occurred to any of them that the main reason I stay with this job is because it’s the only one that gives me enough flexibility to put my mom and nephew’s needs first? Don’t any of them realize that my mother and nephew both require a live-in caregiver, and if I’m not here to do it then the (paying for) caregiving burden falls squarely on all of them instead?

        I’m not much ashamed of where I am, what I’m doing. Just the people I’m related to. /endrant

      • Light said:

        Thank you. As someone who just moved in with her father, I’m not doing it for fun or free space. I’m doing so because he is old and my mom is gone. He needs my help. I love him and want him to be able to stay in his own home as long as possible, and so does he- this is where he’s spent most of his adult life and moving him to a retirement community or assisted living at this point would depress him more. It may be a necessity later, but right now, if me being here keeps him happy, I’m willing to do it. And yes, it’s a sacrifice. I moved across the country and gave up a lot to be here. For me, the trade is worth it. It might not be for others and I respect that, but being mocked for it isn’t cool.

    • wordiest said:

      Besides the other objections, I would strongly, strongly advise against insulting him in a situation where you can’t get away. My immediate reaction to that idea is to fear for the physical safety of the person doing it. This is exactly the sort of tactic that would sometimes turn verbally abusive encounters I’ve been in into physically abusive encounters. And we just do not have good cause to think the brother will not be actively dangerous. It might briefly feel good, but the risk to safety is not worth it. Trying to avoid being in any situation where you can’t escape would be a high priority for me in the first place. In my personal experience with bullies, hurting them was easy, but it only ever made them back off if i could hurt them with an overwhelming force, which meant somebody bigger and stronger than them. I’ve seen bullies back off after being really badly beaten up by somebody other than the victim and I’ve seen bullies back off after being hospitalized by the victim. But I haven’t seen a bully back off after a really good verbal attack. I have seen them double down and become far more violent. My experience isn’t a large enough sample size to say this is how it works, but it is enough to say, this tactic can be dangerous sometimes. And no, I don’t think assaulting the brother or hospitalizing him is a good solution in this case either, even if the letter writer could pull it off without legal consequences.

      • Jarissa said:

        Thank you for saying so – I know this is my own experience filter showing through, but as I read the LW’s story through the first time, I was worried for LW’s physical safety. I had to make myself stop and reread the letter twice more, and deliberately *notice* that there’s no point where the LW suggests she is afraid her brother at all.

        LW, if you ARE afraid of your brother, ever, even for a second: don’t dismiss it. Don’t wait to see if you have “genuine” grounds. Don’t expect your parents to protect you from him physically where they do not defend you emotionally. Just get out, and don’t come back.

        Hopefully I am merely paranoid, and this will never be an issue in the first place!

        • Astral said:

          I’m bringing in my experience, for sure, but this sounds like realistic caution rather than paranoia. It wasn’t until learning about “The Gift of Fear” that I even realized that I had been “taught” not to identify my feelings as “fear.” So I didn’t realize how afraid I was. Only after I set a very strict boundary that I noticed that I no longer woke up panicking at every floor squeak.

    • On top of everything else (and there’s a lot of everything else, most of which has been adequately covered), the “shaming” only works if he sees it as a problem that he’s not living with his parents, rather than a convenience.

      I also would be really careful about statements that end with things like “…and I won’t have it,” because that is escalation. What is LW supposed to do if he reacts to that by hitting all her sore spots, as he knows how to do? What if it escalates into something physical?

      This is not a situation where LW will “win” by scoring “points” in verbal sniping or by accumulating “the family supports me in silence” meaningful looks. She didn’t ask for a way to “beat” him and make him stop, she asked for a way to not be so harrassed and feel so abused.

    • Kayla said:

      Your last paragraph is interesting to me. When I was in an abusive marriage (mostly verbal/mental abuse…mostly) I remember one fight in which I told him that he had to stop calling me vile, horrible names or I would take off the kid gloves I used with him. He didn’t know what I meant, and I told him that I knew exactly what to say to hurt him the most, and that if he didn’t stop I would say it. He didn’t believe me, so I said what I had to say, and what do you know? He mostly stopped calling me names after that. Mostly. And this was the reaction of a sociopathic heroin addict, so LW, I bet your brother would have *some* kind of reaction.

      I have to agree with other commenters, though, definitely proceed with extreme caution. And maybe don’t shame him for living at home, I did until I was 26 and I honestly miss it now.

      • V said:

        I think it’s true that insults aren’t good. And I accept the correction about class. Though for what I read (the brother having a good job, it seems like a choice, not necesity) and I meaned like that witough really thinking how other could undertand it (wich was wrong on my part. But it’s true that after literally decades of “walking on eggshells” when we were around him, the time I “snaped” and told him that I was fed up with him insulting my mother, and my other uncles and everyone but him, and that I though that he was just envious. And that has made him to stop a little. Anyway, that was a last resort for me, when everything else failed.

        But I still think that, sadly, with some people trying to be “the better person” would never work, because they take that for granted. They asume that they are better than you and that they deserve especial treatment. So they abuse you becasuse they can and the only thing that made then stop is show them that they can’t do that without consecuences. But it’s much better bring along allies. The simple presence of witness would help because they know they discourse it’s deranged and socially inaceptable outside home…

  6. solecism said:

    So sorry to hear about this difficult situation. Please don’t blame possible mental disability or autism. That right there is what creates stigma. Being an asshole is independent of any health/identity issues. I know plenty of assholes who push buttons because to them it’s fun to see others react (in pain). That’s the problem. That, and bystanders enabling that shit because no/minimal consequences for being an asshole.

    I hope you are able to start using the Captain’s recommendations. I strongly encourage you to see your parents outside of their home and away from your brother. I would advocate that you do your best to exclude your brother from your life for the sake of your own health and well-being. It is not your job to maintain a relationship with him (regardless of the cost). It is okay to accept that you can’t have a healthy relationship with him and move on with your awesome life. And reply to the “but family” with “a loving family member wouldn’t treat me this way; I deserve to be treated with both love and respect, until then, nope.”

    • CMart said:

      “Please don’t blame possible mental disability or autism. That right there is what creates stigma.”

      I first want to acknowledge that YES, absolutely. Seeing someone be an asshole and going “well what would you expect, they’re [insert medical condition]” is super problematic.

      But I’m wondering if the LW is less “blaming” the possibility of mental disability/autism, and more looking to find reasons to be more charitable toward their brother. I’ll begin with a disclaimer that I am projecting SUPER HARD, because of an extremely similar family dynamic (family member who does hurtful things + diagnosed/misdiagnosed/undiagnosed issues). I very much struggle with whether or not I’m “allowed” be be upset when said family member does a hurtful, manipulative, or destructive thing because they very clearly have impulse control and executive function issues, in addition to being extremely self-focused (selfish? unable to empathize? who knows). Is it okay that I’m so angry I could rip a tree in half with my bare hands? Or do I need to forgive them a little, because they can’t necessarily help what they’re doing to a degree?

      That’s how I read the LW’s inclusion of their suspicions of brother’s mental/spectrum condition. That while brother is unequivocally being mean and horrible, perhaps there is a special way of going about addressing it because of Reasons.

      • Anne said:

        CMart –

        I deal with difficult family situations a lot, most of them involving mental illness of some sort. I’m going to say something very important:

        You are ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS allowed to feel angry and hurt that someone is treating you badly/manipulating you/disrupting your life.

        Your feelings are YOURS. You do not owe any emotion to anyone else, ever. What you are responsible for is your own behavior. The presence of a mental illness in a family member may require more patience or allow you to forgive them more easily – it does not require you to accept their behavior (that would fall under Enabling). It sucks that you have had to face such a difficult family situation, so make sure to engage in mental self-care and be gentle with yourself!

      • very much struggle with whether or not I’m “allowed” be be upset when said family member does a hurtful, manipulative, or destructive thing because they very clearly have impulse control and executive function issues, in addition to being extremely self-focused (selfish? unable to empathize? who knows). Is it okay that I’m so angry I could rip a tree in half with my bare hands? Or do I need to forgive them a little, because they can’t necessarily help what they’re doing to a degree?

        I very much second “you are always allowed to be upset and your feelings are yours”!

        The real issue is about what you do with your feelings–how you act on them. The issue is whether expressing/acting on your anger would actually be useful or not. It’s a relatively cold-blooded calculation, in a way: What reaction will get me the response I want? Which requires knowing them and their issues, and being able to guess what’s under their voluntary control or not. Under some situations, calling someone on their unempathetic shit even if it makes a fuss is going to get you what you want; under others, it only makes the problem worse.

        But no matter what, your anger is real and valid and you are totally justified in taking steps to keep yourself safe.

        • Paulina said:

          Response from whom, though. It seems unlikely that the LW’s brother is going to give her the response she wants, though a reasonable-but-clear approach may give her better responses from her parents (such as cooperating with let’s-meet-out plans). She also may get a better response from herself from pushing back, given how toxic it can be to internalize acceptance of being abused by those close to you. Being used to ignoring being treated badly can lead to other significant problems, irrespective of how much those involved can or cannot control themselves.

      • As a person with mental illness, I’m jumping on the “you are always allowed to feel what you feel” bandwagon. It’s not always a good idea to express it in the moment, but you get to feel whatever you feel. Even if what they’re doing is absolutely, unquestionably, directly caused by a disorder.

        Example: I have a next-door neighbor with significant developmental disabilities and something akin to Tourette syndrome. (I have no idea what his diagnosis is, and it doesn’t matter.) A few times a week, he lets loose with an explosively loud torrent of extremely offensive language, that goes on for several minutes, that I can hear from almost anywhere in my house. It annoys the fuck out of me. It’s even worse for my husband, who works from home. This neighbor is otherwise a kind and fairly pleasant man. At first I felt really guilty about occasionally being angry about his outbursts, but I finally decided (with some help from my therapist) that being pissed off about someone yelling profanities 20 feet from my house is not an unreasonable thing, even if the person doing it clearly has no control over it. Calling the cops for a noise violation would be kind of a dick move, so we don’t, but having negative feelings about it does not make us bad people.

        So, yeah, if someone is hurting or manipulating you, you get to be angry or upset or anything else. You get to set boundaries and walk away if and when they are transgressed, no matter why it happens. You aren’t required to forgive if you don’t want to. Or you can forgive a little bit but still be so angry you could rip a tree in half. To me, forgiving is a choice not to hold someone’s actions against them; it doesn’t mean you can’t still be pissed off.

      • solecism said:

        CMart, I am so sorry to hear about what you experience. As others have already said, you absolutely have the right to experience all of the negative emotions in response to harm caused by harmful family member. The impulse control and executive function issues may shape how that harmfulness is manifested, but the fundamental problem is the extreme self-focus to the detriment of others (you). It really sucks, for sure. You don’t ever *need* to forgive someone because Reasons that are external (they can’t help it! they can’t change!).

        On reflection, I am leery of trying to be more “charitable.” Charity is a model of the haves deciding to give something to the have-nots. It’s a system of patronage and patronizing attitude that is all about one-up one-down dominance hierarchies. I know this is not where you’re coming from at all. But I think that idea of having charitable feelings is right there with “be the bigger person.” It’s okay not to do that.

        I also tend to think that forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves so that we can let go of the anger and resentment before we warp under the strain of them. This kind of forgiveness does not need to be shared with anyone else. And it definitely is not about forgetting the harm–just not letting it continue to weigh us down.

        But if someone comes to us asking for forgiveness (for themselves or someone else), the simple act of demanding/asking does not therefore require actual forgiveness. In that scenario, acknowledgment of harm, atonement, etc are a necessary component, along with letting go of the expectation of reward (forgiveness/absolution).

        Good luck navigating your relationship and your feelings.

  7. Alcor said:

    The part here that makes me wince most isn’t the brother — some people are just pathological assholes, for reasons I’m not sure — but the fact that the parents are such enablers. It’s like, really, do you want to save face so hard that you’re willing to deny you raised an asshole who is living right under your roof? Really? Enough that you’ll basically choose him as your favorite over your actually sensible daughter? Enough that you’ll make it an “us or you” thing where the daughter either gets to interact with her entire family — including Asshole Brother — or none of them?

    • notleia said:

      Speaking as someone who also has a missing-stair, asshole brother, yeah the worse part is that IT HAPPENS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR PARENTS’ FACES, and if they do anything about it, it’s too little too late. Once my brother was verbally abusing me for a solid three minutes before my dad said anything, and then after about twenty seconds of silence, he went right back to abusing me, right in front of the same parent, without further repercussion. Also, I was the “oversensitive” one.
      It’s much, much better now that we’re older and in different households, but I’m still pissed about it.

      • Yes, they will pretend he is the special one, elevate him, and pretend you are the problem. Especially in certain types of families – like mine – where the eldest boy has the penis from heaven that will carry on the family name blah blah. The sister who is abused matters very little.

    • Serin said:

      Or is he like this all the time, so that when Sister isn’t around to divert the flow of vitriol it all hits them right in the face?

      (Not that this makes it all right. It’s just a chilling possibility.)

      • pazzzia said:

        yeah, i’m also curious, like the captain, if he does this at work. if not, then he obviously can control himself.

        • Muddie Mae said:

          Depending on what kind of accounting he’s in, he might be the “right kind” of asshole. (Not to excuse any of this, just explain that he could be the same way at work)

      • Knights Who Say Knit said:

        Yeah, I can imagine that the parents ignoring the behavior is due to some level of denial due to a combination having to deal with him all the time (because even if he’s slightly less of an asshole to them than to LW, I can’t imagine that he’s 100% fine and kind to his parents based on what’s described in the letter), guilt for not having gotten him help/a diagnosis when he was a kid (not that it’s ever too late for someone to change, but as an adult he can refuse to get any help and it sounds like that’s what he’s doing), and because it must be pretty difficult to acknowledge that your kid whom you raised is actually an asshole; definitely more difficult than it is to acknowledge that your sibling is an asshole (again, just my guess, since I don’t have kids and I only have a non-asshole brother).

        Not that this excuses their behavior (or lack thereof) toward the LW at all, of course!

      • Nanani said:

        Even if that were the case, I don’t think it’s helpful to dwell on that hypothetical.
        It wouldn’t change anything, as the LW has no obligation to take this treatment, EVEN if it meant giving the parents a possible respite.
        Focus on what’s actually happening, which is bad enough.

    • 20milewarmup said:

      I also have a missing-stair sibling–actually, two–and I wonder if the parents give in just to have some peace and quiet, rather than to face the alternative of having a 40-something man throw a temper tantrum that would rival that of a two-year old?

      He may also do it deliberately to control/manipulate/isolate the parents. He may have some incentive to do that.

      • Glass Hurricane said:

        “He may also do it deliberately to control/manipulate/isolate the parents. He may have some incentive to do that.”

        Holy crap – if that isn’t just the most chilling thought. People can be really scary.

        • Astral said:

          Yeah,for sure. I think everyone in this thread is explaining part of the dynamic between my rageful brother and my parents, with whom he lives. The expression on my brother’s face when he thinks he has “maniuplation won” is one of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen.

          • Glass Hurricane said:

            Are you and I related?

          • Same here. Brother’s rage will suddenly subside, and he will smirk and start mocking whoever got to witness his aggressive display, for being “so sensitive”. It’s gaslighting and it’s crazy-making.

      • Light said:

        I think some of it is feeling like it’s easier to talk to the Reasonable Person than the tantrumer, because the Reasonable person is, well, reasonable. They aren’t going to scream at you/go into a vicious rant/lash out physically. They will listen. Their very reasonableness makes it easier to pass the buck to them.

    • Glass Hurricane said:

      Parents can be enablers for so many reasons. They might be revering the Glorious Boy Child or Golden Girl. They might be a bit afraid of the broken stair.

      In my case, my brother and I used to fight all the time when we were kids so my parents have bought into the idea that when brother is an asshole and I ask him to stop, we are equal parties in the conflict. Such was it written when I was a kid and no amount of personal growth will change their perceptions now that we’re in our 30s. My husband once commented: “It’s like they decided you are who you were when you were 14 and aren’t letting facts get in the way of that idea of you. You don’t get any credit.”

      It’s super frustrating when trying to deal with brother’s jerkiness.

      • sjv1983 said:

        I hate that when it happens in families. Some of my father’s sister see me as spoiled because I am an only child and a girl. No matter what I do they still me as spoiled. There is this weird thing where they are upset with my father because he got married and had a family. My father took care of his siblings and their children. This cut back when he got married and even more when they had me. I think they expected him to remain single and just be a doting uncle and brother.

        • Jenny Islander said:

          Oh, man, does this resonate! I’m old enough that if I’d started having kids when the rest of my graduating class did, I might be a grandma right now, but I’m the baby of the family. The cute, clueless, dreamy, naive baby.

          • Glass Hurricane said:

            Does anybody else on this threat sometimes feel the urge to have friends/coworkers/teachers write references so that maybe your family will take you seriously as a decent adult?

          • TJ_Rowe said:

            (I’ve run out of nesting, this is to Glass Hurricane)

            An entirely unexpected side-effect of having a Quaker Wedding, (where people stand up and give ministry to help the couple in their married lives, wish them happiness, and pledge to support the marriage), was that my parents got to hear dozens of our friends standing up to say how great they thought my husband and I were, and how they were glad to be asked to support us like we’d supported them over the years. It opened their eyes to the fact that I had grown up into a praiseworthy person while they hadn’t been looking, and our relationship has been entirely different ever since!

          • storyranger said:

            Ran out of nesting but YES GLASS HURRICANE I SOOOOOOOOOOOO DO. Although my friends would not be trusted as references, because they are “the wrong crowd” (ie: a crowd I picked out for myself).
            Can this be a thing we do?

          • Glass Hurricane said:

            TJ, that sound amazing. Makes me wish either my husband or I were brought up Quaker so we could have done a Quaker wedding. As it is, I had to draw a very hard line in the sand with my father (three years with minimal contact) in order to gain his respect.

            I don’t think my mother will ever see me as anything but my teenage self – but I suspect that’s because she hates my father’s guts and hates when I display any of his traits – Drama queenish or otherwise.

            Oh well – the good news is that I live on a different land mass from Mother and Brother, so it’s not something I have to deal with on anything other than a holiday occasion.

  8. Vole Central said:

    I have this brother, although he has his own house. I have other relatives/in-laws with the same Fox-based authoritarian right-wing views, but he is the only one who can’t change the damn subject. My only fix has been avoiding him, but I do want to try these scripts sometime. My problem is that the nastiness in my family tends to be covert rather than overt, and I don’t pick up on it until the conversation has already moved on. I don’t know of a good way to call out something that is hurtful 30 seconds after it was said.

    • ACWMH said:

      I’ve found, within my own family, that I don’t notice that things are taking an unpleasant turn until it’s way too late and I’m backed into a corner (verbally, these days) fighting for my right to be an actual person with a brain and whatnot. What’s helped me is always having an outsider present – awkward as that sometimes was until I got the handy-dandy husband unit – so that I could have someone else’s reactions to read. I hear another of my father’s tasteless jokes, friend hears the very real implied threat behind those words and looks shocked/uncomfortable/nervous, then I can respond in real time, either by calling out the behavior or (more safely) cutting off the conversation/visit. I used to think my family was very good at the subtle digs, but relaying some things and having them observed has proved to me that no, outsiders can totally spot how uncool that comment was because they haven’t spent their whole lives being told not to be “so dramatic” etc.

      • Glass Hurricane said:

        “Drama Queen” = we’re not comfortable when you assert your boundaries or discuss things that are important to you. I get this from my family as well. It seems the equation here is Our Comfort > Your Need to be Treated with Respect.

        • “the equation here is Our Comfort > Your Need to be Treated with Respect” This one million times. The husband has also changed this in my family because he won’t take the she-is-so-dramatic and you know because you’re one of the guys bait.

          • Glass Hurricane said:

            My husband is pretty great in this respect as well. He has the perspective that my family and I completely lack.

  9. I really love the parts of this response that are focused on enhancing your relationship with other family members away from JerkBrother. I think that is an excellent way to go.

    In terms of implementing that, as I see it you basically have two options. One is to simply rip the BandAid off, don’t be subtle, do everything at kind of all at once and expect pushback. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory so I’ll leave it be.

    Another option is to introduce it slowly – the Captain mentioned a year-long project I’ll expand on what that might look like. So, say in the next week/month you might ask your mom to do one different thing with you, “just us girls” like going shopping or going bowling or whatever ladies in your family do. And otherwise you continue to spend just a little less regular time with your family that you might normally do (using the awesome scripts above when you’re there). And then maybe next month you ask your dad to help you with your taxes or go fishing with you (or whatever you and your dad might do that wouldn’t include your brother). Over time you’re slowly decreasing the amount of time you’re spending with the whole family, and increasing the amount of one-on-one time.

    If you don’t want to rock the boat (and that’s totally up to you! if you feel in your heart that boat-rocking time has come then ROCK ON WITH YOUR BAD SELF, it sounds like your family could use it!) that might be a way to get things started that would be a little more subtle and deniable and begin to set up a pattern of interacting with your parents that doesn’t involve him. If anybody says “Well, why aren’t we including JerkBrother?” then big eyes and “But I just want to spend time with YOU, Mom/Dad” will work well on most parents. It also doesn’t offer the same amount of arguing potential that other ninja stuff like making plans when he’s busy, doing stuff he doesn’t like, only got three tickets, etc would do. I’d find that tempting myself, but it’s too easy to get responses like “Well he cancelled his plans to be with us” “We’ll buy another ticket” or whatever.

    • tawg said:

      I think also, being upfront with your parents (one-on-one) about not wanting to spend time with your sibling can help. So if you’re parents do make efforts to invite him along or include him, you might be able to pull one aside and explain that, nah, that’s really not what you were going for,

  10. Heather said:

    Seconding the rec to do stuff outside the Big Family Events set up with your other family members. My family, especially my mum, has a bad case of “every event is Christmas, and should involve all of us at a house that can fit us all (hers or her sisters)” and it kind of feels like that way, I never actually talk to any of my family much. Going to see my gran, minus her great-grandson, felt weird, but we talked more than we have in years, and that was good.

    H

    • Zooey said:

      Thirding this. I have a very large extended family and when we see one another, it’s often en masse. In the last few years, it’s happened that I have spent some more time in smaller groups / one-on-one with some members of my extended family; for example, I started going on holiday with my mum and her mum. I didn’t actively plan to get this kind of time with my family, but I have so enjoyed it and have found it really enriches my relationships. In my case there aren’t any toxic dynamics, but it is still nice to spend more intimate time together.

      I hope you can find a way forward, LW! Your situation sounds so painful and difficult to negotiate. It’s hard to break out of toxic dynamics, especially if some or all of the people involved have adopted denial as a coping strategy.

      • Kaz said:

        I have a very small family but have still found this to be true – group dynamics can be weird! I think there were a few years where I barely spoke to my brother at all beyond “hello” and “goodbye” because we’d only see each other over Christmas and he’d be focused on his daughter and I’d be focused on my mother and we just ended up not talking. Eventually I went “right, I’m going to make time to visit him at his place before or after I head to my parents'” and I’m really glad I did because it let us build up more of an actual relationship. (Not that I’m recommending this to the LW re: her brother – her brother sounds toxic, with mine it was just a case of us having had some unhealthy dynamics going on when we were teenagers and although we ended up breaking out of them it was hard to figure out how to relate to each other as adults after.) And I’m still hoping to be able to meet up with my cousins one-on-one at some point, because that’s another case of “we only have a relationship via other family members and not actually on our own” which I’d like to change.

  11. MellifluousDissent said:

    LW, is your brother secretly also my dad? Because I have lived this.

    My dad has never changed – I mostly just avoid, avoid avoid, and then disengage, disengage, disengage when I have to be around him. The one thing that did change was my mom, a little. She used to be a hardcore “that’s just how things are, you need to be the bigger person” (from when I was NINE – ummm, okay, sure, I’ll just be the bigger person than the giant male adult-shaped person who contributed half of my genetic material, that’s totally normal and not at all inappropriate to say to a kid, right?), but she has somewhat seen the light now, and it was one comment in particular that did it. Here’s what happened:

    Dad: Ranty-rant ranting rant rant angry random insult rant insult.
    Me: Hey, don’t talk to me about that, I don’t agree with you and I don’t want to hear it.
    Dad: Insult insult insult you’re stupid insult rant rant insult and did I mention you’re stupid?
    Me: *Blink* *Pause* (In voice you’d use to explain something to a toddler) You do realize no one ever in my life has ever spoken to me the way you speak to me? I am an adult and a ::insert profession here:: and I have 3 degrees and a husband and not once in my life has anyone but you spoken to me this way, because I don’t allow it.

    And then I walked out of the room as he sputtered. And then my mom came and found me and cried and was like “I’m just so used to him, and you’re so smart and strong, and…” (insert litany of excuses why she’d never stood up for me). She still doesn’t actively defend me, but she at least recognizes the importance of letting me defend myself however I see fit now, and that’s something.

    My point here is that you don’t have to take this. It’s not your job, it’s not something you owe him or your parents or anyone, and you are free to say and do whatever you need to say and do to protect yourself. Think about it this way – your brother is clearly prioritizing himself to the exclusion of others. Your parents are too – they’re prioritizing their own comfort over protecting you from your brother. If everyone else in the room is prioritizing him- or herself above everyone else, why shouldn’t you? Why are you the only one who doesn’t get to prioritize yourself? It’s b.s., and it’s unfair, and you don’t have to keep tolerating this.

    • wordiest said:

      Plus, I truly believe that the only way people like your dad or this letter writer’s brother will improve their people skills (if they ever will) is through reasonable consequences. It’s years of habits formed by lack of consequences that are the problem. If more people treated your dad that way, then he might change how he behaves. If more people treated the letter writer’s brother that way, he might change. I don’t think they’d magically become easy to get along with sweet people, but they might start slowly turning down the vitriol, because it no longer gets them what they want. You don’t owe your dad helpful consequences either, but it’s convenient that protecting yourself might also provide some small benefit to him. And it’s a useful thing to keep in mind, because if you’ve been taught for ages that standing up for yourself is mean, then it can help combat that jerkbrain notion.

      • MellifluousDissent said:

        Such a great point! That’s the thing – my dad *can* control himself when he needs to. I’ve seen him do it. It’s how he remains employed, and how he continues to move through the world without getting assaulted by strangers who would find his opinions and insults and rants repulsive enough to warrant punching. He chooses not to control himself at home because there are no consequences for what he does at home – he gets to be him, and everyone else (except, now, me) just adjusts around him, like one of those trees that gets forced to grow around a fence and ends up all weird-looking with a fence through the middle of the trunk. (Side note, before I had any clarity on my situation with my dad, I used to walk by a string of trees like this and it always made me cry, and I didn’t know why… ummm, duh, self. Duh.)

        I definitely don’t react to him from a place of “which consequences is he likely to learn from,” because, frankly, I don’t ever expect him to learn anything at all, but if I’m being honest about it, I have to admit that he IS quieter in my presence now (after about five years of repeated disengagement, sometimes after absurdly short intervals of attempted interaction, plus a period of total non-contact after a particularly egregious incident). Basically, my only goal around him is to protect myself – if he or my mom or my sibling or my extended family learn something by watching me do that, good for them, but my personal emotional safety and comfort is pretty much the only thing I care about when deciding how to engage with him. For those of us raised to be “good girls,” that can be incredibly difficult and can feel really selfish, but I reason that I’m a better person in life when I’m taking care of myself, so being “selfish” in the moment with my dad is actually creating a net benefit to the world because I’m a better person for it. 🙂

        • twomoogles said:

          Thank you, yes! I have so much side eye for these people who “just can’t help it” but still manage to hold down jobs and interact in society in ways they really wouldn’t be able to if they acted all the time the way they do at home. My dad’s similar (though he has mellowed with age/time/who knows, things were pretty awful growing up) and one of the things I always thought was that he managed to operate just fine around people who wouldn’t let him get away with this crap.

          I’m having a much milder situation now with a person in my social group. They always seem to “mean well” but are constantly saying things that are pretty insulting to other people, and behave in ways that are extremely self-centered. This person gets a lot of mileage out of saying things like, “well I just have no empathy, I’m not sensitive, I didn’t realize people would take it badly!” and people shrug it off, but…I’ve seen them control themself when they’re in a situation where they’re trying to impress somebody, so obviously they *do* understand what’s not an appropriate comment.

        • Feye said:

          I know this is a week-old post, but I had to contribute here. There’s a book by Dorothy Gilman called “The Tightrope Walker”, and a quote in that book made me cry the first time I read it.

          “A tree may be bent by harsh winds, but it is no less beautiful than the tree that grows in a sheltered nook, and often it bears the richer fruit.”

          That quote meant a lot to me, in a situation not unlike yours. It’s a marvelous book–most of her books are marvelous–if you ever feel like hunting it down.

          Congratulations on learning to overcome it the way you have and reaching a better place in your life!

    • Fishmongers' daughters said:

      If it’s not too personal, how do you feel when your mother says that “smart and strong” stuff to you? I know this post is mostly about your father, and I LOVE the way you shut down his insults, but this is what my abusive (narcissistic?) mother used to say to me, and I felt like it was her way of keeping the focus on my mean father and off her “you weren’t really raped when you were 15 because you didn’t fight off the 35-year-old and we will never discuss this with anyone and I’m disappointed with you” style of parenting. Even now, she randomly pops onto my facebook to tell me how smart and strong I am and it just feels so… fake? I’d love to hear how you’ve processed it, if you don’t mind sharing.

  12. blackcat said:

    “general umbrella of Boys Will Be Boys and Girls Will Behave Extra Hard To Set A Good Example.”

    That phrase hit me hard–I had never thought of my family dynamic of “Brother can get all the help he need but I am denied access to therapy when I requested it” was so inherently gendered, but I think it was. It’s been a decade since I lived at home, but I’m still angry about that. To be fair, my brother isn’t nearly as bad as the LW’s brother. But I have struggled with feeling punished for being independent and successful. For example, my brother gets to go on “family vacations” with my parents, but I don’t. My brother gets the benefit of the doubt when he makes a mistake, but I get criticized… It’s frustrating that these dynamics still exist despite my brother and I being well into adulthood (sorta, for him. He lives at home and does not work. Like the LW, I am the younger sibling).

    LW, I will second the advice of working on relationships with other family members. I am quite close to several aunts and cousins, and recently I’ve been trying harder with my grandmother, too (she and I didn’t have the best relationship when I was a teen because of her evangelizing–but she’s stopped that now. She was awesome when I was a little kid, and is now pretty good when I’m an adult. She was just an iffy grandma for in between and was very able to shift her approach with me when I entered adulthood. I have a lot of respect for that, particularly when watching my parents struggle to relate to now-adult me). My relationships to my extended family have meant so, so much to me as I’ve struggled with my relationships with my brother and my parents.

  13. x, said:

    Leave even if it means “embarrassing the family” or “making a scene” in front of Jesus, The Buddha, Prince, the ghost of Maya Angelou, Rogelio de la Vega, Captain America, and your city’s mayor.

    I just had to repeat this for emphasis! Beautiful!

    • #RogelioMyBrogelio

    • I don’t know about the other people on the list, but Captain America would not find the scene embarrassing for *you*. Steve has a long history of shouting at and punching people who were abusive and just wouldn’t quit. This was not always the best of plans, especially before he was a superhero, but it did not stop him.

      [/tangent]

      You might also be surprised to find out that there are non-fictional people about who will back you once you stand up. No guarantees, but sometimes it just takes one person to get the ball rolling.

  14. Laura said:

    I could almost be this LW. Because my brother, who is younger, could very well turn into this person. He does not yet spew Fox word for word, but he’s very dismissive of my feelings–or anyone else’s feelings, especially if they involve struggle or hardship, and is generally misogynist, homophobic, racist, ableist, etc. Luckily he doesn’t spew it as much, and my parents aren’t as dismissive–they do react when he does say those things. But they too don’t think they can influence him anymore, and are reluctant to rock the boat. I am so DONE with having to tolerate it. I find myself leaving the room quite often–and followed, most of the time. It’s really exhausting.

    • Guava said:

      My older brother has been slowly turning into this person over the past few years. It has been very painful, as we were always really close. In my case, he definitely has Fox News Talking Head Syndrome. I think there is a thing where privileged white cis guys have this fantasy that society owes them a gold star, and that indignant Tea Party conservative agenda really plays into their feelings of perceived victimhood when their wildest dreams don’t come true in adult life. The crappy part is that the rest of my family endorse this political stance, so I always got ganged up on when I disagreed.

      About a year ago we had a huge fight. It was a turning point, but not initially. What helped was for us to sit down and have a conversation that started with, “What do you want our relationship to be like? Do you still want to try to be close, or are you OK with distance?” Once we agreed that we both missed the closeness, I told him exactly what he was doing that was not OK with me. He did the same. I’m not gonna lie, it was a horrible conversation and I felt sick for weeks afterward. But we agreed on some boundaries, and so I could see a demonstration of good faith because he was sticking to them.

      But a year has gone by, and when he starts with the ranting now, I give him A Look and he gets flustered and stops talking, and then we change the subject to something less fraught. We found a couple other topics that we both like and they are the go-to’s now.

      So I guess I would say, for this LW and her brother, intention is everything. If he doesn’t have any intention of being nicer to her, then she needs to do whatever she can to protect herself.

      • Wow, kudos to you for choosing what kind of sibling relationship you want as adults. That head-on talk sounds really hard and painful, but it sounds like some good changes came out of it. I would love to have that kind of talk with my brother.

  15. slimlove said:

    LW, this part of the Captain’s advice really struck me: “Their fucked-up dynamic of daily life with your brother and the way he treats you only works if you all tacitly agree that it’s normal. If you stop agreeing that it’s okay and normal, then they might have to face some accountability for the way things have happened, or contemplate changing things in the future, and suddenly you might become the problem. In families where there is an identifiable “black sheep” and an identifiable “good kid,” you’d be surprised at how quickly those roles can flip around when a parent’s sense of control is threatened.”

    In my own family dynamic, after 30 years of being The Good Child (but also The Only Girl and so still expected to follow more rules/be more responsible than my brother, The Bad Child), I ran into a situation with my parents that I decided I just COULD NOT with. And so I’m now seen as the one who is being “difficult” and “mean” about the whole thing, and I’m frequently treated as though they’re all being so magnanimous in waiting out my childish rebellion.

    This has been very difficult to cope with. It plays on so many of my own neuroses and issues and triggers, and it makes me feel very small and unloved sometimes. It makes me question whether I’m right to set and enforce my own boundaries; maybe it would be better to compromise my own mental and emotional health to make them happy (note: it would not).

    But there’s a flip side to this too: as much as I struggle with dropping my good child identity, it’s also kind of liberating to own that role change. I AM THE BAD CHILD. That’s right, guys, I have angered my family and I am going to keep on doing it! I am not going to act like everything is normal! I am going to stand up for myself! I am going to believe that my needs are important and I am going to enforce my boundaries! My field of f*cks will remain barren!

    I hope that you’re able to implement some of the Captain’s advice and build a relationship with your parents that exists outside of your brother’s horrible behavior. But also know that if it becomes necessary, you can survive the transition to becoming the bad child. You may even find it freeing.

    • Astral said:

      High five from a fellow flipsider whose experience matches yours very closely!

    • onyx said:

      Going through this right now. I’m done with my brother; sick of trying to repair it one-sided. So I stopped bending over backwards to be nice. Always the star child, I’m suddenly “mean” and the one causing all the trouble and awkwardness in the house. Thank you for the encouragement. I AM THE BAD CHILD.

      • slimlove said:

        Say it loud, say it proud! Maybe we can get some t-shirts made…

  16. Dizzy said:

    LW, I’m a big fan of a Chosen Family. It can include your blood family, but it doesn’t have to.

    Right now, here’s what we know about your blood family: they are unpleasant. You have an actively Jerkface brother and passive Jerkface parents. You don’t enjoy their company because their Jerkface Jerkiness makes it unpleasant for you, and then you’re expected to smooth things over! As if it’s YOUR FAULT that your Jerkface brother treats you poorly.

    I know you want to have a good relationship with your family, and Captain’s boundaries will give you the best way to do it. But for me, I’ve found that one way to deal with unpleasant circumstances is to know that the unpleasantness isn’t the only way to get my needs met.

    For example: one of my dearest friends is estranged from her horrible family. She is unbelievably good at making a clan. When her husband died, her clan descended upon her and moved her out of her house into an apartment in under two days, and then after that there were so many people making sure her kid was looked after, that she was eating and that someone was with her when she grieved, if she needed it. Her blood family should have done that, but they’re terrible, so instead Aunt Dizzy and the Clan did it.

    Make yourself a chosen family. Invite your dearest friends to Christmas and don’t invite your blood family. Rely on your friends in times of crisis instead of your parents. Find people who can take the place of the people who aren’t living up to their titles. A work mentor or an older friend can step into the place of your parents; a dear friend can take the place of your brother.

    Having a family that isn’t your Jerkface family can make it easier to accept your Jerkface brother, because he and your Jerkface parents aren’t the only people who are fulfilling your needs. The plus side is, if your brother ever gets help and stops being an asshole, he can join your chosen family. If he doesn’t, oh well. Same thing with your parents.

    Good luck, LW.

    • Epiphyta said:

      So much “yes” to this: I just came back from spending the weekend with my honorary aunt and uncle, and it was everything I wanted and never received from the biological relations. People who invite you, are excited to see you, ask what you’d like to eat and then make it for you? It seems such a small thing, and it fills such a hole in the heart to receive it.

  17. Drew said:

    Another suggestion would be to lay some preliminary groundwork with your parents. Before your next visit, call them (if you’re sure Brother won’t be listening in) or email them and tell them that you need their help with Brother, because you will no longer put up with his hurtful, bigoted comments. Ask them to step in and quiet him down, or you will have to leave — and tell them that if they can’t commit to that, you won’t be able to visit them at home anymore.

    Script: “Parents, I love you guys and I love Brother, but Brother’s behavior and the things he says to me are hurtful and, honestly, bigoted. It seems like he goes out of his way to hurt me when I visit, and when you don’t step in to tell him that is unacceptable, I feel like you prioritize his well-being over mine. I need to know that when I visit, you will set limits with Brother and enforce those limits if he becomes abusive or insulting. If you can’t promise me that, I can’t come visit you at home anymore, because I will no longer be Brother’s chew toy.”

    As tempting as it would be to talk about Brother’s need for therapy or counseling, or your belief that he should be living on his own, I don’t think you want to go down that road. His relationship with your parents is for them to navigate. Focus on the parts of it that affect YOU and leave the rest for them to work on (or not).

    Jedi hugs if you want them. It’s horrible to feel unwelcome in your own parents’ home, especially when they are not the problem.

  18. Eureka said:

    I’m going to jump on the “Friend-date your parents” bandwagon. Invite them along on things that do not, can not, and absolutely WILL NOT involve your brother. The scripts for standing up to him are good ones, but honestly I think the less you actually deal with him–and feel as if you HAVE to deal with him–the better you’ll feel.

    You may get pushback from your parents. “But Brother loves the museum! I’ll just get him a pass when we get there.” And it can be really hard to say, “I’m sorry Mom, but if Brother comes along then I’m cancelling.”

    “But he’s your brother!”

    “Yes, he is. But until he can treat me with respect he can stay home.”

    Acknowledge, then stand your ground. You can do this–you moved out at 18, you’ve clearly made an awesome life for yourself. Remember that. And you can get all the Jedi hugs you need here.

  19. Godric said:

    This really resonated with me as well, but in a different way – I’m afraid I’m going to turn into the asshole brother, though I’m probably starting from a better place. It doesn’t sound like the relationship is salvageable, to me. After that many years of living together, either the parents know what he’s like and how hateful he is, or they are hateful, terrible people, themselves. Moving out at 18 was probably necessary.

    • Why are you afraid you’ll turn into him?

      • V said:

        I think that the very fact that you worry could prevent it. For what I’ve seen, it’s the lack of empathy and the entitlement that cause that. If you worry about others, then you wont be like that.

      • Godric said:

        Reasons I’m not is because 23 isn’t that old to still live with your parents while finishing a degree, and because I’m socially conscious and very anti-isms, but I have depressive swings and anger and self-loathing issues. Confessing on the internet, some details changed: yesterday I just lost my shit at my younger sister – she’s 17, very secure, and very conventionally successful (good grades, sports, has a job), and it bothers me more than I like to admit how much she thinks she is wonderful and great, and my life sucks (which is why I am a small, pathetic, bitter person). Also that she claims to be ’emotionally stronger’ than I am, although the hardest thing she has to deal with in her life is our parents not letting her go to a concert. When I was her age, I was dealing with realising I was trans in a conservative family, and self-harm, and now that I’m older I’m dealing with all that plus a recent diagnosis with a scary chronic illness, so there’s that. So perversely, it’s not so much that I’m worried about turning into asshole brother so much as being a person worthy of contempt. Wow, that got heavy fast. I’m planning on moving out within the year, because I don’t like myself when I’m at home. I’ve lived on my own before and I had less issues.

        • Godric, don’t apologize for your comment, it sounds like you’re dealing with a lot. Do you have anyone in your life who can help, or at least listen to you about this sort of thing? There’s a lot of self blame in your comment.

          If you don’t like yourself when you’re at home, who’s making it worse, is a good question. If when you leave it gets better, it sounds like it isn’t you.

        • Kate monster said:

          Jedi hugs. Good luck. I think I can understand the scary parallel you see because I have a friend/family member who may have turned this same anger and worry inward, while living with chronic illness and likely depression. But seeing fatalistic parallels is often (from my own experience) the voice of depression/jerkbrain. The commonality is just growing up with difference (and anguish?) without the necessary support and help.

          I like that you are thinking of how to improve your situation, and I am sorry that you have a sister who says hurtful things to you, perhaps because she can’t see beyond her own situation–there is more to the world than is dreamed of by her philosophy, but she will hopefully learn this in time.

          Thinking of you as a younger version of my friend, I urge you to build up a good Team You and see a counselor, call help-lines, etc.: you deserve to have someone fully listen to you, including what you feel vulnerable about, or your worries that you’ll turn into LW’s brother. (Even a great Team You may not have the necessary training or separation from you to hear some of this before you’ve processed it.)

          Finally, congrats on understanding yourself enough to know you’re trans, and I wish you all the best as you find ways to live authentically, as your whole self.

        • Eureka said:

          Oh, Godric, lots of Jedi hugs for you, too! I can understand why you’re worried.

          But here’s the thing: You’re trying. You’re actively questioning your behavior and your attitudes and all the things that feed into it, and most importantly you are taking active steps to be a better person.

          I hope you have, or can find, a good therapist. I hope you have, or can assemble, an amazing Team Godric. Because you’ve got a lot to deal with and even the most secure individuals can use a boost now and then. (I’m sure your sister will discover this for herself one day. Try not to laugh too hard when it happens.)

          You can do this. You’ve already started.

        • wordiest said:

          I really hope you can get good support, especially for physical and mental health issues. I also want to say, I was 24 when I became chronically ill. I know how incredibly frustrating it is to be a young adult, trying to put together some semblance of an independent life, not quite be there yet, but you can kinda see and dream about how it might go, and then be knocked way off that path by crap health. And it’s massively hard and painful. But I will also say, that even though my health is still terrible, and I am mostly in a holding pattern waiting for medical science breakthroughs, life did get easier. I got more used to coping with my health issues. I found more ways to make the best of what I had. I made a good social group that accepts that I’m partially housebound, and that’s just going to create difficulties and imbalances in socializing with me, but they’re okay with it. I hope your health problems can improve, and I really, really hope you can get to a point where it’s safe to be out as trans (I’m assuming you’re not out, if I’m wrong on that, then that’s great). But no matter how it goes, even some of the really bad scenarios that would have terrified me in my twenties can turn out to not be as bad to live as I’d thought. I was so scared of not getting better, and I haven’t gotten especially better, but my life got better anyhow. I hope things improve for you, and I’m glad you’ll be living on your own soon, since it does sound like a better environment for you.

        • I really hope you find a way to be kind to both yourself and your sister. The fixes that don’t work in these situations are ones that decide one party is awful and evil and the other is innocent and pure and unjustly attacked, so neither “She’s innocent and I’m an awful person” or “I’m innocent and she’s a bitch” will really help–the hard, necessary work is having compassion for everyone involved.

          • blackcat said:

            This is good advice. You may not know all that is going on with your sister, just as she may not understand what is going on with you. Part of having compassion for people is not jumping to conclusions or making judgements about their lives. Also, many a 17 year old is not as aware of the feelings as others as they will be when they grow up a bit more.

            Having compassion may mean changing some of your attitudes–this jumped out at me: “the hardest thing she has to deal with in her life is our parents not letting her go to a concert.” My brother yelled something similar at me, a week after I was raped. My parents did not challenge him on that. I never told him nor my parents.

            You do not live your sister’s life. She does not live yours. Neither of you know what the other’s experience really is, but that doesn’t mean that, with work, you can’t learn to have compassion for each other.

            You don’t want to be my brother, and that is a good first step. Therapy is a good second. And the distance can help, too, at least in the mean time.

            Good luck to you in your journey. It sounds like you are on the right track.

        • onyx said:

          Don’t let your sister get to you. We all said and thought a lot of ignorant, self-absorbed stuff when we were teens. Hopefully she’ll grow up and become more worldly. Until then, keep strong. Because you are strong. You fight every day.

  20. Fran Schamen said:

    tw: mention of abuse

    This is so on point it hurts. My brother is all this and a bag of chips. In addition to (still!) being a verbally abusive, close-minded sexist who bullies into every conversation, he was also physically abusive to me, too. I think what really hurts in situations like these is the invalidation you get from family members “oh, brothers are supposed to pick on their little sisters/so what if he’s mean, it’s not like he’s your spouse/dad/ somebody important/oh you kids, you never get along.” I’ve had people being very attentive up until the point mention it’s my brother get dismissive, because apparently siblings can’t abuse.
    Normalizing this kind of dysfunction under the guise of “just sibling stuff” has been my salmon ladder even in adulthood, sometimes i can jump over it, but mostly i just hit a wall or fall right back down in the water. I personally endorse Cap’s method, because it cuts off the main source of his ego feeding: your unspoken discomfort. Mold like him grow best in the dark.
    I can’t really bring myself to call my brother out verbally yet(whaddya know, physical abuse has made me gunshy, funny that) but often, when I find myself in conversation with someone else and bro is in the room, I turn my back to him, speaking only to the person I’m addressing. When he invariably says something, I don’t react, and I speak to the other person as if the statement never happened. It took a long time for me to get over feelings!dump (you’re being rude! you shouldn’t ignore people!) and realize that I don’t have to accommodate someone who’s intruding on MY private conversation with another person. If he says “it’s rude to ignore people” (note: usually it’s in passive-aggressive form and a more loaded statement) I say “it’s ruder to interrupt” ad go back to talking. It may not work for you, and this is in no way a “just ignore the problem and it’ll go away” statement, it’s just a tactic I’ve personally found useful.
    Sister hugs, LW. You deserve them and better.

    • Private Editor said:

      The idea that brothers are “supposed to” pick on their sisters is really disturbing and horrible. Far from it: when my dad saw my brother hit me with a wiffle bat (that’s a very lightweight hollow plastic baseball bat), Dad took it from him and broke it over his knee. There was not going to be any of that physical abuse shit in my parents’ house. I am so, so sorry that your family is excusing your brother’s behavior, because that shit is Not Right.

      • wordiest said:

        Wow, you have no idea how impressed with your father I am right now. I grew up in an era where bullying was “kids will be kids” and it wasn’t “real” child abuse if it was done to you by another kid, and besides tattling on another child (i.e. reporting abuse) was worse than being an abuser, and… and… your dad is awesome.

        • Private Editor said:

          He is pretty awesome, though every family has its faults (hello, passive-aggressiveness, how ya doin’?). School was a whole different world, though, full of mocking, mean-spirited behavior at the weirdo, unathletic, loudmouthed smart girl. That’s where I got the “kids will be kids” routine.

          I want to say that reading CA has been an education, and I have so much respect for this commentariat because so many of us have built terrifyingly amazing selves and terrifyingly amazing lives even out of terrible abuse and pain.

          Uh, rock on, is what I’m saying.

      • sorcharei said:

        The only time my dad ever spanked me was when I organized a group of neighborhood kids to ostracize and taunt another kid. I am in no way an advocate of corporal punishment, but what he said was “Bullying is so egregiously not okay that I feel I have to use extraordinarily bad punishment to make that point.” And you kmow what? I never bullied anyone again, ever. I don’t know if my dad remembers the incident — he might, since it’s the only time he ever laid a hand on me — but I will be forever grateful for his strong no-bullying ever message, delivered in the mid-1960s when such messages were rare.

        • Private Editor said:

          Your dad is awesome.

      • Yay! To your father! I

        • Private Editor said:

          Aw, thanks! 🙂

  21. Phira said:

    “We’ve given up on trying to influence him to behave himself, so we’re going to go with influencing you so at least there will be less conflict overall.”

    Oh my goodness, Captain. You’ve just verbalized what I’ve been going through with my sister for years.

  22. I don’t know if this comes off as manipulative, but I have an at least half-serious suggestion.

    Bring dessert.

    Something truly scrumptious. And if you don’t make it through dinner, take it home with you. All of it. Then share it with people you enjoy, possibly with the express purpose of comfort. “Didn’t make it through dinner with Brother. Who will come over and help me eat this cake and remind me there are folks who like both my company and my cake?”

    As childish as this sounds, people get it with concrete things, and they really get it with food. I don’t like reinforcing the dynamic of “everything is fine until Sister comes over, then it’s a scene and tension until she leaves. Maybe she should just stay gone,” for her family. I like reinforcing the narrative “dammit, why can’t you keep it together so we can have Sister’s lovely company/cake.”

    If you make it through dinner and get cake, it rewards everyone! Yaaaay, we kept it civil and get cake!

    I like cake.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Brilliant!
      She could even plan ahead and set up a small gathering of close friend(s) that happens right after her family gathering. If things go badly with brother, exit to eat cake with people who love her. If things go well, she can celebrate getting through it with people who love her.
      Cake and love either way!

    • DF said:

      This is the most amazing idea I’ve ever heard. 10/10, will recommend. ♥

    • Cactus said:

      Ohhh, this is sweet. And perfect. Totally turning the tables on Asshole Brother’s dynamic.

  23. Also, Sister? You are cake. Your company is cake. It is a treat bestowed upon the worthy.

    • cruelmistress said:

      This is one of the most beautiful things, I just can’t.

      • Eureka said:

        OMG, I’m going to have to use this next time my stepfather (? Maybe? the relationship is weird) is going to be at a family gathering.

    • Fish said:

      twistpeach, you are genius.

      My family actually started parroting the “everything is fine until Sister comes over, then it’s a scene and tension until she leaves. Maybe she should just stay gone” shit to my face, when ever I was on the phone, whenever I was there. Now I’ve chosen to stay gone, and suddenly its all “oh, but we love you and miss you, why can’t you tell”.

      If food might get them to vocalize that they love you, or give a shit about you, then it is worth it. Serious damage is done by “why don’t you just go away” followed by “it’s so unreasonable of you to leave us, because look how it hurts us”. Sure, logically you can be like “this is gaslighting and shit” but it eats at the brain.

      • Cactus said:

        “Serious damage is done by “why don’t you just go away” followed by “it’s so unreasonable of you to leave us, because look how it hurts us”.”

        Just wanted to quote this because of how perfect it is, and because I’ve dealt with this dynamic too many times. Reminds me of some Sleater-Kinney lyrics: “why do I always have to leave for you to want me here to stay?”

    • MellifluousDissent said:

      I’d like to nominate “you are cake” for inclusion in the official CA lexicon. Such a beautiful sentiment.

      • Epiphyta said:

        Seconded! twistpeach, that was magnificent.

  24. Muddie Mae said:

    OMG yes, co-sign all of this. I just had this exact conversation with my SO regarding their mother. SOMother probably does have legitimate mental health issues and trauma, and SOFather has been giving her a pass on horrible behavior 4evah because of said legitimate issues.

    It took me a long time and a lot of therapy to get to this place with my own mother. One interesting indirect effect is I’m actually *more* empathetic towards her than I was. I don’t know why that is.

    • Empathy and sympathy are different things. You can be empathetic towards someone and still go, “You’re being unreasonable and I’m not putting up with it.” Just because you see where they’re coming from doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.

    • Legitimate issues are a hell of a thing, in a way, because one wants to be compassionate and caring, but that can slide into enabling and giving passes to terribleness.

      One of my aunts, as a child, had a stroke that resulted mostly in personality changes. This is a TOTALLY LEGIT ISSUE, obviously — she had brain damage that altered her behavior. My grandparents decided to give her a pass on all her post-stroke behavioral changes; she essentially had to teach herself how to not be a giant raging asshole as an adult (she, hm, still has issues, but she’s much better than she was when I was a kid). All because my grandparents decided that an angry, frightened, brain-injured six-year-old should be allowed to act however she wanted…for her entire life. (It’s clearly not that my aunt couldn’t relearn that stuff, since she did so much of it on her own as an adult.)

      Don’t be my grandparents, fellow humans! Someone’s legitimate issues rarely turn them into malicious jerks; giving them passes to be malicious jerks is a much more likely cause!

  25. Glass Hurricane said:

    Take heart, LW. I have to deal with a jerk brother too. He’s not on any spectrum or anything – we were just raised to be very competitive with each other. Seriously – when we were growing up my mother often “jokingly” referred to one or the other of us “my favourite today”.

    I like my brother well enough when we’re alone but put us in a room with someone else (or, worst-case-scenario) one of my parents and he COMPETES. It’s totally over the top and I hate it. He verbally picks at me until I lash back at him and my parents reprimand me for rising to the bait. He starts picking at me until I’ve had enough and snap back and then my parents assume that we both take part.

    Example:

    Me: (at dinner table) Hey, I just finished reading (children’s book) and I thought it was…. (discusses thoughts on book to family)

    Brother: (interrupts) At least *I* read adult books.

    …Which is kind of funny because I have a degree in Literature and Classics, so at some point a reasonable human being would assume I’ve read a book or two intended for an adult audience. He’s a chef and wasn’t into reading until he finished high school.

    It’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to visit my parents if he’s going to be around and I don’t particularly want to see him if our respective significant others are going to be there. Worse yet – I watch him pick at his kids (10 and 6, respectively) the same way and it makes me see red. The kids know they’re being picked on and they don’t know why – but it hurts them all the same.

    I think I’m going to go with the Captain’s advice. Maybe my not-that-supportive family will show a little more support if I just don’t stand for it any more. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s in-family sexism but I can’t prove anything.

  26. Tilting at Windmills said:

    LW, please, please please excise ‘good’ from your vocabulary, as it applies to yourself.

    ‘Good’ means ‘never letting your needs become an inconvenience to others.’ ‘Good’ means ‘a reliable punching bag/dumping ground/carrier of Other People’s Baggage, as required.’ ‘Good’ is, shockingly, often highly gendered.

    A dog who stays off the sofa is good. You are a human being, and it is not your duty to be good so that others may continue to feel comfortable with the fact that you are being hurt.

    • Clementine Danger said:

      *slow clap*

    • I’m tearing up. Thank you.

    • Pithy Poets said:

      I’ll leave this here!

      “Wild Geese”
      by Mary Oliver

      You do not have to be good.
      You do not have to walk on your knees
      For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
      You only have to let the soft animal of your body
      love what it loves.
      Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
      Meanwhile the world goes on.
      Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
      are moving across the landscapes,
      over the prairies and the deep trees,
      the mountains and the rivers.
      Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
      are heading home again.
      Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
      the world offers itself to your imagination,
      calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
      over and over announcing your place
      in the family of things.

  27. DropTable~DropsMic said:

    “You have a brother problem, but that’s not the only problem. … Out of curiosity, how many times in your life have you been told to be patient with him, shushed if you yelled or fought back when he mistreated you, and groomed to tolerate how he acts by your parents? How many times have you heard variations of “He can’t help it, but you can!” or “Just ignore him!” or “You are lucky you don’t have his problems to deal with, so we expect more from you!” Girls whose brothers don’t have diagnosable things going on grow up hearing those messages, too, under the general umbrella of Boys Will Be Boys and Girls Will Behave Extra Hard To Set A Good Example. BTW, these messages all translate as “We’ve given up on trying to influence him to behave himself, so we’re going to go with influencing you so at least there will be less conflict overall.””

    This could have been written about my brother. I have no relationship with him now, because all my memories of him involve him abusing or antagonizing me in some way, and my parents basically treated it like it wasn’t an issue that he was acting hurtfully to me–whether it was 8-year-old brother poking me in the car or 16-year-old brother screaming at me, destroying my things, and writing nasty notes and pinning them to my door. Also, his bad behavior in high school got all kinds of attention from my parents, who ignored me and the suffering I was mostly taking out on myself at that time.

    I don’t know how well this applies to your situation because your brother is not my brother, you are not me, and our family dynamic is different, but when I was living with them last year between moves I told my parents that they were free to have him over for dinner if they wanted, but they should tell me first so I could find somewhere else to be. They were upset about it but it really helped that I had my own car at that point and could plan on nope-ing the fuck out of there if they didn’t respect my request. I have personally run out of fucks to give about any awkwardness that may be caused by being explicit about not wanting to have brother around. I figure any awkwardness that exist originated in his behavior and has been enabled by my parents and it’s not my job to manage it.

    I really appreciate the Captain’s analysis. I feel like there are so many girls who grow up in similar situations to this and it doesn’t get talked about the ways that other toxic family dynamics do.

  28. efmather2006 said:

    I have a version of this brother as well. He’s an alcoholic now in recovery, and has been sober for close to 4 years now, after close to 30 years of alcohol abuse. While he is a much more even tempered version of the former almost-always-drunk guy, he has not lost his less than charming personality traits, which include similar kinds of racism/sexism/homophobia that others have mentioned. In his case, he’s nearly 51 years old and attempting to bridge a lot of maturity and development in 4 years that he lost over the past 30. In some respects, he’s emotionally almost 30 years old already. In others, he’s still an 10-year-old kid trying to get a rise out of everyone, which is where his nasty remarks come in. I wouldn’t say it’s harassment in our case, but it is similar to a form of Internet trolling. My mother, who he lives with, has learned to shut it down. I have learned to either walk away when necessary or change the subject with a non-reaction. Sometimes this works.
    I still wouldn’t we have a proper brother-sister relationship, and we probably never will; we simply don’t have enough healthy emotional connection- who can after years of addiction, but he’s not the Dreaded he was even a few years ago. That’s not nearly touching all the enabling issues in my family, in which the vast majority of the men are and were alcohol abusers in some fashion, and the women are doing their job by being enablers/smooth overs/ covering up for the “problem” guy. It’s a long pattern of conditioned behavior, so I try to forgive myself when I run up against it.

  29. Did anyone else see a parallel to how LW is treated in her nuclear family and the general pattern of an abusive relationship? Like, the relationship situation she was in as she grew up could have made her less able to recognize an abusive relationship?

    As someone who has a dysfunctional family, and then relationship issues, I think therapy/counseling could be very beneficial. It definitely helped me when I was in a tough situation.

    • Paulina said:

      Yes, and I was glad to see the recommendation for counselling. Growing up with an abusive relationship can “train” people into subconsciously putting up with other abuse and ignoring warning signs. What may start out as a coping mechanism to deal with the forced familial relationship can leave people less able to assert boundaries in general.

  30. Taiga said:

    This part should be printed, framed and hung on a wall because how often are we told that so-and-so “can’t help it” when they can and do?
    “…remind yourself that he has choices about his views and how he chooses to express them. He has choices about the kind of relationship he wants with you. Does he act this way at work? Did he act this way at school? Does he treat his boss and all his coworkers the way he treats you? Or does he just choose to antagonize you, his little sister, specifically, at home, where he can get away with it?”

    • Light said:

      Yesyesyes! These kind of people don’t “pick on” their boss. They go after safe targets. They don’t blow up at the office, they save it for home, where they can get away with it.

  31. soukup said:

    Seconding everything the Captain said. Spot-on, CA.

    Also, an idea: have you considered just being incredibly blunt and inviting your brother to work with you on your relationship as siblings and try and make it better? Because his total lack of consideration for you is so striking that I kind of wonder what answer he would give to that question. If you tell him that you care about him, that you wish things were better between you, and you ask him if he’s willing to work with you on that, what does he say?

    If he says, “Of course I want to have a good relationship, what kind of question is that?” then you get an opening to explain the main points of the stuff you put in your letter. (From how you’ve described him, it sounds like he will probably get reeeeally defensive, reeeally fast. But this is as good a way as any to break the ice and broach the idea with him that you would like together to work to make things better.)

    If he says, “Our relationship is fine, don’t be ridiculous,” or some other denial/dismissal, you have a good opportunity to stop him in his tracks — even if he resists, *find a way* to get his attention and don’t let him derail this — and say, “Actually this relationship has felt really terrible to me for a long time. I really don’t like the way you treat me. For example…”

    If he says, “Whatever, I don’t care, leave me alone, this is a lame conversation and I’m not interested in having it,” or some other version of avoidance/dsimissal, that’s good information for you right there. If he’s not willing to even talk about this, then it’s probably time you stopped trying so hard with this guy who clearly doesn’t care about you. (You can revisit it in a few years if you feel the urge, but I will so totally not judge you if you just feel like walking away forever.)

    If he says, “Fuck off, I don’t even like you anyway,” then it’s definitely time to believe him and stop trying.

    Good luck, LW. I really hope that your brother can hear that you’re unhappy and will be willing to work with you to try and fix it. Also, just to be clear: I have suggested the above conversation *only* because you seem in your letter like you’re not ready to write this off as a lost cause, like you still want to keep trying and see if you can salvage it somehow. But I really hope that I am not coming off like I think that this situation is your responsibility to address or to fix, because it isn’t. Also, just so you know, if I were in your shoes I think I would be deciding to avoid him for the rest of our lives, and if you decide to take that road then that also sounds like a totally smart and reasonable and self-preservation-y way to handle this. Do whatever makes you happy.

    • winter said:

      I feel like he would laugh at the original offer you mention. Or use any vulnerability the LW would show to get back at her. I mean it’s always an option to ask. As other commenters have mentioned, abusive people tend to use it against you if you open up…

      • Brisvegan said:

        Yes, I would be concerned that any time the LW tried to put a boundary on the relationship after that, he would claim she was hurting him and not trying to work on the relationship.

        YMMV, but I have seen too many abusive family situations where “lets work on our relationship” ends up being code for “let me keep stomping all over your feelings while I ignore your needs, because you offering to work on the relationship means you agree to keep me happy.” It’s an abuser’s way to make the victim responsible for “fixing” the abuse. If the abuser is then unhappy, the victim has failed to “work on the relationship” and so deserves the abuse.

  32. Dear LW

    WOW the Cap’n – and the Army – have been totally on target with suggestions and analysis.

    My heart hurts for you, it is so horrible to feel abandoned and un acknowledged by parents as well as abused by your bro.

    I just want to reiterate: a person can have a mental illness (I do!) and be nice. Your brother has to stop acting rotten, his issues are not yours and shouldn’t be foisted on you.

    All the Jedi Hugs if you want them

  33. My bipolar, possibly-aspie older brother used to behave in very much the same way toward me… it turned out that he was secretly drinking very, very heavily. Once he went to rehab and got sober, he became much more pleasant to be around, and the political rants, insults, etc., stopped. I mean, he still gets fixated on things and monopolizes conversations, but now it’s about how he’s rebuilding his computer or about his new cell phone, not about how I’m the cause of everything bad in his life, etc. If this behavior is relatively new, letter-writer, perhaps something like a substance-abuse issue is contributing?

    I had actually pretty much cut off contact with my brother for a while — it was tough, since he lives with my mom. But I couldn’t deal with the emotional abuse anymore (he would send me long, vicious emails listing all the ways I’m an awful person, and all the ways that I have ruined his life, just out of the blue. He’d call me and rail at me about politics for hours — he’s conservative, I’m very liberal. He would pick fights about ANYTHING. And I got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore — I blocked him on Facebook, stopped answering his emails, and didn’t answer my phone when he called. It took me a while after he went to rehab to let my guard down a little with him, and now we talk on the phone and text a couple times a week, and we have a good time whenever my husband and I visit. But I still steer clear of politics with him, and have him blocked on FB, since those two things really tend to set him off.

  34. BugabooBear said:

    “If you stop agreeing that it’s okay and normal, then they might have to face some accountability for the way things have happened, or contemplate changing things in the future, and suddenly you might become the problem. In families where there is an identifiable “black sheep” and an identifiable “good kid,” you’d be surprised at how quickly those roles can flip around when a parent’s sense of control is threatened.”

    Co-signed as the previous Golden Child who is now the hated family pariah for pointing out that abuse is abuse.

    Not even sorry.

  35. TO_Ont said:

    Are there options to keep up with your parents other than visiting them at their house? Inviting them out to dinner (or to your house), finding a special shared activity you do with each of them, inviting them to your house, etc? You don’t have to have a big family get-together each time you meet your parents, especially if you’re inviting them – it can be just ‘a special time with me and my parents’. Especially if you can start the habit of more one-on-one activities with each of them (where the one-on-one part is understood to be part of the point) you might be able to make some new traditions.

  36. Commander Banana said:

    I have pretty much exactly this same dynamic and situation in my family, so all my sympathies to you, LW. It does really hurt that my parents can’t/won’t stand up to my brother or kick him out, for Reasons unclear to me and unarticulatable by them, but it’s their house, and if they’d rather spend their golden years tiptoeing around the Entitlemonster they’ve created than living a peaceful, less-screamy life, that’s on them.

    I’ve tried all the “I” statements and made all the concessions I’m wiling to make, and now I just don’t talk to my brother at all. If he tries to talk to me, I smile vacantly at the wall behind his head and make a non-sequitur of a statement (Obama isn’t an American citizen? I made trifle today, it was good.) and I spend as much time with my parents outside of the house as possible.

    It’s sucks, and I’m sorry. The light at the end of the tunnel is knowing I’m inheriting the house when they die, and I fully intend to turn him out and sell it.

  37. Divizna said:

    I’d like to append with this: You are not obliged to interact with your family. At all. Should you not want to see your brother or your parents this time or for some period or ever, you are in your full right if you follow your wish. If you want to spend time with them, that’s great, but if you do it just out of some perceived duty, allow yourself not to.

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