I'm writing about my brother, because I don't know how to help him and I feel like my relationship (and my family’s relationship) with him is slipping away.
We are from a family of 4 kids, two girls and two boys with a 15 year gap between the oldest and youngest. We grew up on a farm and didn’t have a lot; however, we did have very loving and attentive parents. They gave us all they could. Our family had been part of our small farming community for ages and we were known for being hard working and very intelligent.
The brother I am writing about is the second to youngest child. I am the youngest. He was, from a young age, always in trouble. He always followed the wrong crowd. He was arrested as a teen for smoking pot in the locker room. And then, less than 6 months later, he was arrested as an accomplice in a burglary (his buddies had failed to tell him, the only one with a car and a license, that they were going to rob a local business to snag some beer). Thankfully, nothing (aside from minor parking violations) has been added to his rap sheet since.
My parents didn’t take his activities lightly (what good parents would?) and did things like take his car away, ground him, give him a curfew, etc. After staying clean and out of trouble for about 6 months, my parents gradually began giving him his privileges back (even though I think he maybe just learned to get better at hiding things – he was always secretive). In fact, much to my chagrin, they started rewarding him for good behavior. They helped him get his first car (okay, they GAVE him his first car), and they helped him with his tuition for college.
It wasn’t long after he was being given these privileges that he started abusing them again. For example, he drove the car he was given for a year and a half without ever changing the oil (and he grew up on a farm, where each one of us could change the oil on the big Case tractor… let alone a small sedan) and completely trashed it. After my Dad had painstakingly replaced the engine, my brother then drove on semi-flat tires and ruined the rims. He kept letting things go until the car just no longer functioned. Then, he was given another vehicle by my eldest brother. He drove that car into the ground. Then he was given a vehicle by my cousin. Again, he ruined that vehicle just by being careless. The last vehicle he drove was my Dad’s main form of transportation, which my Dad had begrudgingly loaned him until they could find a way to help him out (at this point, he was living in a small city with public transportation near his work and his college). He not only ruined the engine in that vehicle, too, but he also failed to tell my father. Needless to say, my Dad was pretty upset when he got a call from the City Impound Lot after the vehicle had sat in the same spot and received too many parking tickets to count.
My brother has also always been bad with finances. My grandfather used to give us a very generous $5 for each A we earned in school. My brother never saved – his funds were always spent on the latest video game (or the latest five) the next week. After my parents started helping him out with college, he really started to abuse their help. For example, he had a reserve line of $1000 on his checking account that he maxed out 3 times in 1 year (which, by the way, we have no idea how he did that… he has nothing to show for it!). My parents bailed him out each time. After enough coaxing from my siblings and I, my parents decided that they were enabling him and would stop. Although it wasn’t until this past year (my brother has been out of school for 2 years now) that they closed down the joint checking account they had with him from when he was a teenager.
Though all of this, my parents have been nothing but supportive. Sure they’ve given ‘tough love’ at times, but they’ve always told him that they were there for him, despite what has happened. My siblings and I, though we want to see him flourish, will not speak to him about these issues anymore. When confronted, he gets verbally abusive and intolerable to be around. This verbally (and in my case, sometimes physically) abusive behavior is more directed towards women. In fact, he is even somewhat aggressive towards women when not confronted. For example, his greeting to me this last Christmas when I drove 2 hours in a blizzard to pick him up was a slap across the face with a heavy hand (let’s just say I’m glad I live 12 hours away sometimes). I yelled ‘what did you do that for?’ while clutching my stinging cheek. He just laughed.
My sister-in-law has also experienced this behavior from him. My eldest brother, as a result, will not let him be alone with her. After my eldest brother and my sister-in-law told my parents about this, my Mom spoke with my brother about how women interpret behavior. I can’t say I’ve seen a change.
If this isn’t enough, I am constantly upset with him for how he treats my parents. After all they’ve done for him, he refuses to answer the phone unless he needs something. For example, my Dad’s sister passed away after a long and gruesome struggle with cancer the other week and the nearest airport is in the town where my brother lives. My Dad needed my brother’s assistance getting to and from the airport. My brother, even knowing that our Aunt had passed, wouldn’t answer the phone or reply to an e-mail. Why? I couldn’t tell you. When he does answer, he acts very paranoid; more secretive than usual.
My other siblings and I have recently been trying to figure out how to help him. We were all raised in the same house and the rest of us are law-abiding, hard-working people with liberal Christian values who respect our parents and, in general, those around us. We agree that he got more help while growing up (the rest of us paid for our own college and cars…due to careful saving, I bought my first car the year he was given his), but we also agreed that there was something about him that just seemed to need more. He was always demanding attention, even if it was the wrong kind.
My eldest brother and my sister have questioned whether or not he is gay. They maintain that some of his anger toward women could be because he’s gay. He seems to have very good relationships with guys – for example, he met my boyfriend for the first time this Christmas and immediately made my boyfriend feel like part of the family – he even got him overpriced Celtics courtside tickets as a present.
I don’t really agree with this theory because he’s made comments about “that chick is hot” around me before. Granted, he’s only ever had one girlfriend (in high school, and only for about 2 weeks) that I know of. If he was gay, my Mom may take issue with it, but I know that the rest of us would be supportive – we have other family members who are part of the gay/lesbian community.
We’ve also discussed that we think he might be smoking pot (and/or something heavier) and, hence, the seeming paranoia when my parents call and the constant secrecy. I see truth in this theory, especially after he maxed out his line of credit 3 times and, afterwards, had nothing to show. Maybe this money went towards drugs and alcohol.
I also think he has issues because of his weight. He’s significantly overweight (though I don’t think he could be classified as obese) and this has always been a touchy subject with him. I think this may be the cause of some of his behaviors, but also a result of several of his behaviors.
Regardless of all the theories we purport, my siblings and myself know that we all feel like our relationship with him is slipping. I’m not going to lie and say that he and I have always been on the best of terms (I was the responsible ‘baby’ of the family, thin, pretty, intelligent, went to an Ivy League School…I didn’t intentionally try to compete with him, but I think he thought I was always trying to out-perform him in some manner), but I would like to have a better relationship with him.
I’ve recently been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that, even though it isn’t fatal in and of itself, it could lead to an earlier death for me if I’m not careful (I’m currently in my mid-20’s). I’ve been blessed to have the support of my family throughout this diagnoses and recent treatments, with the exception of the brother in question. I would love to have him in my life, happy about who he is, what he does and a proud supporter of the Golden Rule. Please help!
My teacher once said, if you always "turn the other cheek, you might get your head cut off the next time." Your brother sounds rather out of control. After slapping his sister-in-law, it might have been more appropriate to be charged with assault and battery, than for his mom to have a chat with him about how women interpret behavior. His behavior sounds at best to be some expression of deep anger, or to be drug-induced, and at worst, sounds down right sociopathic.
I couldn't guess what's really going on with him, but your drug abuse theory seems like a pretty strong possibility.
What's clear to me, is that he's gotten far too many chances, and too many handouts, long after he's disrespected and insulted the whole family repeatedly. Continuing to offer support to a person who doesn't even show any effort to take responsibility for his bad behavior simply doesn't work.
The better attitude would be "when you get your life together and show some genuine respect, I'll be here for you," rather than "we're here for you no matter what - even if we don't like your behavior, we still love you." That second approach might work for a 7 year old kid who is acting out - but not for an adult.
Don't subject yourself to abuse.
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist
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