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Toxic brother(22 Posts)
My brother and I are in our 30s.
We didn't have it particularly easy as children and grew up in a very dysfunctional home due to our parents' alcohol dependence and volatile moods. I was older and I picked on him as a child and probably caused him a range of lifelong insecurities as a result. I feel guilty.
Fast forward to now, we salvaged our sibling relationship in our 20s and got along well until recent months. DB has OCD and mental health problems which cause him to self-harm under stress. He has been getting help with this for a number of years, I too have bouts of depression and anxiety which I'm guessing was caused by our turbulent upbringing.
I have children and a long term partner who isn't perfect but has a very stable, calming influence on me, DB is married to a woman who has huge outbursts of anger and is v.nasty to members of our family. They have separated on several occasions and have a volatile relationship.
DB and I recently had a disagreement over our Aunt's will during her death and this led to him sending me quite a nasty message calling me a range of names along with a request not to respond to the message as he would go and self-harm if I said anything unkind back to him. I therefore never responded and have pretended the message wasn't sent, however I've had a lot of anger and frustration because of this. I was also v close to my Aunt as I lived with her during my teens where as he wasn't particularly close and there were references about me thinking I was 'special' in there. I'm struggling with the bereavement overall and been referred for counselling. I feel I can't talk to him about it.
My DM who is not perfect, has re-built her life after the traumatic marriage to my DF often receives nasty messages from DB after a disagreementbwhich tell her not to respond or DB will self harm etc and she feels like she can't say anything either. DBs wife recently sent DM a disgusting message of foul language because she apparently bought more christmas presents for everyone else and not her. DM has just lost her sister, they were extremely close and she is in bits. I can't believe that SIL would do this. However, DB again has told DM not to rock the boat or respond to the horrible messages, to act as if they were never sent, otherwise he will go and self-harm. DM'S hands are tied and she's furious and upset.
Then in the last few days, I've been in contact with DB about DMs 65th birthday and asked him for half the money towards a family celebration which we have both agreed to arrange for her. He has refused and said he is spending enough money on presents for her and expects me to foot the bill! I've responded that I also planned on buying her nice gifts and can't afford to do both. He's sent a sarcastic message back.
I'm fed up of not being able to respond to him for fear of inflicting this self-harm/OCD. It's getting ridiculous. He's arrogant, controlling and is using it to walk all over both DM and I, along with his wife.
I know a lot of people will probably tell me to cut him off completely, but it's not that easy as he's a fantastic Uncle to my children who absolutely adore him. I don't know what to do. I feel he can say what he wants to us whilst we're supposed to take it all for fear of the consequences? He has even sent pictures to DM in the past showing the wounds that she apparently inflicted on him.
DM is not perfect and causes us problems at times, but he's just not taking responsibility for himself at all. I've no idea what to do here. DH has said I ought to try and keep the peace as much as possible, but I'm not sure doing it at the detriment of my self-respect is particularly worth it.
He's being very manipulative with his threats of self-harm and I personally would ignore them. I say that as someone who self-harmed for years -it never occurred to me to threaten anyone with it; it was very private. If he's prepared to dole out nasty messages, he has no right to say you can't reply to them. It's massively bullying behaviour.
I'd distance myself. Maybe still arrange for him to see your children every now and then if you feel like it would hurt them not to see him (and that he isn't a corrupting influence on them) but keep contact of your own accord to a minimum.
Has he ever had therapy?
He's been in therapy for a few years, but I know that his therapist and him have discovered his childhood and family as his triggers. Therefore he blames us entirely for his problems. I know my treatment of him as a child was definitely a cause. But I feel he uses it as a way of avoiding taking any responsibility himself and he almost appears empowered by that knowledge now and thinks it's ok to go around bullying everyone into doing what he wants.
He forgets that it was tough for me too and appears quite self absorbed and very self-centred about his own experience.
I would detach and detach some more - probably not a full blown NC but just have less and less to do with him. E.g. if I want to do something for my mum I would just arrange it as something I and my family are doing for her and not include DB - so no big fancy family party - but take her out for a special day and/or a special meal. Then there is no reason for the communication. I would let mum know that this is my plan - let her see how it works and suggest it to her, but ultimately how she deals with his blackmail can only be her decision. You can only be responsible for your actions in dealing with your brother.
There's definitely a whiff of 'it's all in the past' about your posts and you accusations that your brother is capitalising on his horrific childhood at the hands of you and your parents to somehow wreak havoc on your current lives just seem detached.
Everyone is responsible for their role in relationship dynamics, even more so in toxic ones and the expectation that you can change the dynamic without modifying your own behaviour is just plain wrong. You have a choice whether you continue to expose yourself to your brother's behaviour, not exercising that choice, is still a choice and you need to take responsibility for that choice.
Your brother has complex MH issues which most probably originated in his upbringing in a toxic and abusive home. I'm not mitigating his current behaviour but do you really think it compares to what you both and him in particular, suffered during your childhoods? This is who he is and the tradgedy of your brother were seeded in his formative years and just because you're are all older now, doesn't magically change that.
Your toxic and dysfunctional upbringing left scars and if there's a chance of healing them everyone (not just your brother) who was involved needs to work together.
Isetan: we both had a very dysfunctional upbringing as I've pointed out in my OP. I fully acknowledge I wasn't kind to him as a child, but this was obviously a direct result of my own experience of life with our parents. I was actually very badly treated by my DF, DB had a fairly pleasant relationship with him under the circumstances. I therefore refuse to take this out on my child self who was clearly struggling and suffering too.
"I know a lot of people will probably tell me to cut him off completely, but it's not that easy as he's a fantastic Uncle to my children who absolutely adore him"
How is he exactly a fantastic uncle to your children?. I doubt very much they adore him either; you simply think that they do. He is a terrible role model of a person for your children to be seeing. They are seeing you as their mother being treated so badly by him so what messages are being received here?. You're showing them that his treatment of you is currently acceptable. The best thing you can do is to have no contact with him.
Keeping the peace does not work either; it simply rewards bad behaviour.
I really can't criticise him as an uncle, they really do adore him and he's very attentive with them. But no, there doesn't seem to be an awful lot of respect for me, their mother. Perhaps it's better to just distance as some posters have suggested rather than NC which is bound to cause huge familial rift and drama
How do your children adore this man, how attentive is he really with them?. You do not seem to have any real benchmark here. If he has no respect for you as their mother, he really has no respect for these children either. Do you really want to teach your children that your brother abusing you is something actually acceptable to you?
The way to stop the dysfunction that you suffered is not to further perpetuate it further with your own children. You grew up in a dysfunctional family, you are still playing out the roles assigned to you back then. He is still walking all over you.
Going no contact is an example of setting boundaries and protecting your own self from further abuse. You certainly need to put both physical and mental distance now between you and he.
The website below may be of some use to you:-
Thanks for the link. I think NC is something to think about but certainly not something to jump into head first.
Keeping the peace does not work either; it simply rewards bad behaviour.
I can't agree with this. There is a middle ground that can be found imo (and ime). If boundaried it doesn't reward bad behaviour.
Re the incendiary texts: I think you can say you will respond to them - of he doesn't want the response then he must stop sending them. Sadly, therapy can sometimes become enabling of the monstrous self-absorption, so common with those of us who have been damaged in childhood, has not been wrestled under control. It is therapy that can reward bad behaviour.
Boundaries are the way to go. Calmly, even kindly, but solid.
You have a really interesting take on things Springy. I think you're right, too much therapy definitely enables self absorption, this is speaking from my own experience. I used to be obsessed with fixing myself, self-help books, counsellors, CBT, you name it. I was actually neglecting my family in the process. I think it also runs the risk of condoning negative behaviours rather than healthily empathising with feelings and emotions.
I'm not sure how you wrestle the self absorption, but it's certainly a problem as an adult of a damaged childhood.
Well it's a bit of a vicious cycle. We crouch over our wounded selves and can become obsessed with finding any way to ease the pain. Yet the more we focus on ourselves the sicker we get. Especially socially.
There is a place for finding out what happened to us - it's a process. Ime I became more and more obsessed with plumbing the depths to release my pain somehow. And that made me a crashing, self -obsessed bore. Which alienated me. Which compounded my feelings of rejection, oddness, social ineptitude. And around and around it goes...
It wasn't until I said 'enough!' and started to give out, to think of the other person (with all their faults!), to challenge my exceptionally high standards (especially when it came to other people!), to chill a bit, accept I am fucked up.. But so what? So are most people, in their way. I got sick of being sick, in essence.
I wouldn't underestimate the serious damage a siblings rejection can do to someone. No wonder he clings to his wife.
It doesn't matter how shit someone's childhood is, to send messages full of abusive language and then to add "you can't say anything or I'll harm myself" is equally shitty.
He has even sent pictures to DM in the past showing the wounds that she apparently inflicted on him This is just awful.
Either you take responsibility at a certain point for your own behaviour, or you head down a very bad road - for yourself, as well as the people around you.
It's not about the moral high ground or who did what when, it's about what's happening right now.
It's very hard system but I think after a certain point you have to accept that HE is responsible for HIS actions - including cutting / damaging himself. It -is- hard. But so is being on the receiving end of hate mail and this kind of crap.
At the moment you are something of a helpless victim because he can be as abusive as he likes, and you cannot stand your own ground in any way.
I would say to him after a certain point "If there are any more mails / texts like this one, I am not going to read any more texts from you. Your behaviour is your responsibility"
Try if you can to keep calm; emotional detachment. it's dreadful when someone makes their self-harm your responsibility, it's very difficult to apportion responsibility where it actually lies (with them); but rolling over and taking the abuse will not help him in the long run, because he will only get worse. The core of this is not the self-harm actually, it's that he wants to shift responsibility and make his problems into everyone else's.
I'm sorry to say that he might indeed cut himself. But in the end, and this is hard, you have to find your own place to stand and your own boundaries.
You all need boundaries. He isn't he only one with health issues.
You could tell him, face to face, that if he send abusive texts you will block his number. Suggest when he needs to vent that he do it in an email he doesn't send, or a letter he doesn't post. He is clearly still carrying loads of rage and needs to find a healthier way to express it.
Tell him you care, but for the sake of your DCs you cannot allow yourself to become ill because of his behaviour.
Thanks all. I think what makes the messages so difficult to deal with is that he actually comes in from a stance of moral high ground. He makes loads of valid points and then masks them with manipulation and emotional blackmail. DM receives much worse than this; this one isnt too bad. This is an actual text he sent me recently after I disagreed with him about an aspect of my Aunts Will. He seemed to take it personally and refers to the way I "treated" him after I disagreed with him and we argued. We were equally unkind to each other. Also, his "balanced" view is rarely balanced. I either agree with him or he basically takes it personally and gets nasty or very arrogant and sarcastic.
"Just to let you know if you've tried to contact me before last night I wouldn't know as I blocked your number after you were a complete cow. All I was doing was putting a balanced view across and there was no need to treat me like that. I've got too much on my plate to deal with your crap hence me blocking your number. I had to sit on a car park for 2 hours after that as I was that angry and upset in how you behaved it's the only way I could control my self-harm, I don't trust myself when I feel like that and you should have known better instead of being selfish. I've said what I've needed to now forget about it, if you try and argue with me after you've read this text I'll block your number again."
if he's taking everything personally, then somehow what you say is threatening him. At least he perceives it that way. That comes, I think, when you feel very unsafe inside yourself.
But that is within him and as long as you are reasonable and calm then you have done all you can. It's hard not to respond to insults like being called 'selfish' sometimes (or alternatively to get very irritated), but it's much better not to.
I feel sorry for your mother; from what you've said this text is very much a light example. Also for him, he's obviously in a lot of pain; but it's not ok to take it out on you.
In the end, I think you need to not read the texts and not respond. If you do (and you are calm and reasonable) then you have done all you can.
When you're dealing with someone who runs on emotion, you need to have the knack of getting through to them to elicit more reasonable behaviour. In your case there's too much past history between you.
Also, I think you should ask for this post with the text on to be removed, it was private and he might have a very reasonable objection to it being put on a forum.
There aren't any valid points in that text. Sorry you need to manage such a tricky situation.
If he can behave brilliantly around your children then there is something odd going on.
He may have more choice and control than he admits and be choosing to behave like this.
You may have a trauma bond- just being with each other reinvokes all the trauma you experienced as children. It may be better for both of you if you do not actually have contact. Keep it for the kids and your DH if he is prepared to facilitate family relationships, but directly btn you two. For both your sakes.
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