Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.
Toxic brother - feeling guilty about going nc(20 Posts)
Hello MN, could do with a bit of handholding as I try to navigate my dysfunctional immediate family - input from anyone with similar experiences would be appreciated.
I am in my early thirties and have a brother who is less than 18 months older than me. We have a younger sister too who is 7ish years younger than us, so for much of our childhood it was just me and him.
We didn't get on as teenagers, which was aggravated by us both being sent to boarding school aged 10&11. I had a pretty terrible time and was bullied by the girls I shared a room with for years - I finally left after four years and went to a local state school where I immediately made friends and was a lot happier (although struggled with depression and self-harm as I had little self-esteem left after being bullied 24/7). He stayed on at boarding school until leaving for university, living in a boarding house full of teenage boys. He'd come home in the holidays and find it very hard and as a consequence would be very unpleasant to be around.
In the limited time that we were living together (school holidays only) we didn't get on at all. He would be quite cruel to me, spoil things I left about, go in my room and ruin things I liked, make things difficult for me etc. No individual act was huge so I always looked petty complaining but it added up to be quite miserable to be around him. The dynamic was always that he'd wind me up and when I got wound up would be told it was my fault for rising to it, to just ignore it.
This has pretty much continued ever since, except we're now both adults. I was pretty low contact with my family through my twenties, seeing them as little as once a year. I didn't feel that I could be honest about my life - I didn't come out to them until I was 29, didn't tell them I had many visible tattoos until I was 30! My family in general is quite dysfunctional, largely from all the kids getting sent away to school at different points, both parents working away at times. When I was doing my a-levels both siblings were off at boarding school and both parents were working away leaving me alone at home most of the week. Getting myself up for school, revising for exams alone etc. It was lonely and I was very happy to leave home and make my own life.
I spent my twenties having various adventures including living abroad, travelling a fair bit and doing human rights work. I didn't see my family including my brother much at all, but did find a group of friends that became a surrogate family. I'd always go to friends for support and encouragement rather than my family, and I feel lucky to have them.
In the meantime my brother worked an office job and climbed the ladder, so he is now doing well, owns his own house, travels a lot etc. But he isn't particularly happy and doesn't really have any friends. He's never introduced a partner to the family and I think spends a lot of time alone. I think spending his entire adolescence in an all male institution was damaging for him, and he basically lost normal family life aged 11.
I'd consider myself the black sheep of the family and in the past have felt quite sorry for myself about it, which I've now moved beyond. I'm content in the life I've built, am in a very healthy and supportive relationship and am currently pregnant with a baby who was planned and much hoped for. Compared to my brother I earn peanuts, but I have a respected 'hero' type job that my parents make a big deal of - and which has largely counterbalanced how weird I am to them! I feel like they've finally accepted that I paddle my own canoe and while they thought I was going off the rails as a teenager I was actually just working out how I wanted to be.
The problem is that things with my brother have become more and more toxic, to the point of total meltdown last Christmas. For years I would have to work every Christmas so I'd go and see my family a few days later. From the first year this happened he specifically left in time to avoid me. Literally leaving hours before I arrived, leaving no present for me or any communication. This continued for a few years - I kind of got that he resented me coming home to tea and medals and it made him jealous. But it seemed quite petty - which I played into, not getting him presents either or talking to him about it.
I didn't see him for three years until I visited my parents to introduce my then-new partner a couple of years ago. He was unpleasant to be around, making boorish jokes and creating a tense atmosphere. Then disappearing off to watch TV while we went for a walk. I spent a long time debriefing with my partner on the way home and did spend a lot of time thinking about why he finds me difficult, and why he struggles around family. I get that he is insecure and unhappy and that I push his buttons. I've always had friends and had a strong sense of self- he found this quite laughable and pathetic when I was a cliche angsty teenager wearing black and rebelling but in the long run I think being happy to be weird had meant I'm a lot more content than he is.
I resolved to try harder with him - as a teenager I would retaliate to him by being mean but I haven't done so for years. I would certainly never make low blows about the things I know he struggles with, like not having friends. But then I probably don't need to. I planned telling my parents I was pregnant a bit before xmas because I didn't want to make it hard for him by scene-stealing on actual xmas day (I didn't have to work it due to being pregnant so did a family Christmas for the first time in years). I got his number off my sister and texted him to tell him the news so he heard it first hand.
I was prepared for Christmas to be a bit difficult. I was expecting him to try and wind me up about Brexit, Trump, etc so had really steeled myself to stay out of it and not get upset. I managed ok for the first 24 hours or so but he really just got
more and more belligerent. Meal times were the worst because we'd be trapped round a table with him. After his first jokes didn't get a reaction he got more offensive, saying homophobic things (me and my partner are both bisexual), making comments about fat people and then escalating further to making anti-Semitic comments on two separate occasions. These would be met with an awkward silence by my parents and sister, but eventually I started getting wound up and telling him to go and eat somewhere else. This would immediately escalate things and he'd get aggressive with me, then my parents would kind of shout us both down and silence would be restored. They'd tell me not to rise to it, just like when I was a teenager. He's never been told not to intentionally provoke me. By the last meal I was choking my food down and fighting the urge to grab my partner and leave. On xmas day me and DP went for a nap just to have a break from him for a couple of hours. I had tried really hard not to get wound up but he just got worse and worse.
If he was mean about me personally I'd find it easier to ignore because there's nothing he can say about my life that'd really hurt. But when he comes out with political bile (which I don't think he even believes) I do struggle. I care deeply about things - I spent a fair amount of time at the Jungle in Calais last year for example doing medical work, and it was pretty emotionally devastating to work with lone children and make friends there. He can say horrible stuff about refugees and it doesn't mean anything to him, but it really upsets me. It's basically the one leverage he has over me and he knows it.
This wasn't supposed to be an essay so I'll stop oversharing... Basically I made it through Christmas until just as we were leaving then a confrontation flared which ended with me crying and really upset. While he was shouting at me I felt myself choking up and even tried to will myself not to cry in case he thought it was manipulative! But I'm not a robot and there's a limit so I ended up in tears and leaving shortly after.
I've talked it through a lot with my DP and I think it wasn't too shocking that it got so bad. I think I push his buttons, and the happier I am the more he hates me. Coming back for Christmas with a partner and pregnant pushed him over the edge and he was nastier and nastier to me in an attempt to make me leave. I do get why he finds me difficult but I also don't know what I could ever do to get round that, other than have my life fall apart so he feels that fairness is restored, or detach myself from the family which I have already done for a long time and I'm trying to rebuild a little as I get older. His behaviour is clearly rooted in unhappiness but even understanding that, it's so toxic to be around.
I decided to go no contact with him after Christmas, because I realised that I have no memory of him being nice to me since we were kids. This isn't a rough patch for him, and he's not working on his issues. I don't know what it will take to make him reflect a little but as it is I can absolutely imagine him aged 50 doing the same thing, except even more bitter that he doesn't have the life he feels entitled to. Christmas was throughly miserable and it seems masochistic to put myself, my DP and future kid through that.
I've told my family that I don't want to see him - it's not difficult for them as we all live far apart and don't meet up much anyway. I have one elderly and unwell grandparent and I'm preparing myself to navigate her funeral at some point but other than can probably avoid him for years. It feels quite freeing to finally say enough is enough. But I'm also struggling with the feeling that I've helped cause a rift in the family, and feel like a failure that I'll have a sibling I don't talk to. I don't want my parents to have to take sides but also feel frustrated that he never seems to have any comeback for his behaviour. They never challenge him which leaves me feeling very isolated - and when things blow up they're not affected. I've found myself detaching from them again which feels sad after I've tried in recent years to rebuild things, especially as I'm pregnant. I feel like he's bullying me out of the family, but also like if I insist on staying put then I'm just subjecting myself to more aggression from him. So it's lose-lose.
I was very upset for a couple of weeks after Christmas but I do have my own life and good friends so there's not a gaping family shaped hole, but I feel sad a lot and have had anxiety dreams where my parents trick me into seeing him. I've had bad pregnancy insomnia and will sometimes get stuck thinking about it all when I can't sleep.
I'm not sure what advice I need! Maybe just some reassurance that it's ok to cut contact. Or advice from someone who relates- or is in this situation a few years down the line. I'm not trying to make myself out to be a helpless victim, but I have also thought about things so much and tried so hard to be friendly and non-confrontational with him. I hope I don't sound smug about my job and life - I am quite self-critical and certainly don't have as rosy a view of my job as most people do. But those aren't nuances that my brother has ever been interested in so I don't think he takes them into consideration. I think fundamentally he sees me as the favourite, whereas my actual experience is of having a very guarded and limited relationship with my family.
Sorry for the essay!
Jeez this was long! In my defence I've spent a lot of insomnia hours reading through huge threads so maybe someone out there is sleep deprived and will read the whole thing...
I can see why you spend a lot of time thinking about this, as I can tell you'd like to be able resolve any issues and have pleasant family time when you see your family. But it seems like you brother and your parents don't want to address or change anything. Going NC with your brother seems reasonable. At events like Christmas, can you find out when your brother is visiting and avoid seeing your parents then, visit the week before or after?
You are not to blame for your brother getting riled, it's his problem. He doesn't seem to have much insight into that though, sadly for him.
Thanks for your reply assassinated - I was about to report my own post for deletion in a fit of shame for writing so much. I do think about it a lot because I've been so up for trying to work things out. But I've come to realise that I can't improve things by myself and yes, he really has no insight.
It will be easy to avoid him really- and he can have xmas because I'd rather have a family one at home anyway. I think I just need to detach from it all a bit and see how it plays out longer term.
Don't be ashamed of expressing your thoughts on this, it's clearly important to you and I can see why you're thinking about it a lot given the impending addition to your household (congratulations!).
I would emphasise again that you are not at all responsible for causing a family rift, in fact you have been amazingly tolerant of some very bad behaviour. Your parents and your brother are wholly responsible.
I tend to think that there's never any guarantee that siblings will always get on, even in the best of circumstances. So please don't feel like you need to be responsible for any "failure" in the relationship.
Didn't want to read and run. Just to say that he sounds like a right arsehole. And I don't think you have caused a rift in your family, he has, together with your parents (sounds like they don't handle it very well at all). You're entitled to choose in favour of living a happy, relaxed, loving life and it sounds like you're doing just that. Good for you!!
When he is around you he is miserable, spiteful, and rude. When you are around him you are stressed and unhappy. Going no contact makes sense for both your sakes. It sounds like your parents understand and that it will be workable as you live so far apart and your brother doesn't seem to want to spend time with you either.
You gave it your best shot. It isn't your fault that he'd rather be unpleasant than be part of your family (you, your DP, and your child). Please don't think of yourself as a failure. It takes two people to make a successful relationship. When one person just isn't interested, it doesn't matter how much energy the other person puts in, how nice and kind they are, how much they try to be what the other person wants and needs - it will never work.
Please don't feel guilty about your parents either. We reap what we sow. Fostering healthy family relationships were not important to them when you were children, they have no right to complain that you and your brother do not have a healthy relationship now.
Have you talked to your parents about how you feel and why they won't challenge him?
Given the distance can you not work at a relationship with your parents and sister without your brother?
it is quite 'free-ing' when you come to the realisation that his problems are caused by jealousy, sadness and spite, OP. BUT, it doesn't mean that they can get away with it, just because they are sad, or jealous or whatever. And you do not need to subject yourself to it, jsut because he is your brother.
I am NC with my father (25 years) and toxic sister (6 years) and I recognise their petty jealousies, and blame-passing. I don't miss them. Occasionally I'll get mum say 'but he's your father!' or 'She's your sister!' in an effort to guilt me into contact with them, but that's it.
Focus on yourself and your life.
Good luck with the pregnancy.
He's hurting and he's projecting all his hurt on you. He's very angry and again, projecting all of his anger on you. It isn't you, its him. With hurt, anger and jealousy (there's that too) comes a determination to punish the person they think 'has it all'.
You are that person.
My advice would be to kill him with kindness. Ignore the no present giving, send him a present and a card. Ignore the nastiness when you meet up with him and give him a hug. Reject the feelings of hurt that you have and see him for what he really is: a very hurt, unhappy, lonely, isolated person with no love in his life and no-one to care for, no-one to care for him.
You are the bigger person here if you can dig deep inside yourself and forgive him by understanding his pain.
He's looking for a reaction, a connection and it matters not if that connection is as negative as you describe. It makes him feel alive not dead inside while you, by comparison, are very much alive, very happy and very fulfilled.
Its bloody sad OP.
for you. Sounds like you have tried very very hard to be accommodating in the face of your arsehole brother. I'd be underwhelmed at the rest of the family who let him behave like a child, making you the one to try and "manage" him.
NC is the only option. It's not your responsibility to make it OK. Your parents have abdicated that and let him be vile to you. Protect yourself from him because they clearly won't. His issues are not your fault.
And congratulations on your pregnancy. Sounds like you'll be a great mum. And not, for example, let your kid be hassled by an unhappy family member.
Thank you so much to everyone that has replied, it's really appreciated.
I think it does feel like the right decision to cut contact. I suppose the next part is accepting that my family are going to continue pretending it isn't happening and making my peace with that. I discussed things a bit with them after xmas but it just unearthed more dysfunction. My DF wouldn't discuss it, my DM couldn't listen to me without derailing to talk about herself, ended up offloading on me about her relationship with my DF which is a long term habit I've been trying to escape from. My DS was sympathetic but very much caught in the middle and trying to calm everything down. She still meets up with my brother which I find hard but am working to make peace with.
Pallas, your take on things is where I'd got to this time last year. Once I had a bit of perspective on the situation (largely through having my partner witness things and talking it through a lot) my instinct was very much to work on things and to be quite generous towards him. I recognised that being petty back was immediately satisfying but long term harmful and resolved to take the high ground. In retrospect I think I spent too much time thinking about what it is about me that is difficult for him, and trying to tone those things down. I think fundamentally if my happiness makes him resentful, I can't win. Christmas felt like a situation where I was never going to leave without feeling horrible, and it feels masochistic to continue to keep trying with someone so determined to upset me. If anything, I think any hint that I feel sorry for him or understand that he's unhappy aggravates things hugely as it makes him feel more inadequate. But I would still always try that approach first, and don't regret trying for as long as I did.
He's a prize prick. Please stop making excuses for him.
I wouldn't have told him personally you were having a baby, congrats btw . That tells him you actually give a shit about him! He normally leaves your parents house at christmas before you leave. Texting him prior to the occassion gave him time to address his strategies to bring your happy state tumbling. He didn't have a meltdown. Announcing your happy news at the table would have been a meltdown.
You can't live your life feeling responsible for other people's thought processes in adult life. As a child or teenager yes, I'd accept that. Your brother is Mr Angry 1st class.
For what it's worth. Advice ^^ about going no contact is about right. Detach, become disinterested and eventually you'll reach the state of emotional nirvana and not give a shiney shit.
I'm nc with my brother. He is not a nice person and not someone I want my dc exposed to. He's very charming but also racist, sexist and homophobic as well as very aggressive and unpleasant if challenged.
There is no way I would put up with anyone else as vile as him so I dont see why I should just because we happen to be related.
I know it upsets my mum sometimes but to be honest her utopian dream of family get together was totally false anyway and I would just be waiting for him to be unpleasant and bullying
Just do it, if you happen to come across him just say hello and then leave asap, don't engage nc if any other the other family mention him just nod disinterestedly.
Seriously, you will find it such a relief.
Just wanted to add. If you go nc. Your brother will not have you as attack position. You are the infantry to your parents HQ. He's also got his beef with you, but you are cannon fodder.
the next part is accepting that my family are going to continue pretending it isn't happening and making my peace with that
You are very astute: that's exactly the next step I went through with my parents after going NC with my brother 10ish yrs ago. DF blamed me (asked what I'd done to provoke fuckwit bro), but other than an email saying he'd like it if me and FWBro talked, now never mentions it. DM pretends it isn't happening but tells me FWBro news in our infrequent calls/emails. I couldn't give a shiny shit about his news, but I just nod and
It probably helps I was emotionally distanced from my parents before it all blew up. But that's another story .
I see them occasionally so my DD knows them a bit, but I have to concentrate
drink a bit to let their bullshit wash over me. They live in some fantasy land, but that's their choice, their loss. I struggled for years to try and jolt them out if it. Meetups are much calmer now I've just accepted it.
FWBro has seen DD (aged 7) twice, once accidentally, no cards/presents for her except one he left at my parents house (presumably as a bribe) to try and get me to do something for him (I refused). Very much his loss.
What comes across to me is that you are blaming yourself for how your brother behaves toward you. I think this is how your parents have conditioned the situation in all of you. He gets to taunt you but is never told off for it, while if you rise to the bait, your parents tell you not to.
Maybe your parents now feel guilty that their packing him off to boarding school has caused this and it is their fault, so they tolerate his behavioiur. That does not mean you have to, though. Whatever the cause, be it nurture or nature, they are enabling his awful behaviour.
You sound well-balanced, happy and self aware. Those are not things you should have to apologise to your brother for, or feel guilty about because he lacks them. His upbringing is not your fault either. You are not repsonsible for him in any way.
You are absolutely right to go no contact with him, because your parents are hamstringing you when you are all together, and you are effectively left defenceless.
Give youreself a break from him, maybe a permananet one.
And having RTFT, I think the fact that you have dreams where your parents trick you into meeting him says a lot about where their sympathies seem to lie.
There is more than a hint of golden child / scapegoat in the situation.
Yep. Should feel no guilt for lowering or ending contact with the lot of them.
Your brother is a product of your parents and you should leave them too it.
Ask your sister not to share any info with them unless you specifically say and don't put her in the middle by discussing it with her. Just have a relationship outside of family.
And next time he says something and you can't avoid him just look at him with pity and say 'I am so sorry you are so unhappy. To say something like that shows how sad you are. I hope you get help and I wish you the best' then leave
that will annoy him
I echo what everyone else has said.
possibly he was jealous when you got to 'come home' as a teenager but otherwise his behaviour is unforgivable. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
AND YOUR PARENTS SHOULD BE HANGING THEIR HEADS IN SHAME.
In a nutshell he bullied a pregnant woman to the point of emotional collapse and still no one called him out on his appalling behaviour??!!
Go NC. Try mediation & mindfulness. Live life, you only have one, and it's a nice one that you built for yourself. Good for you xx
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now »
Already registered? Log in with:
Please login first.