Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
My brother has lots of problems, but he doesn’t realize that the real problem is HIM. He doesn’t have it bad, and he’s had a good education and opportunities. But he has this attitude that has ripped many of the opportunities apart. I think he alienated, or isolated himself from, more people than I can count. He has the idea in his head that he is supposed to be treated a certain way, and that everyone should anticipate his moods and needs. If he asks a question and you reply in a tone of voice that he deems “dissing me”, he will react immediately by getting nasty himself. This sort of reaction goes on all the time- someone will make an innocent remark and he will decide they are ignoring him or attacking him or pressuring him or… god knows what. He will respond by acting like a snarling weasel. It is very hurtful and disturbing to be on the receiving end of this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to him in a neutral tone of voice and asked a reasonable question, but because he was going through something in his head I couldn’t see, he has responded to me by biting my head off and accusing me of harassing or pressuring him. If he wasn’t my brother, I’d just tell him to go to hell like everyone else has. But he’s capable of being sweet and making jokes. He turns it off and on like a video clip. There’s something under it all I don’t trust and don’t like.
what do you think? Should I avoid him, or try to maintain family ties?
Dear Miss Understood,
This is a question that I really cannot answer for you. He is your family so you have to decide. However, I would offer a word of caution: always keep in mind what’s your stuff versus what’s someone else’s stuff. With a personality like your brother’s, you need to maintain your self-respect by maintaining absolute neutrality. You cannot change him, understand him or fix him. Do not argue with his reality as that is the surest way of being drawn into it. You might suggest that he seems to be in some turmoil and perhaps counseling or medication might help… but beyond that, it’s his issues not yours.
If you have kids, debrief them about his behavior. Talk with them after visits and make clear what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable in your own house. This preempts poor role modeling issues.
It would be a huge mistake for him to live with you or you with him. His behavior is abusive. It makes no difference what the underlying cause may be; mental illness and trauma are not excuses for the mistreatment of others.
Good luck and maintain healthy boundaries,
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: I’m curious as to what your brother does for a living. I am guessing it is not public relations.
When I was younger, I used to try to accommodate people who were irascible and difficult, attempting to change them through rational role modeling and evolved thinking. When I got older, I realized that it was all a freakin’ waste of time.
Nobody changes who does not want to change, unless the type of change we are talking about is the removal of a limb by a freak accident. I know that he is your brother, and I am guessing that you would torture yourself with guilt if you simply abandoned him to his own odious devices, so I won’t advise that. But I would limit my exposure, and use the simple method of walking away when he begins spewing negative energy. We are affected by the energy of those around us. This is not the type of energy you want to be affected by.