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I already asked this question before, and it was deleted for being off-topic (also because I did not check back for too long, and thus was unable to adjust my post according to the comments / the commenters did not see my changes.)


The question: (hopefully not off-topic now - many thanks to the people who commented the other post)

How to better react to my brother when he overreacts to small things, seeing them as intolerable 'disrespectfulness', or when he expects special rights? What reaction could cause him to re-think his reaction / his state of being-hurt?

(If that's not possible, it would be nice to at least be able to lead a normal, non-argument conversation with him, without having to make too many concessions. It could also help to understand why my brother is reacting this way.)

Additional information: We're a family of four, in a 'western' country. I am 25, my brother is 22. He lives with our parents again and is currently not doing anything, I am visiting our parents place every other week or so.

Typical problem situations:

  • He expects to have 'time alone' in the kitchen. He does not want to cook food while people are around; he will state this to the people in question ('around' here is in rooms adjacent to the kitchen; one of them has to be passed to get to the kitchen.) [He has some money to buy food (not enough for eating out every meal), he even could cook in another kitchen in another flat if he asked].
  • When my father told me about something he's done (most recent, the bottle smashing, see below), that's "talking behind his back", and hurtful to him - when asked why exactly this is hurtful, he did not give a reason but replied "don't you see what sick person this [our dad] is" (that's a frequent statement of his)
    • I would understand it, if my dad had done more than just stating a fact, and if I had not directly told/confronted my brother about this; but to me this does not seem like 'talking behind someones back'.
  • Insults: Here are two religious examples - my brother became a Muslim a couple of years ago - but there are other examples as well. E.g, criticism of all sort is seen as insult.
    • He is against letting the dog be inside during the night (religious reasons); when my dad did some research on the view of dogs in islam, and talked to my brother about what he'd found, this was an insult to my brother (maybe doubting his knowledge was the insult).
    • On another occasion, my dad read a book very sceptical about the islamic faith, and claimed that the prophet might not even have existed. This was an insult to my brother (and not, for example, a 'different opinion').

More extreme situation:

  • Smashing a bottle in my mothers room and leaving it for her to clean, after walking in on her being in the bathtub - he faults her for forgetting to lock.

What I, and my parents, have tried:

  • When we were on better terms, I tried to talk to him about instances where he felt treated unfairly by others, and tried to offer different points of view, or just a more moderate reaction. (People didn't always treat him right, but there are more useful reactions than just feeling offended.) He listened, and in generally did not seem to take it badly, but it also did not change anything. Of course, my knowledge of these cases was usually limited, and therefore he might just have been thinking 'she doesn't understand the situation anyway'.
  • Telling him he was overreacting considerably -- since then we're on bad terms.
  • Reacting pissed (no effect so far)
  • Telling him it is quite hurtful to be told he cannot stand me being physically present -- his reply was that 'You would not even know what it means to be hurt, otherwise you would not behave the way you do'. (To a further question, he replied that yes, it's indeed us that have hurt him so badly.)
  • We have tried factual arguments and logical arguments. There were very long discussions, sometimes ending angrily, sometimes not, but I don't remember ever having reached consensus.
  • By now, my father just ignores him or shoots back sharply (without arguments).
  • My mother is generally very friendly and careful towards him, often stating (to him) that she wants that he feels at home and has everything he needs. She is generally ignoring any attacks from him. -- In some sort he is reacting positively to this; for example, these days he from time to time he says (to her) she's not the problem. However, it does not seem to change his behaviour in general. And he will still dig up her 'mistakes' another time. (A few months ago, he used to say similar things to me, like 'you're not the one, it's our mum and dad'.)
  • My mother has suggested to him to go see a psychologist. He does not want to because he does not think his behaviour should be changed in any way.

Maybe this is exaggerated, but it feels like having lost a family member. Any help would really be appreciated.

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    Can you think of any triggers that might have caused the increase in violent activity? – TheRealLester Jul 31 '18 at 23:40
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    Why are your parents tolerating this behavior? – Erik Aug 1 '18 at 5:29
  • @Erik They might not know how to do that - they have never been strict at all. They tend to want to make it right for everybody, especially their son. – questionasker Aug 1 '18 at 5:53
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    Did he tell you what makes him thinking that he can set rules in_your parents_ flat/house? And is there a reason why he doesn't move out, if he thinks everything is so bad? – Arsak Aug 1 '18 at 6:22
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    @Marzipanherz he doesn't have the money to move out. And he doesn't want to work to earn the money to do so, also because his one experience with working life was not very good. I've pointed out to him a couple of times that obviously, it can't be that bad for him at my parents place if he's still there. However, I think he somehow assumes to have the right to certain things, because moving out would be somewhat 'hard' (i.e., no one yet threw at him a flat offer plus offer to take on the rent). And he seems to think the things he expects are 'common sense'. – questionasker Aug 1 '18 at 6:38
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This behavior has gone well past the point where you can easily solve it on your own, at least not with words. If your brother won't listen to you and your parents' legitimate concerns and frustrations, then you either need to kick him out of the house, or bring in outside help.

You mention he is religious, does he attend any particular mosque or follow a particular religious leader? If so, go to that person and ask for his advice and help.

For example, I searched and found numerous examples of where Islam unequivocally requires a child respect his parents. Coming from you, this information might create an ugly situation, but he should receive it better if it comes from from a respected clergyman. Clergy are often trained to mediate and resolve conflicts using scripture and other religious doctrine. While you and your parents may not be of your brother's faith, it should be helpful to listen with an open mind.

If this is not an option, and asking him to move out is also not an option, then the best solution is to stop enabling his abusive behavior. Treat him as you would any child or young adult throwing a temper tantrum. Keep calm and patient, but don't give in to his demands. Explain to him, calmly, that it's not his house and it's not his rules. If he wants to make the rules, he should go live in his own house.

Don't get angry. As long as he uses anger, undefined guilt, recrimination, and other childish tools as weapons against you, don't listen to anything he has to say. Simply ignore him, or politely tell him that you're not going to obey his "orders". His only choices are either find a way to live in harmony with the rest of you, or live somewhere else.

That being said: If he becomes violent, or threatens any of you with physical harm, you must consider calling the police to have him held for psychiatric evaluation. I'm not saying this is true of your brother, but there are far too many cases where family resisted recognizing the warning signs until it was too late.

  • I'll accept this answer now; it has good suggestions for both me and my parents. We've actually already tried the clergyman, but probably this particular clergyman was not enough of an authority. – questionasker Aug 2 '18 at 11:53
  • 'Deescalation without worsening things (enabling)' might be the only option for now, given what my parents are willing to do. – questionasker Aug 2 '18 at 11:54
  • @questionasker If possible, find a religious leader that your brother respects, preferably some respected person from local mosque he (hopefully) attends. You may have to do some research and ask others in his mosque who they recommend to help in this kind of situation, since some might be better at it than others. This is probably your best option, since it connects through something he already believes. – Andrew Aug 10 '18 at 13:53
  • However, if this is not an option, then again the only thing you can do is stop reacting to his tantrums. Unfortunately this can make things worse, and he might get violent in order to be noticed. If that is the case, try to gently remind him he is now an adult, not a child, and therefore required to act like one. If he chooses to use force, then you might have no other choice than to use force in return. If you think he'll listen to you, then suggest he get involved in some martial art or combat sport like boxing, where he can learn that force should be respected, not abused. – Andrew Aug 10 '18 at 13:58
5

This is a grudge.

Your brother is not acting like this because he wants attention, as Andrew suggested above, or because he wants to control other people (hence Andrew's suggestion to "ignore his tantrums" is wrong and will backfire sooner or later). This is also not so much about little things like letting the dog in or leaving the kitchen to him - though these situations may indeed annoy him, he would not act like this in a normal roommate setting, and would probably try to communicate and cooperatively negotiate boundaries instead.

No, your brother is aggressive because he is angry.

I don't know what he is angry about exactly, but it must have happened long ago and hurt him deeply. The main target of his anger is your father (the "sick man"), but you and your mother also become targets when you are perceived as allies of your father - this explains why sometimes "you are not the problem" and at other times you very much are. It may be the case that everything seemed normal for a while when he moved out of the house, but the underlying issue was always there, and the sudden stress of a lifestyle change may have triggered a form of post-traumatic stress.

Furthermore, your brother probably wasn't really that much affected by a bad work experience; the main problem is that deep down he doesn't want to find a job and move out because he can't move on from his past trauma. He feels that he has unfinished business, so to speak, against your father, but is confused as to how to find closure and is trapped in a vicious cycle: he gets petty revenge through the behaviour you describe, and then he is further damaged by perpetuating an unhealthy family relationship - and then becomes even more bitter. You and your mother are the collateral damage here.

If I am right, your brother is in a lot of pain. Moreover, he does not know how to deal with this pain as an adult. He feels deeply wronged by your father, and this turns into a desire to hurt your father back, and in the process he is destroying his own life and dragging down the rest of the family as well. For the moment, he can't fully love and trust you or your mother, because of your relationship with your father. Perhaps he is refusing therapy because he feels that therapy can't give him closure unless the father is somehow punished.


What you should do

Now, this whole interpretation of mine may look like wild conjecture, but I think it's probable enough to warrant investigation.

  • Please ask your brother if he hates your father. If the answer is yes, or teary eyes, you know what's going on.

  • Don't ask why, as that may be a painful question - even if your father never intended to hurt your brother and had his best interests in mind, a parent can inadvertently do enormous damage to a child.

  • Don't judge the feeling. Accept that the pain is real.

  • Assure him that whatever it is that caused him this much damage should never have happened, and in that respect he has your support (note that this does not mean that you have to approve of his actions or share his sentiment of bitterness, just that you should validate his perception that whatever hurt him in the past was wrong).

  • Then give him an outside perspective of his current situation, how it's damaging everyone, and how he hasn't been doing himself any favours. Hopefully at that point he will be receptive.


Why you should do it

The reason I'm suggesting this is because your case has striking similarities with one I know very well.

Person A was severely depressed (to the point that they stopped showering for months) and hostile towards their family, and did not seem to want to get better. The reason, unknown to most people for a long time, was precisely a deep-seated problem with the father.

The father died, and A was still suffering: they were still angry, but now with no one to be angry at.

Things started to get better after A had a heart-to-heart with their sister. After that point the family relationships started to mend and A was able to start moving on, get on the job market etc.

Some family members know the problem, others still do not. The key interaction was the emotional communication with the sister.

Good luck.

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I think that there are a two options here depending on how willing your parents are to hear your input on the situation. If you consider your brother's assessment of your parents unfair, then you should discuss your concerns privately with your parents. Explain your perspective, listen to their perspective, and arrive at a consensus for how to address the problem. If your parents are not interested in your perspective, then I would try your mother's approach until you can get into a position where you can remove or distance yourself from the situation. Treading carefully around your brother may not mitigate all of his outbursts, but it will improve his behavior around and attitude towards you. The truth is that managing your brother's behavior is not your responsibility. If you feel he is a danger to you, contact the relevant authorities.

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