My parents are both great at this: I do something stupid and they can make me realize whatever follows is simply a consequence of my own stupidity. Their approach made me take responsibility for the consequences of my own actions, while at the same time still somehow helping me deal with the situation, which always made me feel better about the situation almost immediately. Their approach has always been twofold:

  • Explain that these are consequences. As a little kid, these were simple things, like 'if you don't study, you fail your test'. As I've matured, things became more serious, like 'if your budgeting or administration is a mess, don't come asking us to pay when you forgot/didn't have the money to pay a bill on time'.
  • Offer help to prevent similar situations, like helping me with studying for the retake of the test or suggesting better ways of keeping track of my administration/budgeting. If it's something they don't know much about either, they've always done their best to suggest people or places that can help. What they didn't do though was enabling by paying bills for me or pressuring the teacher to change my grades/give me an extra retake.

Recently I've been feeling like I'm treated as an enabler and that I'm being used by certain people to shield them from the consequences of their own actions. So, I'm trying to change that and apply the approach my parents always took, as it always seemed to work so well to me. It seems to be backfiring though.

So, I'm wondering if there are other ways to have people face consequences, that have the same outcome as the approach my parents always used: have the person take responsibility for creating the situation, avoid a negative reaction like an increase of resentment/anger over time for not having an enabler, and still making the other person feel like they're being helped?

What follows is just one example of such a situation, which is meant to illustrate what I have done and the results of those actions. There have been other situations with other people too, but for the sake of keeping an already long question as brief as possible, here's just one example:

My younger (20 year old) brother decided to start privately leasing a car so he could have a brand new status symbol. It's a fine car, but the contract limits the number of kilometres he can drive during the duration of the lease (if he goes over he has to pay fees). That limit doesn't even cover him commuting to and from work. As such, he's been asking to borrow my car. I've lent it to him as I'm not currently using it, which made me an enabler, allowing him to avoid the consequences of his bad choice. I gave him a few simple conditions though: keep the car clean, replace used fuel and no drunk driving.

He has violated these conditions, received warnings, and then violated the rules again. I told him he hasn't been living up to his part of the deal and took my key back. He immediately began saying that this wasn't fair because now he couldn't get to work, at which point I did what my parents always did: Remind him that he still had his own car and could get to work, and then offered him any help needed. I even made some suggestions like using public transport, researching if he could change his lease or help him with his budgeting to save up for the fees he'd need to pay at the end of the lease.

Only... it doesn't seem to work at all. He's becoming angrier and angrier at me the longer I refuse to give in and hand him my car keys back. While my parents do support my decision, they are also saying that this is mostly something between us and that I'm dealing with the consequences of enforcing these rules with regards to my car. At the same time they've offered help in enforcing these rules by stopping my brother from taking the car sneakily (which he tried), and have talked to my brother to try the same thing I did: Make him realize he's facing consequences and helping him deal with the situation he created. Most of it to no avail though.

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    I think you have helpful answers already, I just wanted to point out something. Your parents are letting you handle this on your own, but they are helping you enforce your rules, and they are reinforcing your message. I'd guess that they are coaching you right now, and that you have found a good way forward. Don't buckle , hang in there ;) – Stian Yttervik Jun 24 at 6:52

Respectfully, I don't think your issue is about facing the consequences of your brother's actions.

I've got relatives who act in a similar way. The challenge is not only in enabling their behavior, it's also in understanding how they look at other people.

In your case, your brother sees you as a resource. He made a deal, knowing what its terms were. When they weren't to his satisfaction, he decided to borrow your car and on his terms, despite what you said. Now that you're saying "my car, my rules" and enforcing that, he's annoyed that you aren't providing what he seems to think you should. That's what I've seen with my relatives who act this way.

I always find the concept of "fair" to be interesting. He took a bad deal, violated your terms to use your car, and you're not being "fair"? My kids when they were in elementary school used that definition of "fair" - meaning "something advantageous to me".

The only way I've ever seen was for my family members affected by this behavior to be very honest and stern about it and provide a healthy dose of Vitamin N - being told "no" and sticking by it. This anger act you're seeing is an attempt to get your decision to change- when I've seen that, my response has been to not let the anger affect me. You're the one who's mad, not me. And when you calm down, we can talk.

As long as he sees you as a resource to exploit, the behavior won't change. He may even cut off contact since you're not "acting like a good sibling" or some foolishness like that. In the end, it's not up to you to make someone face the consequences for their actions- it's up to you to not prevent them from bearing the consequences. And this car leasing fiasco is something where your lending him the car prevents him from experiencing those.

My relatives that have seen this have taken a tactic that somewhat helps: they will provide emotional support and love the sibling, but draw the line at financial help. "Sorry, I'm not giving you money". "I need the car, thanks". "I'm not in a position to cosign a loan for you without some collateral". It's tough and resulted in a lot of similar behavior from the person in question, but it was needed to keep from being exploited constantly. I'd add that in one case I've seen, the person knew the consequence but felt that they shouldn't have to face them for whatever reason. Explaining didn't help; that just made them angrier.

I'm reminded of something I've said a lot here: you can't change another person's behavior. All you can do is change your response to their behavior.

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    Just about "cosign the loan": Never, ever do that. If you have the money, and you are willing to hand it over, then hand it over. If you don't have the money, or you don't want to hand it over, DO NOT COSIGN. Ever. You will end up paying, and you won't be just out of money, you will also be very angry with them. – gnasher729 Jun 28 at 17:23
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    @gnasher729 Think about cosigning this way: a major bank thinks the other person is not reliable enough to pay back the loan. That's what cosigning means. It means they need someone else to carry the loan. – Nelson Jul 7 at 3:34
  • @Nelson Or someone to say "I guarantee he/she's good for it and if they aren't, I'll make it good". I've got a friend who says "there's a reason that all the money's in the bank" - they really want to get paid back. – baldPrussian Jul 8 at 15:27

Set clear boundaries at the start and follow through.

It's a bit late to do that now, but what you need to do is to set very clear boundaries at the start. Talk up your car, say how useful it is, how much you value it being useable, and how it's a big favor handing him something worth thousands of dollars. Get him to promise he's going to treat it right, not get it dirty, keep it filled with fuel, not drink drive. If he's pissy or rude about these conditions, don't give him the car.

Then, set him clear conditions that look natural. If he returns your car dirty, you're gonna keep the car until he cleans it. If he returns the car without fuel, you're gonna take the car till he gives you money for gas. If he drink drives you're gonna remove your car forever.

Don't combine boundary setting and natural consequences.

You in the comments indicating you're trying to marry natural consequences and negotiating boundaries. The two things don't mesh. If you negotiate and forgive them for forgetting one of your boundaries, clearly your boundaries aren't natural. They're ones you chose to enforce arbitrarily. You may have good reason for them, but they're not facing the consequences of their actions, they're facing your choices as to whether to accept an action was accidental or too much, and so it's easier for them to get pissed off.

Imagine if when you revised and failed at an exam your parents said "I guess this was just a mistake because you forgot to revise, so this time I'll talk to your teacher and get you out of it and forgive you, so it'll be fine." would you then feel like you had been shown a consequence of your own stupidity? I doubt it. It would feel like your parents bailed you out, and you'd expect your parents to bail you out next time, as your brother expects you to bail him out again.

The key is to make the person feel you value the thing enough for there to be consequences. Even if you don't care much about the car, you want it usable, and so if he doesn't leave it usable, it's a direct consequence that you won't let him use it. If they verbally agree with a strong emotional display of value to the car at the start, they're less likely to be offended if you take it back when you damage the car. You need to be over the top and simple, because childish people don't understand the value of things.

Then, when he doesn't obey those conditions, instantly remove the car. You gave him warnings, which taught him that if he was rude enough he could get the car back. You had unclear boundaries. Now you're trapped in a bad situation without an easy way out. It's not about mistakes or forgiveness or boundaries. It's about consequences of stupidity.

The key thing is you need to very clearly tell him at the start "If you mess up my car, you won't get to keep my car." and follow through. You didn't until later, and so now you're facing issues.

I've met lots of boundary pushing a***s like your brother who do bad things. You need to be very clear on boundaries with them, as with like a child. Always look into how your actions, like warning them and letting them go, could be taken in the wrong way.

Agree with him that things suck.

When bad things happen, you need to see them as natural consequences. If he says "This isn't fair." Then agree and say. "I agree, sometimes life isn't fair." Learning how to handle perceived injustices is a key life skill. He has made bad decisions and is now facing a sucky life situation, and he'll find it a lot easier if he has a sympathetic sibling than a judgy older sibling who tells him what to do.

Allow and support them feeling disappointed, and act as a role model in other situations. When life is unfair, you need to show them how to act properly. It's not a quick process, but the first step is accepting that they can feel bad, they can dislike what's happening in their life, they can feel it's unfair, and that's fine, and you are fine with them feeling that.

Later, you can show them how to be better. You can make sure your door is always opening for help with quitting drinking or budgeting. But first, accept them as who they are.

  • I'm not sure I understand what the first part of your answer is getting at. I did set the boundaries before handing over the keys, from my post: " I gave him a few simple conditions though: keep the car clean, replace used fuel and no drunk driving." How much more earlier would I have had to set these boundaries then? – Tinkeringbell Jun 23 at 8:53
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    You set these boundaries, and then when he violated them didn't take the car away. You made yourself look like a pushover, so your brother felt if he pushed you further he could get the car. It's also important to really emotionally sell your side of things. Did he agree to keep your car safe at the start, in a way that seemed emotionally real? That's why you ham it up a bit at the start, so he can see how much you love your car, and how hurt you will be if he hurts your precious car. – Nepene Nep Jun 23 at 8:56
  • I'm not sure about that. Setting a boundary and giving a few firm reminders to fill up the fuel tank or clean the car before taking more drastic action seems okay: wikihow.com/…. Also, my brother knows me by now. If I were to start talking about my car as if it was a super precious and loved thing to me all of a sudden, he'd have me committed to a psychiatric hospital. – Tinkeringbell Jun 23 at 9:05
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    I wouldn't agree with "life isn't fair" - keep in mind that OP is the reason "life isn't fair" right now and agreeing is basically admitting "I am being unfair" which is both not true and will be used against them by their brother. Acknowledging their feelings is one thing, but agreeing with their assessment is opening yourself up to more ranting. – Erik Jun 23 at 9:44
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    I added an edit on this- you're trying to marry two concepts, the idea that consequences come as a result of one's own stupidity, and the idea of negotiating boundaries and forgiving violations. That bad merging means that people are more likely to resent you, because your actions aren't a consequence of theirs, they're a negotiated choice. You need to offer much more immediate and direct consequences, rather than negotiate boundaries. If you're not willing to go directly from them breaking their promise to the consequence, it will always be about you. If it's your fault, they can argue. – Nepene Nep Jun 23 at 17:43

I think you misportray a number of essential aspects, starting with: your brother.

keep the car clean, replace used fuel and no drunk driving.

Keeping the car clean depends on tidiness -a personal characteristic- does your brother keep an impeccably tidy room and wardrobe?

Did you expect him to clean the car on the night he was going out for drinks or in the early morning the day after? Because if the car wasn't clean by 8AM with him going out at 22PM and to bed at 5AM those expectations aren't, well, entirely realistic. Did he ever clean a car? (I never cleaned mine - a friend owns a garage). Same for the fuel and the drink... If your brother's the type of guy who takes care of it 6 to 8 weeks from now, imposing your schedule just isn't likely to work.

So, I'm wondering if there are other ways to have people face consequences, that have the same outcome as the approach my parents always used:

I think you're focused on the wrong keyword. It's responsibility before consequences. The problem isn't about imposing consequences as much as it is about addressing irresponsibility.

which made me an enabler

Well not exactly, because your brother was his own person long before he borrowed your car.

He has violated these conditions, received warnings, and then violated the rules again.

Les Enfants terribles...

He's becoming angrier and angrier at me the longer I refuse to give in and hand him my car keys back

Now here start the real problems. What would justify such passion over so irrelevant a matter? Because whatever the motive, it's anger itself that need be addressed. It seems your brother has some difficulty with delayed gratification, frustration with other's choices. But what needs to be examined is not the matter of the car, but the underlying motivations which might aggravate his anger due to the car. For what does he want the car? Is he driving 100 miles to meet a bombshell with everything seemingly depending on it? Is it to go out with his friends and so his social life depends on it? Is he just inebriated with freedom? Because I hope he's not driving far to drink alone, that would indeed be frustrating.

stopping my brother from taking the car sneakily (which he tried)

This is a double tell tale sign. It indicates someone who does make his own decisions, or not. He might be socially influenced to take the car, or take it entirely of his own volition regardless. (Both are very different ways of going about things, that place different requirements on you to handle it. And this is the conclusion: talking or taking consequences by itself does not address him.)

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