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Anybody who has a sibling when growing up knows what it means to get his/her possessions taken without giving any permission, especially if they are the same sex and around the same age. This is somehow "normal" when very young.

The problem for me is that my brother is still acting in this way, even if we are both in our 30s.

We don't live together and we don't even meet very often, but for some reasons we still have a lot of possessions that are in "shared" spaces. For instance, we have a family vacation house in the mountains where we both occasionally go during the holidays. I used to keep there some clothes, some bikes and a lot of other stuff to make my holidays more pleasant.

What does my brother do then? I can give you a few examples:

  • Very often I find my clothes dirty or somehow ruined. For instance, once he used some of my "vacation" clothes to work in the garden and to paint and they were basically unusable after that. When confronted he shrugged it off as "well they were old and at least now there are some working clothes around here".

  • One year he sold some of our old bikes (which belonged to our grandfather) without even consulting me. When confronted he's comment was "well they were not really yours, were they? At least I freed some space".

  • One year he told me he was using my "good" bike to get around. When I went there after a few weeks he was not using it anymore. I tried to use it and discovered that was broken and needed some costly work of maintenance. I asked him about it and he said that when he used it last time it was COMPLETELY fine, perfect. Nobody else used it though.

  • More than once it happened that I left some tool in the apartment of my parents and found it broken after a few weeks. After a quick investigation, I discovered that he had used it multiple times.

This happens very frequently for a lot of stuff and when confronted he generally gets very aggressive, at the point of threatening physical violence if I insist on his responsibilities. He never offers to "repay" something he broke or to help in any way. He always answers that what he did was perfectly acceptable (even when mostly it isn't) or that he was not responsible (when clearly there is no other excuse).

My parents (that are still alive and in their 60s) are generally very passive about this. They somehow understand that he occasionally has this behavior but (and I agree with them here) don't want to intrude. Sometimes they offered to repay for his damages but I have always refused because I really don't think they are responsible in any way. The only reason I include them in this question is because they are the main reason I still interact with my brother and it may be relevant.

So well the question is, how should I deal with someone like him? At the moment my strategy is to just avoid him, and be more careful with my properties. I try not to leave my things around him and such, but, as you can guess, this causes my some inconveniences. Any other idea?

  • 4
    Can you please tell us where you live or what the cultural background is? It will help you get answers more tailored to your specific situation. A good first question, btw :) – NVZ Sep 5 '17 at 17:41
  • Thanks :) I live in Southern Europe where, I can guarantee you, this is not a cultural norm. I come from a lower-middle income family with average education. – heapOverflow Sep 5 '17 at 17:45
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    Buy locks? Given how he responded when confronted, I can't help but feel like there isn't interpersonal solution to your problem. – NotThatGuy Sep 5 '17 at 18:13
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    Regarding the jointly used property you mention, do you have any legal ownership? It might be a consideration regarding the possibilities of just walking away, or not. I wouldn't try to negotiate any further, given the "he generally gets very aggressive, at the point of threatening physical violence" part. – user3169 Sep 5 '17 at 18:50
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    Let’s take a look at what he has done. 1. Ruined your clothes with dirt and paint. 2. Broke your bike. 3. Broke your tools. He’s not really “using” your things; he’s destroying them. There’s an expression you might want to consider in this relationship with your brother: “Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.” – Headblender Sep 21 '17 at 22:48
12

It sounds like you have already tried Plan A: talk to him about it. This is a good first step and often a straightforward talk to clearly define your boundaries and expectations can resolve the problem.

However, since this behavior has persisted for a long time and he insists he has done no wrong, it is time for you to stop giving him chances. Remove any possessions you value from the shared spaces. Keep them somewhere safe and under your control. If he can't get to your stuff, he can't ruin it.

You mention that it is inconvenient for you to not keep things there. Is there any lockable storage at the vacation home? Perhaps you could get a small shed or tool chest that you could put a lock on. If not, keep it at home. You have to decide whether you would rather have convenience or keep your possessions safe.

This could be done over a period of time to make it less noticeable, but you risk more damage in the meantime. If done all at once, your brother might note these changes and take the hint, or just be passive-aggressive (in which case you can simply ignore his moping). However, your description of his behavior makes me think he is more likely to confront you. You should have an explanation prepared and rehearsed so you can respond calmly. Something like:

Yes, I moved my [tools, clothes, etc.]. Every time I leave something here, it ends up damaged, and I'm tired of paying to repair or replace it. I've asked you before to stop using my things without permission but it keeps happening, so I have decided to store them at my house / locked up to keep them safe. If you need to use something of mine, let me know and I can help you find a solution.

(Wordsmith as necessary, for what you are actually willing to do.)

I will mention another option which is not necessarily a "good" one: You could use external concerns as an excuse ("I heard about recent bike thefts in the area, better safe than sorry!"). This might work in certain situations, but your brother may very well see through that and become angry you lied to him. (Plus lying is generally not a great plan.)

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    I'd underline and star the lockers part. The answer is padlocks. And containers that can have things padlocked into them. – user2014 Sep 5 '17 at 19:10
  • For the not good option: Is there any benefit from doing this? – dhein Sep 7 '17 at 10:37
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    @dhein The brother might be more open to blaming someone else ("good point, those neighborhood hooligans sure do destroy property!"), than accepting that the locks are to keep things safe from him. Particularly since the brother seems to deny he's done anything wrong. – Em C Sep 7 '17 at 13:03
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    @EmC He then could go on and ask for secondary keys, "because it is the hooligans to be kept out, not him ..." – Fildor Oct 24 '17 at 15:30
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    @Fildor that's presumably part of why it's marked as 'not being as good an option' but I agree that this bit of reasoning would benefit that section of the answer – Cronax Oct 25 '17 at 9:37
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I would guess that your brother has this "problem" with everyone, including your parents. Your parents are probably familiar with this trait of his to the point where they know they can't do anything about it -- so they are very passive about something they know they have no control over.

Face it, your brother does not think like most people do. To him, nobody owns anything and everything is there for whomever needs it; and anyone who says differently IS the problem. You have to get a bit aggressive about it -- take away his option to use your stuff and don't apologize or negotiate about it.

For you parents' vacation home, get a good, heavy-duty bike lock -- the kind that you can chain your bike to a nonmovable object, such as an iron railing. Then commandeer a closet -- remove all of his stuff that may be in there -- and put your things in and put a good, strong lock on it.

Guaranteed he will either ask for the key or combination. Stand your ground and tell him no; if he doesn't want to ask permission, then the answer is always no no matter how great his need.

5

How much have you made your parents aware? Do they know that you feel threatened with physical violence when you confront him about misuse and damage to your personal things? This is really troubling behavior out of a grown man. That is well beyond being a bit what around here we call "moochy" (meaning expecting to live off the kindness of others and use their things, live with them rent free, eat other people's food) and into a potential serious issue with him on some level. The only time I have run across anyone speaking of a sibling who is threatening violence as an adult, it has involved alcohol or drug abuse, or mental health. Does he threaten your parents? Are they passive out of fear of his behavior/retribution?

For me, I would avoid all contact, even if that meant avoiding the use of the vacation home. Either that, or simply bring whatever I intend to use with me and take it along when I go, so there is no reason for our lives to overlap and less reason to have any friction. You cannot change him, especially since your parents seem to allow him to behave this way without consequence. They could tell him he can't use the property if he is going to treat you like this, or sell off things that aren't his, but they haven't. So you can only do what you can do.

A person that will ruin your items, continue to use them after asked not to, threaten to harm you when confront them, is not someone you can talk logically to or use any "right words" to get through to or teach them to respect you. This is abnormal behavior for the age, and he is having totally inappropriate reactions when asked to deal with his own actions.

Even if the 1st time it happened you reacted really inappropriately yourself, yelled, screamed, called names, then if he was a logical person, he would merely opt to never touch your things again, as he wouldn't want to deal with the blow out after. So even if you handled it "wrong", you can't explain threatening to hurt you. That is not an okay response to it, even if the person confronting you is doing so aggressively. And I am not suggesting you did this wrong. Not at all. I am saying you can't do this "right" enough to account for what is wrong with him, as you couldn't have done it "wrong" enough to make it happen in the 1st place.

You really cannot do anything to "fix" it other than avoiding having that issue at all, by controlling your belongings more effectively, or avoiding the vacation home. If you haven't fully told your parents all the details, you can also do that and see if you can work with them to find some resolution, like him being told he cannot use the home if this is how he conducts himself.

  • Some of the behaviors I mentioned happened directly in front of my parents. They are not too old but they the kind of people who want to avoid troubles so they never said anything in those occasions and only talked to me in the aftermath offering to repay for the damages. Since you mentioned also my behaviors, I never yelled, screamed or anything like that. I'm definitely not a short-tempered person. What I usually did was to tell him that I would repair the broken thing, present him the receipt, and after that that it was up to him to decide what to do. He generally felt insulted, I guess. – heapOverflow Sep 6 '17 at 16:21
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    I didn't think you did yell. I was simply saying that even if you had his reaction to threatening violence would still be out of proportion and not at all reasonable for someone that age. – threetimes Sep 6 '17 at 16:28
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    I know, don't worry. I was just trying to add more context to the situation I've described. – heapOverflow Sep 6 '17 at 16:45
3

This sounds like tragedy of the commons.

If you're unfamiliar with this theory, I'll explain it quickly. Close to your home there is a park. If you go there, and pop a can of soda and drink it, then you have two choices: either place the empty can into the trash bin (or even better the recycling bin) and then count on our civilized society to have someone regularly empty the bin, most likely paid out of your tax money, but this is okay because you enjoy going to that park...

Or you throw the can over your shoulder and stop giving a damn.

Another example: when I ride my mountain bike on trails in the spring, sometimes I have to stop because a bush of brambles have grown onto the trail during the winter. So i pull the machete out of my backpack, and chop the thorny bush up, as a courtesy to the next person who will ride that trail. I also carry a folding saw, which I have used to chop up trees that feel onto the trail.

The "tragedy of the commons" sums up the fact that some people realize that it is in everyone's interest to keep shared goods in good shape, and sometimes that takes a tiny bit of effort. But some people simply don't care.

If you are a civilized person who respects others' property, then you will have trouble dealing with people who consider your property theirs, then use it until it's broken, and then they say it's your problem.

Now, back to your question.

when confronted he generally gets very aggressive, at the point of threatening physical violence if I insist on his responsibilities.

This is very important.

When someone borrows your stuff and breaks it, they should replace it or at least offer an apology, which you can accept, and then, no harm done, and everyone remains friends. But instead, he offers to punch your face. Kind of a problem.

He never offers to "repay" something he broke or to help in any way. He always answers that what he did was perfectly acceptable (even when mostly it isn't) or that he was not responsible (when clearly there is no other excuse).

This is because he thinks you will let him get away with it.

So well the question is, how should I deal with someone like him?

I'm afraid the answer is you don't. If he's too dumb to understand property rights, to understand that your stuff is yours... then there is no helping it.

Either you teach him respect, or you write him off. The first can be done, but it is messy, and if you don't have the stomach for it, then it is not for you.

  • "This sounds like tragedy of the commons." -- Except her things aren't commons (but private property). – user510 Oct 24 '17 at 14:45
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    The tragedy of the commons refers to the drive for everyone to use up a common thing entirely. Even if one person shows some restraint and leaves some, the next person will use it. This eventually "teaches" everyone to take as much as they can every chance they get, since it's not possible to actually leave some for later. Your examples are useful, and your answer is useful, but what's happening here is not tragedy of the commons. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons – Kate Gregory Oct 24 '17 at 16:11
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    @KateGregory it is. The "commons" is a generalization, but it works just as well with any number of people sharing a resource, down to just two people. If two people share a resource (like the bicycle or clothes here) then the most selfish one will use it until it's broken. It doesn't matter whether the resource is shared between two or a hundred people. As long as is is shared, then the "tragedy of the commons" trope applies... – peufeu Oct 27 '17 at 20:52
3

I mostly agree, but differ in that I think you won't teach him respect by removing your stuff, or securing it. I totally sympathise with you as my stepson is just the same as your brother. I pretty much guarantee you won't change him or make him see reason in anything like the way you do. All you will achieve is un-ruined stuff and that's a prize worth having, and a clear improvement on what you have now.

If your parents have offered to pay for damage in the past, then they probably know exactly what he is like and will probably privately agree with your actions. He will undoubtedly compain long and loud to them and they will probably say there is nothing they can do; "your stuff, your rules". Don't expect him to come around to it, he just won't

My stepson asked just once to borrow my tools and then started to use and lose them freely; including some I bought as a young adult and looked after carefully all these years. He doesn't give a damn as long as he achieves the goal that is important to him which is why I now hide them or lock them away. He still asks, but I say "no, not after last time. Buy your own like I had to".

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