How to Confront Evil in your own Family
January 3, 2009 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to help someone who doesn't want to be helped? Wayward adult brother ruining lives all around, won't seek help or accept advice. What to do?

Technically, I guess it's none of my business, oh but it is. I see my parents' lives without peace. I see children being born into adverse situations and babies' mommas' at their wits' end. I see my once beloved little brother headed for either prison or an early grave.

The story in sum: 27-year old brother grew up in suburbia (albeit with an alcoholic father), spoiled materially, but chose street life instead of the straight road, been arrested mulitple times for various offenses (weed, domestic violence but charges never brought, etc.) but no record. Three and a half years ago, it all came to a halt, family turned upside down, the unimaginable occured--he killed someone in self defense. Just went to murder trial, hung jury, no retrial, record will be expunged next month. But the incident was only a symptom of a violent, unstable person who needed help a long time ago. Nothing was ever done. Parents didn't insist on him getting counseling--even though he's bee in THEIR house the whole time. So the horrific cussing and disrespect remains. Beyond all this, he doesn't work, hasn't worked in years, says some jobs are beneath him (though I know this is just a cover for his insecurity, being a college dropout and having no direction and being afraid of never getting hired anywhere). But wait there's more. Has had THREE kids over the past THREE years by THREE different women! Yes, this, while awaiting a murder trial, while his parents foot the bill for his bail, keeping him out of prison while he awaits this life-changing occasion. This makes FOUR kids (he already had one kid a few months before the horrible murder incident), no job, mentally unstable, frighteningly violent, juevinile in dress and behaviour and no sign of change--even after ALL THIS!

Indeed, this whole ordeal over the past four years has not felt real. Even still, I can't believe my brother has turned out the way he has. The horror of the whole picture is so overwhelming I can barely grasp it all. My mother feels the same way, yet she continues to enable him. She and Dad allow him to stay in their home, come in all times of night or day after he's been laid up with who knows, and wreak havoc on their lives. When I try to point this out, she gets frustrated, says I don't understand what it's like not even wanting to talk to your own son, not being able to get a word in edgewise, being cussed at and disrespected, not knowing how this happened, wondering how God could allow your child to be so far from normal, so dark, so evil.

So I hear all the bad stories almost every time I talk to her. I've asked my brother to allow me to help him get some counseling, he treats me as if I'm speaking a foreign language, " I don't need no d*** counseling!" I encourage my parents to put their feet down and allow him to learn from the School of Hard Knocks. Dad's for it, mom's not so nothing changes.

Nothing changes. And I don't know what to do. I'm watching my brother destroy his own life and ours by relation and I don't know what else to do. Any advice whatsoever is appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing you can do is sit down and talk to your parents. Your brother's life is his to ruin; they should not allow him to ruin theirs as well.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

You should talk to your parents, most definitely. What about family counselling? Sometimes there are people who really need help but they're afraid to be left alone with a therapist. Afraid their secrets will surface, etc. I think the best thing would be if your parents forced him into therapy by saying that if he does not go he will not have a. a place to stay for free, b. someone to post bail, and c. no more sweeping in to save him. As you said, your mom's not on board. Maybe she would change her mind if you made this a "do it for me, mom, please do it or i don't think i can be as firmly in your life" thing (though be careful, she might get upset).

It might be a little bit easier to get him to help you. Pretend that YOU need the therapy and you want HIS help, so would he come along? Of course the best would be therapy for the whole family + individual counselling for him, but it doesn't sound like that's going to be easy to convince him of.

Is he doing hard drugs? You could potentially stick him in rehab. My mom unwillingly went into rehab when I thought she was nearly dead-- outrageous behavior turning into life-threatening situations-- and hated it at first. Turns out it was the best thing she could have done. She's happy about it now.

I'm sorry you're going through this. Unfortunately I think this is a time when you might really need to be ready to walk away. Right now your parents are sacrificing themselves, their house, their lives and, by proxy, your relationship with them, with your brother and your life.

It's time to say enough. Mom needs to see that her good intentions are digging a deeper hole for your brother.
posted by big open mouth at 10:33 AM on January 3, 2009

To a lesser degree, my sister's life has been similar - alcoholic father, spoiled and indulged by parents and six husbands, hopping from job to job and marriage to marriage, with numerous live-in partners in between. She's selfish, narcissistic, and has all her life been used to people (i.e. men) taking care of her. Thankfully no children, but too many animals who are somewhat neglected, although not treated cruelly (for example, a large dog which is never exercised except for a short run in the back yard because she's too busy).

After her last marriage broke up two years ago, she had a bad mental and emotional breakdown, got herself into more man trouble and ended up in financial difficulty. I bailed her out, paid off her debts for her, and made it clear that it was a one-off and that it was conditional on her (a) taking her medication (b) getting some counselling or therapy to get to the root of why she kept on making the same mistakes over and over and (c) giving up the skunk weed.

Well, nothing changed, and a year ago - after a year of partying, boyfriends, debts, constant lies to me about how 'well' she was doing (including a big fat lie by omission when she collected a LOT of money on an investment that matured and about which she'd kept quiet, and spent the lot, without repaying me a single penny of the money I'd laid out so she could keep her home and her car) - she had another breakdown, ended up in the psych ward, almost lost her job. I've kept a distance, and haven't been over to visit her at all (she's 150 miles away).

I helped her once and made it clear she was on her own if she failed - or refused - to address any of the root causes of her problems. So now she might end up losing her job and home. But that's not my responsibility - I helped her once and she just carried on as normal, I'm pretty sure expecting me to step in and help her out again. Not a chance. I did it once, that was all she was ever going to get.

As long as your parents enable your brother to live as he is living, nothing will change. If they aren't prepared to kick him out or make him get a job and pay his way, then that's down to them. If, when it all crashes and burns, you can say with a clear conscience "well, I did what I could to help him" then that's as much as you can do. Your parents are adults and can make their own decisions. Those decisions might turn out to be bad ones in the end, but if they are aware of the potential consequences and proceed anyway then you're not responsible.
posted by essexjan at 10:44 AM on January 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Sorry you're going through this. I can see and hear the total frustration you're feeling.

Here's the bottom line: you can't do anything more for them, so concentrate on saving yourself, and your sanity.

I went through a similar frustrating, but not nearly as severe, situation with a brother, including the enabling mother. When it became apparent that my efforts were going nowhere, I just butted out, serene in the knowledge that I'd done everything possible.

Here's what's going to happen: there will be a "straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back" incident. Maybe a girlfriend will press charges, maybe a court will enforce a deadbeat dad charge, maybe he'll kill someone, or be killed. At any rate, the situation will be taken out of your mother's hands. At that point, if there's anything left to save, you can step in and give it another shot.

Until then, step away, and step away with a clean conscience. You've done your best.
posted by dinger at 10:45 AM on January 3, 2009

I can sympathise as I have a similar situation with less bloodshed. After years of heartache I have come to the realisation that I have to limit contact with my parents severely. I don't want to hear of my sibling's current drama that is the same as last week's drama which is the same as last year's drama. I can only hope that by seeing that their "normal" child doesn't want to be a part of the cycle my parents will one day wake up and see how many lives they have ruined with their enabling behaviour. You can't make them change, you can change how you interact with them. Tell your mom that you don't want to hear about your brother or her problems caused by him or her own enabling behaviour. If she can't have a conversation with those reasonable limits then don't talk at all.
posted by saucysault at 11:12 AM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

When someone, like your brother, is (1) mentally ill, (2) poorly educated, (3) without skills, (4) inhabiting a social network that is probably made up of drunks, druggies, sluts, and small-time criminals, (5) extremely disillusioned by his experiences, there is very little you can do for them.

The only hope, as you have correctly surmised, is to get your parents to cut him off, but it sounds like they won't do that.

And even if they do cut him off, the chances of him turning his life around are slim. Lots of people forced suddenly to live by their wits just increase the petty crime, increase the "hustling," turn to freeloading on other people in their social network (the babies' mamas), etc. I would anticipate that if forced out by your parents, he would shack up with one of the babies' mamas and would probably develop into a repeat domestic violence offender.

So I would propose that, at this point, you just hope for the best for your brother, and do what you can to salvage your parents' lives. Seriously, you will drive yourself crazy hoping he will change. If you get your parents to kick him out, and in his desperation he catches a new, serious criminal charge, you will be blaming yourself for putting him in that situation. Stop involve yourself with fixing his life --- that will only drag you down. Help the people who are being preyed upon and taken advantage of by him, your parents. And if they kick him out, just cross your fingers and hope he takes advantage of that opportunity to stand on his own feet.

As an older lawyer used to advise me when I got too involved in clients' personal problems: "You didn't take him to raise."
posted by jayder at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2009

this question immediately reminded me of this one. there was really good advice in that thread about letting go and realizing what you could and could not control.

i hate, hate, HATE the way my nephew has been raised. i think every single person who has been a caretaker to him has failed him in a major way. i am only 13 years his senior and so many people fought over his custody that i didn't have a prayer at getting a voice in that. all i can do now is be supportive of the things he's doing well at and disapproving of the things he's allowed to get away with. it means i took a step back emotionally because i just get too close and caught up in it. sometimes i feel badly for that, but i think our current emotional distance is better than my unhelpful meddling.
posted by nadawi at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2009

No. I think the answer is: no, it is not possible to help someone who does not want to be helped.

Your brother sounds stubborn, willfully obtuse as to his various impacts on the worlds around him, and way too old to be treated like a wayward child by your parents, let alone the four women who have borne his children. I hope the children are in their mothers' custodies, and that said mothers have regained whatever sanity was lost in messing around with and/or marrying your brother.

I don't mean to sound harsh, but if I were you (and obviously I am not) I would address my energies toward my nieces and nephews. Does your brother take pride/find satisfaction in being a father? Maybe if he saw someone (you) really, responsibly and sincerely engaged in looking out for those little ones he might take another look in the mirror. Or maybe not. Families, as my husband says on occasion, everyone's gotta have one. Between us, both being adopted, we have four, plus the one we've made together, each with its share of dysfunction and distress. But your story is exponentially beyond even the worst of mine or any of my friends' situations.

Best wishes to you, anonymous.
posted by emhutchinson at 11:42 AM on January 3, 2009

I could have written your post almost word-for-word (no homicide though) about a relative on my dad's side. He's older now - late 30s I guess - and up to 6 kids that we know of. The older 2 are already continuing the same cycle of pregnancy and jail; the younger 2 have been permanently removed from their custody.

Long story short....he never changed; grandparents continue to support him and the remaining children; it has COMPLETELY torn our family apart on so many levels. This year he went to prison and should be there for a few years; one of the best things that could have happened to us as a group. If your parents won't change, which my grandparents never did, then get out and save yourself. Distance yourself from him as much as possible.
posted by texas_blissful at 12:00 PM on January 3, 2009

Just reiterating what everyone else has said: you certainly cannot make your brother change, and it seems highly unlikely that your parents are willing to make any changes as well. They are locked into a destructive pattern that you are helpless to break. Yes: helpless. Helplessness sucks, which is why I sympathize so much with your frustration and anger and disbelief (because it is an appalling story!). Helplessness feels awful. And yet, sometimes, it is simply a fact.

So my advice to you is to face your helplessness. Let yourself feel angry and sad and frustrated, all with the understanding that there does not exist any action you can take to change the situation and thereby erase your anger and sadness and frustration.

Letting yourself just feel your feelings -- as elementary as it sounds -- will help you in making the choice that is really the only healthy choice you can make: to walk away. Because your brother and parents are making their choices every day, and they are deeply unhealthy ones.

In a way, your brother's position is actually the more understandable one. Looking at it from his perspective: why should he change? He's got a pretty sweet deal. He lives a life with no consequences; even killing someone doesn't really result in anything. He doesn't seem to have a conscience or a sense of empathy, so the misery he's caused others doesn't mean much, if anything, to him -- your parents, the family of the person he killed, his children, his baby mamas? Pfft. His needs are magically met: he gets shelter, food, sex, booze, drugs, video games. He's like a very large baby with a drinking habit. Seriously, why would he change?

Your parents are a trickier nut to crack; it sounds to me like they are in the grips of paralyzing fear -- fear of your brother, fear of what he might do if they actually try to enforce any consequences, fear of losing him, etc. The fact that your mom refers to "not knowing how this happened, wondering how God could allow your child to be so far from normal" indicates that she has no choices, nor that her past choices have led to present consequences. This is a mindset that is very difficult to "make" anyone overcome, particularly one's parent. Saying "mom, you've just got to [Insert Big Decision Here]" is not unlike telling her "mom, you've just got to perform nuclear fission." It's essentially meaningless to someone like this -- yes, they can understand the abstract fact of such things happening elsewhere in the world, but it's just crazy talk to think she could do such a thing herself! And besides, who are YOU to tell her what to do? (It is possible that I speak with some experience on this score.)

There is no magic bullet for you to set things right for your family. There is only the option to do right by yourself. And that, I think, begins with letting yourself feel the hurt you feel, and letting that be your guide to identify very clearly the things you have control over, and the things you do not have control over.

I wish you well.
posted by scody at 12:14 PM on January 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

(oops, in the paragraph about your mom, that should be "indicates that she believes she has no choices")
posted by scody at 12:18 PM on January 3, 2009

Is it possible that your mother is afraid of your brother and will not throw him out because of that? I think that is the case. I do not know how to address it, but I would explore that avenue. Then, I would run far, far away.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2009

Also, on review, what scody said about your parents.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:44 PM on January 3, 2009

I have a similar situation going on in my family as well. Isn't it amazing how, when we choose to share our "dirty little family secrets" that so many people can relate? This is what I recommend - talk about it - talk to your parents about it, talk to your friends about it - let the frustration and horror that you feel over this situation dissipate somewhat. There really is nothing you can do. You could drag your mom to therapy, you could take your brother out behind the house and beat him bloody, and you would only end up the bad guy. As sick and unbelievable as it seems, your mom is getting something out of this situation that she thinks she needs, and no amount of reason will penetrate that.

So, repeat this: "I didn't cause this, I can't control this, and I can't cure this" - because you can't.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:02 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Look into intervention counseling. There are professionals with experience in both managing an intervention (a group engagement with the distressed person which presents them with an alternative to their current behavior (treatment, usually inpatient) and presents them with an ultimatum - generally with respect to the fact that they will receive no further support if they elect to maintain their current course.

Such an individual will also have experience talking to reluctant family members. The main thing your mother needs to understand is that in addition to the harm she is exposing herself and your father to, she is supporting your brother's self-destruction. She is helping him travel inexorably toward killing himself. It sounds like your family really needs professional guidance through this. If you can't convince your parents to take action you need to think about separating yourself as much as possible from parts of your family life involving your brother.
posted by nanojath at 1:05 PM on January 3, 2009

As sick and unbelievable as it seems, your mom is getting something out of this situation that she thinks she needs, and no amount of reason will penetrate that.

Yes, this is exactly right, and it's the other side of the coin of your mom's fear. People do things because, from their perspective, it makes some sort of sense or satisfies some sort of need -- no matter how nonsensical it might seem from a different perspective.
posted by scody at 1:06 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lots of people could (and have) given you advice, some of which might help. The main thing that comes to my mind is that YOU should get counseling. You're all part of this situation, unfortunately. Your brother isn't going to go and it doesn't sound like your parents are likely to , either. If you see a good counselor, you might be surprised how much it can (1) help you face it in the healthiest manner possible, (2) help you not destroy your life, and (3) possibly change your reactions to your brother which might make some differences in him. It's also possible that your mom might start coming with you, and that would help the situation even more. Some people have found a lot of help in Al-Anon, but it depends upon the chapter.

FYI - If the first counselor you try isn't very good, look for another, and if necessary, another. There are good and bad counselors out there.
posted by onemorething at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2009

Having been in a similar situation once upon a time (although not as extreme, but it could have well gotten there), your parents likely fear that if they turn your brother out into the street, that he will end up in even WORSE trouble. And then they would view it as their fault.

When I try to point this out, she gets frustrated, says I don't understand what it's like not even wanting to talk to your own son, not being able to get a word in edgewise, being cussed at and disrespected, not knowing how this happened, wondering how God could allow your child to be so far from normal, so dark, so evil.


It's like asking people to take action against nuclear war, or world hunger. The threat is so incomprehensible that they cannot fathom where to begin.

All you can do is support yourself, and support your parents to the extent they wish to be supported, in the method they wish to be supported. The last two are important. You don't get to dictate anything here, no matter how clear it may seem to you. The only choice you have is whether to disengage, and/or how to engage with them. Maybe you refuse to go over there. Maybe you refuse to attend family events that he will be part of. If your parents don't show up for things you invite them to because of him, well, stop inviting them.

It is hard and terrible. But it is their choice to make.
posted by micawber at 2:38 PM on January 3, 2009

Dear God, how awful. I'm so sorry.

I think your parents, or at least your mother, need to go to counselling. They very possibly have a sociopath in their home and they need help to face and deal with that fact.
posted by orange swan at 3:21 PM on January 3, 2009

Yeah, this person sounds like a sociopath and unfortunately, there's no treatment for that. What a terrible situation.

If it were a straightforward addiction, actually, it's better *not* to do an intervention, but rather to engage the parents/family in something like Community Reinforcement and Family Therapy.

Especially in a case where the person might be violent, the idea of confronting him about his bad behavior in the presence of someone whose only training is basically addictions (which is the case for a lot of the intervention people: many have a particular ideology and see everything as about addiction, ignoring mental health and personality disorders) does not seem at all wise. at least if CRAFT fails to work, it won't provoke a potentially violent confrontation: the whole point is to attract people into treatment, not force it.

Definitely family therapy of some sort for everyone else involved if possible: your parents sound like they are at risk of harm.
posted by Maias at 3:38 PM on January 3, 2009

Uncle up. Your nieces and nephews must have mothers who aren't too together given who they chose to father their children; I imagine these children will need all the help they can get.

Visit, stay in their lives. Where and when appropriate hook them up with useful agencies. Big Sisters/Big Brothers, that sort of thing.

In your shoes I imagine I would be leaning hard on my father to throw him out, Mom be damned. Talk him into renting your brother a room in a flophouse, escorting him there, having the family house's locks changed, etc, while you take your mother out for lunch or whatever. Hopefully she will thank the two of you later.
posted by kmennie at 6:47 PM on January 3, 2009

Get yourself into therapy to deal with your own anger & resentment; that will help you, and help you help them. Recommend therapy to your parents to help them cope with the tremendous pain they must be experiencing.

It sounds like your brother may be either seriously drug addicted, seriously mentally ill, or both. If you can get your brother to see a good psychiatrist for screening, that would be good. Treating deeply ingrained mental illness and/or drug abuse is difficult at best, with no guarantees.

It may help you and your parents to see him as impaired, instead of as deliberately being a selfish jerk.
posted by theora55 at 7:33 PM on January 3, 2009

Entwined enablers don't let go of their babies until they are forced to, by powers much bigger than sane siblings. The best you can hope for is to protect yourself from the knowledge of what is going on in that house. Don't ask, don't judge, don't rage, don't try. These sick stories can easily take over your life, break your heart and hurt you far, far more than they hurt the people who are more intimately involved in them. Some day things may be different, and there may be a way for you to help someone you love, on your own terms. That day is not today. Leave them to work out their karma, or whatever makes them so crazy, put your blinders on and get back to your own life. The less you look, the better for you, and for them, too. They don't need you in their business any more than you need to be there.
posted by Scram at 10:58 PM on January 3, 2009

I'm late to this...

You can't help your brother. He doesn't want your help and nothing you can do will change that.

Your mom has refused to make changes? Fine, that's her right. But you don't have to listen to her when she complains about your brother. Tell her that unless she makes changes, the situation won't change and there's nothing you can do about it and you refuse to discuss it.

A couple of my older brothers went through something similar, although nowhere near as severe (no children or deaths), so I can empathize with the feeling of powerlessness.

In any case, you need to do what you need to do to remain sane and secure. Good luck.
posted by deborah at 3:35 PM on January 14, 2009

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