How do you get someone who likes you to stop harassing you?
December 15, 2014 3:26 AM   Subscribe

My brother's too much for me to handle. How can I get him to stop calling and showing up so often? Simply telling him not to do it isn't working; he keeps coming up with dumb excuses for doing it. Though I hate the word 'creepy', what he's doing is what many would consider just that. And his behavior is almost stalker-like.

My brother gets bored and lonely easily and constantly visits; and when he's not here he calls constantly--sometimes nearly 100 times a day. If we were more compatible, having him around and talking to him over the phone wouldn't be so hard. But the thing is there's pretty much zero compatibility between us. He spends most of his waking hours talking about weed, something which is beyond annoying (like, I smoke it at times and can find the high semi-enjoyable or, at times, even enjoyable. But it isn't really my thing and I'd rather not discuss it at such lengths); I tell him this yet he goes on and on about it. Apart from him annoying me with his constant blabber about things I'm (mostly) uninterested in, he's selfish and lazy and constantly asks for annoying favors and generally gets his way due to him persisting until he gets what he wants. And this, as you can guess, is very stressful for me.

I've considered doing what my dad's girlfriend did to him some years ago: put a restraining order against him. But I fear this could lead him to make a suicide attempt as I'm his favourite person and it would drive him mad if he could no longer talk to me. He has in the past made real suicide attempts and I know that him no longer being able to talk to me could easily drive him to do this.

I've at times thought that him finding hobbies that he could occupy himself with could be effective at getting him to leave me (and my family--he harasses my sister and mom as well) alone. But I've tried, time and time again, to get him into stuff . . . with no luck. All he continues being interested in is weed; nothing else is even remotely interesting to him. This is unfortunate as I feel that that hobbies are probably the only thing that could keep him away for longer lengths.

For the record, though my brother has his faults, I don't hate him; I just find him stressful and am tired of him ruining my life. I should note, though, that he's only been a problem since moving here a few months ago. Previously he lived in a place located thousands of miles away from here. When he lived at his old location I only had to deal with him (on the phone) a few times a year. So, as you can see, he used to be much more tolerable.

And that concludes my post. Hope you can help me solve this serious dilemma of mine.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like your brother needs professional mental health care; these are not normal behaviors for someone who simply "likes you." Finding him a new hobby isn't going to help.
posted by jon1270 at 3:33 AM on December 15, 2014 [72 favorites]

Is it possible for you to not answer the phone or the door and tell him, "I'm busy all this week but can see you Sunday at 10?" and then not answer the phone or the door if he shows up in the meantime? See if he stops?

(and now time for my armchair psychoanalysis): this is fairly standard behavior for a person with OCD. Has your brother ever been assessed for obsessive thinking? Tell him to get checked out. What he's doing isn't "typical."
posted by kinetic at 3:34 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

The thing about boundaries that it's important to remember is that you have to keep enforcing them until AFTER the point at which the other person has tried to overcome them. If you give up half way through, you're letting the person know that they just need to keep going for X amount of time and then you'll give in. If you answer the 101'st phone call, you're telling him that he just needs to call 101 times.

Decide what is acceptable to you, decide how you're going to handle it when your brother engages in the inevitable extinction burst and then let your brother know what is going on. Then stick to your guns. If you decide that you're going to have one ten minute phone call a day, tell him so. When he's had his ten minutes, tell him that time's up and hang up the phone. Ignore the rest of his calls for the rest of the day. If he gets one hour of visiting time a day, when he time is up, he leaves. If he returns to the house again, don't loose him in.

The very first time you set a boundary is the hardest. After that, it just gets easier. It's hard but it's also necessary.

One thing you need to note is that you can't make someone else do something, or make them stop doing something. All you can do is control yourself and your own reactions. You can't make you brother stop calling you 100 times a day. What you can do is direct his calls to voice mail, or set a silent ring tone on your phone, or temporarily block his number. He will still be calling you, because you can't do much about that. But you will be less affected by his calling you.

If you fear for his actual physical safety, then call the appropriate authorities. If he's engaging in malarkey, there need to be consequences for that. If he's not engaging in malarkey, then he will need the support of those same professionals. Honestly, it sounds like he already needs the support of some kind of professional.
posted by Solomon at 3:48 AM on December 15, 2014 [18 favorites]

I agree that your brother has mental health issues which he needs help with. Maybe he needs to get to a NA meeting about his relationship to weed, which I can imagine is exacerbating this situation.

You're scared that if you assert your boundaries that he will attempt suicide. If his reaction to you setting perfectly reasonable boundaries (say, only talking to him once a day for maximum 20 minutes- which would still be very dutiful of you. 100 calls a day, wtf!) is something dramatic and harmful, just know that that is not your fault. You are not capable of fixing his problems or giving him what he wants and needs, and any actions he takes are his own responsibility. Don't let the fear of his reaction stop you from ending this harassment. You can say that you're worried about him and direct him to suitable resources (NA, a healthcare provider, even ER if you think things are drastic) but you can't take responsibility for him and his health.

And if you find he escalates his behaviour after you try to draw strict boundaries, absolutely have no misgivings or hesitation in getting the police involved.
posted by mymbleth at 4:09 AM on December 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Your brother is exhibiting full blown mental illness that I imagine keeps him from living a productive life.

Your parents... How did they handle this when he was younger? This behavior did not pop up in a vacuum. I appreciate your bluntness, but you do know that zero of what you described indicates this can be truly handled in any way other than your brother receiving meaningful mental health treatment, right? Suicide attempts or threats, calling 100x per day, steam rolling over boundaries, using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, obsessive tendencies - these are serious symptoms. It seems like this has been categorized as "normal."

I'm sorry for your brother and annoyed with a world that let him get into a state such that he can not really function or find peace and stability.

I'm worried for you, him, and people around him. I'm 100% concerned he could hurt another person, too, under particular stressors or circumstances. Suicide is a concurrent concern.

You need professional guidance to deal with this. Your brother is an adult, so I don't know how you force him to get care. I don't know how you protect yourself while doing so.

You don't say where you are. Maybe if you update via the mods people can point you to resources.

He's your brother, not somebody you met on OKCupid. You can't just change your phone number or block him on social media.

I don't know how you simultaneously stay safe AND get him help without serious experienced professionals backing you up. Your brother needs resources and support that you and your family are not medically capable of providing.

I hope it all works out and he gets successful treatment.
posted by jbenben at 4:53 AM on December 15, 2014 [24 favorites]

Some of this is a mental health problem and the other is the weed. Clearly this is not in your bailiwick. Go to Al-Anon because you're dealing with someone with an addiction, and get him into a mental health program ASAP! It sounds like he needs a dual diagnosis rehab, one for the addiction to weed, the other for the mental illness that drives him to smoke.

Here's what I'd say, "Steve, you know I love you. I believe that you need professional help. Right now your behavior affects me in the following ways:

1. Your constant calling and dropping in is distracting and disruptive to my life.
2. Your suicide attempts are manipulative and scare me.
3. Your constant talk about weed is not interesting to me and you don't seem to ever inquire about me, or my life or what I find worthwhile.
4. Our relationship is not reciprocal, you ask me to do things for you, yet you do nothing for me.
5. I enjoy my alone time and my time with friends and your calling and dropping in on me is upsetting.

Until you stop smoking weed and get help, I won't be available to entertain you or help you any more. I love you, and I want to have a healthy sibling relationship with you. Please get help for your addiction and mental illness."

You might have some programs to offer him, or offer to take him to an NA meeting right then and there. If he threatens suicide, call the police, they can get him admitted into the hospital for observation, and from there he can get the help that he needs.

Mental illness and addiction don't resolve themselves with hobbies or jobs. This is a real mental and physical illness and he needs professional help.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:14 AM on December 15, 2014 [11 favorites]

constantly asks for annoying favors and generally gets his way due to him persisting until he gets what he wants

He's trained you well.

Escaping from the cage he's built for you is going to require quite an irritating amount of planning, diligence and focus from you. Only you can decide whether or not that's worth applying.

You can start by logging every favour requested, refused and ultimately granted. This will give you an objective measure of just how hard he has to push you before you cave in. Keep the log for a month or so.

Next, work on hardening those boundaries up. If you're currently caving to a particular class of favor after ten requests, make sure that next time whatever that is gets asked for, it takes him twenty; then forty; then eighty. Keep track in your log, and keep on doubling up. You can do this, because you already have the skills required to put him off and he's accustomed to you exercising those most of the time.

This won't instantly reduce the frequency of his calls, but it will soon create such a backlog of unfulfilled favors that he'll be forced to prioritize from sheer lack of time.

I'm his favourite person and it would drive him mad if he could no longer talk to me.

He's already mad. However, this is currently a worse problem for you than it is for him. By slowly but inexorably increasing your pushover resistance, you will reduce the extent to which he can use you to keep his madness something he doesn't need to address effectively.

I've been mad. It was fun. I could do whatever occurred to me in the moment, completely free of any concern for consequences. A key part of getting better involved wanting to, and that only came about through getting some inkling of the utterly unfair load that my being mad put on everybody who cared about me. Were I not so keenly aware of that now, I'd happily go mad again and stay that way until something terminal happened.

So I don't think there's anything at all wrong with telling your brother in so many words that he's putting unfair demands on your time and attention, that he's doing so to a completely abnormal degree, and that as a result you've become concerned about his mental health and would very much like to see him get some professional help with it.
posted by flabdablet at 5:19 AM on December 15, 2014 [16 favorites]

Answering his calls counts as doing him a favor, by the way. Log the number of rings before you pick up.
posted by flabdablet at 5:22 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want to make it clear to you that for fourteen years of my life, someone I loved like family "built a cage" like this for me.

When I tell you professional support is required for you and him - I speak from unfortunate experience.

No technique or trick you employ on your end will substitute for the professional mental health treatment your brother needs and deserves.

(I mean that in the best possible way. Your brother wouldn't act the way he does if his life was hunky dory. He deserves a good life, like we all do.)

With guidance, you can start by telling your brother the truth about himself. As usual, I like Ruthless Bunny's script.

I'm sorry. You won't beat this problem on your own. I'm telling you this to save you (and your poor brother) fourteen years of misery.

It's highly likely his mental illness will prevent him from believing you or accessing meaningful care. This is the nature of the disease.

And... This is why you will need professional guidance as you navigate this issue. His disease will lie to him and you. You'll need skills and support to know what to do when that happens (hint: it will repeatedly happen.)

Reach out and get professional support. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 5:35 AM on December 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Though I hate the word 'creepy', what he's doing is what many would consider just that. And his behavior is almost stalker-like.

Not "almost" stalker-like. His behavior actually IS stalking.

He constantly visits you. He constantly calls you - 100 times a day. You're not his first victim: your dad's girlfriend put a restraining order on him. You're not even his only victim: he harasses your sister and mother as well. Yet you seem reluctant to name his behavior for what it so clearly is.

Recommended reading-- The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker.

Your own personal safety and boundaries come first.
posted by hush at 5:50 AM on December 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

Do what I did the next time your brother shows up uninvited: call the police. Let them deal with your brother. That's why you pay taxes.
posted by starbreaker at 6:37 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of my brothers has mental health issues, and one of the things he did (and still does) that are unacceptable is calling people (me, our mother, other relatives, family friends) many, many times a day, often late at night and 10 or more times per hour.

I tried a lot of different things.
Finally he stopped last year, when in dispair I asked my husband to take the land line phone when he called. And I refused to answer my mobile. My husband very firm but polite told him I was not available. Thi escalated it for a very short while but ultimately stopped it. Now he calls inferquently but never more than once a week, which I can handle.

He still calls our mom and aunts, but they cannot bring themselves to not answer.

However, I was only able* to do this because I know that now (since last summer), after years of limbo, he is now living in a situation where he receives adequate professional help 24/7 and I no longer need to respond to the crisis, including sucide threats. (*By able I mean both mentally and practically speaking).
posted by 15L06 at 6:45 AM on December 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have to assume there’s more to this situation—how does he have both access to weed and so much time to get lonely and bored? Does he have a therapist or case worker? What has happened after his previous suicide attempts? Has he been hospitalized for extended periods? Has he lived in a residential care setting? Does he need to be in residential care now? Is he able to work? Have there been periods when he was not behaving like this? I ask not because I think you’re leaving things out to deceive us, but because I think he has you convinced that it’s just you and him in this uncomfortable dance, and I think it would be good for you to keep the bigger picture in mind. Also, if your brother threatens suicide, you can (and should) call 911. You need to take his safety seriously. That does not mean living with his harassment.

The following scripts might be helpful for recalibrating your sense of what’s OK for you to say. None of the following is cruel or unfair to your brother:

You: (in your house, relaxing, not wanting to hang out with your brother)
Brother: (knocks on door)
You: Hi David, it’s nice to see you but now isn’t a good time. Next time, can you call to make sure I’m able to have you over?
Brother: But I’m already here! What are you doing that I can’t come in?
You: I know you wanted to come in and hang out, but I’m not available to do that right now.
Brother: Why not? Why won’t you tell me what you’re doing?
You: David, I care about you, AND I can’t spend time with you right now. I’m going inside. I need you to call before you come over next time. (go inside--don't wait for him to leave)

Brother: Please drive me to my doctor’s appointment?
You: I can’t do that. Good luck finding an alternate ride.
Brother: Pleeeease? Why won’t you do it? (repeating/demanding reasons)
You: I’ve told you I can’t. I hope you can find a way to get there without me. Do you want to talk about something else or should we end this conversation?
Brother: But you’re the ONLY person who can help! And I need to go. If you don’t drive me, I’ll just miss the appointment.
You: I know you feel like I’m your only option, but there are other ways to get there. I hope you’ll find another way to get to this appointment. If you choose not to go, that’s up to you. I have to go now. I’ll talk to you later. (hang up--don't wait for him to say "OK")

Brother: I was SO HIGH yesterday. It was amazing.
You: I’m glad you enjoyed it. I don’t feel like talking about weed right now. Do you want to talk about something else, or should we end this conversation?
Brother: No, but you don’t understand, it was the best ever.
You: It sounds like you really want to talk about it, but I’m not interested in having that conversation with you. I have to go now. I’ll talk to you later. (hang up--don't wait for him to say, "OK")

Some of that looks pretty harsh, right? Except these are kind responses to your brother. They represent neither judging him for his choices, requests, or interests, nor acquiescing to his demands. If someone is pushing you, it’s kind to be firm in responding, “I care about you, and I’m not going to let you push me.”
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:07 AM on December 15, 2014 [19 favorites]

I can't help in the big issue but as for new hobbies: I notice there is a huge overlap in California between people who are into weed and people who are into home-brewing. Perhaps giving some books and materials to make his own homebrew might keep him out of your hair, or at least make his conversation more varied.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:44 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

1. Tell your brother you can't talk 100 times a day because you are busy/it's not a good time/you need alone time/whatever works for you and doesn't feel like a baldfaced lie. Expect him to understand this boundary. If he calls anyway, just don't answer. Because you're busy, it's not a good time, you need alone time, whatever.

2. If you are talking to your brother and he keeps going on about stuff you don't want to talk about, just say, "Well, OK, it was great to chat, see you next weekend at mom's barbecue," or whatever, and end the fucking conversation. If this happens when you're hanging out in person, make an excuse to duck out and end the conversation, or even leave if you need to. You're not obligated to talk to your brother about the topic of his choice for infinite periods of time.

3. If your brother wants you to do favors for him and you can't/don't want to for any reason, you can say no. If he annoys you persistently trying to get you to do the thing, you can end the conversation/leave/not pick up the phone when he calls back.

I have a sibling who does stuff like this on occasion (not this specific thing but is consistently difficult to deal with in similar ways), and my way of dealing with it is to just not feel obligated to participate.
posted by Sara C. at 10:45 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're expecting a person who's attempted suicide more than once and demonstrates clearly outlying behaviour to act and communicate like someone who doesn't have a mental illness. Ok, none of us can really say from here, but it sure sounds like that's what he's dealing with.

If that's the case, as others have said, he's not merely "annoying" (although of course he's that), he isn't being reasonable because his reasoning is affected by mental illness (if that's right, and it kind of really sounds like it is). So, the solution is to handle it like it's a mental illness, and do what jbenben advised.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:04 PM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your brother is seriously ill, and needs help instantly. Please focus on this right away. Talk with your family about it, and get professional help for your brother now. You are absolutely right to assume it is a dangerous situation, but you are wrong in assuming you can handle it alone or within the family.
I don't know where you are or what ressources you have, but if possible, call a mental health emergency line ASAP.
IANAD but I have seen this happen with friends, each time with very serious consequences.
posted by mumimor at 12:23 PM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with all of the mental health comments above. But a few additional thoughts:

--NA is not a great organization for people who smoke weed only (or smoke weed and drink). If there's MA where he is it will feel much much less alienating and more relatable for him.

--What's his approximate age? If he's newly or recently adult, and hasn't had access to weed for long, the one track mind could be a little less outright pathological than it's coming off from your narrative. Especially given the explosion of weed-related pop culture and marketing lately.

--If you're living somewhere with medical/legal weed, and feel like it won't make things worse, maybe encourage him to seek weed-related employment such that his obsession can lead him to engage more fully with the rest of life. I mean, the some of the guys who work the counters at the dispensaries aren't so far off from your brother in their scope of interest and conversation. (And, yes, I've known a few personally.) Even beyond the dispensaries themselves, there's a whole secondary sector of services like media companies (publishing the free local mags that carry advertising), security companies, companies making packaged MJ products, etc. Despite their identification with weed, they are ultimately companies with the same needs for workers of various kinds as any other.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2014

This sounds very difficult and stressful for you. Good luck. I agree with the 5 conversation points that Ruthless Bunny listed. You have to set expectations and then communicate them. Also it may work if you have standing appointments with him. For example, phone calls every Wed and Sun and a coffee date every Tues evening. That way, when you don't want to chat or meet up, you just say "great - let's talk more about that on Sunday". Good luck
posted by leslievictoria at 5:32 PM on December 15, 2014

Yes, his behavior sounds compulsive, and it sounds as if he is unable to process incoming information very well. Agreed with setting and enforcing very strict boundaries.

Also, Brother, I'm tired of talking about weed. Here's a book/ cd/ magazine. Read/ listen to it, and we can talk about it next time you come over. I will not engage in pot talk.

Do you have a mobile phone? Give his number a different, quiet ringtone, and answer maybe 1x/ day or send it straight to voicemail. With a landline, use your answering machine.

Tell him you're going to be tough on him because you need your privacy, and that you love him. Then be tough.
posted by theora55 at 5:49 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are worried about suicide, and it sounds like he needs help, the wake up call might be reporting a Credible suicide threat to 911 which may result in a 72 hour involuntary hospitalization. It may anger him, but really also encourage self-management
posted by childofTethys at 8:13 PM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with theora55 that the behavior you described sounds compulsive, and would venture to say he has an undiagnosed compulsion disorder. However, I cannot, nor can anyone else, diagnose his problem here, except to stress to you that his mental health is the number one priority that he needs addressed. I would categorize the weed thing as a number two priority -- but he cannot control himself and he needs professional help ASAP.

Whether you choose to intervene and be the person who tries to get him in contact with mental health services is up to you. (I'd certainly try, even if I didn't like my brother or have anything in common with him, but it's easy for me to say because I'm not the person in the situation. Good luck.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:44 AM on December 18, 2014

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