Brother has anger issues; family pretends it isn't a problem?
July 13, 2015 6:17 AM   Subscribe

My mom brushes off my brother's anger issues. It's detrimental to the family environment but she does not want/has not addressed it.

My twin brother has developed anger management issues. Routinely, whenever my mother and him get into an argument, verbal insults and breaking plates/putting holes in walls is the norm. This occurs whenever he comes down; every weekend, or every other weekend.
The reason for this, I believe, is that he is frustrated with his own life, and resentful to my parents who, like other typical South Asian parents, expect their children to fulfill certain duties (follow the religion of our parents, accept a marriage partner that they approve of, etc.). They are controlling but loving? My brother works full-time, and like me is soon turning 26.

I try to be respectful to my parents, but I am also taking steps towards an independent life. I often have anxiety discussing my decisions with my parents; they are not always supportive. What makes it worse however, is that I cannot count on my brother for support. Instead, his comments are almost always degrading, centering around my "shitty degree, inability to find a job, etc." and my anxiety, which is not relevant to the conversation. I told my mother that I do not want to move in with my family, because I find the environment toxic, and because I can find a job and live on my own. She doesn't accept this, and in fact pushes me to accept my brother's behaviour as he is family.

Ultimately, I just want them to see that his behaviour is not okay, no matter how resentful and frustrated he is feeling. And that I do have a valid reason for not accepting his behaviour. What can I do, if anything at all?
posted by raintree to Human Relations (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am also the child of Asian immigrants, and have been in the U.S. since elementary school. I say this as gently as possible: you can't. The only thing you can control is your actions. Do what you need to do to grow and thrive separately from them. If they are reasonable, they will see the example you set and open their minds.

For what it's worth, this is exactly what happened in my family. But I don't delude myself that it had anything to do with me; it was because they themselves were willing to see things differently. You must let go of the idea that you can "fix" things; accept them as they are and move forward.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:29 AM on July 13, 2015 [18 favorites]

Yep, the only thing you can control is you. There is a chance that you will set an example of a different way to deal with the situation that will give them food for thought, but even if they never change at least you'll be living the life you want.

I will say your mother is sort of right: you DO have to accept that other people get to act however they want. You don't have to like it, and you have the right to set boundaries for yourself so that you walk away/stop having the conversation/don't engage when you find certain behaviors "unacceptable", but you don't have the right (or magical ability) to force your brother to act another way, or force your parents to act another way. If you keep trying to do that, you are filling your life with disappointment by your own choice.

You're not owed support - an argument could be made that you're not supporting them either, so you kind of have to accept that going your own way is going to mean stepping out of that loop in both directions - and you will have to make your own peace in the discomfort of going against expectations. You may want to try some home CBT for dealing with that anxiety and discomfort (I always recommend The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, on Amazon).

You might also consider that you are not alone in suffering from anxiety, as your brother doesn't sound like he's coping all that great either. That doesn't mean you have to like the way he acts, but the way you asked your question does sort of come off like you have no idea why nobody will do what you want, and no recognition that everybody in this situation is a little bit stuck and everybody has motives and history and roadblocks of their own in play here. This is a complicated situation, and not just about you, and understanding that may be part of the key to a better relationship with your parents even if there are serious cultural differences between you and them.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:10 AM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your brother is behaving poorly, but at the same time is reacting to inappropriate behavior on the part of your parents...look, I get they are from another culture, but pressuring someone to follow a religion they don't agree with or marry someone they don't want to marry is pretty terrible/unacceptable in my book. I wouldn't put up with it from anyone, including my parents, either. Obviously distancing himself before the outbursts of anger would be a better choice, but I get where the negative emotions are coming from.

In any case, the only person you can control here is yourself. I'd suggest doing what you need to do for your own mental health, which right now might mean limiting contact with your brother (and parents?) and being really clear about your boundaries. For example, I would suggest that next time he goes into a rage over something, physically get yourself out of the situation, immediately. I'm not clear on whether you're currently living with your parents or whether they just want you to? Regardless, if you want to live independently, you're 26, you don't need anyone's permission! Look for roommates to help ease the transition financially, and go for it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:21 AM on July 13, 2015

I say continue to build an independent life for yourself, and don't kid yourself about the reactions that will create in your family unit. Watch your expectations, i.e. don't expect your brother to be able to be happy for you having a more independent life than what he's "allowed" to have. If you can, have empathy for him without enabling his angry outbursts. And don't expect your parents to be happy for you having more freedoms and choices than they ever knew before building a life here (in the US or Canada, I'm assuming). Otherwise, you'll be setting yourself up for sore disappointment (not because they're bad people, but because this is often how it goes for adult children of hard-core traditional parents from any culture).

I have one South Asian parent who was married off to a "white" Canadian. I see a lot of her Old World behaviors play out, some 30 years post-immigration. It's really hard for her generation to understand that there truly is freedom to choice your own romantic partner and belief system without persecution, loss of financial privileges, punishment from the community group, etc. There have been many, many times where she has reacted to my choices as though it's the last time she'll see me because she expects me to end up murder-raped in a ditch somewhere for being so "arrogant" (I'm not just kidding lightly here -- I have tremendous appreciation that's only growing with age as to how much violence, sexual violence, and oppression her family has been suffering for generations under post-imperial British rule. Historically speaking, my mom's family worked plantations for white people in one of the British colonies, and just because they've been "given freedom" now doesn't mean the effects of that poverty and slavery era have gone away overnight).

ANYHOW, it's probably somewhat like that for your parents too -- hard-wired memories of poverty, suffering, and the punitive consequences that came with stepping out of line to express individuality and pursue self-determination under foreign rule (think of the Jailianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar in 1919). Your parents (and their parents, for generations back) have little concept of self-determination without severe consequence. You and your brother are bearing the brunt of that transgenerational pressure. Your parents are unlikely to see that his behavior is not okay because this is how South Asian families have coped with foreign-imposed socioeconomic poverty for generations (with significant financial income tied to arranged marriage choices -- something that was not necessarily a generalized feature of Indian culture pre-British but that became a hard-wired fact after the British Raj). In other words, this kind of angry behavior in sons has been "normal" for too many generations now.

If I were in your shoes, I would really focus on building that independent life (with loving support for your family from a distance), drop expectations that your family is able to understand and support you to a North American/Western standard, and empathize with your brother (in limited doses, without allowing yourself to bear the brunt of his frustration) that it is an unfair situation wherein your parents could put their energy into supporting their children to adapt to modern times rather than punish and control. I'm willing to bet your parents honestly have never know any different -- not in their extended family or cultural community. There hasn't been a lot of great role models provided for them to see how cultural adaptation works, and that it's possible to build a secure life without living through their children. Like snickerdoodle said, it will depend a lot on their attitudes as individuals to begin with.

I don't know if my comments will be helpful for you. I really just empathize with your struggle from my own struggle trying to help a South Asian parent find her comfort zone within North American societal freedoms.
posted by human ecologist at 11:01 AM on July 13, 2015 [14 favorites]

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