My older brother has always had the ability to hurt my feelings.
August 29, 2017 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Even now that we are senior citizens I find myself trying to please him and this, sometimes, is successful but many times it isn't and I will get a hurtful put down in response -even in front of my husband or strangers. Any idea what the sick dynamic involved here is? Thanks.
posted by Tullyogallaghan to Human Relations (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think (some) siblings do this because they can. They know just what to say, just where to poke, to get the reaction they are looking for. I'm one of 4 children and one of my sisters can't seem to help herself. It's an ugly form of one-up-man-ship. I do best when I anticipate the ugly comments and manage to stay calm and ignore them. It's not easy. Good luck.
posted by netsirk at 7:43 PM on August 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

Came to say what netsirk said and also, why are you still trying to please him after so many decades, when it never works? Who cares whether he's happy if he's going to treat you like this?
posted by radicalawyer at 7:45 PM on August 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

There are so many dynamics that could be the root of this - it's impossible to "diagnose" exactly why, even as a guess, with such a short description. But (as the advice columnists always say) the only person whose behavior you can control is yourself. So maybe stop trying to please him? Surely that will be hard after all these years but it may be worth trying.
posted by sheldman at 7:46 PM on August 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think the first thing to make peace with is the fact that there is no rational reason for this behavior. He may have his own internal logic that he uses to rationalize his meanness or he's truly clueless to his impact on others. But looking for a reasonable reason is a fool's errand.

The second thing to make peace with is the fact that your brother isn't likely to change his behavior. One thing that might make this easier is the realization that in all likelihood most other people see your brother's behavior for what it is - meanness and he is only making himself look bad.

All of this doesn't erase all of the hurt you must feel. As much as we we believe that if we're to find unconditional love and support from anywhere it's going to be from our families it is sadly not often not the case. That just sucks and it will never suck any less. There's nothing quite like being disappointed by a family member.

That said, if you want him to stop, or at least lessen, this behavior, then I suggest calling him out on it and/or enlisting other to call him out on it. When he makes a cutting remark, just tell him that kind of behavior is unacceptable to you and you're not going to spend time around him if that's how he behaves. Then walk away.
posted by brookeb at 7:55 PM on August 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

An old therapist of mine told me that we tend to re-enact our traumas in hopes of a happier ending. No idea if that's what's at play for you, but you could work on not trying to please him.

I really like Harriet Lerner's books for techniques on changing family dynamics by changing your side of the pattern.

As a sibling somewhat on the other side of a different sibling dynamic with some similarities, I wonder if your attempts to please are read by him as you needing something from him - his approval, his attention, his closeness? If as the older sibling he felt overshadowed by you, or as if his own needs were not met but he was expected to help meet your needs, or that his boundaries were not respected by your family, perhaps that could be part of it. But that's a wild guess from a stranger on the internet. I am not a therapist, I do not know you or your brother, I am not qualified to assess your relationship.
posted by bunderful at 7:56 PM on August 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

I'm in my early 40s and just realized this dynamic as well. You have to stop your part, you really cannot control anyone else's behavior. You have to reset the relationship. It may require cutting ties for awhile or completely non-reacting (externally or internally) to any provocation. It is difficult. He has his own issues that he is acting out. Family dynamics are very complex. Seek therapy if you can, it's probably worth addressing there but labelling it isn't going to be enough.
posted by bquarters at 8:32 PM on August 29, 2017

Did you have the same sort of relationship with a parent? If so, you could be re-enacting it with your sibling.
posted by XMLicious at 11:19 PM on August 29, 2017

You could tell him to knock that shit off without explanation. I would guess he knows what he is doing but if you have never said stop - he will not stop. You become a broken record .... every time. It will be uncomfortable and you may not be able to be this direct because it is really really hard to do. But in order for it to change you have to change something.

Or you can accept that at some point in your interaction with him he will put you down and you can't change him.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:24 PM on August 29, 2017

My mother's oldest brother was the same way. She kept peace with him for her twin sister's sake, but now that her sister is gone she simply doesn't have anything to do with him.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:42 PM on August 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah its very common thing. Hard to explain exact reason of this with your description. I would recommend not trying to please him and see he how responds or if you really care, have a coffee with him and explain your problems . That might help you.
posted by noorucn at 12:35 AM on August 30, 2017

I second the recommendation that you stop trying to please him, but I would also suggest that you do some internal work, and try to unpack why pleasing him matters to you and what you're trying to accomplish - and then figure out another way to meet that need.

That changes the relationship dynamics. He no longer has the power to hurt you, because you're healed that part of yourself, so it's a lot easier to see his put-downs and behavior as his issue, not yours. Also, it frees you from *needing* to please him - you can, if you want to, but if you don't feel like it that particular day, oh, well, that's fine, too.
posted by dancing_angel at 8:47 AM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I came in to say that the advice here is good and to add that what about practicing a different response? Almost like bootcamp style of practicing the dynamic and your different response. I was sort of able to do this with my therapist & while I didn't succeed the 1st time I tried a new response to my father's meanness, it did help me to see our interactions as sort of an experiment. It also helped me to see it coming so that I didn't become reactive. Then finally, I delivered the best response (or non-response depending on how you see it) and it was the breakthrough I needed! It was the tiniest most unnoticable thing but to me it was a victory! Practicing with someone also helped to create some muscle memory & have some canned responses. Good luck!
posted by PeaPod at 11:41 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Does he know he is being hurtful, or does just think he's being a smartass? (I was tempted to suggest that your husband smack him a good one, but on balance, that's not a good idea. )
posted by SemiSalt at 1:19 PM on August 30, 2017

My brother did this to me, and frankly, he was jealous. There was this thing of "I've got to correct you, or you'll get a big head," but it went further than that. He was jealous of me, and he never let me forget it. I was born after him, I got more attention than he did, and he hated me for it, and he never let me forget it.

I tried to be friends with him, and sometimes it worked, but often it didn't. The older we got, the worse it got. No matter that my mother paid him a lot of attention, if I came near my parents, he got very prickly. Dad did everything for him, but I was a horrible person, and my other (older) siblings were great. Just me. I was the brunt of his ire. Unless I wasn't.

The only thing that helped was physical distance. Only talking on the phone once in a while. There was a sort of dynamic in my family that excused his behavior, is there one in yours? Where you can't complain about him because that's just how he is?

If he does it in front of your husband, hopefully your husband will stand up for you. If not, I guess you have to prepare yourself to say, "Brother, you're an asshole." Because sometimes guys can be jerks, and they need to be called on it, no matter what their age.

That's not to say I didn't love my brother, I visited him in the hospital when he was dying and I held his hand. I loved him very much. I just didn't like how he treated me sometimes and I told him, but then again, I called him and sent him presents. He might've stole my Monopoly money but we went through some stuff together, and he was still my brother. I never pleased him but I held his hand when he was dying, and I think he appreciated that.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:38 PM on August 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I can't answer the larger questions here about why he does this. But one of my relatives did this to me and I was given the advice to respond to the put-downs with "why do you say that?"

It worked for me. Sometimes I could pull it off with a tone of casual curiosity, like "what a strange thing to say, what do you mean?". Other times i couldn't help but sound hurt. It didn't seem to matter how I said it, though. The important thing is to put the person in the uncomfortable position of having to answer a question about what the hell just came out of their mouth. And my relative never did have a good answer, just some vague backtracking or dismissal. But having to come up with a fake response every time because the true response (the Why behind it all) is either subconscious or too much to say publicly is a lot of work. So eventually my relative stopped saying these shitty things. It's not a perfect solution by any means, but it makes life a bit easier and only needs you to remember a stock phrase. Worth a try, anyway.
posted by harriet vane at 5:01 AM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

You're more good, he's less good. You're like two bioforms that have different natures. You're nice out of love and he is mean to you because he is mean (and he is mean for all of the usual reasons probably). It's harder for him to act nice, because he is not nice. That's my take on it. Why this imbalance? You might as well ask, why does the...? It's a deep, unanswerable question, though an important one. You should take care of yourself though, love yourself, try not to suffer when he is mean, spend less time with him if it happens a lot.
posted by benadryl at 1:11 AM on September 2, 2017

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