Why do I feel guilt for not wanting my abusive brother in my life?
September 8, 2018 11:03 PM   Subscribe

So recently I have been going to a therapist, I've been going there since March. A lot of things from my past have been dug up and my relationship towards my brother was one of the things that became a very stressful and intense topic to speak about. So before I get into that, a little background, I'm going to a therapist because I've been dragging the demons of the past for a while now.

In high school I was an outcast, I developed many irrational fears and issues because of that time. My brother, just like most people around me, treated me the same way they all did. He thought I was a anti-social freak who didn't "want to make friends", he probably said something like that as well. In short he was emotionally distant, mean towards me and verbally abusive, he even let one of his friends bully me and he stood by and did nothing while this friend of his did what he did. This isn't the worst however, in addition to these things, he beat me several times during my childhood, many of those because he felt he could do so after he got mad at me or whatever. He's always solved everything like that, whenever he has a problem with someone he's either verbally abusive towards them or physically violent.

Things haven't been ok between us for years now, but before going to therapy I thought us being this way was normal, and that maybe I was exaggerating, but that's just not right, he beat me many times and I think he has only ever apologized once. He doesn't do that anymore, but he's still verbally abusive all the time, earlier this year I just decided I don't want to have a close relationship with him, I want to be as far away from him as possible, I don't want him talking to me and I don't want to know about him. However, he thinks this is just me being me and that things will get back to normal and that he'll be able to talk to me like if none of that stuff had ever happened. I don't know why but this week when he started to act this way, I felt repulsed towards him, whenever he made his jokes or came to talk to me, I acted indifferently towards him, earlier today he got mad and told me I was behaving like an ass, once again he said it in a verbally abusive way. I told him I didn't want him talking to me or interacting with me.

I don't know why I said but I said it, and I feel somewhat guilty after saying that and treating him with hostility. I guess I don't understand why I feel this way, he kind of deserves it, but I guess I didn't want to have to tell him not to talk to me. I don't feel anger, just sadness and I don't know why.
posted by Braxis to Human Relations (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You're putting together how truly cruel and abusive he's always been and acting accordingly. Which is great! Good for you! The guilt you're feeling is likely the residual presence of your life-long belief that what he's doing shouldn't be countered with consequences that could hurt him. That will fade with time.

The sadness is sadness at the realization that he'll never be a good brother to you, he's not grown out of his cruelty, and he's never taken responsibility for being horrible to you and harming you. There's no loving brother on the horizon for you. You're mourning the collapse of the possibility that he'll be a good brother one day.

I wouldn't be surprised if he gets more angry as it becomes clear that you're not putting up with him anymore. He expects that you should continue to be a compliant victim and happily put up with his terrible behavior and is going to be mad that you're taking your power back.
posted by quince at 11:34 PM on September 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

I cut my abusive older brother out of my life eleven years ago. I had tried to help him and keep my own shit in check but it was impossible. He was unwilling to take responsibility for his past behavior and I realized being around him triggered my PTSD. In fact, he's the main reason I have PTSD, which sucks. In any case, even as an adult I'd literally start feeling suicidal and want to rip my skin off, seemingly out of nowhere, when I was with him. I now understand why and how; thank goodness therapy has helped so much but I certainly wish I had grown up without his abuse. Fortunately, I have younger siblings who are wonderful and I wouldn't trade them for the world.

Ending my relationship with him was absolutely the right decision, and I haven't regretted it at all. I don't know what is best for you but you do and it sounds like you're already taking big, healthy steps. You deserve to be happy and do whatever is right for you. Please focus on what's the best for your health and well-being right now: you can see what the future holds. Had my older brother taken ownership of his actions rather than denied them, perhaps I would have reconsidered but I doubt he'll ever change, unfortunately.

I wish you luck in this process. It's difficult and sad at times but ultimately leads you to an easier day-to-day and greater happiness.
posted by smorgasbord at 11:44 PM on September 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Can you put some physical distance between you and your brother? From your post it sounds like you see him often or perhaps even live together. It is hard to reduce or cease contact with someone you’re in physical proximity with; you have to actively say something which might feel mean. Not saying anything and just ignoring is and feels even worse when the person is right there. If you’re apart, you just have to not reach out and and it is much easier to respond to them reaching out. Some of the sadness might come from having to assert your boundaries by rebuffing him and thus doing something not “nice”.

And then there’s the mourning for the lost belief in a good relationship with a good brother and for your own self as a child.
posted by meijusa at 12:55 AM on September 9, 2018

I’m a parent. If one of my children treated another this way, I’d be beside myself. I would do everything I could to help them both, but the higher priority would be the safety of the victimized sibling. Even now, at ages 2, 5, and 7, they are all expected to treat each other with respect and kindness. I tell them they don’t have to like each other, but I will not allow any child of mine to be bullied in their own house.

I’m glad you’re in therapy. Dig deeper. What did your parents do? Did they protect you, or did they turn a blind eye and make excuses? Did they discipline him or enable him? Did they help you with your anxiety? Where they warm and loving or cold and neglectful?

I don’t know you, and I don’t know your family, but in my experience, that kind of dynamic is a result of an unhealthy family culture, not just a “bad” child. My guess is that you feel guilty because you were blamed instead of protected and supported by your parents, and a bit of distance from all of them while you sort this out would be beneficial.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:49 AM on September 9, 2018 [7 favorites]

Guilt is not unusual when setting boundaries.

It sounds like you might be taking responsibility for your brother's emotional state. It might be useful to read up on codependency - but a therapist can help you explore your family dynamics and get some answers.

Good luck to you.
posted by bunderful at 5:39 AM on September 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've been frozen out by my brother and I completely support his decision, whether he ever decides to reconcile with me or not. Our parents were pretty much absentee for much of my childhood and all but the first four years of his, and left me alone to care for him far too early. Every therapist and friend I've ever told about this has said, predictably, "You were a child; it wasn't your fault." Whatever. I abused my brother. It doesn't matter that I was nine at the time; I beat the crap out of him; he has PTSD. THAT's the situation. "Fault" doesn't even come into the equation; it's not even slightly interesting.

I have apologized to my brother again and again, after we grew up, and we had an uneasy sort of friendship as adults. But my brother finally realized that he needed to break that friendship, simply because he was finally angry about having been beaten and wounded when he was a defenseless child. It doesn't matter that I know what I did and have apologized for it: I was still hurting him. What everybody likes to say, that the wound can't heal until you forgive the abuser, is exactly wrong. The wound can only heal when you stop re-opening it.

Do you know what else? This has been good for ME, too. Nothing any shrink or friend or least of all any prevaricating, cowardly, weasel of a parent has ever said to me about how it's all water under the bridge, I was an innocent child, it was aaalllll in the misty paaaaaaaaaast, blah blah endless blah has ever done me any good. What did me any good ever? My brother finally getting angry and finally telling me, at long last, to fuck off and die. My brother is finally doing something for himself, to help himself.

It sucks not to have a relationship with my brother, but it sucks far less than to maintain a relationship that causes him more suffering. We finally have an honest relationship--in that we have no relationship.

I cut off my ass of a father over the wrong he did me making me his prisoncamp guard, and I feel no pain and no guilt about that. My brother? You!? You guys should feel nothing but joy and relief. If your brother, like my parents, refuses to face what he did, that's unfortunate for him. He's missing out on a lot of relief that he could be feeling, from the cessation of the constant, exhausting LYING that everybody does all of the time in families like this and about families like this. Take it from me, who could not love my brother more, who could not be more thankful that he acted as he has, your brother should be endlessly grateful to you for your bravery and your honesty.

You are doing exactly the right thing. Please enjoy perfect peace and freedom from pain. Feel free to memail me if you want practical tips on how to effectively ghost family members you cannot stand while still living in the same town with them. I have years of experience in ghosting and, now, in being ghosted.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:38 AM on September 9, 2018 [22 favorites]

Guilt usually comes from a sense that we have violated our values.However, values often come in conflict with other values, leaving you feel uncomfortable.
So, I could take a guess about why you might feel guilty:

You like to be a nice person and don't like to treat anyone rudely. This is especially true when dealing with your own family. This is a good value. However, in this case, values such as self-respect and self-care come in conflict with the value of being nice. You feel uncomfortable because you are violating one value (niceness) but when you step back and think about it, you realize that the other values (self-respect, healing) do genuinely deserve more weight.

So, if this seems to fit, my advice is to use the sense of guilt as a signal to ask values are at play here and then to look at the big pictures and see that you are in fact making a correct decision and one that is, over all, in alignment with your values. Then let go of the guilt.
posted by metahawk at 11:17 AM on September 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the answers, it clears things up a bit and no my brother has never acknowledged that what he did was wrong, he has never apologized for it and he's only become a worse person with time. We barely talk anymore and I like it that way, I guess maybe that's why I lashed out at him yesterday, I don't ever want to go back to how things were.

As for my parents, I am not sure if they knew about the beatings and the verbal abuse. If they did, they never did anything about it, if they didn't they weren't paying attention. I can't say the family dynamics at home were all that great, I never knew to question these things because my parents always presented themselves as flawless and they always talked about how everyone else and every other family was beneath them.

My brother has also resolved his arguments with my father with violence. The last time they had one like that my brother threw a chair at my father. If he doesn't use violence then he will solve things through verbal abuse. That is just how he is, he solves his issues that way all the time.
posted by Braxis at 12:19 PM on September 9, 2018

Your feelings, reactions and desires are normal. You have an abusive person in your life who happens to be your brother. You don't have to like him or talk to him or give him any of your time.

I rarely have contact with my brother for similar reasons. I spent time with grief about my expectations of family, and how my recovery from stuff in childhood didn't match his. I wanted him to cope with stuff well, and he... just didn't. He chose alcohol and abuse and anger. It is sad. And my grief about wanting him to do better and come out with some idealistic sibling relationship was very real. But...ultimately, I have to take care of me. And I've been blessed with insight and resources to create a healthy life with supportive people. I hope one day he will change, and I'll be here if he does. But I don't have to be around him now, and he's free to live his life as he pleases.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:20 PM on September 9, 2018

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