I don’t know how to apologize or forgive after sibling estrangement
October 5, 2018 11:16 PM   Subscribe

Is there such a thing as reconciliation ‘lite’? Try as I might, I can’t resolve my resentments and forgive just yet. But I want to move on with some some semblance of peace; also I’m scared about what happens after our parent dies (property, inheritance, etc).

It’s been a few years since the major fight. It’s a constant source of stress for me, from feeling isolated in the world, guilt, bewilderment, self-and-other blame, to name a few.

I come from an abusive and dysfunctional family background. A handful of years ago, I came down with debilitating chronic illness which rendered me bedridden for a couple years. I moved back into my family’s house at this time, and while I was allowed to live there, no one showed much interest or care about the condition I was in, and in fact they were somewhat abusive and cold about it (I still live here, as I’m still dealing with the illness).

My brother and I have never been close. The fight happened because I asked him to take out a bag of trash before my friend visited, as I physically could not. He said he would, and didn’t for days. Not surprising, because he has a history of flaking. But I asked him sincerely, mistakenly thinking he'd understand, letting him know it made me anxious (mother is a hoarder and clutter makes me anxious anyway). Finally, when he kept putting it off and dismissing my request until the last minute, I snapped and lashed out at him. It was borne out of a lifetime of abandonment, helplessness, frustration. He came back at me with a slew of the worst words. It still sits heavy to this day.

Since then, he’s gotten married, didn’t tell me about it, I didn’t attend his wedding, etc. My mother doesn’t get involved, and I’m pretty sure she favors him anyway. Typing this all out, I have a feeling that the majority of responses will be suggestions for me to GTFO and not look back — and I’m trying. But constantly being around AND having an estranged sibling stresses me out hardcore and I don’t know if there’s something I can do about it. I made the mistake of lashing out, but there's a deep-seated history of anger and issues that drove me to do it that I haven’t resolved yet. When the illness hit, I was diagnosed also with PTSD, and with the health decline, I lost my job, friends, and my world seemingly collapsed. It's been overwhelming to deal with it all (Yes, I tried therapy, and will probably try some online kind if I can afford it).

We co-own property that was given to us by my mother. When the time comes and my mom dies, I don’t know how I’ll handle this. Psychologically, I also don’t feel very empowered, because he has a partner and I don’t. I want to have some kind of communication channel open so I don’t feel so powerless. I think my brother has the type of mindset that my chronic illness is my problem, not his, and I'm barely beginning to see that he's right, and feel utterly terrible. How do I ask for forgiveness when I still have unresolved resentment?

Throwaway email: estrangedsib@mailsac.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds, ultimately, like a gender issue. I don’t know your culture and your family’s culture, but I am unsure why you must apologize?

What can we do to help you? You have explicitly laid out the problem, but the solution is not necessarily something you can fix the way you have laid out the issue.

Your brother seems fine with bullying you. This is a financial/legal problem in terms of inheritance and your parents’ estate.

Which direction do you want to go? What is your legal jurisdiction? Are you physically safe in these circumstances?

That’s just off of the top of my head. What concerns did I miss?
posted by jbenben at 12:39 AM on October 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Does he live there with you?

What I read from this is that you are coming round to the idea that you might not have been reasonable to expect him to caretake for you, but on the other hand you still feel a great deal of resentment that he wasn't and hasn't been there for you. It doesn't sound as though he behaved in a good way, but I also think you should be clear to yourself whether or not your resentment is really at him-- or at your family in general with him as a proxy. Sometimes when you're very dependent on people (i.e., parents) it's easier for sibs to lash out at each other because they do not feel safe or able to get angry at the actual cause of the issue.

This aside, if what you want is a kind of non-estrangement then I would suggest the following script. "Sib, the fight we had all those years ago has really been weighing on me. I know I was hurt and I imagine you were hurt too. We may not be able to be best friends, but can we find a way back to being family? I'm really sorry I hurt you, no matter what I thought the provocation was."

Do you have some kind of support group you can reach out to lean on, at least online? I ask because I think the kind of non-estranged relationship you're looking for will be very difficult if he's really one of the only people in your life. You say you lost friends, your job-- I think to get the balance you need you need to depend on your family a little less somehow. Otherwise every conflict/interaction will be so high stakes it will be difficult not to let it explode. I really do think therapy would be a good idea.

Good luck.
posted by frumiousb at 1:01 AM on October 6, 2018 [7 favorites]

I think a lot of this is frustration because you don’t have a caretaker, and know your life would be improved with one, but still don’t have one. You were in the wrong to expect your brother to be responsible for managing your illness and your home - it is nice if he can do that favor, but he is not obligated to do so. It sounds like you feel like he does kind of owe you because your life is harder than his, and that’s just...not how the world works or how siblings work.

If you said mean things first, you don’t really have the moral high ground in being mad at him for saying mean things too. I would honestly take a look and figure out what the actual emotional issues going on here are. You don’t estrange yourself from a sibling over the fact that they didn’t take the trash out when you wanted them to.
posted by corb at 2:11 AM on October 6, 2018 [16 favorites]

Corb, it sounds like OP was asking their brother to take out the trash in their shared home, in which case that should be a standard roommate task anyway.
posted by storytam at 3:35 AM on October 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is not about the trash.

What this is about is far more complicated and likely deals witha lifetime of abuse on both your parts.

If you want to have a relationship the first question is are you okay not ever seriously talking about this? Likely you will never resolve it. If that is unacceptable to you, then I wouldn't advise it. You cannot make someone else process their experiences.

I just decided to talk to my brother on a cordial level. Basically we agreed to let's just go foward from here. And we are perfectly nice to each other, but we aren't talking much. The rest of it (our parents, our illnesses, his alcohol use, my PTSD never ever gets talked about). Our perceptions and coping styles are to different for it to be productive. But we do say hello and can successfully sit at the same dinner table.

It really depends on what you want out of a relationship, and how disappointed you will be if you can't get that.

I am here for my brother if he ever has problems or wants to talk about our shared history, but I don't think it will happen. I also think there are likely people in his life who could assist him with more than I could even if I have more of an understanding.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:50 AM on October 6, 2018 [15 favorites]

To me, this is what social niceties are for. Cards or small gifts on people's birthdays and any holidays you celebrate; liking things they post on social media if social media is not emotionally expensive for you; finding some kind of low-risk common ground. A lot of times, just letting people know you're still there gives them room to behave better.

I also agree with thinking through what the emotional issues are, but more for you than for him.
posted by BibiRose at 7:26 AM on October 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Im sorry for your illness and everything you lost. Its natural for that to affect you. However resentment will kill you. Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It's letting your brother live rent free in your head.
The way to let go of the resentment is to develop your own sense of personal power, to see that you are not helpless. Although you are not strong in ways that you may wish, you actually are strong in many other ways. Develop that awareness of your ability to choose, to speak, to learn, to build support.
In addition, behind the resentment are many other feelings, anger, shame, grief etc... exploring those feelings with a journal, a therapist or by reading could help you.
posted by SyraCarol at 7:33 AM on October 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

You seem to have two reasons for wanting a reconciliation with your brother: first, to heal emotional wounds, and second, to better handle your shared property. With respect, I think these reasons may be in conflict with each other. It is a common abuse-victim pitfall to make tons and tons of concessions in the hopes that one day the abuser will someday act fairly with them. This gives away all their power and their life for a reward that never materializes. I'm not saying your brother is an abuser, but I think you are still struggling with your history as abuse victim, and you could make concession after concession with your emotions and property in the faint hope that some day (years later - when your mother dies) he'll act in the way you want.

I suggest splitting out your two reasons, and since you sound like you are still processing layers of emotional trauma, tackle the problem of the shared property first. The way to do this is to get professionals on your side - lawyers, financial planners, real estate agents. Identify if there's a way to sever your portion of the property from his so that you are no longer financially tied together, and so you can use your inheritance in the way that will best get you back on your feet. This doesn't have to be an adversarial process, the lawyer doesn't have to sue him for all he's worth, but you do want the lawyer to make sure whatever agreement is legally solid and has considered your best interests. You seem to think your brother's spouse gives him power, but having professionals on your side is way more powerful than having a random spouse.

When you no longer have your finances tied together you will be much less vulnerable to each other, giving more room for emotional healing. This will also give you time to do more emotional processing on your own, and build up a support network that is not family. Honestly, I think your brother did you a favor by backing away from you - this gives you room to take care of your stuff without injections of new drama from your tumultuous relationship with him. When you are on steadier emotional ground, and more solid finances, it will be easier to tackle an emotional reconciliation with him.
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 9:23 AM on October 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Adults should talk out their problems. Neither of you are entitled to an apology, but if you want to re-establish a fruitful relationship, one of you has to start the apology. So start it. If you don't like the response, then leave it alone and try it again in a few years.
posted by stewiethegreat at 9:36 AM on October 6, 2018

OP, I feel for you, since I also have a sibling who is just not who I'd like them to be, and who frankly does not care about me in the way I wish they did. It's taken me a long time to accept that fact, and to realize that sharing a common parent does not necessarily guarantee a special bond.

However, the corollary to that is, harsh as it sounds, that being related does not entitle either of you to that bond, either. When you write I think my brother has the type of mindset that my chronic illness is my problem, not his, it sounds as if you don't realize that this is in fact true. Of course, ideally we humans, especially family members, would help and care for each other, but some relationships, and in fact some people, are just not like that. There's some very good advice above about expanding your social circle and support network and finding somewhere else to focus your own positive attentions. Recognize that you are not obligated to spend time or emotional energy on someone who doesn't appreciate it, either.

None of this is intended as a criticism of you and I hope you don't take it that way. In my own case, though, I found that accepting my sibling's limitations went a long way towards easing the tensions in our relationship. I no longer expect care and support from them, nor do I offer the same in the hope of appreciation. Instead, we both rely on social niceties and good manners of the kind described in other answers, and we now have a cordial enough relationship that we could cooperate well in the case of some kind of emergency, for example. In that sense, I've reached the place of forgiveness when it's defined as "abandoning all hope of a different past."

Also, since a lot of your concern seems to be linked to how you are going to deal with practical matters after the death of your parents, you might find this book
useful. Although it is written from a business/public policy perspective, it has some very useful ideas for dealing with people you just plain don't like, and who don't like you, either.
posted by rpfields at 9:56 AM on October 6, 2018 [11 favorites]

Regarding the most practical aspect, We co-own property that was given to us by my mother. When the time comes and my mom dies, I don’t know how I’ll handle this.

Maybe you can explain this in more detail, or ask a separate question. Since you co-own the property, i.e. it was already given by your mother, it appears you're already handllng this. Or, is your mother still handling the property for some reason? What kind of "handling" is required now? What kind of handling will be required after your mother passes?

There are fairly straightforward ways to divide up a piece of property, with legal help, if you and your brother are uncomfortable managing the property together. Maybe spell out the problem you're having with this property.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:23 AM on October 6, 2018

No one ends a relationship over the trash. If your brother has cut you out, there are deeper reasons. Maybe start by asking? But yes, be prepared to apologize. He may have a laundry list of things you weren’t aware of. (I’m not saying apologize if you don’t feel it’s warranted though.)
posted by greermahoney at 10:32 AM on October 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

So I'm a little confused by what your situation actually entails because when I think of "estrangement" I think of having no contact (which is my situation with my family of origin) but you then said " constantly being around AND having an estranged sibling" and noted that your mother doesn't get involved, which makes me think that you are actually physically around each other but perhaps just ... not interacting? And that would alter my advice on how you might move forward towards a least a civil relationship with your brother, if that's what you want. (Although I think it's important to note that a reconciliation would not guarantee that your relationship will be emotionally, legally, or otherwise smoother in the future.)
posted by sm1tten at 3:11 PM on October 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

How do I ask for forgiveness when I still have unresolved resentment?

To the extent it might help you to resolve that resentment, I'll note that your question does something I see often on AskMe: a person describes a two-way fight in which both people misbehaved, and then adds, "But my misbehavior was due to outside factors X, Y, and Z." Other people are also subject to outside factors. Other people also have stress and problems. If your misbehavior is excused, then shouldn't theirs be, too?

If your brother grew up in the same abusive and dysfunctional household, then it seems unfair (and probably inaccurate) to look at a fight where you both misbehaved and say that only your half was due to pent-up frustrations from your shared childhood.
posted by cribcage at 12:18 PM on October 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

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