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My Brother Is Destroying My Family

by Angelina
(Mauritius)

Hi Annie,
Thanks for your help, I sent in a question a while ago, and it really helped me a lot. I am now enjoying a better life with my parents who I came to understand better.

editor's note:
You can read Angelina's previous question about how to deal with her over controlling parents here:
Coping with strict Parents

Actually, I have another problem, and really need your help. I was born in a family with strict values and rules and regulations. As my father is a priest, he has done his best to provide me and my brother with a life that is very self disciplined.

However, my brother is now fifteen years old but is an undisciplined child with no sense of manners. He has a different mind of his own, doing what he want without caring of the consequences. Since childhood, he has a different character from others. He is reserved, doesn't like to make friends but gets easily influenced by bad habits and friends.

Ever since he started attaining height, he seems to believe he is superior. He does everything to break any rules and regulations in our house. He doesn't agree with my parents teachings nor with the rules established, such as prayer before eating, not going out late at night.

He understands every thing in a negative way. Whatever is positive or good, he sees it as the opposite. He had the same moral education and same upbringing as mine. For a few moments, he might regret his actions, cries and promise not to repeat it but the next day it is the same.

He is not interested in studies. He left school at a very young age. Through, my parents did everything in their power to send him to school, he bunked school and refused to step there! He is not interested in any course, hobby, activity or anything. His only occupation is with food and he has refused any worked given to him.

My Mom sacrificed her job and become a housewife just to help her son but in vain. Due to all the problems with him, my Mom has suffered the problem of depression and is still mentally disturbed. My dad having reached a certain age, is having early health concerns. Their marriage is being subjected to arguments and is on the way to breaking up.

I am doing an important class right now and my education is being affected through I usually work well in class. He has being given the maximum human values but no effect. There is no problem of communication and through he might be a bad tempered child, he is given not the maximum but the minimum amount of attention and some of his desires is fulfilled but to a certain limit.

He has no sense of money management and spent my dad earnings without asking for permission. He thinks everything is permitted to him. Being short sighted he is being exploited by others who use him for their benefit. Through, he has nearly reached maturity, he still have the mind of a child.

Also, my parents had made him follow psychological treatment but it has had no effect on him. He regrets having being born into such a spiritual family and desires to have another family who could provide him with the freedom he desires.

His temper is the worst thing my parents and I have seen!!!!!!!! He had even lodged a case against my parents accusing them of depriving him of shelter. My parents are afraid to send him to a youth center because of the several cases we heard and read in the newspapers.

The chances are if he goes there he might become worse or suffer from a trauma. Moreover, he always puts the threat of committing suicide in front of my parents.

Please help me to save my parents marriage - I don't want lose them due to my brother. I just want to know if my parents were wrong in their upbringing concerning my brother and how can we correct such a child.
Thanks in advance.

Comments for My Brother Is Destroying My Family

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Family Dynamics - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Dear Angelina,
Goodness you are coping with a lot of stress in your family. It sounds to me like you are the one trying to hold it all together, and you are still moving into adulthood yourself and should not have that kind of responsibility.

I can see your brother is and has been a challenging child. At fifteen he is right at the age for rebelling and when parents are overly strict or have very ridged beliefs, then he is going to push harder and harder.

It Is NOT Your Job To Fix Everyone


Firstly, it is NOT up to you to fix everything. You have your own stresses with studying and focusing on your own future, you cannot and should not take on the load from your family.

But of course you are being impacted with all the disharmony. And you can be some support to each family member in different ways without feeling you have to find all the solutions.

You are all seeing your brother as the problem. I suspect you are grouping with your parents as another critical parent in his life, judging him, telling him to behave, criticizing him for being so mean to his parents. This is a seriously disturbed child, and he is acting out all the family tensions. In a way he is the family scapegoat - seen as to blame for all the family issues.

What is Communication?


You say communication is not the issue, but I would disagree. There may be communication about rules and regulations, there may be communication such as yelling and refusing to comply and there maybe efforts to tell him how he should be behaving. But communication is mostly about listening. There is a huge amount of pain in your family, your Mom's depression is her trying to suppress her own pain and feelings of helplessness, and most likely lots of other things to do with her relationship with your Father.

Perhaps even to the point of feeling she has to suppress her own feelings if the family values are driven by your father.

Of course there are a lot of good values in strong spiritual families, but it can also close the door to open discussion, different opinions, or making up one's own mind about what is important.

Part Two Follows . . .

Family Dynamics- Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Your brother is clearly not a conformist, so his personality over the years has been repressed and criticized and made wrong to try to force him to fit what your parents see as good child. Clearly they have tried to get help, and tried to instill good values in him, but he is pushing back saying - "this is not who I am", "I'm frustrated and unhappy, please understand me and accept me as I am"

He is threatening suicide partly as a manipulation of your parents, but also partly to call attention to the fact that he is deeply unhappy. I would doubt that he believes he is loved, he certainly will not feel accepted and will be behaving in ways that reinforce that belief.

Now while I can see why he may be behaving so badly, that does not mean it is acceptable. On one hand he is rejecting the family, saying he wants a new one, but on the other hand he is financially dependent, but not respecting that.

Tough Love


There are many people who advocate tough love techniques of setting a strict limit about the bottom line important things. Each family is different about what they might be, but things like:

  • No violence or damage of property

  • No stealing and respecting the property of others

  • Attending school, working or actively seeking work

  • Contribution to the household in some way


There will be others that are important in your family, but religious practices are a difficult and contentious issue. You can have a requirement for respecting others spiritual practices and values but you can't enforce belief. Since your Father is a priest, this will be a core belief for him and he will be finding it impossible to accept that his son does not share it.

Then with the tough love idea, there has to be bottom line consequences.

Some families have a three strikes and you are out kind of system, perhaps over a month. Some families have a very strict - if you break any of the bottom line rules you are out. And that is where it gets really hard. Being prepared to say you can't live in this house if you continue to disrespect the base line values.

Most families find this incredibly difficult and need to be part of a support group to work though this kind of contract. Your parents are already concerned that sending him elsewhere will not help.

Part Three Follows . . .

Family Dynamics - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Contracting For Change


I tend to work more from a different perspective in that I see every family member contributing to a dynamic, and it is often one person in the family that is overtly acting out all the family drama. So if there are to be family contracts about respect and values and how to create a harmonious home - then that kind of contract, particularly with older children, needs to be something they all contribute to, and all agree on.

An imposed contract is always going to problematic to my thinking. From your previous question and the things you say in this one, your family is more a dictatorship, not a co-operative team. My parenting style is almost the opposite. Your parents have done the best they can within the framework of their beliefs and values. There is no right or wrong way to raise a family, but if something is not working, I challenge parents to be open to trying something different.

Families In Crisis Need Help


I would suggest as a family it would be really helpful to get family counseling and have a facilitator to help you all make some contracts together. I don't know if you have that kind of services available, or if your parents would go to someone. Family therapy or counseling is a long term commitment, the dynamics are usually very entrenched and exploring what issues can have some compromise on and what is non-negotiable takes time.

At the very least, it certainly sounds like it would be really helpful if your parents could get some marriage counseling together. You can't fix your parent's marriage, and your brother is not to blame for their issues. Clearly he has a huge impact in the family dynamics, but your parent's problems are their responsibility, not yours or your brothers.

You can encourage them in getting help and share with them your concerns about their relationship and the effects that your brother has on them. You need to make it clear that the family dynamic is effecting you all and you want to see some changes. You can let them know they have done the best they can, but clearly what they have tried is not working, and you would like them to get some help.

Part Four Follows . . .

Family Dynamics - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

What you do have more control over, is changing the dynamic between you and your brother. He is probably seeing you as the big sister that tries to boss him and that always backs your parents. You are yet another person in his life that does not accept him, judges him and blames him for
your parent's issues, so you are adding to his distress and alienation.

Building A Bridge For Your Brother


Instead you can be more of a listener. You don't have to like his behavior, but you can love him and listen to where he is coming from. Let him let off steam when he needs to without having to fix it or tell him off. Share with him how difficult you have found the family at times, to the point where you asked me for some advice. And most of all keep loving him and letting him know he is loved.

Sometimes when we have someone to just listen to our frustration and anger, then the charge moves out of it. But if the other people buy into it and try to confront, change or challenge how we
feel, then it escalates into more frustration and we feel more misunderstood. When we have a chance to let off steam we can then move to a more rational acceptance or to more rational problem solving of finding ways to make things work.

It sounds to me like your brother keeps coming up against so many rules, criticisms and judgements he has got locked into having to rebel and push back just to maintain his sense of self.

He is not that likely to listen to advice from you until he feels loved and accepted, heard and validated. If he is stuck in reaction, hurt, anger and frustration, then he can't take on board advice. But when there are moments of closeness or understanding, maybe you can help him to think about ways to manage living in such a strict family.

At the moment his ways of coping is to push back as hard as he can. This gives him lots of negative attention. But what he needs is lots of positive attention, he is just going about it the wrong way. He may never live his life the way your parents want, but that does not make him a bad person. He still has a lot to offer the world, and will have some unique gifts he needs to uncover.

You say food is one of the few things he seems to enjoy - maybe there is something there that he can build on that could be a positive contribution to the family. Maybe he can cook one or two meals a week or learn to bake. Maybe a cooking class could be something to get involved in that he feels some sense of achievement, or maybe this could be an activity he could do with you or your Mom.

Part Five Follows . . .

Family Dynamics - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Threats Of Suicide


His suicidal thoughts are a big concern. It maybe a way he is trying to manipulate your parents, it may be one of the ways he tries to make you all
see how desperately he is hurting.

I don't want you to take on the burden of this, but in families with teenagers who are suicidal, I encourage the parents and the teen to have a contract. That would be something like: The teenager promises not to take action without first talking to a designated person - Mom, Dad, counselor etc. I encourage it to be a parent because that is where the dynamic is breaking down. But the parents need coaching and support with this.

The parent's part of the contract is to be totally available as soon as the child gives the signal. The parents role is to listen without reacting - this is really hard. Most parents either get defensive, angry or try to offer solutions. The signal can be a prearranged thing so that the parents are quickly aware that the child is feeling so bad they are thinking they don't want to be here. We have used things like a little soft toy, a stone, a photo, a letter, or a pre-made card. Then of course the family needs to get support and help to work through whatever is underneath the teenager's distress.

Angelina, I do hope you can get some help into your family, there is a limit of what I can do from afar, though if your parents wanted to send any questions I am very happy to try to give them some ideas.

You are a very sensitive and caring young woman, your commitment to your family is wonderful and clearly you are offering a lot of support. But you are not the adult in the family, you are still growing up yourself and you do not have to take on the burden of all this. Just encourage your parents and brother to get more help, and if you have a school counselor or someone you can go to for support, then that would be useful.

You have to take care of yourself and find people outside the family drama that can support you.

All the best,
love Annie :)

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