Brother with Bipolar Disorder is Assaulting My Parents

Reader’s Question

My question is about my 34-year-old brother. Since the age of 3, he has dealt with being type 1 diabetic. Just recently, in the past few years he has been diagnosed with having epilepsy, and he is bipolar. It has been very difficult for my Father and Mother considering for years they have been taking him into their house and trying to cope. He has spent numerous times in jail because of his angry outbursts. He cannot hold jobs very long. When he does, most of the check gets taken by the government and goes toward child support. He has assaulted both my Mother and Father. As of now he is out on the street once again because he attacked my Father again. On each occasion, the police were involved, but they show up too late. By then, my Father tells my brother to get out and he flees. The police say that they can’t do anything about the incident because he lives at my Father’s residence and that the police did not witness the incident. We are exhausted. My brother is ill, and he needs help but he has to admit himself in order to get help and he won’t. So many times we were close to getting him to agree, but he falls into a deep dark depression.

He is out on the street living in his car now. This is not the life that he was born to live. I’m his 29-year-old sister and I want to do all I can to see what can be done for him. Legally is there anything that can be done? This situation is so complex. My parents and I are constantly grieving over this situation and my parents have dealt with this for so long and do not know what to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

This situation is very complex and probably involves more than Bipolar Disorder. I suspect your brother has an underlying Personality Disorder (see my introduction to personality disorders on this website). His repeated assaults against his parents are not typically found in individuals with Bipolar Disorder. He’s exhibiting Antisocial Personality features which make treatment and behavior management more difficult. Your brother will not accept responsibility for his behavior, will actually blame his parents for his assaults, feels justified when he abuses them and others, has no concern for adult responsibility, and feels everyone is wrong and he is right. He will consider treatment, typically when he’s very close to being incarcerated or following an assault, but will quickly refuse once the tension decreases.

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What do we do in such situations? Here are some guidelines.

  • The family needs to recognize that he’s dangerous at a certain level. He is willing to assault family members to get his own way or when they block his demands. This is not Bipolar Disorder…it’s a Personality Disorder.
  • The family must move to a position of “tough love” and view his behavior in a business sense. If he assaults a family member, he should be arrested. Allowing him to escape the natural consequences of his violent behavior gives him permission to assault again.
  • Court involvement can often be helpful. While he will blame his Bipolar Disorder or other conditions for his behavior, the family can ask the court to include mandatory mental health treatment as part of a probation plan. In this way, treatment is monitored by the court/legal system.
  • Provide a strict range of support to him — only a certain amount of money per week, a place to live if he is not violent/aggressive, helping him with job seeking, the promise of arrest if he is assaultive, etc. If our support varies — say from $20 to $600 per week — then he will use sympathy, intimidation, and even violence to obtain the maximum each week.
  • The family needs to develop a team approach to the situation. Everyone must have the same approach, otherwise he will begin playing one family member against another.
  • Consider a family consultation with a mental health professional and attorney to discuss approaches to his behavior and your legal rights.
  • Study and remember the mental health resources available in your area. Treatment opportunities are frequently lost when the family doesn’t have such information readily available.

Your brother will continue to control, intimidate, and terrorize your family unless a firm stance is taken. Bipolar Disorder is not the major problem in this case. Rather, his antisocial behavior and his unwillingness to accept treatment are the issues. Antisocial personalities are highly manipulative and he may return from a week living in the automobile in a pitiful state. However, his playing the victim will not protect the family from future assaults. Making his return to the family contingent upon seeking treatment can provide some control and protection for the family.

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