Dysfunctional Family with Threatening, Violent Brother

Reader’s Question

My brother (26) may possibly have a mental health condition but has never been diagnosed. He’s threatening, violent (when he’s in fits of rages), and blames everyone else for his downfalls in life. Very rarely is he happy or positive, and very rarely does he have anything good to say about anyone.

My mother has a very co-dependent relationship with him and enables his behaviour. She doesn’t set boundaries or limits and goes to every length to protect and make excuses for him, regardless of who he hurts. My mother and I are fairly close when my brother isn’t dealing with another one of his dramas. At all costs, I avoid seeing or talking to my brother due to his behaviour, so our relationship is non-existent.

I’ve tried talking to my mom about how I feel and how things should be, but nothing changes, and she tells me I’m the one who needs to change and ignore his antics. We go around and around in this dysfunctional circle, acting as if everything is OK but it’s not. I’m getting tired of putting on this act, and not being true to how I really feel in order to keep peace and avoid being the bad guy. It makes me sick to my stomach and stresses me to no end.

What do I do? What do I say? How do I deal with this? It can’t go on forever…can it?

Psychologist’s Reply

From your description, your brother may be an Antisocial Personality, a type of personality disorder who is selfish, immature, disrespectful of the feelings and rights of others, is irresponsible, and highly manipulative. Antisocial Personalities have a history of unstable employment, bad relationships, random living arrangements, poor finances, and even criminal behavior. They feel entitled to use, abuse, and even threaten those around them. In his manipulations, he currently has your mother convinced that he’s a victim of circumstances — a classic strategy used by Antisocial Personalities when confronted with their misbehavior.

As a voice of reason in the family, you are a threat to your brother’s schemes and manipulations. You’ve become a witness to a crime/manipulation and your brother may threaten or verbally/physically abuse you if you try to convince your mother of his true behavior. The worst part: this can go on forever… Recommendations:

  • Read my introduction to personality disorders as well as the “personality disorders” questions available from the link in the sidebar of the page.
  • As you have already done, keep your distance from him emotionally, socially, financially, etc.
  • Your mother can’t disown him so advise that she set boundaries — only so much money to be used to bail him out of trouble, only so much support, etc. Your brother will totally exhaust your mother’s finances and resources if he needs to…that’s how an Antisocial Personality behaves toward others.
  • Try to be “business-like” in your relationship with your brother in family situations. Polite yet not supportive or involved in his dramas. You don’t need to pretend everything is OK, because your mother knows he’s a bad apple — she just can’t give up yet.
  • If your mother is elderly, advise her to place her assets in a type of protective custody. In such situations, a parent may sign their home over to two responsible children, place financial assets in difficult-to-access accounts to prevent emergency withdrawals, etc. She can always offer your brother a place to stay and a hot meal — unless there’s a warrant out for his arrest!
  • Don’t be concerned about being seen as the “bad guy”. Every family member, relative, friend, and neighbor knows who the “bad guy” is in the family system. Many families have a shark in the family pool, and your brother has made his classification obvious by now. While they may not want to get involved, they will be supporting of your efforts to protect your mother.
  • Keep close to your mother and don’t distance yourself during one of your brother’s dramas. Your mother is trying to protect your brother — not leave or disrespect you. It’s what Moms do. During his drama periods, maintain scheduled and predictable contacts with your mother. She needs to know that you are still concerned and supportive of her — even when she’s engaged in enabling her antisocial son.
  • Remember that this situation is a personality disorder — not a psychiatric illness like depression. He’s only unhappy when things aren’t going his selfish way.

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