Horrible Treatment at Hands of Siblings: Are They Schizophrenic?

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Reader’s Question

My mother had severe mental illness (schizophrenia) and frequently had to be hospitalized for long periods. This started happening when my parents were together, from the time I was 14 and my brothers 13 and 11, and my sister 12. My father stuck it out for a year but then left. For six months he sent me money to buy groceries and pay the bills, then he stopped. So, the four of us pretty much brought ourselves up from the time I was 15 and my siblings were 14, 13 and 11. I did some part-time work while at school, and my mother received a disability pension. My sister “dealt” with the situation by petty stealing, forging my mother’s signature to take money out of her account, telling nasty stories about me to people and later, when she left school and received a government benefit, by refusing to contribute financially to the household.

My brothers both ended up working for my father’s company and living on site when they turned 16. My sister left to live with her boyfriend when she was 16. This was partly my fault because I told her if she wasn’t going to help out with board she could take the worst room in our parents’ house so I could rent her room out to a boarder. Eventually it was just myself and my mother, until I moved out at age nineteen. By this time my mother was responding well to medication. She sold the family home, banked the money and moved into a small unit. A couple of years later the money was gone and she moved in with me and my fiancée, but my fiancée couldn’t deal with her schizophrenia. We booked her into a halfway house and shortly afterwards she left. Her handbag was found at a bus stop, and I filed a missing person report. She was never found.

I eventually reconnected with my siblings. I was divorced with two children when I connected with my older brother, and he was married with the first of what ended up being three children. We had periods when communication stopped. The first time was after I told him his son was using the “cry and dad will race to my rescue and blame the other children” routine. He lost his temper, screamed abuse at me for five or so minutes, then stormed out, kicking in the headlights of my car on the way. The next dispute happened over a car. He agreed to let me buy one of his cars by making monthly payments. While I was stopped at a traffic light another car rear-ended this car. The insurance company decided to pay out the total price of the car rather than pay for repairs. My brother took back the car and kept the money I had paid him. My children urged me to restore our relationship because they wanted to see their cousins. I gritted my teeth and put up with my brother’s bizarre insistence that I had ripped him off regarding the car (saying the insurance company never did pay). But I ended the relationship again after he bought a pizza franchise and it failed, costing him $24,000. According to him I had tricked him into buying the franchise just so I could work delivering pizzas for $60 a week. I have not spoken to him since.

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Recently my sister went to live with my other brother. She contacted me, and we started seeing each other. I was pleased because she no longer seemed the moody teenager who stole from family members and told people nasty lies about me. We discussed that, and she admitted that she had been “acting out” in her younger years but had grown out of it. But then I learned that she was sending SMS messages to my son and telling him the most appalling lies about me. She told him that I “balled” (her term) a solicitor who helped me sell my mother’s house out from under her, pocketed the proceeds, and dumped my mother in a park. She said I failed to protect her and my mother and that I would fail to protect him too. She said that schizophrenia runs in our family (arguably true), and I have schizophrenia (not true), and he “should be careful not to leave knives lying around.” She cast me as a greedy slut with no morals, who destroyed everybody I came into contact with, and that I was a thief who could not be trusted. She even encouraged my son to leave home so I wouldn’t drag him down with me, etc.

All these things prompt some questions for me. Are my brother and sister schizophrenic? Is there some other explanation for their behavior? If they are, is there anything I can do to get them help? And why do they not target each other, only me? Is it because I was the oldest child, so they somehow hold me responsible for everything that happened when we were young? What could I possibly have done for them to construct, and believe, these vicious, nasty accusations? I don’t understand, and it is intensely hurtful.

Psychologist’s Reply

There is a difference between the distorted views of reality that accompany a character disturbance and the perceptions of someone who is truly laboring under a disorder of mental thought processes such as schizophrenia. But in addition to the fact that the predisposition toward mental illness does run in families, children of schizophrenics do appear at increased risk for other psychological problems.

You might never be able to fully reconcile the reasons (which are likely to be numerous) for the difficult relationships that exist in your family. But in order to preserve your own sanity it’s essential that you set some reasonable limits, enforce boundaries, and shield yourself and your children from toxic encounters. You might never find peace and health within your family of origin. But your primary task is to help ensure a safe and healthy environment for your own family.

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