Very triggering relationship with adult brother

my brother and i are ~ 28 months apart. i am a 36 year old woman. we've had periods of being close and periods of not getting along. we've gotten into some exchanges over text recently that are very triggering and upsetting for me and make me feel really uncomfortable.

he says that he wants us to be closer, that i don't really know who he is, that he can be "direct and hurt/scare me" or not be direct and just "disappear in every conversation." he texted me "try to ask yourself; you have any idea who your own brother is? have tried to know? disappeared from your own perspective and anxiety to actually know? " when i didn't respond he wrote "FYI you are ignoring these messages and the ones above it, is real life. and its noted." i said, "im sorry. i love you." and he goes on and eventually says "your actions are real, seen, not forgotten, and have an effect. they always have." i believe the "actions" he's referring to are my "dismissal of responsibility" for my "poor communication" and maybe for my inability to be the super close sister that he wants (?)

he was gone for 6 weeks on a road trip and things became cordial again, seeing him at a family gathering we made eye contact and small talk that was genuine (i thought), and he sent me a few pictures from his trip and i sent a picture of my daughter/his niece. he's back for 7 days before leaving again on business and he wrote saying that he wants to start doing the weekly babysitting again for my daughter (this ended after the long exchange quoted from above, neither of us reached out to schedule another day, i was hoping he wouldn't and he didnt... so it just didnt happen), and that his girlfriend is moving in with him, and that he made some choices with his job so as to work remote permanently. i didnt respond to the texts, but did respond when, two days later he wished my daughter happy birthday (thank you! was my response). now its a week later and he says "you never answered the texts i wrote last week. i figure the content in general tends to paralyze you." i feel myself flooded, so confused, reading that sentence is very triggering for me and seems super weird - but i don't know who to ask ?!

(yes i know i should be in therapy, i have been, my subsidized rate ended so im not right now but hope to find someone). thank you for reading thus far, i know that this is a THERAPY question, and i hope that fits into the parameters of what this group is for.

in closing, wise network: does that seem like a super weird text to receive and kind of...i don't know emotionally abusive or something?? i don't know if im using that term correctly. or, does it seem like i could totally be at fault here just as much as he, for the sticky quality of this relationship?

what i want is to have a cordial, friendly, supportive sibling relationship. and i think he wants to have some idealized super close deep relationship.

also, about 6 months ago at a family dinner there was some disagreement between us about, parenting, and it got a little heightened for a moment and then he turned to me, with eyes wide, jutting his head forward, said "you better CHECK yourself."  my cheeks flushed and i almost cried. my two year old was next to me.

i don't know how to put forth boundaries/communicate maturely around this.

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I was always super close with my brother until the last 5-6 years (actually more so due to his spouse but long story).  Anyway, things that have helped me with my relationship with him:

-Don't text serious stuff.  Things can be misconstrued.  If he texts you something serious, respond with, "let's chat about it in person". Or "I'll give you a call later".

-Shrug off the little stuff.  Similar to you, I take things VERY personally.  I've realized, I just can't.  He is who he is and I am who I am.  We've disagreed on many things recently and rather than "talking it out", we've actually just "moved on".  We both know we will agree to disagree so it's worthless to continue to "talk" (or argue rather) and bring up the emotions.  Moving on has worked for us.

-Accept your new relationship.  I've accepted our "new" relationship and it works and it works well.  We may not be as close as we previously were but it's OK.  We still chat, hang out and get along well.  He actually gets along with my husband super well so he usually just texts him and works for me!

Best of luck with your relationship.  All relationships are different so I hope some of the things that worked for me, can help you!

I’m almost fifty and if there’s one lesson I wish I’d learned earlier in life, it is: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. 

You don’t have to make a big determination right now about whether or not his behavior is abusive (though, yeah, from this limited description he does not sound like a generous, compassionate, healthy person) to take a break. You are really uncomfortable with the dynamic of your relationship with him, and it sounds like you are feeling pressured/bullied/shamed by him...I say, just because he is pressuring you does not mean you need to feel pressured. You are ENTIRELY allowed to take whatever space and time you need away from him. You can say, “I love you, but I’m not feeling good about our dynamic, and I need to step away. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to be in communication with you again.” You don’t have to justify it. He will push back really hard on this, I imagine, because he sounds like a controlling person. But think about it—if someone you cared about told you that they needed a break, I bet your response would be accepting and supportive. And I also bet that is not the response he gives you.

Also for the love of God do not accept the babysitting offer. 

In absence of therapy—please discuss this with a friend you trust, who you know loves you. And this is a weird recommendation but Carolyn Hax has an advice column in the Washington Post and she often gives BRILLIANT advice to people who are coping with relationships with friends and family members who sound like your brother. Read her column. And maybe write her about this, if she takes your question I am confident she will have something helpful to offer.

BE LOVING WITH YOURSELF. Do not expose yourself or feel beholden to people who shame you and make you feel terrible. You do not owe him ANYTHING. People who love you will respect your feelings and needs and not push back and shame you when you express them.

Good luck. ♥️

Your brother sounds like a jerk, sorry to say. I don't know what you owe him at this point. I would just stop responding to texts and when you see him at family events, keep it short and cordial but not personal or emotional. I found Mariah Carey's recent memoir really elucidated this point - she refers to her siblings as her EX brother and her EX sister due to their patterns of abuse over the years. It might be a good read for you too.

It is so hard to understand this situation only hearing one point of view. I will say that while your brother does seem to have an intense personality, I am most struck by your passive aggressive and avoidant reactions. To me personally, his bids for connection seem in the normal range EXCEPT that engaging in emotional conversations via text is nuts. Just hang out with him. Communicate in person. Look him in the eye. What if you did therapy together? That seems potentially helpful.  I find myself wondering if you might have something diagnosable OR there is some major childhood trauma that I am not understanding. I absolutely do think you should be in therapy. Something is going on that's hard to understand, and at least part of it must be related to you. I say that with kindness - I have plenty of personality challenges and "baggage" myself!

And just adding - my read on his statement "your actions have an effect" is NOT about the harsh criticism that you assume, it's his wish for the comfortably close sister that he wants. I would love for my brother to be this way, for what it's worth.

Wow this sounds so like my brother. Lots of red flags, he sounds really controlling and scary. But I wasn't sure the rest of the story - for example, does he have a history of difficulty keeping a job, petty crime or drugs, other signs if instability? How is his relationship with your parents or others in the family?

Based upon what you write (and I may be projecting my own brother onto to him) but I would just try to keep things friendly but distant. Friendly because it sounds like he is hyper-senstive to perceived rejection and can become aggressive. I can see this is actually exactly what you are trying to do and he is challenging you in an in-your-face manner.

I actually moved oversees and part of it was to get away from my family but now that my parents are elderly I have to deal with my brother and I honestly find it frightening. If I lived nearby, I would probably make up an excuse to not see him often, something like look I am just really busy right now with x and x, so please don't take it personally, and stick with that. I would NOT let him start babysitting again but again I may just be projecting my own brother.

Why does your brother focus so much on you?  I see you write his girlfriend is moving in and you don't mention he has children, normally a sibling would be involved with their own family too much to become obsessive about yours but he doesn't seem to have that. Same with my brother who can't hold a job, relies on my parents for money, has relationship difficulties and seems angry with me because I built a different life. Do you think he is somewhat jealous of you, or resents you? 

All I can hope with my brother is that I can contain my real feelings (because he would seek some sort of revenge or maybe violence if he felt I didn't like him) and just stay pleasant but distant. It means I let go and don't respond to a lot of his angry aggressive stuff. This is really hard but it is pointless to respond to his weird rantings. I just hope that once our parents are gone, I can ease out and never speak to him again.

Has your brother always been like this? Do you have other siblings or parents who could act as a buffer? 

But to answer your question, YES it is weird, obsessive and controlling, but try to stay even, do not think you can resolve this verbally, stick to the idea you are just busy but happy to hear from him and keep a safe distance from him.

I am really sorry you are dealing with this. I know how stressful it is, and can make you feel so lonely to have family who are so weird and threatening. Hopefully someone else has an idea of how to handle it. Otherwise, maybe things will change in his life so that his focus will shift away from you. Thinking of you!

I'm responding as a fellow parent and no more.  I would feel a stronger obligation to protect my children than myself.  I would not leave my children alone with anyone whose intentions are unclear or with whom I do not feel comfortable communicating with in person.  You have no obligation to address anyone else's opinion of your parenting.  Your child will also pick up on your elevated anxiety and this will inform their view of the world.  Keep your kids out of this.

I’m not a therapist or expert, just giving my opinion. It is absolutely healthy and OK not to have a relationship with anyone that makes you uncomfortable, including family members. You should not feel guilty about setting strong boundaries or completely avoiding your brother if that will make you happier. 

Friend, I am very sorry to hear this, which sounds very, very hard. 

While I don't have full context, I will say: yes, your brother's behavior is emotionally abusive. He's sending you texts accusing you of heaven knows what - he'd gaslighting you. And texting is never the right vehicle for communicating serious emotional conversations. I would NOT allow him to be alone with my child. I wouldn't want him to be with my child even if I were there. I wish you luck setting appropriate boundaries with him, which may include cutting him out of your life. 

It's really hard to tell what's going on here. It sounds like he wants to process some things but you don't. Stop the texting and just talk to him. These kinds of conversations never go well by text. I think that you should talk to him in person or over the phone. He's trying to tell you something but you don't appear to be listening. I'd try a little harder.

I can't speak to what your brother is thinking, but reading the tone of your post, you find your brother's behavior upsetting and somewhat threatening. Heed your emotions--and don't get bullied into an unhealthy relationship! Above all else, protect your daughter. If you don't even want to respond to your brother's texts because they threaten you, why are you allowing him to babysit your daughter? She's can't speak up to protect herself, she can't even report back to you if anything happens to her at his house. My mother used to leave us with family, who blindly allowed our crazy uncle to terrorize us, while my mother and her parents went through life in denial about his problems. So LISTEN TO YOUR FEELINGS.

It seems to me that you and your brother each want a type of relationship that may not be realistically possible between you.  Your brother appears to believe that any distance between you is rejection on your part -- that is, failure to truly know him -- while he's also critical of you.  Truly knowing another person requires suspending judgment, and if it's a balanced relationship that suspension has to go both ways.  And while you want a supportive relationship, I don't think he would feel supported by what you are willing to offer.

It also sounds like your brother wants a kind of emotional intimacy that might even weigh down a spousal relationship.

You could attempt to work this out with some kind of sibling version of couples therapy, but the underlying impasse would likely not be resolved -- though it may make the existence of the impasse clearer to your brother, and get him to back off.

I speak from experience (I'm 30 years older than you), as I come from a family that both demanded excess loyalty and self-revelatory intimacy and dealt out scads of rage.  I spent my teens and twenties trying to get healing within that context, that is, within the family relationship rules.  Lots of therapy later, I realized that I could not have a relationship with them that was both healthy and close.  I found that each bit of boundary I put down made me healthier and happier, and was treated as rejection and cruelty by my family.  I wish them well, on some level I still love them and miss them, but not at the cost of my sanity.  My brothers have both died (frankly, largely due to poor mental health), I have no contact with one sister, and minimal contact with the other.

Two more points: dramatic relationships can be addictive.  My home life right now is like a merry-go-round compared to the roller coaster of my birth family, and lots of people like roller coasters.  Of course, on a merry-go-round you can have a conversation, read a book, play a game, think your thoughts, and overall FUNCTION, while on a roller coaster all you can do is scream.  Putting sane boundaries on your relationship with your brother my feel like a let-down, but it's for your ultimate good -- and his.

Second: I think I've been a pretty good mom, and there is no way I could have managed that without establishing boundaries with my birth family, because establishing those boundaries was equivalent to learning how to have sane relationships.  Not surprisingly, when my sister is in town, I end up reverting a bit, and my daughter hates it.

I am not an expert but his comments make me super uncomfortable. Yes, he is looking for something more from you but it doesn’t seem to me like he is a healthy person trying to talk about his feelings with you in a healthy and constructive way. Instead, he seems angry, accusatory, and aggressive. Good for you for pursuing affordable therapy options; but is *he* in therapy? Somehow I doubt it and I suspect the idea might enrage him. (Not a normal and healthy response!) I’m not saying that you or he is to “blame” for whatever dynamic you two have. I simply wanted to respond to tell you that I don’t think you are overreacting and that I believe your instincts are correct. I hope you are able to find a therapist you can afford, and I hope your brother is able to get the help he clearly needs.