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Setting Bounaries With An Emotionally Abusive Older Brother

by Confused



My brother is 60 and I am 52 & female - the youngest of 4 kids and he the oldest. When I was very young he was wonderful - like a father figure. My parents had a very volatile relationship.

I was an excellent athlete and my brother played sports with me, coached me, and that made a profound impact on me. He introduced me to music he liked and I looked up to him. He later left for college and we didn't see each other as much - I dealt with the madness at home on my own w/support of close friends - then later I left for college.

Many years later - I in my 30's and he his 40's - as our divorced parents became sick we all (4 kids) pitched in to help. I am an attorney so my father named me to be his Attorney-in-Fact for his Power of Attorney documents. My oldest brother was upset. He felt that as the oldest son he should have been selected.

After that he was nothing but mean to me. All the hurt and anger he felt at watching our parents each get ill and die over 5-6 years he took out on me. My other two siblings expressed their belief he was doing that. Once, when all four of us met at a restaurant to discuss my dad's post-death arrangements, my oldest brother and I got in a disagreement about the value of Dad's car and my brother started yelling and asked me to "step outside".

It was nuts! He's 6'1, a 200lb man and I'm 5'5," a 124lb woman! Over a car? Once, when in an argument at my home, I refused to argue back. I just kept telling him to leave my home. It seemed to anger him more that I wouldn't fight. He ended up pushing me off my chair onto the floor and later lied about it. His temper is scary.

Once all that passed, over the next 15 years he and his wife had 4 kids. I don't have kids & adore those kids like they're my own. They adore me. I would help / babysit whenever needed. I was/am the only relative in their lives that wants to spend time with them.

My brother has used this against me over the years by not letting me see the kids if he was mad at me. Once for 1 year then later for 5 years. The 5 year one was because I wouldn't fire his wife who did occasional part-time work for me. He wouldn't ask her to stop and instead insisted I let her go. How could I do that?

Not seeing the kids for 5 years devastated me. Didn't he think about the impact on his own children - they adored me then had me suddenly take away! My other 2 siblings told me to distance myself from his kids so he wouldn't have that power over me. But I love them so much how could I do that?


My brother didn't want his wife and me getting along well - said I was not being "loyal" to him - so he manipulated a fight between her and me - based on lies - so she hates me to this day. The kids know she hates me - how do they process that?

Two years ago his wife divorced him - terrible relationship - so I have been able to see the kids because he needs my help with them & with legal matters. His ex is nasty - mean, cheated on him. She doesn't want her kids playing sports in school because it interferes with her free time. She had her friends over for a weekend while she had the kids and she and her friends all got drunk - in front of the kids!

She's in her 40's and an educator. I worry for those kids. But, my brother told me these things so how do I know they're true? He's lied about me - but his ex-wife lies, too.

I have put up with my brother's emotional and verbal abuse only so I could continue to see the kids. I'm otherwise a very strong woman coming from a line of strong women. If not for the kids I doubt I'd talk to him much at all.

Last night he invited me over for dinner - was nice on the phone. Once I got there he was just mean to me and did so in front of his oldest son (17) - offhand, critical comments out of nowhere. Cutting me off mid-sentence.

I drove 45 minutes each way to get there - and get treated like that? What does that teach his son? I asked him why he was being so mean to me and he kind of smiled and responded that he "was sorry."

I've had enough. I don't understand why I continue to think we can build a good relationship again. How foolish am I? Even though there were great things about him when we were kids, he was also someone who loved instigating fights between people - he enjoyed telling lies and seeing if people would believe it. It's like a known "fact" with my siblings that he's a liar.

My question is: could it be unhealthier for me and especially the kids for me to keep trying to have a relationship with them and their father? Should I keep more distance and try to cultivate a deeper relationship with the kids when they are adults? Will they even want to if there's too much distance in the meantime?

They are 14 to 17 y/o. I don't want to just disappear and have them think I don't care. Do I tell them I'm keeping away because their dad and I don't get along? I'm so confused on what to do. I fear his next move will be to lie to them about me and then how will I repair that damage?

I've wanted to move out of state for a long time. I'm selling my home this spring and I think now is probably the time. That way I don't have to "explain" my distance. If I don't move then what? Thank you for any advice you can provide.

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Apr 12, 2017
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Thank You!
by: Confused

Thank you, Dr. DeFoore. You make excellent points that I have to strongly consider. I am thoroughly impressed with your insight, advice, and your website. It has been extremely helpful for what has been a very difficult and confusing situation. Thank you, again!

Apr 11, 2017
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You Are A Wise Woman
by: Dr. DeFoore

Hello, and thanks for your submission. There is not clear-cut answer for your situation, but I think you are being wise in how you're thinking about it.

Some things to consider:

1) If you were to put yourself and your well being as your top priority, how would this affect your decision?

2) Would your nieces/nephews want you to suffer on behalf of your relationship with them?

3) Generally speaking, self-sacrifice for a relationship produces diminishing returns for everyone over time. If your stress, pain, and/or anger are at a high enough level, this could also affect your relationships with your nieces/nephews.

I am sure you will make a good decision in this matter, as difficult as it is.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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