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The Vine: March 15, 2017

Submitted by on March 15, 2017 – 11:32 AM14 Comments

I think I might want to cut my brother out of my life, and I have no idea what to do.

My relationship with my brother has always been a little rocky. Growing up, I was a people-pleaser desperate to get praise and approval from our parents, while he took a more normal teenage path involving weed and less-than-stellar report cards. I think he felt like my parents favored me and didn't understand him at all, and I know that was hard for him.

Despite that we were pretty close as kids and young adults. But he has always had trouble managing his anger, and can't admit when he's wrong. The pattern is that he blows up over something minor, we (my family) get upset and try to smooth things over, he yells at us and stops speaking to us for a while, and then eventually he talks to us again and we pretend it never happened because every other option seems too exhausting. I can't think of a single time when he has offered me an apology. If I tell him I'm upset about something, he either blows up or snorts and tells me to get over it.

We haven't lived in the same state since 2004, but kept in touch via phone and text and my occasional visits home. In 2015 he started asking me a bunch of weird questions about race relations on the campus where I worked, and texting me every time there was a terrorist attack to say that Western values are under assault. After a few rounds of this I asked if I should donate his Christmas gift to the Trump campaign, thinking he'd be embarrassed to hear he sounded like Trump.

It turned out that somehow, my brother had gone from only caring about the legalization of weed to being 100% on board with the entire Trump/Bannon agenda.

He started texting me tons of links from places like Breitbart and demanding that I read them and discuss them with him. At first I argued for my beliefs — white privilege exists, feminism is good, Beyonce is awesome, etc. He'd tell me I was "brainwashed by all that libtard bullshit" and needed to "go get informed" and "actually think about it." When it became clear he didn't actually want to listen to my perspective, I suggested we stop talking politics. The links kept coming. Finally I drew my line in the sand. No more links, no more arguments. I had a 3-month-old baby, I was applying for jobs, and we were moving; I was exhausted and stressed out and needed him to back off.

He said he had "every right" to send me "legitimate articles" and mocked me for wanting a "safe space." I told him he was acting like a convert to a new religion who wouldn't shut up about how everyone else was going to hell. He called me an "ivory tower libtard asshole," said I was "playing the victim, again, which is really insulting," and stopped speaking to me.

That was a year ago. Since then we've been in touch a handful of times. I sent him a message when he finished a second degree, and again on his birthday, and a small Christmas gift. He begrudgingly thanked me for the graduation wishes but otherwise he's only contacted me to gloat about the election, and to call me a "fear-monger" and accuse me of lying when I posted something on Facebook about how worried I was for women and minorities, as well as my husband's job, under a Trump presidency.

Since the inauguration I'm…kind of feeling done with him. I have a lot of close friends from other countries and they are terrified by what's coming out of the White House. I'm terrified for them. I am not sure I can stand to talk to him knowing that he voted for — argued for! — a white nationalist platform in the White House. I am also really sick of the pattern where he does something shitty, never apologizes, and everyone around him just tiptoes past it to keep the peace.

Refusing to see or speak to him again would upset my parents, but I live so far away that it wouldn't seriously disrupt anything, and it's not like he's trying to talk to me. Even when he was still speaking to me he never asked about my son, my job search, or anything else about my life. I honestly don't think he cares. Maybe I can play nice at a family dinner the next time I go home. But I kind of don't want my son around him — my mom (who shares my politics) says in person my brother is hostile and loud and will not shut up about how white men are super-persecuted and liberals suck.

So I guess what I'm asking is, what now? Can I just never speak to him again? Is that okay? He wasn't always like this, and I feel like I'm being a coward by not engaging with him. Should I try harder to argue with his bullshit worldview? Should I tell him that he's out of my life because he's become a really awful person? I am at a loss here, and also feeling kind of beaten down by this whole awful year.

Sincerely, Gutted

Dear Gutted,

You have two separate issues here: his political beliefs; and his behavior. They're both shitty, but they're still separate issues, and I think you have to try to put aside the former to the extent that you can, and base your decision-making on the latter.

And the latter, even if you subtract the content from it, is aggressive. It's harassment. He hectors you. "Demanding" that you read links and discuss them? (Which meant "defend yourself, in vain.") Calling you names? Refusing to interact with you and your life on any other basis except your politics — not sending you gifts in return (I assume)? not asking about the baby even in passing? You would not keep anyone else who acted this way in your life; in fact, you'd go out of your way to avoid him.

There is something about your account of his (d)evolution into a Breitbutthole that strikes me as…unwell. Not your account, that is, but rather Brother's complete, resolute transformation into a combative bigot who appears to have no other interests or conversational topics. I guess some people just really don't care, even after hearing it directly, that their views/constant harping on same make people who love them uncomfortable, but even your mom's like, he's too much with this…I don't know. He's functional enough to get "a second degree," but maybe there's something else going on here.

Even so, it's not your lookout. He's turned into a bad guy, and you don't like each other. The only reason you're really even considering not punting him for the extra point is that it makes things harder for your mom/family, but it's not like they don't see what he's like, and take it from me, continuing to deal with That Relative because it seems easier just means everyone gets to be unhappy.

So. First thing, decide where your line really is with him, in a perfect world where it doesn't complicate anything else. Second thing, create the perfect world for yourself and just…put the line there. Live with it, just you and the line, for a little while. Consent to family dinner, or not? Leave when certain trigger words are brayed at you, or stay put? Suffer it for yourself but shield your kid/partner from him? Figure out what's right for you. (Regardless, I'd block him on social media and your phone, and set up an email filter.)

Do not make a big announcement, to him or anyone else. He'll just take it as yet another excuse to get in your face, and the time he was owed an explanation is long past. He's done. Tell your mom if you'd like, especially if you have a trip planned back home and your line requires that you not share space with him; if he tries to contact you about it, explain that you don't care to associate with people who have no respect for you, blood relatives or not, and end the interaction with a curt "take care."

This won't change much, really, because unfortunately Brother's a twat who doesn't care about you. This is just formalizing what you already know for yourself, and while it will be freeing in some ways to do what's right for your sanity and not have to care even socially about this problem anymore, it will be painful and depressing in others, so let yourself feel those feelings and mourn the brother you should have gotten instead of this racist angerball.

But it's not just okay to be done; you've been done for a while. Bury it, put up a stone, and think about something else.

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14 Comments »

  • Emily says:

    My dad did this kind of bullshit all my childhood (not the gross politics, but the "blow up over something minor, storm off, then come back and we'd all pretend nothing happened" thing). As a kid, it was confusing and scary and awful, because if you ever brought up something like "hey, my feelings are hurt that you told me I was fat and stupid and wouldn't amount to anything" he'd either blow up AGAIN, at which point everyone was mad you'd ruined the fragile peace, or you'd be told you were wrong to still be feeling that way. When I was 21 he stopped talking to me and I let it happen, instead of apologizing/smoothing things over. We didn't speak for 5 years. It was the best thing that could have happened. (My therapist was all YES THANK GOD STAY AWAY FROM HIM.) We talk now, briefly, about neutral topics, but cutting him out gave me distance and perspective and lessened a lot of his power over me. I learned I didn't actually need him, and I was able to stand up for myself more.

    I've also found I'm more willing to make waves in the interest of my child than myself, which might be true for you. Aggressiveness you just accept as How Brother Is might be unacceptable when aimed at (or near) your child. That might make your line easier to draw.

    Regardless, whatever you decide, you get to decide it, because it's your life. If people try to guilt you over it, that's on them. Being a blood relation is not a golden ticket to be an asshole.

  • Katie says:

    I'm completely in favor of removing Trump supporters from your life, even if they're family members. It's not like voting for Romney or McCain- that just boils down to a difference of opinion. But no one who currently supports Trump is a good person. I'll cut some slack to people who were too sheltered or uneducated or old and set in their ways to fully realize what they were doing. But if someone sees what's been going on since the inauguration and STILL supports him, that person is a piece of shit and has no value. These are modern-day Nazis.

  • Lisa M. says:

    I had to cut my father out of my life for a time (we've since re-connected). But the time was perhaps for 10 years. I did it because my dad was such a controlling and unreasonable person then, and my life without dad in it was a gift of low stress.

    I think you should cut Brother out, and I like Sars' idea of defining very precisely what that entails. Precision planning has the advantage of making sure that you are not caught by surprise by a bad behavior, and forced to make a quick decision on how to respond.

    Good luck, and congrats for the wee one!

  • sam says:

    Even setting aside the politics (which is REALLY hard to do, because in this situation, it's so intertwined with the behavior), your brother is just…a bully. He was a bully your entire life, well before this election season, and now he's using politics as an excuse for his bullying under the guise of "free speech", but at the end of the day, he's just…a bully.

    My brother did shit like this – became politically contrarian to the rest of our family as a way to get under our skin.

    When he was 12.

    Then he grew the fuck up (don't get me wrong – he can still be an annoying shit in the way that ALL little brothers are annoying shits, but he's an annoying little brother who does humanitarian aid work for Syrian refugees, so he's generally on the side of good!)

    Not to take anything away from Sars, because this is all great advice, but there's a really good advice blog that has a LOT of columns about dealing with difficult/abusive family members, and has touched on this topic in particular a lot – when to engage, when to disengage, when it's simply time to cut yourself off from problematic family – Captain Awkward's archives may have some useful additional advice and tools for you to peruse.

  • Penguinlady says:

    My brother is also a bully. It took me probably 25 years to realize it. Just like the OP, he can't ever be wrong, facts don't matter, etc. My strategy has been "pleasantries only, do not engage." He loves my kids, we can have short conversations, but the second he starts in on politics, I find there is something urgent in the other room or I just don't hear him. It's like dealing with a tantruming toddler: you have to ignore the behavior and not reward it with any feedback. That's what he wants – for you to argue so he can feel right. It has made it ok to deal with him. Not great, but ok.

  • RJ says:

    "Gutted"'s brother sounds like a lifelong, raging narcissist – and now a malignant one at that. It sounds like he takes no responsibility for how his actions affect others (telling someone to "get over it" when you hurt them??), and now he demands that his viewpoints be listened to, however abusively he chooses to express them, without the slightest intent of reciprocating with any kind of respect.

    Gutted, you have way more important things to worry about (your own little one, life changes, etc.). It sucks to have to cut out a family member, but if it brings you some kind of closure and peace… well, sometimes it has to be done.

    It happened in our family – without going into great detail, after a LOT of nonsense and aggravation, the family member in question (along with his wife) finally went head on into illegal territory and were cut off by the whole family. They've never yet taken any responsibility for anything they've done to anyone else.

    It's hard, and it's a shame, but sometimes there are no other options if you're going to maintain your own sanity.

  • Amy Ruthanne says:

    "But it's not just okay to be done; you've been done for a while. Bury it, put up a stone, and think about something else."

    LOVE this line. Not only is it so true for Gutted, but so true for me and some things I've been through. I'll have to keep this sentiment in mind should a "next time" ever come along.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Gutted, I agree with Sars totally. The hardest part about cutting a horrible person out of your life isn't really the exhaustion, the family blowups, etc. Those things are terrible, but I think the real root, a lot of the time, is realizing that this person you love doesn't care about you.

    It's nice to think that being shunned by family members would wake somebody up to their behavior, but unfortunately that's the case a lot less than Hallmark Movies would have us believe. Especially nowadays, when anybody can find an internet echo chamber to constantly get another hit of that sweet self-righteousness.

    All you can do is refuse to be a source of supply for his drug of choice–narcissistic Jerkholery. He may foam and fume about it, but what he's mad about is you not agreeing to go along with making him feel all kingly and cool, not that you are writing him off as a brother. And your parents are clearly aware of what's going on; maybe this will be the boost they need to stop guilt-supplying him with an audience because they cooed too much over your fifth grade science fair project volcano or whatever the heck he's been brooding about for twenty odd years.

    Maybe someday he'll snap out of it, maybe not. You don't have to hand over one more second of your life and time to trying to make him care.

  • Bopper says:

    I recommend the following website to learn how to deal with toxic/personality disordered people.

    Out of the FOG (FOG=Fear Obligation Guilt) at outofthefog.net

    http://www.outofthefog.net/forum/index.php?board=36.0

    This particular subforum is for siblings.

    You are an adult and can decide how much contact you have. You can set boundaries.
    You can have no contact whatsoever.
    You can have Very Little Contact..like at holidays only. You can use the "Medium Chill technique"…"Sounds interesting"…"it sounds like you are quite interested." "i will take that under advisement".
    You don't agree, you don't disagree.

  • cayenne says:

    My sympathies, Gutted – this is tough. When his [misinterpreted] right to free speech shits all over your pursuit of happiness, sometimes you really have no choice but to disengage. If he has "every right" to email you vile bullshit, you have the same "every right" to hit delete, unread.

    I do suggest discussing it with your mom, if you have that kind of relationship. Explain your decisions, the boundaries you plan to set, and ask if she will back you. It'll be hard for her to go against her own habits of conciliating your brother, but now she needs to understand that conciliation is actually an enabling behaviour that has consequences, and you're all victims when she doesn't call out your brother's narcissistic bullying. Setting boundaries isn't an accusation that she's a bad mother, it's a statement of expectation that you want your – and her – life to have a certain level of peace… which you will not have if Brother is involved.

    And if she doesn't agree to the boundaries you set, you can basically tell her "You know what, Mom? Right now, we'll just stay home – new babies can make it hard to travel, and on top of that, the toxic emotional environment is really stressful for all of us. So we'll pass until Brother gets deprogrammed or smacked down, thanks."

    Alternately, you could also have some fun with Brother: take the tiresome alt-right cliches he's dealing out and turn them back on him. He's calling you a snowflake libtard crybaby? "Sure am, Bro! Here's my cup of liberal tears for your next MAGA break!" Throwing his Nazi shit back at him with a smile will probably send him around the bend. I think there's been an expectation amongst those on the far right that liberals are really soft, that they insist on always playing nicey-nice, and never retaliate; the right has built its whole game plan on that assumption, so the fact that liberals are starting to use the alt-right playbook to get up conservatives' noses is having interesting – and possibly destabilizing – results. Just look at all the Republican congresscritters dodging their town halls or yelling at their constituents because people are actually questioning their reps' positions and actions. Republicans are completely unused to pushback from liberals, and can't handle it.

    Congrats on the baby, and good luck!

  • Cora says:

    @Emily, I could have written your comment, except that it was my mom, and the fight that ended with her saying "you're not welcome here ever again" didn't happen until I was forty. I also spoke up a lot more forcefully in defense of my kid.

    Gutted, this is heartbreaking. It does help at least a little to know that other people go through this, and listen/talk to them about what they've experienced. Here's what I learned: first, you have every right to cut off someone who hurts you, no matter how they are related to you. Second, you're allowed to grieve. It is kind of a death — you wanted a brother that acted like one. He doesn't. That fucking stings. Let yourself be sad and stung and hurt — no one can legitimately blame you for feeling that way. You go through the grief and eventually get to a version of normal, at your own pace.

    Be kind to yourself.

  • Beanie says:

    In my experience, mourning what you should have had is the most difficult aspect of giving up on family. I will always feel that loss, but my life is better now.

    Good luck to you and yours.

  • Gutted says:

    Hi all, OP here. Thanks so much, Sars, for some really great advice–and thank you to everyone else who shared their own stories and suggested how I should deal with mine.

    After reading everything I've realized that I've been thinking about this as my problem–it's my fault that I didn't convert my brother away from being a Breitbutthole, and my fault that there's a rift between us. But reading things like "he's a bully," "you don't like each other," "he doesn't care about you"–I get it now. He *is* a bully; he figured out years ago that my mom and I hate conflict and he can get what he wants by being loud and mean. He doesn't like me or care about my life; if he did, he would have at least pretended to give a shit about my kid, and he wouldn't have stopped speaking to me because I didn't read his links.

    And you know what? Since that fight last March I've always been the one making friendly overtures, sending happy birthday messages and congratulations. He's only initiated contact to gloat about Trump and to berate me for being publicly sad about the election. My last contact with him was through his Christmas gift, which he did not reciprocate or acknowledge. I can't cut him off–he's already made the decision to sever our relationship.

    I think my line from here on out is that he's not speaking to me, and I'm going to let him. If I go home, I'll tell my parents "please don't tell Brother I'm in town or try to plan events with us together. He's not speaking to me and I think that's for the best right now."

    @Cayenne–Teasing him used to be my best method of dealing with his assorted nonsense. But after becoming a Breitbutthole, cracking jokes sent him into a rage because I "wasn't taking him seriously" and "mocking" him. He used to have a sense of humor, I swear :/

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