Verbal abuse from brother


Verbal abuse from brother


your avatar   KB, 21-year-old woman

I'm one of 6 children, ranging from age 37 to 12. I am 21 years old. I live at home with my mother and 2 younger brothers, ages 12 and 13. For their whole lives, my brothers have had behavioral problems, but the older they get the worse it gets. The past few years, my 12-year-old brother has become hostile, especially towards me. I know all siblings fight, (growing up with 3 older sisters I was involved in my fair share of it) but this is different. He says things to me most people would never say, not even to their worst enemy on their worst day. I won't repeat them now, but I'm absolutely positive they would shock most people. Some of the far lesser ones include "Seriously, why don't you just go kill yourself?", "No one even loves you," "Even mom talks about you when you're gone. Everyone wants you to leave. We all hate you here," "You're SO ugly. You look disgusting. It would be better if you just died."

As I said, those are just the ones I can share. When I was younger, that kind of behavior was NEVER accepted. None of my sisters would have ever said anything remotely close to that to each other, and if we had so much as thought about it, my parents would have used the belt on us without a second thought. My parents divorced a few years back (though they continue to see each other on and off).

My mother never seems to mind this behavior. He keeps the worse, more vulgar insults for when she's not around, though I've told her on many occasions what he says. When he says some things around her, she'll chip in with the occasional "Hey!" or "I don't want to hear that language!", and that's all she says, though he never actually stops what he's doing. It's as if after she acknowledges it, she loses all interest in the situation.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a saint in the situation, though I can guarantee I don't start anything. He jumps to hostility anytime I so much as disagree with him. For the most part I let most things go; however, after an hour of constant vulgar ridicule and insults, I just blow up at him. Of course, then my mother usually decides it's time to step in, but it's almost always directed at me. She tells me I should calm down, and that as a 21-year-old, I should be able to keep it together and be "more mature" than a 12-year-old boy. Her exact words to me have been "You really need to grow a thicker skin, just grow up." Most times lately I've been brought to tears by the things he says. On what planet is it okay for a 12-year-old to make his big sister feel worthless? I've told my mother on many occasions that it would be easier to hear these things from him if there was ever any punishment for what he says. I've told her (and my father) that the worst part of it all isn't the things he says to me, but rather the way it's handled. I've told them that the reason he continues to do these things to me is because when there is literally NO punishment, he assumes it's okay.

I'm trying to move out, but money's tight and it's hard to find a job, so for the foreseeable future I'm stuck here.

What should I do? How can I possibly change things when I have no help at all from my mother? I know there are 2 sides to every story, but I can assure you I've said nothing but the truth, and not just my biased, one-sided version.

Is there any way to make my mother see how miserable and worthless I feel here with him? I feel like I've said everything I can to her. I've told her my feelings, even though that's always been extremely difficult for me. What can I do to make things better here?


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear KB,

Severe abuse by a younger sibling against an older one is quite common, because of the unthinking assumption by people that the younger child is usually the victim. Sadly, you are not alone with your problem.

The first thing is, you do not need to accept abuse. You have a right to dignity, and respect, and decency, same as anyone else. Second, you know that the stuff he says is intended to hurt you. This means it is something you do not need to asses for truth or falsehood. What he says is probably false, but even if it has an element of truth, so what. It is only noise. When you take this attitude, he becomes powerless to influence you in any way. He is just a barking dog. The noise may be annoying, but if we can't stop the barking (perhaps because the dog is two doors down and is owned by a nasty man), then we just get on with life and ignore it as best we can.

Third, what he gets out of it is power. When he mouths off at you and you react either with anger or hurt, he has scored a point. So, the way to make him lose the game is to act as if his insults had zero effect on you. Regardless of how you feel inside, act the ice queen. Shoulders square, face calm, radiating peace and strength. Practice it in private in front of a mirror, or with sympathetic friends outside the family.

This is the way to cope while you are forced to share living space with him. I strongly encourage you to urgently solve the practical problem of moving out. For example, can you live short-term with one of your sisters? Can you move to a place of relatively high employment, get a job, any job, and save up until you can do better?

Going full circle, you deserve decency and respect. You can achieve a life like that.


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


Commit an act of kindness daily. Hold the door open or buy someone a coffee.
"The key to eating health is not eating any food that has a TV commercial."
Mike Birbiglia
Before building a career, relationship, or family, work on building your self-esteem.