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My brother the manipulator

I love my brother but he’s thoughtless and entitled.

Our elder thinks a few other adjectives might be appropriate… and has some suggestions on how to establish boundaries.

Dear EWC

I love my brother and we always have each other’s back but he is a self proclaimed manipulator. Being his younger sister, I have spent most of my childhood being manipulated by him and bullied by him (we talked it through and are good now). We are now in our early twenties and needless to say I am very weary of him and on the watch for his manipulative tendencies. He’s either thoughtless or entitled and I honestly don’t know which but he will do things like ask others to walk across the room to grab something for him that’s only a couple feet away, or like today when he crashed at my place for the night, left early, called to wake me up so I could set up and clean off a table for him before he got back, moved all of my furniture to better suit his needs while I was in the shower, told me I needed to clean up the stuff he had removed from the table unless I wanted him to get rid of it (it was basic dining room decorations), drank the last drink in my fridge, and when he left he left all of his bedding and gaming things and trash scattered around my house.

It makes me feel so angry and taken advantage of when he does these kinds of things and half the time I know he’s doing it to see if he can and the other half he’s just being… thoughtless? I don’t know, I like to think there’s no malice behind it. Usually when I call him on it he acts hurt or offended but he just lays on the manipulative talk until I eventually feel like a crazy person. How do I create boundaries so I don’t feel this angry when we interact?

Mr.Bill replies

Thanks for writing to us and sharing this story of your thoughtless brother. You write that you love him and that you both have each other’s back. I’ll respect and be mindful of that as I respond to your situation. However, let me be honest.

I do respect that your brother is family and that you love him. However, you also describe him pretty well when you write that he is thoughtless. I would add a few other adjectives. Ones like: Insensitive. Taking advantage. Self-centered. Selfish. Inconsiderate of others and their lives and lifestyles.

Given what you have written, those are ways I would describe the way your brother is acting. Frankly, I can’t believe how thoughtless and self-centered he is when he is with you. It is your house and home, with your things and your decorations and your lifestyle. There is no way he should be leaving a mess, telling you to clean it up, telling you to remove your things from the dining room table, rearranging the furniture to meet his needs. Of course you are angry. I would be, too, and it would take only once for me to tell him he is not welcome as long as he does those things. There probably isn’t malice behind it, but there are some other descriptors that are not complimentary.

You say that when you call him on it he acts hurt and offended, and that he does his manipulation and it makes you feel crazy. You are not and should not feel crazy. If he is hurt and offended — good. That is appropriate. And you should stick to your position no matter what.

You said you have worked through the bullying and manipulation from your growing up years, and that you two are good. What your letter tells me is that the bullying and manipulation has continued into your twenties.

You also write that he is entitled. I might change that a little to enabled. I write that because however he got this way, it started a long time ago and he got away with it. And every time he got away with it, his behavior was enabled, and he continued and tested and stretched the bounds.

With that in mind, and again, knowing that you love him, here is my thinking, then my suggestions.

You want to create boundaries for his behavior. I think that would be easy to do. The hard part, and the part that your letter describes as the problem, is getting him to accept and adhere to those boundaries. For him to adhere to the boundaries, he must do so willingly, or if he can’t or won’t, that there are consequences.

When you first tell him the boundaries, I wonder if he willingly will adhere to them. I think, given what you have written, once you set up boundaries, and since he has been successful in not adhering to them in the past, he probably will not. He will continue to test and push and stretch. That means you have a couple of other, very important, decisions to make.
He is your brother; you love him. Can you accept him as he is? And if not, can you impose consequences if he does not live up the boundaries?
How much more of this behavior can you, will you, tolerate?
What are you willing to do to enforce consequences, if necessary?

My suggestions:

Talk to him and tell him clearly that you are angry and not happy with the way he treats you and/or your home. Tell him you are not his servant, the home is not a motel, and that you don’t want him to leave messes or rearrange furniture or make decisions about what decorations are present and where. Then ask him whether he can live with that, with your boundaries, and ask how you can help him change to adhere to them.

If he acts hurt and offended, so what? You are attempting to establish boundaries! Sometimes, that isn’t easy.

I also think you can tell him, depending on how you answered the above three questions, that if he does it again, or if he can’t live with the boundaries you establish in your home, he is not welcome. And if he won’t believe you, or tries to test you by showing up anyway, tries to push the boundaries, you will do what you have to do in order to keep him out of your house.

With all of that, and during the conversation, tell him that you are family, that you love him, and that you want a relationship with him and want him in your life. However, he is behaving in ways that you don’t like and don’t want to be around. Be kind, be gentle. But, also be consistent and firm.

That’s what I think in response to your letter. I’m sorry if I was too direct and not respectful enough of your brother and your feelings toward him.

You asked how to establish boundaries so you don’t feel so angry. I think establishing them is easy; you have already done that. The real issue is what can you do, what are you willing to do, so that he respects and lives within them. I think the only way is to discontinue tolerating it, to no longer feel crazy when he does his thing on you, and be willing to re-teach him appropriate behavior. And that means there needs to be real consequences when he behaves toward you and your home as you’ve described.

If you talk with your brother, let me know how it goes. And if you talk with him, continue to remember what I wrote about not having to feel crazy. Don’t. If he is hurt or offended, sincerely and not manipulative, that might be a beginning.

Good luck, my friend.

Letter #: 448945
Category: Family

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