Hello everybody, welcome to episode 222 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question involves an estranged brother.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
And it’s so great to have you all here today for a question that really has our asker in a tough spot. She’s experiencing two separate family struggles, but they’ve culminated to put her in a position in which I think it’s really important for her to redefine what family means to her, and just how far she should go for hers. Here's her question…
QUESTION: “After a long battle with cancer, I had to bury my mother three weeks ago. Was I ready for this? I think so. I don’t expect it to stop hurting any time soon, but I was able to be by her side and help her until the end. What’s more difficult right now is my estranged brother who I’ve seen more of in the last three weeks than I had in the last ten years.
My brother is not close with any of us and it was easier to not see him. I try calling him and including him a lot, but part of me is happy when he doesn’t answer. The other part feels guilty for not doing more. Now he’s shown up during a crisis and is up to his old tricks – making a showy speech about Mom in front of people then getting angry with the rest of us for not being in touch with him more during her decline. No empathy. No trying to bury the hatchet.
I want to know if there’s anything I can really say to him. It seems like someone has to say something. I want him to be part of the family again for his sake and everyone else’s.”
Your Brother Being a Part of Your Family, and Why
Ok. Thanks for sending this in asker and I’m sorry to hear about your Mom. Obviously the last thing you need right now is more trouble, but wow if it isn’t ever courageous of you to step forward and try to mend this separate issue of your brother. Not easy to do, so let’s see if we can help you out.
To me, there’s a really important question to ask right now, and unfortunately, it’s a very hard time to get a clear answer to it. But I really recommend that you investigate why it is that you really want your brother to be a part of your family.
Look, the recent loss of your mother is going to make it feel more important than it would ordinarily feel. There’s no getting around that.
What's Healthiest for The Family?
So I guess a subsequent question would be whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Is it good that this event has made you want to keep family closer together, or is it bad because perhaps it’s not healthiest for the family if your brother is a part of it?
Needless to say this is a huge question and it’s not easy to answer at any time, let alone right now. But if you want my advice, family should be treated like everyone else.
Should we go the extra mile a bit more? I’d say yes. But oftentimes for our own sake and the sake of extended family, it’s necessary to wade through the complicated feelings attached to family and recognize when there’s been enough disrespect that it’s in everyone’s best interest for family members to peacefully go their separate ways for the time being.
The Pain of Maintaining Family Relationships
In my experience, I’ve seen plenty of people get far more pain than pleasure from working tirelessly to maintain certain family relationships. They do this because it seems noble. Sticking by family is what we’re told to do.
But like many things we’re told to do – especially if we’re told often and told it’s honorable – we don’t question them. Therefore, many of the people that completely wear themselves out trying to maintain relationships with family members that don’t reciprocate, they do so because they’re never willing to even entertain the idea that you can give up on family.
I’m sure a lot of you, myself included, feel uncomfortable even hearing me say those words out loud. But after a certain point of trying and providing love, are there really benefits or a sense of honor that comes from forcing a relationship? Or forcing feelings on yourself or on them?
I don’t think there are. You said yourself that you secretly like when he doesn’t pick up your calls. Just because you keep that a secret doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Examining Your Feelings
I’ll tell you what I think many of us are waiting for someone to hear – and this is coming from someone who has perfectly fine familial relationships: family members are just people. It’s common and ok to not want to talk to them.
It’s even common and ok to not love them. This is even true of parents who don’t feel a connection to their children, but sit around waiting to. It’s ok. This does not mean you’ve betrayed your family. The only betrayal here is you betraying yourself if you don’t accept these feelings and then go from there. Not easy to do, but crucial nonetheless.
It’s also common and ok for our family members to be less than desirable people. Your brother, for example, sounds like a classic narcissist. You said he’s up to his old tricks when he puts on a show and then shames the immediate family behind closed doors for not including him more.
This tells me he has an ongoing pattern of making everyone else out to be the problem; blaming everyone else for his misery. Narcissist. He’s masquerading as someone who’s full of sorrow in front of the group, but when he’s around those closer to him, he reveals his true feelings which are not actually related to your mother, but rather self-pity because he’s upset he didn’t feel more included. Narcissist.
Accepting Truths with an Estranged Brother
You have to be ok with these truths before you make a decision about whether or not to keep trying with him. You have to put into question the age old tale of sticking with family no matter what. You have to separate that advice that’s been passed down and develop your own conclusions about it as best you can.
And if you find the answer to be yes, that you do still believe it’s worth trying to keep your brother in the family, then that’s great! I’m in no way telling you that you should or shouldn’t. I’m telling you to question what we’ve all been told and be sure that you’ve formulated your own opinion. This way, you can proceed with more clarity and confidence behind your actions, whether those actions are to keep reaching out to him or to purposely dial that back.
That clarity will help you know what it is that you have to say to him, should that be the route you take. If so, I would only hope that it’s a conversation both honest and compassionate, so he can be held accountable while also being offered a chance to be vulnerable should he choose to take it.
Thanks once more to the asker today for really being brave. I realize what I’m asking you to do requires more bravery, but I do think it’ll be worth it for you in the end. And for those out there who aren’t in the middle of a family crisis, or even a checkered family situation, ask yourself these same questions now so you’re better prepared when things do go awry.
Family matters always seem to get complicated, and though it’s tough to question our beliefs on family, doing so as soon as possible will better prepare you for whatever comes up in the future with them.
Done for now though, friends. Have a great start to your week, and be sure to come back on Wednesday when we’ll look to help out another one of your fellow listeners with what’s troubling them. Until then.