Can I Stop Verbal Abuse By A Brother?


I’ve been reading about verbal abuse and so many times it applies mostly to romantic or parental abuse, but there is another form of abuse that is forgotten, and that is when a sister is verbally abused by a brother. Unfortunately, this abuse conditions her for future abuse. I have been helping a friend who runs a not-for-profit organization. While I knew he had some emotional issues, they were not causing any problems at the time. I have since been able to get for him a huge amount of publicity for his cause – and now things have changed. He has become argumentative, critical, hangs up on me, or answers the phone but does not speak. Could you please include some help for those who volunteer so they don’t have to be on this merry go round too. Thank you.


Abused & Estranged


DearĀ Abused & Estranged:

Am I correct in assuming that you are the sister who was and is verbally abused? I cannot tell from what you write because you state in one sentence “when a sister is verbally abused by a brother” and in another sentence that you “have been helping a friend who runs a not-for-profit organization.” Then in a a third sentence that you have “helped him” get publicity and that “he has become argumentative, critical, hangs up on me” I apologize in advance for what you may know is a misinterpretation.

But if I assume correctly, your paragraph paints short sad bio about someone, and that someone is you. That picture seems to have had three stages: one of childhood bullying by a brother, two of abuse by that bother on into adult life while helping him achieve recognition for doing good, and three of estrangement from him. This personal history appears to prompt your concern for those who volunteer and suffer abuse in that capacity.

Bullying often does begin in the family: by one spouse of another, by parents of children, one sibling of another, and by one who is physically or mentally stronger of another. Acceptance of bullying also can begin early for the sake of one’s survival and can condition the bullied to take it in later years. Learning to cope with bullies, often by compliance, can be seen from kindergarten to college, in later life in the pecking order within organizational hierarchy, and even between nations–in empire bully-building and at its worst in genocide.

Learning to cope constructively with abuse, especially after long years of being conditioned to be a willing victim, entails understanding cognitively and emotionally what has happened psychologically–being able to see that a relationship is dysfunctional and that there are ways to be assertive and survive or to escape from it. These generalizations that come to mind in light of your query suggest that you have some choices that you, as a victim of verbal abuse and bullying, can make to cope constructively with your brother. How you choose to cope with him also portents carry-over coping principles for those, who are in any number of bullied situations whether as a volunteer or fulltime employee. On paper this sounds academic. In real life, learning to cope constructively with bullying entails practical matters:

1. Looking in the mirror to explore what in one’s attitude and/or of one’s actions might provoke bullying in particular situations. This can be depicted by logging what has transpired–who said what, when, where–in bullying situations over a few days. 2. Thinking through the kind of language that you will use to stop bullying in a particular relationship. Demanding not to be addressed abusively calls for assertive words and body language. Assertive body language, does not mean clenching one’s fist or teeth, but it might mean, stepping back from the bully, squaring one’s shoulders and looking the bully in the eyes and pausing from complying with whatever you are doing. Then using language that spells this out concisely and firmly that you do not want to be bullied, such as “Don’t speak to me that way.” Or when time permits, one’s communication can be more explanatory in light of preventing or correcting a pattern of abuse, such as, “Sam, I’ve accepted your yelling and cursing of me too long, but I’ve finally gotten the courage to say, ‘If you want me to do what you want, you’ll have a much better chance of that when you speak respectfully.” Such a response probably will be necessary over a number of instances to change a bully’s pattern of abuse. But they should not become argumentative or escalate into a tit for tat increase in volume and animosity. Rather, if a working relationship is ever to be constructive and harmonious, it probably will require a time-out time to talk between the bullied and bully. Such a session, or possibly several time-out sessions, has the potential of specifying what are the dos and don’ts of communication that make for civil, respectful, and effective cooperation.

3. Voting with distance. In your case, I’m sure you have come to the conclusion that you might simply have to stay away from your brother. To be estranged from one’s family is not the way it should be, but distance might be the best and only solution. Rather than obsess about a brother that aggressively puts you down or won’t talk to you, is it not time to vote with your feet? Put that same kind of energy you invested in helping him achieve to another cause. Rather than simply quitting the volunteering, the civil thing to do is send him a written resignation; one that concisely states that you would like to have a good work and family relationship with him, but until he is willing to talk about how that might happen, you have decided to no longer be involved with the not-for-profit organization. I know that those who trapped in a workplace with abusive bosses or co-workers often choose to stick it out because they are afraid to be fired or that they can not find another job. That is sad, but a volunteer does not have to stick it out.

Earning the right to a WEGO minded relationship requires giving and getting respectful communication. Do feel free to clarify your situation, and/or to tell me if these thoughts are at all helpful.

William Gorden