Compassion and distress

Admin’s note: I received this post today from a YAR member. Though it is not normal practice to post unsigned articles here, I made an exception in this case due to safety concerns.

Every time my brother sabotages family plans or punches another hole through the wall, I just think that maybe all this is happening to me because I need to increase my sense of compassion…or to remember to concentrate as much energy on the tiny personal things as well as the political things. I don’t know.

He’s mentally ill and has a huge sense of entitlement, and he’s angry almost all the time. He scares the living daylights out of me. He has made our home an unsafe place to be, and manipulated my parents through brute strength and threats.

He shows the traits of an abuser, calling his girlfriend on the phone, demanding to know where she is and what she is doing. He can’t go to another state (where she lives) because he’s has one warrant out for his arrest (domestic violence) there. He has to stay in the state he’s currently in because he’s got one felony and is currently on probation.

One of my parents says I should put more distance between myself and the family, because they know he is a stressor…(I haven’t been dealing with it well, it’s shot my anxiety through the roof). However, I have just recently come to that stage where I really care about my parents, and worry about them and their wellbeing dealing with my brother. So I don’t want to put distance between us right now. My 21 year old brother has robbed me of my parents. All we talk about is him. We are all so tired and worn out. It has seriously affected the sanity and operating ability of one of my parents. I feel sick to my stomach because I don’t know how all of this is going to end.

I try to meditate on love, the impermanence of everything, and I remember that Jesus died for my brother. That Jesus loves him. That God loves him. This is really helpful. But I wonder what I can do? And I wonder what the connection of the political and personal is here.

For those of you who work and live in communities with people who are angry, mentally ill, don’t have financial education, and formerly committed violence crimes…do you have advice on how your community handles this? Does anyone else have a sibling that causes them a lot of anguish? How do you (as siblings or in community) deal with this stuff theologically? Are there support groups for this kind of stuff?

Comments (2)

  1. SteveK

    Wow, that is a difficult situation. I really understand, because in our community we deal with folks that are mentally ill all the time and some of them are violent, or at least threaten. I can’t give you absoute counsel on this situation, but I can perhaps give a couple clues.

    First of all, some people can minister to the mentally ill. Others can’t. And of those who can minister to the mentally ill, not all can minister to those who threaten violence. Your parents are in the place where they have to care for your brother, and they will learn to deal with it, in accordance with their limitations. But it doesn’t sound like you are in that place. It is good that you are connecting to your parents. If you feel that your brother is taking over your relationship with your parents, you can tell them, “I know you are having difficulties with -. It is really hard and I want to listen to it, but do you think that we can spend some time talking about something else? I would really like to hear about your lives apart from your difficulties with -”

    Another thing, though, is that you cannot ask your parents to limit the burden that God has given them. You may think, at some point, that they are in an unhealty relationship with your brother. It may even be true. But you have to let them figure out what their boundaries are and how to keep them on their own. When we are stressed and our buttons are being pushed, our tolerance is very low and we will sometimes call other folks ability to handle what we cannot “enableing”. It probably isn’t. It just means that they are intended to do that ministry and you are not.

    I’d love to talk to you more about this and see if I can make a recommendation that’s more specific. ‘m a pastor for the mentally ill and have gone through burnout in my ministry in this very area. If you want to connect, please contact me at

    and we can write or see if we can make a phone call.

    Steve K

  2. RonL

    I’m a criminal defense lawyer, so I deal with people like your brother a lot. I can really understand the pain you are experiencing. As you describe, it is a really difficult situation.

    Difficult people such as your brother often create chaos in other peoples’ lives as well as their own. They create crises and then others feel they are forced to react to these crises.

    What I suggest to my clients is that they enroll in some programs that will help them- 12 step programs, education programs, church programs, substance abuse programs, anger management classes, counseling, job programs, etc. I do not tell them to stop fighting or getting angry or drinking or doing drugs or whatever, I tell them to get into the programs.

    This way they have support and they get a new set of friends that will hopefully be less disfunctional than their old set of friends. I found that recommending programs to them works a lot of the time- it’s more effective than just telling them to change their behaviors.

    They’ve already tried changing their behaviors on their own (and failed) and lots of people have probably already told them that. Many of them probably secretly feel like failures for having these problems and not having enough willpower to get over it. So, many don’t try to change because they feel they are doomed to fail.

    They are often surrounded by people (police officers, probation officers, jailers, “friends”, etc.) who think they will fail because they have seen so many others fail. This cynicism just leads to further failure. They need someone who believes they can succeed and can make it.

    If they get into several different programs, they often do change their lives. Newer research has found that people who are forced into programs do just as well as those who go volutarily.

    Many people state that the person has to want to do it for themselves, but I have seen plenty of guys who are forced to take substance abuse treatment by a judge who then stay sober. Many relapse, but many do stay sober. After several tries, most are sober.

    Sometimes families get together with an experienced counselor who helps them do an intervention to encourage the person to enter rehab or get counseling or whatever program the person needs. They schedule a surprise meeting with the guy and they all tell him to get treatment and have it all ready for him to go to.

    It’s also important to make sure that family members such as yourself do not too caught up in his life that you don’t have your own. I suggest doing some things to take care of yourself so that you don’t get sucked down the drain with him. Get counseling for yourself if necessary. Maintain your other relationships, take care of your mental and physical health by eating well, exercising, sleeping well, etc.

    One program that worked well with one of my clients was to have a support group that met once/month to help her. She kept getting arrested for various things and I sort of got tired of her getting in trouble.

    We had a minister, social worker, counselor and myself in the group and met and talked each month. This client had many problems, including lots of anger inside her (but no substance abuse problem).

    Since we started meeting, she has been doing much better and has pretty much stayed out of trouble. The counselor helped her a great deal- they did some art therapy.

    This group was a way for the client to get the attention she needed and help with what she needed, but without having to act out to get attention. Often these difficult people get no attention unless they act out, then they are surrounded by police officers, social workers, lawyers, judges, probation officers, etc. in each crisis.

    Instead of reacting so much to each crisis, our group met with her regularly. She also knew that she would be held accountable to us and I think that helped keep her straight. And, we help her come up with strategies for dealing with her issues in a positive way.

    Anyway, it sounds like a difficult situation for you and your family. I wish you all the best in dealing with it. Prayers are going out to you, your brother and your parents.

    Steve K also left some good comments for you and has some experience in this area. Like him, I’d be glad to help if you want to contact me.



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