I’m writing for my brother who is currently 26. I am his older brother. I have been concerned about him for a long time. Growing up he had few friends and would mainly play video games by himself or online. Also growing up he was a bit bossy towards my parents and others, he was the youngest child. In college he had a short phase where he was a bit more social. It is now about 4 years since he has graduated college. In that time he has not worked any job. He gets angry when people try to tell him to think about the future and what he wants to do with his life. He lives alone in an apartment that my parents own in Queens (we live on Long Island). He barely goes outside. He orders things to his apartment, even food so he doesnt go outside (he doesn’t know how to drive either). He mainly just plays video games online and sleeps. It seems like he has some hidden form of cash flow that we do not know of since he buys himself things on Amazon quite frequently. He is extremely moody and can get in quite negative angry moods towards others. This has been 4 years and I am not sure what to do. He himself does not seem open for us trying to help, when my parents try to have a more serious talk with him he gets extremely angry and then will say extreme things to get them to stop talking, like “This will be the last you will ever see me. I will move to Sweden” (he is currently dating a girl online from Sweden who has recently come to visit him in NY). Or he will even say things like committing suicide if we try to get involved help him. We do not want him to run away to Sweden so we are not sure what to do as we feel like we are walking on thin ice over here. But he has been stuck for so long. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to care at all. I wasn’t sure what to do and would appreciate your help on how to hopefully get things on a positive path. We do not want to see him waste away his life like this any longer. What is the first step? Thank you.
Your brother is an adult. He’s living his life the way he wants to. Unless he’s a danger to himself or to others, you are severely limited in how you can intervene.
It’s important to scale back your expectations about how much power you have over this situation. You cannot force him to be motivated. You cannot force him to have interests in things that he’s not interested in. You cannot force him to be a different person. He’s doing what he wants and what makes him happy. As an adult, it’s up to him to decide how he lives his life. You may not agree with it. It’s probably not how you would live your life but he has the right to live how he wants, right or wrong.
Your parents may have the only leverage in this situation. He is living in their apartment. He lives there even though your parents are unhappy with his behavior.
Because your parents allow him to live in their apartment, despite their unhappiness with how he treats them and how he behaves, they may be enabling his behavior. They continue to allow him to live in their apartment no matter what happens. He’s doing what he wants because he can. He faces no consequences.
As you mentioned in your letter, he makes threats about moving to Sweden and suicide. This is probably why no one forces the issue. He may make those threats because he knows that the family will back off and leave him alone. Thus, he can continues living in the apartment rent free, doing what he wants and nothing changes. He apparently recognizes that no one will bother him if he makes those threats. Understandably, you’re worried that he’s going to carry out those threats. But, by backing down when he makes them, his behavior is reinforced and the problem continues.
There is no easy solution to this problem. You can try talking to your brother and explaining your concerns but it may not make a difference. Your parents have the power to ask him to move out of the apartment. That would force him to at least make changes to his living arrangements.
Anytime that he threatens suicide, you should call the mental health crisis team or the authorities. That’s the most appropriate way to deal with a threat of suicide.
Sometimes people threaten suicide as a way to manipulate others into behaving in a particular way. That may be what is happening but you would never want to risk the possibility of his attempting suicide. Mental health professionals can ensure that this matter is handled correctly and safely.
You might also consider family therapy. Your brother is unlikely to attend but you can make the offer. If he’s unwilling, you and your parents might benefit from a few sessions with a mental health professional, for guidance in how to handle this situation. It’s always good to seek the advice of trained professionals when dealing with difficult situations.
I wish I had more options for you to consider. Unfortunately, you’re dealing with a difficult situation. It can be excruciating to watch someone you love engage in behavior that you know is not in their best interest. To sit on the sidelines and do nothing is a helpless feeling but sometimes that is the reality of the situation. Try everything you can to make positive changes in your brother’s life. Once you’ve done that, you will have done all that you can do. Good luck with your efforts. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle