Dear Thelma: I'm in my 20s, but my 12YO brother terrorises me and my sis

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Dear Thelma,

Since I first heard about Dear Thelma, I’ve contemplated reaching out since I wasn’t sure if I myself was the problem, but after seeing other submissions, and the advice and comfort given, I thought it was time I shared my story so others in a similar situation can read your advice as well.

I want to leave my family but I don’t know how.

I grew up without any abuse from anyone in my family, until my younger brother came along. I am currently in my 20s and still living with my family and attending university.

My brother is now 12. Even though he is much younger than me, he is taller and stronger. We have a sister who is just one year older than him.

With the wide age gap, we never had a good relationship. Our father never paid us any attention and our mother was always busy with work. We were mostly brought up by our grandmother who believed we don’t need much guidance and that children will naturally mature as they age. My sister and I grew up OK under this belief.

However, my brother being the youngest and the only son, was doted on and spoiled all his life. To the point where he doesn't care about his studies at all; he would just play and eat all day long.

When my mother noticed this, she asked me to start teaching him and guiding him since I was the eldest. But every time I did so, he would say I was torturing him and hitting him although I never did, yet my father and grandmother took his side and believed him since they adored their boy.

After some years, I gave up because he would start throwing things at me and getting on my nerves on purpose.

He still does not know basic math or the alphabet. My sister also tried teaching him because our mother asked her to. She received the same abuse from him.

Because of how spoiled he was, I never tried to relate or help him because at the end of the day, I would be the one getting scolded by my father for "bullying" him. However, he constantly tries to get on my sister's nerves.

He hits us whenever he can't get what he wants from us, such as helping him read what's on his online games and cooking for him.

I’ve always tried my best to just ignore it when we were younger, but after he turned 10, he grew taller and stronger than us, which was when things got worse.

After my grandmother passed away, nobody would stop him from hitting us since my father always sided with him and told us to help him since "he is your younger brother".

It got to the point where he would threaten us and actually leave bruises on us. He once threatened me with a knife when he was 11, just because I said he should do his homework himself and not order my sister to do it for him. My mother was there to hold him back but she got hurt in the process.

I am so frustrated and confused that I really do wish that he would attack me so badly that I enter the hospital so I can actually tell people to get him away from me.

My father believes him so much that every time I try to stand up for myself or my sister, he threatens to hit us as well. I really do wish that they would hurt me so I can actually file a report against them and get away from them.My mother is also stuck right now because she’s the sole breadwinner of the family and she does not want a divorce, for her children's sake. She’s not home until late at night and she is also getting hit by her own 12-year-old son.

I want to leave but I don’t want to leave my sister and mother alone in the house. I want to file a police report against him but he is still a minor and the police would probably tell me there’s nothing they can do. I also don’t want to cause trouble for my mother and other relatives. But if I don’t, I’m afraid no one will stop him from using a knife on my sister in the future.

Thelma, I'm at a loss about what to do; I feel like every step I take would be the wrong one.

Right now, I just need someone to tell me that it’s not all my fault because when everyone around you keeps saying it is, you can’t help but wonder.

Autumn Leaf

Dear Autumn Leaf,

I'm sorry you're in this position, and I quite understand why you want to leave. As this is a complex issue, I think it's best tackled in parts: What your parents need to do, what you need to do for you, a note about your sister, and what your family need to do as a whole.First, an overview of the big picture. Your parents have ducked out of parenting. They pushed the burden on to your grandmother and then you.

This is not right. You have been put into the position of parent to your brother, which is an impossible position. This situation is interfering with the natural sibling bond. It's a burden on both you and your brother.

As it is, your brother has learned that violence is an excellent way for him to get whatever he wants. He escalated from childish tantrums to beatings. You, your sister and your mother are regularly attacked and injured. As the adults did nothing to stop this, he is now using weapons. Your mother was injured in a knife fight.

This is incredibly dangerous and I am extremely concerned.

Ideally, your parents should have reached out for help some years ago. However, they have taught your brother that it's OK to hurt others. This is very serious, and because of this, I urge you to reach out to the police or to Talian Kasih (ph: 15999/ 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp).

This will not be easy for you. Your parents have a pattern of ignoring their parental duty. They also normalise violence. It is likely they will blame you, the messenger.

Even so, I think the ethical thing is for you to call for help. Your brother is dangerous, and he may kill you, a member of your family, or some random stranger who upsets him.

Once you make an official report, there should be a team to help. This will have to come in several different parts.

Parents first. It sounds as though your parents are unhappily married, and your mum wants to leave. That is something they can address together. However, they have children and that job comes first. Whether they split or not, they must parent together.

They have three children, none of whom they are parenting. You are now an adult, so let's leave you out of it. This leaves your 13-year-old sister and 12-year-old brother.

Your brother needs urgent care. Your parents have to step up and teach him normal social behaviour. As matters have become extremely serious, your parents will need supervision, and to be helped in this task by professionals.

Also, your brother has to be assessed. Apart from the violence, he appears to have some learning difficulties. While it's possible he's just running wild, there may be more issues at work there. A psychiatrist, a medical doctor specialising in mental health, will be able to advise your parents.

Next, you. Whatever is going on, your brother is your parents' job. You are out of it; leave it to the adults.

You (and your sister) need counselling of your own. Your parents have essentially told you that they're OK with you being beaten, and that your needs are of no account. This type of neglectful parenting is linked to mental health issues including depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. You need gentle support to heal and to find yourself.

As you are at university, you should have access to a mental health professional. Look for someone with a Masters in Psychology, Counselling or Social Work. Your sister is not at uni but ask if they can help her too. As this is a serious case, they should be compassionate.

To keep it simple, you and your sister might see the same therapist, so the background needs to be told once. However, have separate appointments as you need individual care.

Understand this will not be a quick fix. This problem has been festering for years, and it won't be helped overnight. You need to talk this out, to understand what happened and how it affects you. Probably, you will also need help with boosting self-esteem and healthier relationship patterns.

As part of this healing process, I understand you want to leave home. I suggest it is your survival instinct at work.

This is also where your sister comes in. She is a child and needs proper adult care. At this point I'd suggest your parents should deal with your brother while you and your sister leave for a safe space and heal. Perhaps you can stay at university? And can your sister stay with another relative, a gentle sensible person?

This is something the adults in your family need to work out with the team that helps you. Be a sister to your sister, but don't try to be her parent, OK?

Third, your family. Neglect and violence strain natural family relationships. I expect you will all go through a period of evaluation, change and that is very tiring. My best advice is to ask your therapist to help you identify your support network. Lean on that.

Leave sorting out your relationship with your mum, dad, and brother for now. Once they have settled into healthier patterns, you can come together and see where you stand. I anticipate that won't be for a year or perhaps longer. Your parents have a lot of work to do, as does your brother. So take it slowly.

Again, talking with them is probably best done with the help of a mediator, a mental health professional skilled in helping families heal.

I hope this helps give you an idea of where to go next.

In addition, please know that none of this is your fault. You were a child put in an impossible situation by adults. You've suffered violence and neglect. This is sad but it is not permanent. You are a young woman now, and you will heal, move on and be happy. It will take some work and time, but you can do it. Start now by reaching out, OK? You deserve happiness.

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