Ask a therapist: 'I haven’t talked to my brother in 12 years – and now he’s coming home for Christmas'

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I honestly feel like booking a flight to another country and spending Christmas alone. Or writing my siblings a letter with a few home truths...


Dear Therapist,

My brother and I had a falling out 12 years ago over a will. I won’t go into the details only to say that he believes he was left short and he felt I should have shared my inheritance with him. It got very ugly and it led to two camps in the family. We all made amends over the years but my brother and I haven’t spoken since. He said some things that I can never forgive and I saw a side to him that I can’t get past.

He has always spent Christmas with his own family (he lives abroad) but he’s coming back this year and spending Christmas Day with our sister. I have only just found this out and I’m furious. He knows this is where my husband and I spend Christmas, so he’s clearly trying to push me out. I’m angry with my sister too. She says she can’t turn her brother away at Christmas but she doesn’t seem to realise that she’s turning me away in the process.

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I’ll probably spend Christmas in a hotel now. I’m so angry and hurt and it’s bringing up a lot of old feelings. I can see another huge fall-out coming and I’m full of anxiety over it. It’s also causing problems with my husband. He doesn’t understand how ugly this feud is and he seems to think we can all kiss and make up. I honestly feel like booking a flight to another country and spending Christmas alone. Or writing my siblings a letter with a few home truths.

What should I do? 

Dear Anonymous,

First of all, I can hear the pain coming through in your mail. I am so sorry that this is what you are experiencing right now. I understand how hurt and upset this situation has made you.

A few initial points are coming through. First of all, I wonder about how this message was communicated to you. From your mail, it feels like nothing was said directly. Neither your brother nor your sister, from what you say, either consulted or considered you, which is, it seems, a source of great frustration.

When you say ‘he’s clearly trying to push me out’ and ‘she doesn’t seem to realise that she’s turning me away in the process’, I realise that you infer a great deal from the actions of your siblings, rather than dealing with their direct communications with you. This sounds very like an old structure that your family has in place. Is this true? Is this the manner by which you guys have always communicated? And what position does this put you in within the family dynamic? Who is the ‘leader’? Who makes the decisions? How do you respond to this person? Answering these questions, honestly, with yourself or with someone who is clearly and emphatically on your side can really help.

If you want to change the dynamic within the family, then, first of all, you have to identify (without anger or fear) what system you all use in dealing with each other. This system can only be altered when there is awareness of what happens and why it happens. It is likely that when you examine this, you will only be able to examine your part in it. This is okay. You need to be your own primary focus now. You will likely not be able to influence the emotions or decisions of your brother or sister, but you can definitely get a clear understanding and acceptance of your own emotions and decisions.

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Next, I wonder what work you have done in terms of reconciling this pain within yourself. The row with your brother obviously runs deep within you and the pain that you feel as a consequence has not moved a lot since the altercation happened, from what I understand from your writing.

Perhaps you need a space where you can safely feel all of the anger and upset that you have since this row. There has been a great amount of hurt triggered in you and this seems to be cementing within you, which must be very difficult to experience on a daily basis. In order to be authentic to yourself and really feel the pain that you have inside you, please do find a way to externalize it. Talking about it is a great help. Writing a letter to your brother (that you don’t intend to send to him) might allow all the pain to be fully felt. Once it is experienced in this way, then I know that you will find it easier to get closure on the issue.

In the end of it all, having a comprehension that your brother has capacity for the pain that he caused you is perhaps a learning that you need from this experience. I wonder would you consider a relationship with him again when you are reconciled with this understanding. “He can hurt me, therefore I need to guard myself but I can still accept a more muted relationship with him”. This, to me, sounds like an endpoint worth striving for within your dealings with him.

Right now, I see you catastrophizing and thinking in a very black and white manner. This represents the manner by which you are processing the great pain and upset that you feel. I encourage you to seek movement in this pain, in order to be able to boundary it and move on with your life. I will not offer you advice on what to do for Christmas. This is your decision to make.

Ultimately, getting your husband, other family members (outside of this feud) and friends to hear and understand what you feel is a very worthwhile piece. However, this can only be done within the context of you understanding your pain fully within yourself. If you need help with this, please do reach out to a trained therapist. They can really help.

Finally, the very best of luck with this. You are dealing with a lot so seek comfort, joy and love within every other area of your life.

You deserve it and need it right now.

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Lorraine Hackett is a therapist with MyMind. If you have a concern that you'd like to share with a therapist, email MyMind in confidence at [email protected].

MyMind provides affordable counselling and psychotherapy online or face-to-face in their Dublin, Cork and Limerick centres in over 15 languages. Visit www.MyMind.org to book an appointment or call 076 680 1060. 


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