Thursday 26 April 2018

Dear Mary: My brother has bullied me all my life, from violent threats to attacks

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

I'm at my wits end, Mary. My brother has bullied me throughout my life, from simple name-calling to violent threats and attacks, such as grabbing me by the throat and punching me in the leg. We are both in our 20s, although he is older than me. Unfortunately, we are both still living at home - I am saving for a deposit for a mortgage while he has no plans to move out. He was never academic, made little or no effort in school and never went to college. This is the first time he has held down a job. I have a third level professional qualification, a permanent, pensionable job and I work extremely hard.

Our parents divorced when we were both quite young and my brother always assumed the role of a father. He always thought of himself as man of the house, therefore assuming he could control me and tell me what to do. My mother says she isn't afraid of him any more. I am definitely afraid of him as he is physically huge in comparison to me and very strong.

I have made every effort to get along with my brother and be a civilised adult with him. I have always given him lifts, lent him money, cooked meals for him and been a genuinely good sister.

He has an extremely bad temper, is violent, and makes threats that he will physically harm me, my property and people I care about. He has physically hurt me several times over the years. Recently we were out for a family meal and he began arguing with me when my mother was away from the table. He threatened to beat me up, damage my car and beat my friend 'to a pulp'. He used to use excuses such as our father leaving for his highly-strung aggressive behaviour.

He is a street angel and house devil. Plenty of family friends would describe him as a gentleman and kind person. I have seen over the years that he can be kind and caring but he has damaged things around my mother's house over the years. Mother threatened to kick him out of the house if he ever speaks to me in a threatening, aggressive way again. When he was younger he would threaten to take his own life and emotionally blackmail us into forgiving him for the things he had done and said. He hasn't apologised this time, and if and when he does, I won't be accepting his apology. This is so hard for me as I do love him very much, but I can't live in fear for my safety.

I really want to move out of my mother's house but I can't afford to right now. I can't move in with my partner as it is too soon in our relationship. Renting is not an option.

I work long hours and am rarely in the house as I spend a lot of time with my boyfriend or at work. I have blocked my brother from all forms of social media, including my mobile phone, and at home I either avoid or ignore him. I even lock my bedroom door as he has taken things, including money, from my room. I have no privacy and he has no boundaries whatsoever. Should I bother trying to reconcile with him once again?

Mary replies: This sounds like an awful way to live and it is good that you are able to be out of the house so much. It must be extremely difficult for both your mother and yourself to put up with your brother's behaviour. And yet you still love him. We hear and read a lot about domestic violence against partners, not so much against family members.

If you reconcile with your brother without anything changing then you are just continuing the cycle of fear.

There is an organisation called MOVE - Men Overcoming Violence ( - which was originally set up to address domestic abuse in Dublin but has developed throughout the country. If you and your mother could get your brother to consider seeking help from MOVE it would be a huge step forward.

Speak to him together and explain that things cannot continue as they are and that you are no longer willing to be bullied. He has to be accountable for his actions and not just blame his upbringing. Tell him also that he is breaking the law when he hits you. After that it is up to your mother as to what she does next, albeit with your support.

It is her house and she is the one who has to make the rules.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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