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I feel trapped at home with my abusive twin brother, who has M.S. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I am a man in my 20s and my twin brother is verbally and physically abusive towards me. This has been going on for the past five years.

He feels that his life was sabotaged by our parents’ controlling, abusive and demeaning behaviour. He is always angry and has trouble sleeping. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) a few years ago. When he gets angry he tells me that I should go away and die, or he tries to hit me with the aim of causing me serious injury and pain. I’ve had various injuries from his vicious assaults.

In addition he would grab me and touch me sexually, and he calls me names. I’m unemployed, with no friends, and I rarely go out, so he calls me a loser and I feel trapped.

My father just sits at home surfing for entertainment on his computer, while my mother does housework all day. They only go out to buy food and have no social life. My mother lives off my father’s benefits for mental disorder – he takes anti-psychotic pills, although he seems to understand and respond pretty normally, and I’m not sure his diagnosis is accurate. My parents just seem to ignore or downplay everything, and take no responsibility. I feel totally helpless. Is my brother right? Should I just give up?

No, please don’t give up. You and your brother’s lives sound very tough, but nothing excuses his behaviour towards you. What a shame you can’t both pull together, instead of him lashing out at you, physically and metaphorically. Please be clear that this is abusive behaviour. Just because he is your brother and has MS, that does not make it OK.

What was your relationship like before? I note his behaviour changed a couple of years before the MS diagnosis, not at that point, so what happened five years ago?

Your family situation sounds very complex and highly damaging for you. The obvious thing would be for you to get out

It is rare, but in some cases MS can change behaviour. You can read more about it here: mssociety.org.uk/what-is-ms/signs-and-symptoms/mental-health/other-issues. But I really want to stress that nothing excuses your brother’s behaviour towards you, and if you found it helpful you could contact the MS Society to talk to someone about your brother’s condition (mssociety.org.uk, tel: 0808 800 8000). I wonder how much his condition is making you excuse his behaviour in your mind?

You don’t go into any more detail about your parents’ “controlling, abusive and demeaning behaviour”, and you mention it in passing as if it’s just one of those things. Have you ever spoken to anyone about this? Your family situation sounds very complex and highly damaging for you. The obvious thing would be for you to get out. I realise this is not going to be immediately possible, but I hope that with the right help, you may be able to see what options you have and feel more supported.

I contacted Respect (respect.uk.net) about your letter. They said that it sounded as if your situation is intolerable: “You are right to feel this way; your brother’s behaviour, whatever his diagnosis, is wrong, unjustified and unacceptable. Many other people live with this type of diagnosis and they are not abusing anyone. He chooses to terrorise and bully you, and this is appalling.

“Unfortunately, you cannot do anything about your brother, unless he is asking for help. However, if he does decide to change, you can offer the Respect phoneline number: 0808 802 4040. They help men and women who are using violence or abuse in intimate or family relationships who are looking for help to change. Please only offer these details if he is asking for help and it is safe for you to do so.”

Respect also wanted to emphasise that “you being assaulted is a crime, your brother does not have a right to lay his hands on you or to emotionally abuse you in this way, and you have a right to call the police for help if you choose.” Again, I realise this may not be an easy option for you, but I want to reiterate that, just because he is your brother, that does not make his assault any less of a crime.

You have taken a big step asking for help – this takes strength. You are not a loser but are dealing with an incredibly difficult situation. The Men’s Advice Line (0808 801 0327, mensadviceline.org.uk) offers confidential support for male victims of domestic violence, which is what you are experiencing. I would urge you to contact them. They can offer emotional support, but also practical advice if you do decide to leave.

As Respect says: “There are other options open to you, and giving up is not one of them. You deserve to live a happy and safe life.”

Also, don’t discount going to your GP. Some are not very good at this sort of thing, some are brilliant. Maybe just talking to someone professional about this, as a first step, will help.

This article was first published in the Guardian Family section on 4 September 2015.