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Can Selfish People Change To Be Genuinely Warm and Loving?
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Nov 16, 2015
Hi Dr. Ben,
I've been following your blog for many years now and have found so much comfort in similar experiences that we've had with family and friends. I'm writing with hope that you can tell me your opinion on an issue that has been gnawing away at me since I was a teenager.
I have an older brother who I'll call Sam. I'm too exhausted to dance around this so let me just say that he's the worst person I know. He is a real creep. Please allow me to explain why.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be close to Sam. Wanted to have that family bond that I grew up seeing between siblings on Happy Days, The Cosby Show, and Family Ties. Sam wanted none of it. All he cared about was money and trying to show the world that he had made it.
For years, I wrote his coldness and apathy off to toxic younger sibling syndrome where older siblings just want space to do their own thing without their kid brother or sister tailing along all the time. But after a while it became clear that Sam is just a jerk.
My first moment of reckoning was a few years into building a successful business for myself through Etsy. You are welcome to share this in your newsletter but please don't give away any personal details. After a few years of putting in countless hours, my business was stable enough for me to quit my 9-5 banking job. I guess my parents mentioned this to Sam because he hadn't returned any of my calls for two or three years at that point and then out of nowhere he calls me up wanting to visit with his girlfriend. I wasn't skeptical at that point, just surprised that he wanted to see me. So I had him over for dinner which was super awkward because of how phony he can be.
Then he did it. He told me that he was starting an investment business and that if I would write him a check for tens of thousands of dollars, he would make it grow far quicker than mutual funds could. You might be thinking that he was offering to help me out for free since we are sister and brother. No, he made it clear that his fee was a percentage of my total investment.
Maybe I'm naive on this, but I think you once wrote about this issue and you agree with me that it is distasteful to try to make money off your immediate family. If I had gone to him and asked him for help then sure, I would have been happy to pay him regular fees for helping me. But having him reach out to me after ignoring me for years just to solicit for business was...shocking for lack of a better word.
When I discussed what had happened with my parents, they told me bluntly that I shouldn't invest a penny in him. Turns out that he had been borrowing large sums of money off of them for years and getting angry with them when they wouldn't or couldn't give him more.
Fast forward to this past July. My father passed away after an agonizing fight with brain cancer that had spread to his spine and liver. I found out after the funeral that my father's brothers and sisters gave an envelope of cash - thousands of dollars - to Sam to take care of funeral expenses. That money disappeared and my mom was left to cover everything, which she could afford, but how disgusting is that? He has since been siphoning off funds from my mom's accounts in sneaky ways and the part that I struggle with more than anything is that my mom won't confront him because she is afraid that he will get angry and stop seeing her.
I'm just skimming the surface of Sam's appalling behavior over the years, Dr. Ben, but hopefully you get the picture.
I believe in being compassionate. I believe Maya Angelou's words about people doing better when they know better, and your many reminders over the years that we are doing the best that we can at any moment. Your article about all behavior being out of love or out of a need for love rings true to my mind and heart.
But when I look at Sam and think about all the ways that he has blatantly stolen from his family and taken advantage of his blood relatives, I can't help but think that there is no such thing as karma. He seems to be living a pretty great life. He has a home that my parents paid for that he no longer has to pay them back for because our dad died and left my mom with enough for her to live on.
Here's my question: Do you think a person like Sam can change? Have you known anyone as selfish and manipulative as Sam transform into a warm and thoughtful person? Do you believe this is possible, or do I believe my instinct that he will continue to live selfishly for the rest of his life?
Sorry for this very long note. If you change my details, maybe you could share it on your blog and ask if others might share their opinions on my situation. I guess I want to know if I should have any reason to hope that I will one day have a loving relationship with my brother, or if my best move is to write him off completely even though this will hurt my mom.
Many thanks for all that you do,
Many thanks to Emma for sharing her letter with us. If you can draw on your life experiences and share a thought or two that might be helpful to her, please consider doing so in the comments section below.
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