Ask: Why do I feel guilty after setting boundaries with my mentally ill brother?

My brother, let’s call him Sam, (71 y/o) is brain damaged from an industrial accident 40 years ago. He functions somewhat but has very little “common sense” and has fanatical ideas of about God speaking to him and telling him to fight ISIS and have a new baby Jesus with a woman, etc…He has gone off his anti-psychotic medication so that is contributing greatly to his fanatical ideas… Off meds results eventually in a breakdown (deep depression) which has happened several times over the years, and the signs are there again. The family will then have to bail him out in many ways since he ends up in a mental hospital, without funds, without a place to live, and an inability to survive alone etc. He feels it’s his own business that he is off meds but obviously it is affecting many of us…he attacks me in emails, I mostly ignore it…So, I know to do my forgiveness work and let Holy Spirit do the rest. That work is constantly with me whenever thoughts of Sam come up. Maybe that answers the esoteric part of this, but I feel a responsibility to my brother, as a Son of God, but especially as a sibling. What does ACIM say about the mentally disturbed?  Right now, after this past week of frustration with him, I am disengaging from him, just responding to emails of inquiry on non-hot subjects and I continue to send him Light and Love. I still feel guilt there though, so something isn’t right yet! More forgiveness work. Any light you can shine on this?...” – JP

            You have a social-moral responsibility for the physical care of a mentally ill member of your family. It is not fair but that is the way of the world. And that is where your responsibility for “Sam” ends. You cannot change the mind or behavior of what are considered healthy adults in the world so you certainly cannot expect to do so for the mentally ill! Beyond encouraging him to take his medication there really is nothing else you can do for him but let him know that you love him. But loving him does not mean putting up with abuse from him. You have taken wise action by putting up boundaries with Sam to keep yourself away from his abuse and engaging with him on a limited basis. Now you need to extend those boundaries within yourself so that you stop taking more responsibility for him than is really yours.

You need to ask yourself why you feel you have more responsibility for Sam than you do. Who says so? Where did that idea come from? How deep does it run? Is it based on fact or on false ideas? Do you take responsibility that is not yours in other areas of your life? This may be part of a larger pattern. When you have worked that out and released (forgiven) yourself from a false sense of responsibility you will find that the guilt falls away.

If you find yourself resenting the time, money, and energy that you have to put into your social-moral responsibility toward Sam then you need to look at what stories you tell yourself about the situation. For example, that it is wrong and that you are a victim. You react to the story you tell yourself, not to the situation, which has no meaning in itself. So it is the story in your mind that you have to forgive (release). So sort out the story (“I’m a victim of my brother.” Or “I’m a victim of this situation.” Or “This is my punishment for…” etc. ) from the facts (“This body has a social-moral obligation to take care of that body. This has no meaning. It is not personal. I am not being attacked. I am not being punished.” Etc.) When you release (forgive) the story you will be freed from resentment.

Learn about the books The ACIM Mentor Articles, The Plain Language A Course in Miracles, 4 Habits for Inner Peace, and Releasing Guilt for Inner Peace at


Anonymous said…
I will touch upon my story of guilt and resentment. I was so damn good at being responsible for others. It was my life's work. A family consisting of 14 siblings, a slew of nephews and nieces, dogs and cats, Mom, co-workers, friends, neighbors, heck I'll even throw in a stranger or two. So when I realized I was drowning in the deep waters of responsibility that I was swimming in almost everyday of my life, I was thrown a life saver of awareness which revealed what this ocean of bodies with a multitude of storms with an undertow of problems and my need to be responsible to fix was all about. What was if for? What was it's purpose? And the answer, my ego's belief in separation, that all these bodies needing me somehow filled me. The me, another body to keep other bodies from drowning and to keep their waters calm but guess who was drowning? Drowning with guilt and resentment. How utterly exhausted I was with all this responsibility (guilt). All these separate individuals needed me and this insanity filled me. I would keep finding another to fix and I was the one to do it and as Liz said, “Who says?” Well me, I chose this, Wonder Deb to the rescue. Dah dah dah dah! How utterly exhausting indeed and besides nearly drowning with the weight of it all, I got anchored down with the weight of it all which manifested in form as back problems, carrying the weight of everyone, then excess body weight. Whom was the I who was taking care of whom?

I'm healing now thanks to ACIM and many of Liz's blogs. I now take responsibility for all of it. I created this story but through my healing, I now understand, I am not this story and with forgiveness I let it go. Not easy, a lot of trials and failures but I am walking on the shore verses swimming and getting through the storm I can now see the Light.
Anonymous said…
"We are lost in mists of shifting dreams and fearful thoughts, our eyes shut tight against the light; our minds engaged in worshipping what is not there." (W.192.7.4)
Anonymous said…
As a MSW, I am having a heard time understanding why this 71 year old mentally ill man ends up without funding for a mental hospital, a place to live, etc. He should more than qualify for medicare, medicaid, and DMH services, not to mention housing.
will said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
hannah said…
my nephew is moving in with me soon, my mum will be here often as well. it seems this is the only option, many others have been tried.. hes full of self loathing due to his physical differences (medical 'stuff' which has resulted in his body not producing hormones, hes almost 18 and has the physical body of a pre-pubescent), and feels hopeless and speaks of suicide often. i helped deliver taran, hes one of my major personal attachments.. special relationships. i wish i was beyond that, so i could be really helpful to him, but im not!

i experienced the most beautiful miracle experience of my life after leaving my sisters place when taran was still with her, (he was talking about suicide which he attempted a week or so later), of an untouchable REALITY of peace, love and okayness, no matter what anyone experienced, any time. but im afraid now. after reading this post when it first came out i felt like a huge weight had fallen off my shoulders in regard to taran but the fear keeps creeping back. though it shifts in meditation; peace is present for sometimes a small while, sometimes whole days! i recall throughout my days that higher miracle experience, and have now added to that recollection process posing lizs question to myself of "what if i accepted?"

but i realised something reading this post again this morning. i believe im really weak, too weak to stay aware of the light of truth in the face of a really relentless pain and hatred and hopelessness. i know intellectually that im not a victim of 'outer' circumstance or my own egoic thought system, and sometimes as ive said, my heart feels so strong and free. but i feel too weak for this. and im afraid that this will go both ways.. that taran and i will feed off each others fear as i wont have the power to keep remembering truth in the face of daily living with the he expresses. one tricky thing is, i dont know how to react, he starts getting so angry, wild, if i dont agree with him that theres no way out of pain.

so im swinging a bit wildly myself, between faith that im right where im supposed to be, and fear that im too new to really putting time into practising peace to not collapse and lose it in these circumstances.
ACIM Mentor said…
Hannah, you are not responsible for your nephew's state of mind or choices. Make sure you are not taking on responsibility for him. If you are it may be why you feel so much pressure to be centered when you are with him. You can trust that Help is there for your nephew and if he is open to It he will receive It in a form that has meaning for him. That Help may or may not come through you. You cannot fail him.

It has been my experience that people do not want help until they ask for it. Most people just want to be heard and understood. If you tell your nephew that there is a way out of pain when he does not feel that is true then he feels invalidated. This is what makes him angry. Try simply letting him know that you see his pain: "I'm sorry you are in so much pain" or "I'm sorry you cannot see a way out of your pain." Just be with him. It is not your job to fix him.
hannah said…
thank you.. wow, theres so much in that. i can apply this, it feels like a lifeline, really usable tools of approach. i can see how this approach will be more respectful and kinder to him, (thank you thank you!!!!) as well as helping me to focus on true being, rather than trying to hold onto conflict, and make not-truth true. im shaking a bit with relief, sometimes when i read your writing its like a few words lay out a whole map.

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