“My relationship with my older brother, who is ten years my senior, has been going from bad to worse over the years,” a reader wrote to me this week. “He seems to have forgotten that we no longer live in our parents’ home, and that he is no longer 15 years old and I am no longer the little kid whom he bullies and bosses around. I am now 35, married, with three children; yet my brother keeps putting me down and treats me like a five-year-old.

“According to a recent article of yours,” the reader continued, “all I need to do to solve the problem is to change the way I listen to him. This approach seems to put the responsibility on me, whereas the fault really lies in his abusive language. It is obvious that the situation will not change unless he starts to realize that he is hurting me and is prepared to change the way he speaks to me, as well as apologizing for his past behavior.” He then asked, “Do you have any special recipe for my abusive brother?”

I responded by saying: If your brother would ask me for advice, I would talk to him about not hurting other people, especially a brother. However, because I am not sure if your brother reads my column or not, and because, by the sound of it, you don’t have much control over the way your brother behaves, the only person to whom I can give advice is you. My advice to you is: control the one person in the world over whom you do have control, and that person is you.

Bear in mind that, technically speaking, when your brother speaks abusively to you, what is coming out of his mouth is just a bunch of hot air, which happens to make various sounds. And these sounds have no needles or arrows in them; all it is, is hot air. You now have to make a choice as to how to decode this air, and what interpretation to give to it.

The choices you have are:

To decode it as a hurtful message, especially if it reminds you of the time when you were a helpless child and unable to defend yourself. By using this interpretation, you have now taken the hot air and turned it into arrows that hurt you. This causes increasing resentment towards your brother. As a result, you may even develop physical symptoms, such as ulcers or high blood pressure.

On the other hand, you can choose the option of deciding that the hot air that comes out of your brother’s mouth is nothing more than hot air. Just as it is not your fault if your brother burps as a result of the food he eats, so too, it is not your responsibility or your fault that the words that come out of your brother’s mouth are abusive—it is his problem.

Most of the time, people who go around abusing and finding the negative in others are, in essence, unhappy people who have a lot of problems of their own. They want to transfer their problems on to you. You have the choice: to take them on board, or to say, “No, thank you.”