Sister Behaves Like Abusive Father

Sister Behaves Like Abusive Father
Sunday July 29, 2007

Dear Alice:

Every time I read one of your books, I continue to believe my feelings are indeed important for sorting out my past, present and future. Your latest contribution to good health, The Body Never Lies, is magnificent.

I am 53 years of age and grateful to be working with a skilled psychotherapist who has always validated my anger about my childhood emotional abuse at the hands my father and my anger and despair about my mother, who was unable to protect me. While both of my parents are long dead, I still struggle with resentment over my upbringing and also the irrational guilt about my resentment.

While it’s too late to have a happy childhood, I am constantly working for a more joyful adulthood. I need to find a way to establish a long-term boundary with my 62-year-old sister, who behaves very much like my father. I feel engulfed by her, and constantly find myself defending my personal decisions (both important and trivial ones) when we meet. She challenges me at every turn, so my conversations with her are always guarded.

I have never enjoyed a sisterly closeness with her; it seems we have always been more like competitors, but I’m not sure what were fighting for. When I have foolishly tried to be honest with her about my therapy experiences and share my feelings about father and mother, she counters with statements like:

“What are you talking about? You had it SO good!”
“All parents of that time period raised their kids that way!”
“You’re STILL seeing a therapist? How much is THAT costing you?”

While I have managed to minimize occasions where we must cross paths (I do not initiate get-togethers with her), she is always reaching out to me–telephoning me, showing up suddenly at my workplace, inviting me out to lunch, the cinema, road trips, and the like. It’s difficult work to find areas we have in common, and I don’t feel “genuine,” in her company, as I might with friends.

I have been successful in turning many of her invitiations down, but I still feel “hunted.” In the past, when I felt guilty about not spending more time with her, I would frequently give in to her invitations, then find these social experiences left me angry, belittled and physically exhausted. I tired of running from my sister, but I know–I CAN FEEL–she’s a threat to my fragile well-being.

How do I break off this unhealthy attachment to my sister, or hers to me? How can I articulate the need for this break in a “language” she will understand? Please advise, many thanks. Please feel free to respond in your “open letter” link.

M. D.

AM: You cannot change your sister. Why don’t you listen to your feelings that clearly indicate you that you feel better when you have no contact with her? Nobody can force you to see her if you don’t want to. Only as a child you were dependent on your parents even if they were abusive. As an adult you can say NO.