How to Stop Sister Belittling, Embarrassing Me With Old Stories

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Reader’s Question

My older sister seems to enjoy embarrassing me in front of family and friends. She randomly brings up stories from the past and makes remarks about me. For example, she often tells people about the time I left the front door open and the dog got out or how I accidentally forgot to open the flue on the fireplace. How do I handle this? I always ignore her comments and stories, but that doesn’t seem to help the situation. I don’t want to stoop to her level either. What is a tactful way to put an end to her stories and comments?

Psychologist’s Reply

It sounds like your sister is treating you in a way that is condescending and disrespectful. I can only imagine how frustrating and hurtful this must be for you. It is not unusual for sibling conflicts and issues to carry on in adulthood; sibling rivalries do not always simply disappear once you become an adult. Your sister may tell embarrassing stories about you because she harbors resentment or feels threatened by you in some way. Maybe she resents being the older sister because she has always had to be the responsible one in the family or assume the role of caretaker? Perhaps she is secretly jealous of all the attention you received as her baby sister? Thinking about your sister’s motivations certainly does not justify her actions, but it may at least help you better understand why she behaves the way she does.

Given how upsetting your sister’s behavior is, you will need to communicate assertively with her so she stops belittling you. Your strategy of ignoring your sister’s insulting stories and comments has not put an end to her patronizing behavior. You should instead confront your sister more directly by telling her how hurtful her remarks are and then express how you are no longer willing to tolerate them. When the time is appropriate, tell your sister how much you care about her and then let her know how her behavior upsets you. Express how you would like her to stop putting you down in front of others. Hopefully she will respond in kind and respect your wishes. If she instead continues making fun of you, you must then let her know how you will no longer tolerate her behavior and will not attend events where she is present unless she treats you respectfully.

While communicating with your sister in this way may seem harsh, it is necessary to set appropriate boundaries regarding what kind of behavior you are willing, or not willing, to accept. When you assert yourself, you are not aiming to be cruel or unkind; you are simply letting your sister know what your own limits are and how you take care of yourself. By asserting yourself in this way, you send the message that you respect yourself and expect similar consideration from your sister. As a result, your sister will hopefully treat you with a new sense of respect and caring.

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