My Sister Won’t Discuss Our Problems

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Reader’s Question

I’ve been having a very big problem for four years, and not long ago I realized that it had taken over my life and nearly destroyed it. My younger sister thinks that being a robot is a great thing. She doesn’t want to have a discussion, even when the fault is hers.

She began saying that I was violent and needed anger management courses. I understand that for her, arguments are unpleasant; but keeping my anger inside has resulted in my exploding in monumental fits now and then. I thought one day how unfair it was that she only wanted peace even if she was wrong, and then I started fights with her all the time, as revenge. I am unable to communicate with her in any other way

She only wants the good things that come from living with me, which makes me feel used and lost. She mocks me when I’m emotional in front of her, and gives me the silent treatment when she doesn’t want to even talk.

The worst part of the issue is that I took her away from our abusive family to give her a better life. She’s been living off me most of the time, and that has been a negative factor because every time we discuss it, she says I want to kick her out.

I lack concentration at work; and I nearly got run over by a car the other day, just because of being as miserable as I am. It’s gotten to the point where I’m thinking that it’s either her or me. I would like you to write an answer that could help me explain to her why having discussions is necessary for human beings, especially if it is her fault.

Finally, I would like to say that she is a very intelligent young woman. I hope she will understand my frustration (I’m not like this with anyone else), the necessity for more compromise, and the need to have me on the same page as her. She’s 23, not a teenager anymore.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your anger and frustration with your younger sister is very clear in your post. You mentioned that you have “monumental fits,” and that your sister has mentioned that you are violent. I am assuming that none of your anger with your sister has come to the point of physical aggression. If it has, I would encourage you to seek help sooner rather than later, just to ensure that you are both safe. It is unpleasant and even scary to feel out of control with anger, and when anger becomes physically harmful to you or others, it is time to seek professional help.

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There are a couple things you mentioned that could be contributing to your anger. Growing up in a family that is emotionally, physically, or verbally abusive is difficult. You pulled your sister out of that situation, but I imagine you lived with it yourself for some time as well. Children who see parents modeling angry, abusive behavior often exhibit that behavior themselves. The other piece that stood out to me is that you are feeling “used” by your sister right now. It might be helpful to become clear about what aspects of the living situation are not working for you and what changes you would like to see occur. Identifying your own feelings, wishes, and needs is a great first step to obtaining them. One need might be as simple as, “When I come to you with concerns, could you please listen to me speak without mocking me?”

Communication between family members can be challenging, especially when anger, hurt, resentment, or bitterness have had a chance to build. It might feel almost impossible to approach your sister calmly at this point. I wonder if there is someone else you can vent to about your sister. Finding an outlet for your anger and hearing someone empathize or validate your feelings might make it easier to speak with your sister in a way that gets your message across. The American Psychological Association has provided some information on anger management techniques that might be helpful. The less threatening or angry you are as you approach her, the more you are likely to be able to communicate what you want to say.

You described your sister as a “robot.” From that I take that she acts unemotional in comparison to you. People experience and cope with negative feelings differently. It may be that your sister prefers to avoid conflict. You are correct, having discussions is necessary. However, the challenge will be to have a discussion in which information and feelings are shared in a way such that each of you feels heard and feels safe. Family therapy often addresses problems in communication between family members. The University of Delaware has published some family communication tips.

You mentioned that the situation with your sister has begun to impact your mood, your concentration, and your life. If you feel as if you are experiencing other symptoms of depression such as difficulty sleeping, fatigue, changes in appetite or weight, hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts, I would urge you to discuss these with your primary care physician or a mental health professional. The situation with your sister is one that needs to be addressed, but until it is resolved, your self-care is important.

I wish you the best in your effort to have a productive conversation with your sister. Even more so, I hope you can both identify what you want and need from each other as you go forward.

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