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How can I distance myself from my toxic Sister?

Tagged as: Family, Friends<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (8 August 2009) 6 Answers - (Newest, 19 August 2010)
A female United States age 30-35, *ere24 writes:

I have an older sister. We're 3 years apart. We spent a lot of our younger years (before she was 10) being really close. Then, when I was in high school and my first few years of college, we became close again; even closer this times.

We partied together and went out all the time together. We partied way too much and way too often.

This closeness dissipated when after my first year and a half in college, I switched to an art school 2 hours away. I had been suffering from depression and through counseling, I found my way to art school, which was my saving grace.

It's now six years later and we are anything but close. There are things she has done and things she does that I do not want a part of at all.

Discussions with her are impossible. The topics she will discuss are: her ex-boyfriend who has broke up with her 3 times in the span of 2 years, her money problems, and why life, especially hers, is shitty and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The underlying theme is always her.

She has also, over the past ten years, tried to knock me down to make herself appear better, i.e. telling my parents my secrets when she gets in trouble, deflecting her drinking problem with my being previously overweight, secretly seeking out ex-friends of mine to be her new best friends, etc..

Currently, she is mostly broke and a year away from 30. My parents and an aunt help her with a lot of her bills, with them all in the dark about how much each of them are paying for her. They are slightly in denial about the money so they keep helping her, thinking it will actually help her.

She calls me a lot when she's drunk, around 1 am, wanting to either talk/cry about her life, or for me to be proud of her that she got drunk at home. Needless to say, I don't answer that call anymore.

She calls me when I come to visit a few days with my mom (I am still living in the city where I went to art school), wanting me to go out and to come sleep on her couch. I tell her I feel too old to be doing that kind of thing anymore and still she persists.

I can tell she really wants to hang out but that is the very last thing I want to do. My parents, who have finally noticed her depression, want me to hang out with her as well. They don't push it hard because I think they can see and understand my reasons in not wanting to do so, but they do keep mentioning it. I can barely look her in the eye at family functions, let alone one-on-one.

The situation has been exacerbated recently due to her recent panic attack. My family keeps invoking the name of an aunt, who she shares a temperament with, that had a failed suicide attempt. They keep alluding to their similarities and I can see why they would but for some reason, I find it hard to want to do anything to help the situation. I just don't know if I can have another conversation with her about how shitty everything is all the time.

I cannot count the hours over the years I have spent intently listening to her, sympathizing with her, answering her drunken phone calls, or giving her solicited advice. Those long hours could probably equal years... and it's as if it all falls on deaf ears.

I feel like I'm living that quote.. "What's the definition of crazy? Doing the same thing over and over but still expecting different results." (Pardon me if that quote is not 100% accurate :0) )

I just can't help the feeling that she has a toxic personality; to everything. I don't know if there's a nice way to distance myself without seeming like such a jerk. There has to be a way to protect myself without adding to her issues or furthering her problems.

My question would be that. How do I distance myself from my sister without furthering her problems?

View related questions: best friend, broke up, drunk, her ex, money, overweight

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A female reader, aseret99  United States +, writes (19 August 2010):

I have tried to distance myself from my sister but it's hard when we go to family events, and when I don't go she says bad stuff and reminds the family how I am only her half sister and I don't matter. When you find something that works let me know

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (8 August 2009):

I have a sister like yours, 3 years older and the description of the chaotic and selfish life she leads is very similar. My only advice is to accept the way she is - she is unlikely to change and any effort on your part is wasted energy. She needs to find her way through life. You are not a sponge and each time she drains you of energy at 1am it takes something away and gives nothing back. Step 1 is letting it go - not your sister - but the hope she will be different. Step 2 is slightly removing yourself from her crisis as she must find her own way in life. Step 3 is to find a balance - some way of caring without being emotionally run ragged. By being objective but segmenting her life from yours so that you can love and care from arms length - if things were really terrible you could be there but day to day I'm sorry but your life is your own. Its time you put yourself first. Try not answering the phone, turn it off. You need to gain some control of your life. It feels strange at first but I have done this and I cannot tell you how much more balanced I feel and more 'free'.

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A female reader, Here24 United States +, writes (8 August 2009):

Here24 is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Don't get me wrong: She's my sister and I love her. If she needed a kidney, I would be first in line. That's just how it is with family. I know at the end of the day, we will always be family and nothing can ever change that.

While all the above is very true, I do not think I can be her friend. I definitely know I cannot "be there" for her like she wants/needs. After so many years of this type of behavior, it is very difficult to for me to contemplate doing so.

As far as professional help, my parents have offered to pay for it several times, but she had refused, until this week. She is approaching it with patented negativity: the doctor won't have appointments, they won't help, they're probably too religious, it's too far, they won't prescribe medicine, and etc..

I feel like all I have done is stand by her. I have stood by her and encouraged her for many years. It is constant work to be her cheerleader.

As far as what her psychological issues might be, there are many I believe. I believe she suffers from ADD as well as Depression. I don't think it's necessarily manic at this point, but I could see that as a progression. She has had a problem with binge drinking in college, but she will do so again from time to time. She has been known to take prescription drugs recreationally. She does express some self loathing as well as some manipulative behavior. She has issues with our parents divorce, which happened over 20 years ago. She feels especially wronged because it happened near her 16th birthday. She also feels neglected as the older sister, thinking my younger sister and I have it better. When our grandparents sold a bunch of land about 4 years ago, my sisters and I were all given an equal share. My little sister used hers to help purchase a car and I used mine to buy a computer, while our older sister pretty much squandered hers. I believe she is still upset she didn't use hers as wisely. I also find she is very bitter with a deep feeling of entitlement. Anything good that happens to anybody else, it becomes their fault that something good hasn't happened to her.

As far as being honest with her, I have tried telling her these things. I even went so far as to say it in front of somebody else. I have flat out told her, you need to talk to somebody: a counselor, a psychiatrist, something. It falls again on deaf ears.

It has gotten to the point where a recent, albeit ambushed, phone call from her went like this: She asked me to come to her apartment's pool. I told her I couldn't, I had already taken a shower and was getting into bed. I apologized, no, I couldn't come. She asked again, and I said no, I'm getting into bed, sorry. She wanted to go out for a drink. Again, I'm sorry, I've just taken a shower and I'm getting into bed. She then said she wanted to talk to someone and she only wanted one person around. I told her she could come to my mother's house and talk to her. No, it had to be me. I mentioned our younger sister. No, it had to be me, she cried. The phone call was interrupted by our younger sister but I found myself glad it was. I felt like I had escaped. And the worst part? The part I felt the worst about was saying I was sorry. It was a minor apology but I felt like it was the dumbest thing I could have said. I felt like I had wronged myself and some how bought into her emotional blackmail.

How's that for not being a jerk? :0\

Also, I want to thank you guys for reading and responding so quickly! :0) I came here looking for constructive criticism and an outside opinion, and that's just what I got. I appreciate you taking the time to think about this and respond concisely. Thanks again :0)

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A male reader, rcn United States +, writes (8 August 2009):

rcn agony auntGreat quote, and so true. That's your first step is to break that cycle. I don't doubt that you love your sister, but I believe her issues over the years have greatly expanded, to the point where hanging out with her and even listening to her vent is not going to make much of a difference. Why does she feel as if she has to live in your shadow? Attempting to make herself look better. That's jealousy.

She's dependent and expects everyone to do for her. What your family is doing, is enabling this behavior. Sometimes when you have a family member or anyone you're close to who's going in a destructive direction, you need to be firm. "I can't be around you while your heading this way." Etc.

Has she been to counseling for a psychological examination? With her trying to show you up, or devalue you, plus her money and love issues, and her drinking problem etc. It sounds as if she may have an underlying psychological cause for this behavior, such as manic depressive. This is commonly known as bi-polar, but I use the old expression of manic depressive, when the manic behavior is triggered by alcohol consumption.

I'd be firm with her. Tell her, she needs help. She's not getting it, so you can't be around her. She's going to think at the beginning that you're throwing her away. Sounds bad, evil, but you'll need to be strong. That may be the kick in the right direction she needs to get treatment. If tough love was easy it wouldn't be called tough.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (8 August 2009):

I have written this and i know i am bias...

Distancing is easy - you just ignore.

But if you want a challenge hang in there... she is your sister...stand by her, even if you don't agree. help her - nudge her - spend time with her. time passes and she will change.

we really have so little time with our families. its important to cherish it. so she needs your help now - you look like you will also need help later.

With my sister we fought for years like cat and dog for a very long time - into our twenties. Now I am going to be donating a kidney to her. You don't know what's around the corner.

now do you want the easy route?


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A male reader, RAINORFIRE United States +, writes (8 August 2009):

RAINORFIRE agony auntwow, your sister needs professional help she needs to confront her depression and deal with it. You need to be honest and open with her just tell her what you wrote her, whatelse can you do its not fair for her to bring you down, dont worry about being a jerk just be real

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