Home→Forums→Relationships→How to assert boundaries with sister?
- This topic has 8 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 3 years, 2 months ago by Anonymous.
March 20, 2020 at 11:00 am #344318anonParticipant
So this is a fairly complicated situation. My sister has been in a very difficult situation in her life for more than five years. After the end of a long term relationship she is back at the family home, but there are constant conflicts with my father there. Every few months or so there will be a big blow up with my father that might result in her moving out temporarily or just stopping communication for a while with my father.
After one of these episodes I will get a series of messages on Messenger detailing everything that is going wrong in her life and a blow by blow account of the recent conflict with my father, possibly in real time. For example, the most recent blow up resulted in her calling the police on my father after they had a heated argument and he told her to shut the fuck up. I realise this is a shocking thing to happen and I don’t blame her for that. But as I am living overseas I get these messages and it causes me a great amount of stress. I usually proceed to counsel her through it and sort of condemn whatever behaviour my father has done.
But the problem is that she also has conflicts with many other people as well. And in every circumstance it seems to be entirely the other person’s fault. I know that is not true. She has a tendency to be overbearing and quite pushy in her approach with people and sometimes it pushes them over the edge. I’m kind of sick of being the ‘crisis girl’, called on to supplicate her but she never asks my opinion about how she could improve the situation or how she may have contributed to it.
So this most recent crisis I have taken her to task about drawing me in once again. I just said I don’t want to be involved in these crises if I am never asked for my opinion or feedback about why they keep happening. I also told her that it gives me anxiety when I get those messages.
I just wonder, am I being heartless for trying to ask her not include me in a conflict that is actually between her and our father? Does it seem like a reasonable assertion of boundaries?March 20, 2020 at 12:16 pm #344388AnonymousGuest
“am I being heartless for trying to ask her not include me in conflict that is actually between her and our father? Does it seem like a reasonable assertion of boundaries?”- yes, it is a reasonable assertion on your part, and no, it is not heartless. If she continues to include you in her conflicts with other people, it will be reasonable for you to no longer give her access to you.
In every circumstance where and when she experiences a conflict with another person, she present the situation to you as such that it is “entirely the other person’s fault”, meaning, no fault on her part, nothing she did wrong, no way did she contribute to the conflict, and therefore no need for any change in her behavior (“she never asks my opinion about how she could improve the situation or how she may have contributed to it”)-
– this means that every time she disturbs your life and fills it with her distress, you are being used as a place for her to dump her distress and in so doing, relieve herself. Think of it, being used by someone to as a place to dump something. She is not using you for your intelligence, your thinking ability, your wisdom, but simply as a dumping ground, dumping her distress into your mental space.
So you don’t get to benefit her mental health and function in life. Instead, you get to provide her with temporary relief that makes it possible for her to feel better/ rest in between her conflicts.
Not a good use of your time and mental space. Plus, whenever there is or will be a conflict between you and her, you can safely guess whose fault it will be, according to her. You can also count on her to share all the details of that conflict with a third party, whomever volunteers to serve as her dumping ground next.
anitaMarch 21, 2020 at 8:28 am #344464
Thanks very much for your reply. Yes, I think my post was really looking for reassurance because I kind of know that she is not respecting my boundaries by constantly drawing me into crises that occur periodically between my dad and her. We are now stuck in a back and forth on Messenger. She keeps asking me to let it go but then basically justifying her behaviour. So I’m supposed to just say ‘ok sure, let this go’ but at the same time she gets to have the final word and at the same not acknowledging that what I am unhappy about is her lack of respect for my boundaries. It’s seriously infuriating!
However one of the things she acknowledged in her recent post is that ‘doesn’t take advice’, which is quite an incredible thing to admit. I have known this for quite a long time, because it has always seemed strange to me that as her sister and having gone through my own struggles with my father (who I will admit is an incredibly difficult person), I sort of developed a whole bunch of strategies for coping, but she has never once asked me about that. So it feels like you can see this person trapped in this cycle of conflict and yet they refuse to admit their own contribution to the cycle and refuse to take advice. So that leaves you in the position of a passive bystander who is just watching this train wreck happen in front of your eyes. It is also vey invalidating, because it means that whatever you have gone through that might be helpful to her is just being ignored and treated as irrelevant. So what’s left is a superficial relationship which is not based on a genuine exchange and also one where she feels she can trample all over my boundaries by using the fact that she has experienced a lot of hardship as the excuse.March 21, 2020 at 9:45 am #344472AnonymousGuest
Are you the same person as anon? If so, why different usernames?
anitaMarch 22, 2020 at 7:45 am #344584
Well this is a bit embarassing. Yes I am the same person. There was a mix up when I was trying to log in and I ended up following the prompts to re-register.
Sorry for the confusion!March 22, 2020 at 7:45 am #344586
Well this is a bit embarassing. Yes I am the same person. There was a mix up when I was trying to log in and I ended up following the prompts to re-register.
Sorry for the confusion!March 22, 2020 at 7:54 am #344588AnonymousGuest
That’s okay, I needed to know who I am speaking (typing) to. I want to read your previous threads before my next reply to you, so it will take a short while for me to get back to you.
anitaMarch 22, 2020 at 10:38 am #344606AnonymousGuest
First I will copy and post from your previous posts:
Feb-March 2018: “I need to be less harsh with myself…I know I need to replace that harsh voice with self-love rather than self-criticism or hatred. I feel like that is a big journey for me and it’s one that I am really only now embarking upon…I have been spending a lot of time talking to my mother on the phone. Several of our conversations have gone on for 3 or 4 hours..after the call I felt empty and like my self-esteem had taken a blow.. the other day as I was once again on the phone with her, I got this strange sensation that I had sort of ‘disappeared’ into the conversation. That somehow no matter how much I delved into myself and discussed my thoughts and feelings, that it would never be enough. I also noticed that my mum had this way of sort of encouraging me to continue, by either flattering me about how amazing my insights were or posing new questions about the thread that I was currently on. I got this flash of insight that I kind of had lost my boundaries in those conversations and was kind of ‘fusing’ with her in those moments. It made me realise that I often sought this sensation with other people in my life and that when I did not receive that same level of undivided attention, admiration and invitations to continue with my ‘amazing insights’ that I might feel unsatisfied with the interaction… I kind of decided at some point that there was a ‘good’ parent (my mum) and a ‘bad’ parent (my dad). This is because my dad was very critical and quick to anger and also tended to try to ‘defeat’ others in intellectual debates rather than listening and responding calmly to others opinions. I can’t really say that she stuck up for me that effectively, at least not in the past. I think she always felt quite intimidated by my dad too so wasn’t really able to defend us against his anger and criticism…
I would often engage in long discussions about other people in my family with my mum (about my dad, my sister or brother). So as well as kind of compulsively sharing every aspect of my life with my mum, without thinking whether it was really an appropriate thing to share, I would also discuss other family members problems with her. I stopped that pattern last year but I guess I hadn’t realised there might be anything fundamentally ‘wrong’ with my relationship with my mother… I have always loved my mum deeply but I guess on some level I might also feel a bit disappointed in her. She was never really able to make a clear decision to leave a toxic relationship even though it didn’t seem to be bringing her genuine companionship and support. I guess there is also a sense of betrayal that I still had to face up to my dad’s destructive behaviour so that she could keep her relationship at any cost. Maybe I felt that she ultimately chose her relationship over our (me and my siblings) wellbeing.
On the other hand, I think that her attempt to compensate for that with this kind of boundary-less love made me a kind of addict for that. Maybe it is not so much me disappearing into the conversation but the other person disappearing into the conversation, which would explain why I used to get quite a lot of angst when I was trying to convey my feelings about something to someone who would not respond in the same way as my mum would (and have actually been confronted about my tendency to ‘vent’ at work). Of course it is unrealistic to expect anyone to give you boundless attention with no pushback whatsoever, but maybe that is what I came to expect from others…in intimate relationships, I suspect that I may have been craving the sensation of being fused or enmeshed… both my parents were involved in unhealthy relationship dynamics and that neither of them had the strength to call quits on the relationship completely or on the other hand to speak openly and honestly to me and my siblings about what was really going on with them.
We witnessed the breakdown of their marriage and then were expected to watch them ‘get back together’ in a kind of ‘backdoor’ way (that is after several years of not living full time in the family home, my dad just kind of started living there again) but without actually being given any explanation about why they were getting back together and whether we as the kids had any opinion or say over how the new relationships were supposed to be negotiated. My dad came back and sort of wanted to ‘assert’ his right to being an authority figure in the home after having abdicated that for several years and we were supposed to just accept all of these things without question… because I still needed the love and support of my mother (rejecting that also would have been too painful) I deflected my anger away from her and focused it all on my dad. In my mind my dad was the ‘perpetrator’ and my mum was the ‘victim’. But at the end of the day she should have taken responsibility for her own part in the mess….Yes my mother has admitted that she did not really pay enough attention to me or my siblings during the years of turmoil. But I think at the end of the day those words still feel quite impotent because there are still unhealthy dynamics between my parents that have never been clearly dealt with. Also the fact that she can speak so openly with me about all these issues and yet they never reach the ears of my father is also an unhealthy dynamic in and of itself. I believe that means that I have been ‘triangulated’ into their relationship which is actually quite a disturbing thought and also extremely irresponsible of my mother. I think as a result of that triangulation I still carry around this notion of myself as the ‘family saviour’ but in fact I am just playing the game too and at the same time neglecting my own personal life in the process. I cannot somehow strengthen my mother’s inadequate will with my own, to give her the strength to live her own life and then to finally become the strong mother figure that I always wanted and who could give me a model of how to live my own life. That constant striving to make her something that she was not in the past and maybe can now never really compensate for is exhausting me and has also led to the hollowing out of my personal life. Hard to admit, but I think it can only lead me to more inner peace if I can accept it…
I often have a great deal of anxiety related to how I should interact with other people and the extent to which I allow others into my life. This anxiety can also cross the line into obsessive thinking. I have now realised that the major trigger for this kind of anxiety and obsessive thinking is when I need to negotiate the boundaries of a relationship, whether that be a friendship, work relationship or intimate relationship. And at the bottom of it is my fear that I will not be able to assert my own boundaries with people…
Oct 2018:.. my ex partner. Turns out he is engaged and is due to marry in several weeks. He was taking pre-wedding photos a couple of months after our breakup. Though throughout this entire time we have maintained daily communication and as I said he has also given me some indications that he misses me. He has never once mentioned a new partner let alone fiancé… It was a very hard break up but I almost felt that I could accept it, but to now know that while I was still nursing my wounds and sort of holding onto slim hopes, he has made a completely new life for himself. I feel kind of sad, bitter and disempowered. I’m not even very emotional, I just feel sort of dry and hollow on the inside… I recently tried to discuss with my father my own interpretation of my teenage years when I felt that he was constantly angry at me and I had a sense that he wanted to destroy me. Although he apologised he later said to me ‘you have hated me for 20 years’, so basically turning the situation around and making himself the victim of my ‘hatred’ when I was actually the child in the relationship and was only responding to what I felt around me… neither my ex nor my father really attempted to ask me why I believed what I did they just straight away decided what they thought was right or wrong about my own understanding. I believe this is called ‘reinterpretation’, where someone reinterprets what your own version and understanding of something…
I got used to a situation in my own family where my psychological and emotional boundaries were routinely flouted and this has left me with a deep sense of mistrust towards others (especially men). I have never really been able to put my finger on why I am so hesitant in life but I think this may be it. It’s sort of a feeling of being fundamentally weak, vulnerable and disarmed in life. And this is why I have often clung to situations, like jobs, study or relationships, that have given me a feeling of solidity and boundaries because I think ultimately they were a substitute for having my own emotional and psychological boundaries…
I have this tendency to always pause before I respond or react to things. I think this is something I learnt growing up in a home with a parent who had a very volatile temper. I think this is a defensive strategy that I have learnt and it worked in my family home because I found the ways to sort of go ‘neutral’ or blank to avoid giving rise to further confrontation and emotional outbursts. Obviously, this strategy is probably not serving me well now as an adult because I know I tend to go into emotionally blank states and also don’t speak up when I don’t like things because I fear expressing strong emotions.. People can say fairly confrontational or even hurtful things to me and I will never react to them with my true feelings at the time. I always want to give myself a bit of ‘time’ to process their words and see how I feel about it. But I think that it also leads me to de facto accepting things that people say or at least not challenging them and I guess this is really just acquiescing to whatever their interpretation. I think later I realise I didn’t like something or I should have challenged it but it is kind of too late and instead of those being expressed at the time, the feelings I had transform into a quiet resentment. I guess I am the classic passive aggressive people pleaser.
So I am starting to see how not being able to express my real emotions in an appropriate way at the appropriate time allows other people to sort of project their own interpretations of my situations onto me..and it leaves me feeling quite disempowered and uncomfortable because all the emotions are sort of boiling under the surface…
during my teenage years I had an extremely negative image of my father. I saw him as an imposter into our family home (the relationship between my parents broke down when I was still a child but they were on and off living in the same place throughout my teen years – though they never thought to clarify what their actual relationship was and whether we were happy with their strange arrangement). I felt that he had sort of ‘given up’ his role as a father when he initially moved out but then the constant coming and going made me feel like he wanted to keep his fatherly authority but not actually be there in a caring, comforting way. There were also frequent verbal confrontations with him. There was also one incident of physical violence where he slapped my face after I said something to him when I was about 14 or 15. I was so shocked I almost can’t really remember if it happened or not.
So those years set in place a very deep resentment and anger towards him. But because he had a very volatile and terrifying anger, it was impossible to express the depth of those feelings directly to him. So I learnt to keep those feelings bottled up and maintain my calm exterior. And part of that was learning how to control my emotions when I sensed that a confrontation may occur. It also learnt how to manage the flow of conversations so that trigger issues could be avoided. I think some of the trigger issues related to when I wanted to talk freely about myself, my goals, ambitions, dreams etc. I often felt that he did not really want to talk about anyone else, that somehow he would find a way to wedge in his own dreams, ambitions etc into the conversation instead. It was like instead of a father, I had a very competitive older brother but who as a father figure had the tendency to wield his authority in an extremely domineering and destructive way. I think the overall effect was that I learnt to minimise myself, control and bottle my emotions and reduce my needs so as to not rock the boat in the family home.
In my adult life, I have often struggled to find my way in life. Somehow I have felt scared of going with a clear vision of my own life. Instead I have often ended up compromising situations. Attaching myself to institutions (educationally), organisations or relationships as a way to give me some stability and strength. I still fear being really on my own and directing my own life, though I am now really in that situation after the end of a second long term relationship.
So, I guess, long story short, I still have huge amounts of anger and resentment towards my father (and probably my mother because she never took a strong enough stand) but I have no idea how to get those emotions out and just move on. A couple of months ago I did discuss some of these things with him, but it sort of degenerated and ended with him saying ‘you have hated me for 20 years’ – which indicates to me that he is not really ready to hear or understand how his behaviour has really affected me and my siblings)…
maybe I have wanted to end my relationships as a proxy way of ending the relationship between my parents. Like I am kind of acting out what I wanted to see my mother do.. as a child in a dysfunctional family I had no choice about how things went, so as an adult I am always sort of striving to get out of relationships and avoid commitment because I was kind of stuck in a dysfunctional dynamic within my own family that I felt I had no control over and still feel like that. So is it possible that until I get some resolution of those old emotions I will not be able to truly move on and create my own healthy relationships and life?…
I kind of beat myself up and ask myself ‘why haven’t I ever just said what I really think?’ It makes me feel weak because I never found a way to express those feelings. But the problem is that this pattern of swallowing down negative emotions is such a big part of my personality and my way of being that it is hard to isolate it to just one relationship. I think it kind of permeates my whole life. Until very recently I wasn’t even able to identify those feelings as ultimately stemming from feelings of anger. It’s like anger was so impossible for me to feel that I couldn’t even identify that feeling, let alone the way it became subjugated into resentment when it went underground and unexpressed.
Somehow I learnt some extremely unhealthy coping patterns in my family home and I have never really been able to identify them until now. I think that underlying all of this subjugation of feelings is fear. I felt that expressing real feelings would lead to anger from my father and so I learnt to hide them and in fact I prided myself on my ability to maintain a calm exterior and not be ruffled by his emotional outbursts. But now I realise that I have paid an extremely high price for that coping strategy – I don’t know how to express myself fully and honestly and for sure that was a major part of my long-term relationship breaking down. I became a people pleaser through fear of expressing myself fully in my own family. It gets to the point where I don’t know what I feel or what I want.
So, I am in this position where I have identified the problem and I know where it comes from and how if affects my life, but I really don’t know how to move forward from this point.”
—- when I am back to the computer, I will study the above collection of quotes, plus your current thread and reply to you further.
anitaMarch 22, 2020 at 1:52 pm #344648AnonymousGuest
Regarding your sister, in your post yesterday, you wrote: “that leaves you in the position of a passive bystander watching this train wreck happen in front of your eyes”- pretty much like your childhood, a bystander watching this train wreck of a family in front of your eyes.
“So what’s left is a superficial relationship which is not based on a genuine exchange and also one where she feels she can trample all over my boundaries”- you wrote that about your sister only yesterday, but it is true to your relationships with your other family members, including your mother and your father, “superficial.. not based on a genuine exchange”.
It is this superficial relationship you wrote about two years ago regarding phone calls of 3-4 hours with your mother: “after the call I felt empty.. I had sot of ‘disappeared’ into the conversation”, empty, superficial. Even though she was “sort of encouraging me to continue, by either flattering me about how amazing my insights were…”- but she never took your insights in, did she. The flattery was.. superficial. If she really believed that your insights were amazing, why didn’t she incorporate one of your amazing insights into her life???
It was flattery, (“flattering me..”), not genuine appreciation of you.
Your mother’s “level of undivided attention, admiration and invitations to continue with my ‘amazing insights'” were not genuine. This is why you placed quotation marks around amazing insights– you don’t believe that she is genuine with that flattery.
“with other people in my life.. when I did not receive that same level of undivided attention, admiration… “- you are confusing insincere flattery and pretense with genuine appreciation and authenticity. You will need to distinguish between the two. The appearance of appreciation and undivided attention you received from your mother is only an appearance, a pretense.
Other people may be really listening to you, really paying attention, but because they don’t look like, or sound like, because they don’t appear like your mother, you think (incorrectly) that they are not paying attention to you.
“I kind of decided at some point that there was a ‘good’ parent (my mum) and a ‘bad’ parent (my dad).. In my mind my dad was the ‘perpetrator’ and my mum was the ‘victim'”- children think in black and white/ all or nothing ways, but reality is that both your parents were.. well, bad parents to you and to your siblings. Notice again, that you use quotation marks as a part of you knows better.
The pattern in your family is that your mother, you and your sister talk about other people to you, but they don’t talk to those people directly, a very common pattern in families and society: “I would often engage in long discussions about other people in my family with my mum (about my dad, my sister or brother)”, regarding your mother: “she can speak so openly with me about all these issues and yet they never reach the ears of my father”, and your sister: “there will be a big blow up with my father.. I will get a series of messages on Messenger detailing.. blow by blow account of the recent conflict with my father”.
Two days ago, you wrote regarding your sister: “I’m kind of sick of being the ‘crisis girl”, called on to supplicate her but she never asks my opinion about how she could improve the situation or how she may have contributed to it”-
– you lived your childhood in crisis, therefore “crisis girl” is an appropriate term to describe you in the context of your family. You watched their crises, heard their crises, shared your crises.. but never a solution. Flattery- yes, pretense, plenty, but no solutions, never are your amazing insights appreciated enough to be used by your mother, never is your life experience appreciated to be asked for by your sister.
Better exist this family dynamic. Take your amazing insights and incorporate them in your own life, stop cheapening them by sharing them with your mother. Take your life experience and make a better and better life for yourself.
There is plenty more in the quotes I collected in the post above, but those for another time (if you let me know that you are interested in my further input). There is plenty in what I wrote here in this post.
I hope you are keeping yourself and others as safe as possible, and may we survive well these very difficult times, globally.