Well, a few months pass, and Nancy meets a new fellow, Ed. Ed has no high school degree or GED, no relationship with his family at all, is a former alcoholic, quickly moved in with Nancy, immediately “lost” his job, contributes nothing to their bills, uses food stamps even though he’s fully capable of working, isn’t even nice or friendly, smokes at least two packs a day, is what some would call a video game addict and a pothead like I never imagined existed. Clearly, not the ideal boyfriend for what I consider an exceptional, extremely compassionate, beautiful, intelligent, trusting and trustworthy human being like my sister. I am convinced that Ed has brainwashed her. She dropped out of her master’s program without telling most of us, makes excuse after excuse for everything, hates her job but does nothing to change it, became a pothead herself after never having any interest in it at all, loses her job because of pot, her apartment is filthy, she is late on bills and is constantly coming to us for money (money that then is spent on Ed’s habits), and has started lying to some of us out of what I assume is shame and/or not wanting to hear our opinions or advice (which I understand and we stopped giving it quite some time ago). Note: none of us think she is in a physically abusive relationship.
About a week ago, I let Nancy know that if she could come home for the weekend, I’d be happy to give her money to cover her costs. She came and we had a nice weekend (although I heard some of the bad attitude, I looked the other way). When she got back home, she texted me reminding me that I never gave her travel money. I apologized and deposited it into her account the next morning. (I have stopped giving her cash that Ed may be able to use, but am happy to help with this sort of thing, as well as dinners and gifts that only she can use, etc.). Last night, my mother mentioned that she gave Nancy money before she left for traveling home for the weekend. I was shocked. She is a very honest, kind person and it hurt to feel like now she is becoming someone who would essentially steal from her own family. She doesn’t know we know about the travel money double-dip yet. She’s also a pretty fragile person who doesn’t respond to anger so we are usually gentle with her. Part of me wants to scream at her and give her a wake up call, but the other part of me knows it won’t do any good and I don’t want to lose our closeness and make her feel like a terrible person. Wendy, commenters, tell me what to do! — Sister Drama
It would seem that your sister has some self-esteem issues and, while I am in no way blaming you or your family for those issues, I’m sure the family narrative that she is “fragile” and less book smart than your other siblings probably hasn’t helped matters. I would also think that constantly being treated with kid gloves or being made to feel that she is too stupid to choose a good partner for herself eventually begins to erode whatever self-confidence she had. And you’re probably right that her current boyfriend has “brainwashed” her to an extent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he further convinces her that she’s not very bright and that she needs him because she’s not good enough to find anyone better.
So, what can you do about that? Nothing. She’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to hear your opinions. You know from experience that sharing your opinions about her bad boyfriends doesn’t help anyway. With any luck, this guy will dump her like that last guy did and she’ll be free. But you have no control over that one way or another (nor do you have any control over whom she might date next). What you do have control over is the way you treat your sister. If the way you have been treating her for years hasn’t had a positive effect, you need to change your behavior. I would suggest that instead of buying in to the idea that your sister is helpless and needs financial support from you and the rest of your family, quit enabling her and let her know that you have faith that if she needs money for anything she is perfectly capable of earning it herself. Find other ways of expressing your love and support than through gift-giving and money-loaning. Build up her self-esteem by giving positive feedback for the things she does well and independently. If you want to see her, go visit her instead of giving her money to come see you. Invest time rather than money in maintaining a relationship and you may see things improve.
As for your sister’s travel money “double-dipping,” I wouldn’t say anything to her about it or you risk alienating her at a time when it sounds like she needs people in her life who care about her well-being. By calling her out on her lie, you also further confirm the family narrative that she’s a fuck-up, and right now you want to help create a new narrative for her — one that is about her rising to her potential and pursuing the goals she once had for herself. (You can do that by showing interest in her accomplishments and encouraging her to set goals for herself). Reiterate how much you enjoyed her visit and how happy you were that she could come. Trust that as much as you feel hurt that she lied to you, she came to visit not because she wanted your money but because she genuinely wanted to see you. And in the future, don’t give her gifts of monetary value, but give her gifts in the form of love, support, and faith in her.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at [email protected] and be sure to follow me on Twitter and ‘like’ me on Facebook.
katie July 5, 2012, 9:27 am
wow. what a shitty situation…
i disagree with wendy that you shouldnt confront her about it. i think that would be just enabling her even more- that she was getting away with her little money grabbing plan… in the real world, adults have consequences for their behavior. i would just say something simple like, i know that you took money from both me and mom for the trip. thats not a good thing to do, and so in the future i will not be giving you any more money or expensive gifts until you have earn back my trust related to money… and then probably add in something else about how she is much better then the life she is currently living.
as for the life she is currently living, there is nothing you can do to stop it. you can stop enabling it, which you definitely need to do, but other then that… shes an adult, and she is free to make her own decisions, as stupid as those may be. just hope that one day she will snap out of it. most of the time, people have to make these mistakes themselves though, and they have to choose for themselves to change. kind of like a addict can only stop when they themselves decide they want to stop…
JK July 5, 2012, 9:30 am
I totally agree with you, katie, on both counts.
It pisses me off when people take advantage of others, and to use that to support the moocher? And does she really think LW won´t find out?
JK July 5, 2012, 9:31 am
And maybe getting called out on her crap might be a kind of wakeup call for the sister.
katie July 5, 2012, 9:35 am
yea it is pretty stupid on her part to take money from the mom and the sister in a family who presumably talks to each other a lot…
amy July 5, 2012, 10:53 am
You’d be amazed at the capability of people like that. They live in a bubble, and when they are caught in a lie, they just create more lies to try and get out of it. It’s absurd and frustrating to watch all at the same time.
amy July 5, 2012, 10:38 am
I don’t know, I think calling her out on it will result in more lying, and more stress for the LW. I think LW should take a lesson from this, move on, and just don’t give her money anymore.
That’s how you stop enabling someone, I don’t think calling her out will do anything. She’s already dropped her masters program without telling anyone, it seems like she’s keeping secrets and I doubt she would admit to the “double-dipping”. I think calling her out will cause more stress than needed.
I say, take it as a lesson learned, and protect yourself going forward
katie July 5, 2012, 10:44 am
i just see it at as a action-reaction thing. sister, you lied about taking money. i do not feel i can trust you anymore. i will not be giving you any more money.
and thats it. not that she has to make some big deal about it and try to use it to get her sister to make better choices- just simply that her sister chose to do something, and this is the consequence she faces.
also, the sister might start making things up about the LW and why she isnt giving her money anymore… so i think its better to just be open and honest about why you are doing what you are doing.
amy July 5, 2012, 10:52 am
I see where you are going with this, I’ve been lied about for my entire life, and some people still believe these lies to this day and there is nothing I can say or do that will change what was said and believed.
The LW can say she doesn’t have the money, is having financial troubles of her own, etc. and she can make the family aware of the situation. If the sister starts lying about the LW, the family is already aware and will see the lies of the sister.
It doesn’t seem like the sister is too far gone right now, she is troubled, but she doesn’t seem that bad. It seems like she needs a boot to the butt, which can come with not calling her out, but not giving her money anymore. Calling her out will cause a big fight, and that will probably create lies. Not telling little white lies as to why the LW can’t help the sister out with money
bostonpupgal July 5, 2012, 1:34 pm
I completely agree with what you are saying. The only thing I wouldn’t do is frame it completely in terms of the sister losing the LWs monetary support because she betrayed her trust
LW, I would say something like this: Hey sis, I had a really great time with you, I’m so glad you could visit! I was talking to mom after you left, and we realized that you took money from both of us for your travel expenses. I’m not angry, just a little hurt and confused about why you lied. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and about your visit in general, and I think we need to change our relationship a little bit. I don’t think I’ve given you credit for being a strong and successful adult, and I think the best way moving forward is to let you take on your own financial responsibilites. That means no more loans, travel expenses, or monetary gifts. I’ve been underestimating what you’re capable of, and that’s no fair to you. I want to be there for you and support you, come visit you, and encourage you to do all the things I know you’re capable of”
This may or may not go over well, but it has to be said. It honestly sounds like she’s taking the first few steps down a path that could be really, really destructive. She might resent having a source of easy money that helps her down that path just disappear, but it’s best for her in the end. Wendy is right that she needs your emotional support and encouragement, as well as for you to start treating her like an adult
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:37 pm
This was actually my mom’s advice. Say you know, say you were hurt and then get off the phone. There is no need for discussion.
kerrycontrary July 5, 2012, 9:42 am
WWS! And I think that the LW’s sister just needs to make these mistakes for herself and learn from them eventually. It’s better that she’s making these mistakes now when she’s young than have some sort of crisis in her 40s.
Addie Pray July 5, 2012, 10:20 am
The double-dipping would really bother me because of the dishonesty involved. If she needed and asked for money from each of you, fine. But to play you like that? That is a HUGE DEAL. In a family that is close and helps each other, that is a big deal breaker. … If I were you, I’d want my sister to know that I don’t appreciate the dishonesty, that if she needs anything she should ask me directly, that I will always be there for her but that I don’t understand her choices and I am not feeling I can trust her. … But how the hell do you say all that without her blowing up, alienating you, etc. etc.? I don’t know. I don’t know that you can. So then I come back around to what Wendy said and that is to not call her out on her shit and to, moving forward, don’t show your love with money until you trust her again. … Yuck, this is hard. I’m really no help.
amy July 5, 2012, 10:31 am
I hope it would be as easy as calling her out, but I come from a family of pathological liars, so calling them out results in more lies, insults, etc. and more pain for my own well being.
I think she can take the lesson and just not give her money anymore. I would be surprised if the sister admitted to the double dipping.
Addie Pray July 5, 2012, 10:51 am
You’re right, she’d probably deny it, and they’d get no where. Maybe LW could say, “Hey, I was happy to give you money for the trip like I promised, but mom said she reimbursed you too, so I just wanted to follow up…” And then she can say, “look, is everything ok? It was weird to me that you’d ask for travel money when mom already gave it to you, so I’m just worried that maybe everything is not ok.” ….That could open a dialogue that won’t/shouldn’t turn hostile or accusatory!
amy July 5, 2012, 10:54 am
That is a very good point. No hostility might result in an honest discussion
Addie Pray July 5, 2012, 10:58 am
See? All LWs really just need to consult us and we will solve their problems, easy peasy. When will LWs learn? 🙂
ktfran July 5, 2012, 11:31 am
Great adivce AP. If the LW really wants to ask about the money, this is a good, non-accusing way to go about it.
theattack July 5, 2012, 1:40 pm
This is an excellent way to ask the question. It gives the sister an opportunity to explain why she did it. Of course it’s wrong to lie and manipulate people into giving her money, but if she has a really tough situation going on (ie: bf stole her rent money and she’s going to be evicted), it would definitely change the situation. The LW seems to think her sister has always been very honest and trustworthy, so it seems necessary to give her a chance to explain herself before assuming she’s a horrible person.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:51 pm
Good call. What was so weird to me was that she knows if she’d come to me and said I need $x just because, she knows I would’ve given it to her. And if it were something like she was about to be evicted, I would give it to her and she knows that. I guess THAT’S what was strange to me. Like now all of a sudden she has to lie or deceive to get $ from me. Maybe she felt bad about always asking, so made a short cut for herself? I don’t know.
JK July 5, 2012, 1:54 pm
hmm an chance the BF knew you told her you´d give her the money? Maybe he pressured her into texting you?
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:58 pm
There’s a very good chance of that. I don’t know how bad he is behind closed doors. There was one time that I got a tearful call from her about electric being shut off soon, so I go straight to the bank, deposit cash for her and then realize (I did her banking/budgeting for awhile to help get her back on track) that the same day I put money in, there was a charge for a video game thing. It pissed me off a lot, but I felt like it was him being controlling and not her taking advantage. This time, it seemed to be all her. Who knows though?
JK July 5, 2012, 2:02 pm
Yeah, I just imagined him asking her if you´d given her the money, her saying “no but mom did”, and him getting her to ask you for it, anyway.
I guess I have a vivid imagination. 🙂
Anyway, thanks for the break from wedding letters! I like not having to be a bitch for one day at least.
theattack July 5, 2012, 2:19 pm
Hmm… I wonder if you would be more comfortable paying a bill for her directly then. Same concept as buying food for a homeless person but not giving them cash. Ask her for the number on her utility bill and pay it for her online in the future. Obviously that doesn’t help this particular situation, but might help you continue to help her without wondering.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:35 pm
We do that now for some bills (loans, phone, a few others). It eases my mind to know she won’t have anything terrible happen, which I guess is not the way to do it because its still enabling. Even that can be frustrating though. I mentioned that for a while I did budgeting/banking for her to help her get back on track. I couldn’t understand why there was a monthly X bill, because I knew one of my parents has been paying for X for years. Turned out Ed had X and had Nancy paying for it.
theattack July 5, 2012, 2:16 pm
I wonder if she just knows that you would be generous and help if you knew the truth, but she was too embarrassed to tell you? That might sound kind of weird, but I could easily see that happening with someone who’s been down and out so much lately but knows in reality they could do better.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:32 pm
It really could’ve been that. I hope not. I have never been vocally judgmental to her, just of her boyfriends. I tried tough love, I tried babying. She has come to me, even in the recent past, to tell me about a job loss and said how upset she was, didn’t want anyone to know, looking for advice though. I gave the old ‘it happens to everyone, its just one mistake, lets figure out how to fix it.’ When she’s down on herself, I remind her about my many fuckups so she doesn’t think everyone is perfect. IDK, I just wish there was a clear answer on how to make her happy.
katie July 5, 2012, 2:35 pm
lbh, i think you need to remember that its not your responsibility to make her happy. your never going to be able to do that… and your going to make yourself crazy trying! as much as it sucks to see her down on life, you cant take it upon yourself to “fix” things. only she can fix her life and make HERSELF happy.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:37 pm
I know. I really do in my brain know that. Its separating the heart and the head I guess. I take on other people’s problems to the point of enabling. I’ll just keep repeating what you said and try to make it stick.
katie July 5, 2012, 2:40 pm
you can do it! and you definitely can try to help her, you just gotta do it in a constructive way. the whole enable vs empower. empower her!
amy July 5, 2012, 10:29 am
That’s not exactly stealing… it’s lying.
As someone who has watched her family torn apart by her mother, and now her sister, who is following in her mothers path, the only thing you can do is hope she comes to her senses, or try and put up barriers to protect yourself from her.
My sister is very troubled, and when she comes over, I hide all of the medications in my medicine cabinet, I also lock up money and gift cards etc. I’ve learned that it’s ok to not be able to have my mother and my sister in my life because of the drama and the effect that it has on my well being.
It doesn’t mean I don’t love them, it just means that I get incredibly upset over things that I can’t change, and I get very frustrated, and it hurts my usually happy existence that I built for myself.
Aside from my personal story, I think you need to let your sister be. She might get tired of the way she is living, and she might not. Going forward, try not to offer her money when she asks, that will enable her to be the way she is. As painful as it is, you have to disengage. If you enable her to live this way, she won’t have any motive to change.
If she starts telling sob stories about her situation, just say I’m sorry, that sucks, I have to go now. It sounds like she has issues, but if she doesn’t think she does, or is not ready to face them, she will just grow frustrated with you and turn away.
I’ve been there, just stay strong and protect yourself. If is soooooooooo easy to get sucked in.
AnotherWendy July 5, 2012, 8:59 pm
I agree that sometimes you have to disengage for your sanity and your happiness. I had to do that with my sister. It was just too much drama, bad decisions, financial woes all the time. Do feel guilty? Absolutely. But I am not on edge with her constant stream of troubles any more, nor am I enabling her to avoid the consequences of her bad decision making. Stop the financial bail outs and when she asks why tell her the double dipping didn’t sit well with you and it’s turned you off to providing financial assistance. I had to tell my sister too that I was no longer helping her figure her way out of her circumstances. For years, YEARS, she would tell me her problems and ask what to do. I would put serious thought into strategizing a plan to help, as would the other family members she called. But she would ignore it all and dig her hole deeper. I finally said my advice had dried up due to lack of use!
Desiree July 5, 2012, 10:30 am
I largely agree with WWS, but the LW cutting the sister off financially will only work if the whole family follows suit. Otherwise, the sister is *still* being enabled and then the LW looks like the “mean one.” Of course, if the LW manages to talk the rest of the family into cutting the sister off financially, she is also going to be resented by the sister. I see this getting worse before it gets better.
katie July 5, 2012, 10:37 am
she might be the “mean sister”, but she would be doing the right thing…
amy July 5, 2012, 10:41 am
It can be very difficult to come to a concensus as a family, but it is not the LW’s job to change her sister. The LW can only protect herself from her sister. Cutting her off will help the LW, even if the family still enables the sister. The family will learn on their own as well. LW is catching on early which is a good sign.
theattack July 5, 2012, 1:34 pm
This is a really good point. Even if cutting her off might be the “right thing,” (and I’m not sure whether it is or not. I think the LW needs to find out what else is going on that might cause her sister to lie before we can determine that) the LW is probably not as interested in doing the right thing as she is resolving the issues with her sister. In a practical way, being the bad guy isn’t going to help her relationship with her sister, and alienating her could just make the situation worse for her sister.
Budj July 5, 2012, 10:38 am
I recommend eye for an eye….cut off her hands so that she may never steal again.
Bossy Italian Wife July 5, 2012, 10:45 am
It’s not like she came into your apartment and stole from you; what she did was dishonest, yes, but it wasn’t criminal. Every family has one of these people. Mine is my brother, sorry to say, though his actions are much, much worse than what you’ve described here with your sister.
Wendy is right–you have to stop giving her money. Let your parents give her money if they want (though they really should make her stand on her own two feet!). It’s not your job to support your sister monetarily. It can be hard, they can guilt trip you, but in the end, it’s not your problem.
Giving her a place in your home and an open door policy? Great form of support. Always listening to what she has to say? Awesome! Putting cash in her bank account? Enabling. Be a sister, not a provider, and you’ll rest easier knowing that you are not contributing to her lifestyle.
Sounds like she has bad taste in men, and that leads to other problems for her. That may not ever change. But if you listen and try not to criticize (and have some better boundaries where money is involved) then perhaps you can be a force for good in her life.
The bottom line? Don’t coddle her or pay for her mistakes and take a step back from your sister.
saridout July 5, 2012, 10:48 am
maybe she was just so stoned she didn’t realize she took money from both of you. i don’t know if that possibility is preferable or not.
oldie July 5, 2012, 10:49 am
Rather than confront the sister, the family needs to buck up her self-esteem. She feels intellectually inferior to her sibs and seeks out not the best bfs, but guys whom she can feel superior to. The comment about how surprised the whole family was that she got into a good college, suggests that she grew up as the family dummy. She may actually be quite intelligent, but either pales in comparison to sibs or just was cowed into not putting forth the same effort in school, because she didn’t think she could beat her sibs’ performance. Not at all unusual for younger sibs in an academically competitive family. Later sibs often seem to consciously decide to go a different route than that which gave success to older sibs, so that they can have their own spot where they are the best in the family.
katie July 5, 2012, 10:58 am
yea, the surprised about getting into college sounded weird to me as well… like, why would you be surpised? thats the wrong word to use unless you really feel like the person is stupid and are willing to expose that opinion to the rest of the world. most people would say we were so happy or something even if they were surprised…
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:57 pm
I was surprised she got into the school she did. It was her reach school. I am surprised when anyone gets into their reach school. Most people I know who got into their reach school were surprised they got in.
I didn’t scroll up to check if its in this letter, but I made it clear it was a very hard school to get into in my letter which got a little edited.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:54 pm
I think this is pretty damn accurate…seeking not the best bfs so she can feel superior. I feel bad about making it seem like she’s the “dumb one” and take the blame for my wording. She’s far from dumb, she just had to work harder than some of my other siblings who are just naturally gifted. I do not think any less of her for that, I think more of her for actually having to work her ass off for what she wanted. I wish she still worked toward a goal.
jlyfsh July 5, 2012, 10:57 am
I can see the desire to want to call her out. However, I think that considering her back story it probably won’t help. If you let her know that your Mom told you she gave her money, she’ll get angry at your for talking about her behind her back. Is it worth getting to say to her, I know what you did? Only you know the answer to that, but for me the answer would be no. I think like Wendy said you need to focus on you and what you can do to protect yourself in the future. Resist the urge to give her money, even when she spins a story that makes you feel bad.
As much as she needs to build her self esteem up she also needs to see what it feels like to be responsible for her actions. Be there for her emotionally but let her know that you can no longer be her bank. Unfortunately you can’t make your family do the same, you can explain to them that you think it might be best for her, but you can’t make them. Eventually she will learn her lesson and hopefully develop some self worth in the process. It sounds like an overall extremely sucky situation for everyone involved.
iwannatalktosampson July 5, 2012, 11:08 am
I would confront her – but we’ve been through this – I can’t help myself. I HATE being lied to. Maybe LOATH is a better word. Despise it. It sounds like you are in a financial position to help her – so I’m sure if you offered the money you won’t miss it too much. But she is essentially treating you like a child by lying. It’s condescending. And insulting – like that she wants to ask you for money without asking you for money.
So I would bring it up to her in the least aggressive way possible. Say something like this:
Hey so Mom told me she gave you money for your travel expenses as well. I’m a little hurt you didn’t feel like you could tell me if you needed money. I just want you to know that I want the best life possible for you and if there is ever anything I can do to help you get back on your feet I will be more than happy too.
(I think you offered to let her come stay with you at one point right?)
Well offer that again. Say I can help you find a job here with all my connections and you can live with me rent free. It will be so much fun having you around and kid and Peter will love it!
amy July 5, 2012, 11:39 am
I agree, if she decides to confront her about the deception, maybe act like it wasn’t on purpose so it doesn’t seem accusatory and the sister won’t jump to being defensive
Cara July 5, 2012, 11:11 am
What a shitty situation. I don´t have anything else than what everybody else already said to say…
qm July 5, 2012, 11:25 am
Don’t confront her; it won’t help, and it may hurt. My little brother was on a similar path to your sister until he got a DUI that shook him up a little. And part of the problem was mom treating him with kid-gloves and my dad and I thinking he was the family screw-up. Do what Wendy said. Stop supporting her financially but continue to be there for her emotionally. Hopefully it doesn’t take something like a DUI in your sister’s case to snap out of it, but that’s the kind of event that may really make an impact. Not you confronting her for lying (about which I agree with a lot of others; it was lying, not stealing).
Anna July 5, 2012, 11:27 am
People like Ed are the reason the world is so up in arms against people who smoke pot…thinking we’re all losers like him. It makes me so angry.
First of all, I agree with what Wendy said about treating your sister with kid gloves all these years. You were surprised that she got into college? You hopped on a plane to take care of her as soon as her boyfriend dumped her? You’ve sent the message all these years that she’s not intelligent and not capable of living an independent life. I hate to say it, but your close-knit family may have started the downward spiral by convincing her that she’s not smart enough or strong enough to do anything on her own. Hence, she leans on the closest person she can find even if he’s a total scumbag.
This story reminds me a lot of my best friend’s ex. They moved in together after only dating for a few months because she accidentally got pregnant with his kid. He was emotionally abusive, always telling her how fat she was and yelling every time he saw her eat anything. He wouldn’t let her get a job and always told her she wasn’t capable of working outside the house. A few years into their relationship, he got laid off from his job and never worked again for the remainder of their relationship. He claimed he was disabled but still coached baseball and rode his motorcycle. He sat at home all day drinking and eating painkillers (pill junkie) and refused to even watch his own kids. He wouldn’t let her get a job and insisted they could just live off of food stamps and the disability money he swore he would get (never did; got denied every time because he’s not disabled). I encouraged her for many years to leave him. She finally kicked him out of the house about 8 months ago. She got a job and quickly worked her way all the way up the ladder to manager and provides for her children on just her income without any food stamps or assistance. And she finally has self-esteem and acknowledges that she should have left him sooner.
My point is that you can encourage her to leave Ed all you want and point out his flaws, but she won’t leave him until she’s ready. It sucks to stand by and watch someone you love get trampled on. I know it firsthand. But all you can do is be there for her. When she does finally decide to leave him, be supportive but make sure it’s the good kind of supportive, not the “You’re incapable of handling anything by yourself so I’m here to take over” kind of supportive. You want to encourage her to grow into the wonderfully responsible, independent woman she can be, just like my best friend did. I’m so proud of her and I tell her all the time. Also, she is now in a relationship with a guy who is absolutely wonderful, loving and responsible. She just had to do it in her own time, and I never left no matter how frustrated I was.
I thought I would share my own experience because your letter spoke to me. I’m actually closer to my best friend than I am to my biological sisters.
Anna July 5, 2012, 11:32 am
Oh, and just an epilogue regarding guys like Ed…when one woman stops falling for their shit, they just find another. My friend’s ex moved back to his home state and got a job for about a month, just long enough to beg her repeatedly to take him back. She refused, and he immediately found a new girlfriend and quit his job. He now sits on his new girlfriend’s couch eating painkillers while she pays all the bills. Somehow, she believes his whole disability story.
AnotherWendy July 5, 2012, 9:28 pm
My ex-BIL is in his fifty’s and he has bounced from enabling GF to enabling GF for his entire adulthood. These women have all been smart, personable women with good jobs and money. But he is one of several dysfunctional SOs/Spouses they have had. After several years and many thousands of dollars lost, they dump him. But he always finds another one quickly. However, he is currently without a GF so he is back at home, at 55, living off his 75 year old mother. Unfortunately, some people never learn to be better, for many reasons. All the other family members have given up after being scammed by him or just being emotionally drained by the constant drama. I think I dealt with at least five crying women over the years I was his SIL, each desperately trying to understand him and “fix” him, or recoup lost money. We worry about the neices and nephews who are now young adults and if he will be hitting them up for money and sympathy soon. (He never had any kids of his own.)
amy July 5, 2012, 11:38 am
Anna, wow. Your response was spot on. I never thought of the impact her family could have on the sister. My sister is troubled, and something that was said once about my sister was “she just feels like no one takes her seriously” really hit me hard, and I took her talks of going back to school seriously after that, and talked to her about them instead of writing them off as another crazy idea of hers.
Jury is still out, her life is a mess, but I take her talk of getting her life on track seriously when she talks about it
ktfran July 5, 2012, 11:27 am
I’m not sure that the LW was actually ever lied to. Duped? Yes. Lied to? No. Stolen from? Definitely not. It’s not stealing when someone offers it to you in the first place.
Now, if the LW had asked, “hey, did anyone else give you travel expenses?” and her sis said no, then yes, she was lied to.
I’m trying to put my place in that of the LW’s. It’s hard. I haven’t experienced anything like this. I think I like Wendy’s advice best. Stop enabling the sister. Make sure she knows you are there for her. Support her emotionally. Build up her self esteem. If your family is as close as you say, I think eventually she’ll come around. Sometimes it takes people a while. If she doesn’t, at least you know you did all you could.
painted_lady July 5, 2012, 11:36 am
Stop giving her anything. Take her to dinner and pay if it’s just her, maybe buy her groceries if you’re in town, but nothing else. Even if you put money in her account, who’s to stop her from taking money out at the ATM and handing it right to her boyfriend? Hell, who’s to say his name isn’t on the account now? And even if she’s the only one using the money, she’s still not learning how to be an adult. You’re enabling her, and you’re also confirming the image your family inadvertently set up that she’s helpless.
I don’t think you should confront your sister about her lying – and yeah, it’s a stealing gray area, I think – but she’s going to want to know why you’re not giving her any more money, and I don’t think you should lie. Explain that you’re concerned because her lying is unlike her, and it’s all the more reason you think this guy is really bad for her. And also touch on how you worry you’re short-changing her by assuming she can’t handle her own life and as much as you love her, you can’t continue to enable her because it seems to be sending her down a self-destructive path.
qm July 5, 2012, 11:52 am
If she does have to offer an explanation, I think she should definitely stick to the short-changing and enabling. Clearly, the sister doesn’t listen to advice about her love-life, and it might just put her on the defensive. But honestly discussing the self-destructive path she’s on will hurt initially, but I think it would be better in the long run for both her sister and their relationship. It’ll be especially helpful if she acknowledges her family’s role in it.
painted_lady July 5, 2012, 11:59 am
And it is SO FRUSTRATING to watch someone shoot themselves in the foot over and over and over again. My former roommate with the crazy-ass boyfriend who freaked me out so badly I pushed my move-out date up is STILL entangled with this loser. I spoke up about him once, as did all of our friends, and it didn’t hurt the friendship, but when we started pushing it, she started showing signs of pulling away.
It’s gotten bad – about as pathetic and desperate as you can get. They moved in together for awhile after I moved out, but then he moved out because he didn’t want to live with her. Instead of taking that as a sign he wasn’t as into this as she was, she put his name on her bank account and they went and bought a car together, which he’s driving and she never sees because she’s living with her parents and doesn’t want them to know how deep she’s in trouble. He has broken up with her twice now and yet they still go on dates and she’s under the impression he just needs some time and some distance and will come around eventually.
AndreaMarie July 5, 2012, 11:46 am
I think you and the rest of your family need to get on the same page inregards to how you are going to deal with this sister going forward. It doesn’t matter if you cut her off financially if the rest of the family continues to give in. There is no good reason she should be asking any of you to cover her bills and expenses. It’s not as if she fell on hard times due to a lay off or illness and needs help getting on her feet. Any situation she is in now is due to her own poor judgments and actions. She is fully capable of supporting herself. The only way she will learn from her mistakes and bad choices is if she feels the consequences. The only way she will dump these loser boyfriends is if she fully understands the harm they cause in her life. By continuing to bail her out and give her money she never feels the consequences.
Michelle.Lea July 5, 2012, 10:54 am
I think Bossy Italian Wife has it… you just have to stop giving her money. stop enabling her. and stop looking at her like a failure compared to the rest of your family.
but did she *steal* from you? i dont think that’s accurate. you gave her money yourself. whether or not your mother gave her money too shouldnt matter, you’re the one that made that choice. maybe you both offered, so she assumed you were both giving – why would she tell you that mom was giving her money too? maybe she thought you already knew.
Kristina July 5, 2012, 11:55 am
Not gonna lie, the title of this letter really bothers me because the LW wasn’t stolen from. That would be a whole nother ballgame, and I know what that’s like. But I can sort of relate to this letter a bit. I’m very much the black sheep in my family–I’m intelligent like the rest of my family, but I always wanted to go to art school and wanted nothing to do with regular college and academics. And I used to fuck up a lot. I went from one terrible boyfriend to another, from drug addicts, to alcoholics, to a sociopath, druggie, homeless ex boyfriend who moved into my apartment with no warning and mooched off of me. Not only did I not see what was really going on at the time, but I didn’t see that many of my friends were enabling me. Sure, I definitely did not use other people for money or anything like that, but I did nearly drop out of college.
My point is it’s so easy to get sucked into dating a loser and staying with people like that because they make you feel loved by someone and at the same time convince you that no one else will love you. Your sister clearly has low self-esteem and when she’s with someone that she thinks will build herself up, she is likely not to listen to other people like you, because she probably doesn’t think you have her best interests in mind, because her mind is skewed. Since you’ve tried to help her directly in the past, I would think that she’s only going to wake up and change when she is ready to. It can be painful to watch. And even though you hate to see your sister go through something like this, instead of telling her how much she should do this or that, support her and who she is as a person, but also do stand your ground if you fear she is trying to take advantage of you or your family. But most of all, it sounds like your sister needs a lot of love right now, and not necessarily tough love. Things won’t change overnight, but I’m sure it will happen if you and your family help nurture your sister instead of condescending her (that doesn’t mean you have to support her decisions with her boyfriends though). She needs to know that she has a whole family for her when she does decide to wake up and change. And don’t give her money–not only will that not help the situation, but money doesn’t show much in the way for care or concern about who she is. Give her gifts, something she would like. Spend time with her if you can. That will help her realize that she does have other people who care for her.
Missamay July 5, 2012, 12:11 pm
I’ve read the letter a few times, and I can’t shake this condescending tone i keep getting from it. I get the feeling the LW is more concerned about how she was wronged, not that her sister is dire need of a friend.
I also come from a large family. And I am extremely close with my siblings. LW, I get the feeling you are the older sibling, just based on the tone of how judgmental you are of your sister’s life. Do you understand how hurtful it is to say “Nancy, was the least book smart so it was a great surprise that she was able to get into her dream college”?
First off….I don’t understand this “book smart” phrase. Nancy is obviously book smart because she got into a master’s program at her preferred school. She had a goal and she made it real. She’s good at “books” since she graduated from college and got into MORE SCHOOL (in the letter it says “She dropped out of her master’s program..”)
What Nancy might have an issue with is, is low self-esteem. And since you say that you are all so close, I am damn sure she knows you all think she is not as smart as the rest of her family. You can’t even trust her to keep her shit together after a break up that you got on an airplane console her. Seriously? Heartbreak happens, and it is a big life lesson to learn deal with the sad times in your life on your own.
What I don’t see is you LISTENING to her. Just listen. My younger brother has depression and one thing I have found out is that people who do not feel good about themselves do not want to have family judge their lives all the live long day. I have found that the more I objectively listen to him, the more willing he is to share with me. And the longer we keep this good conversation going (years and years) the more we grow to respect and love each other. I can give him advice on how to steer around his problems (that he willingly wants to share with me), but then I have to trust him to find his own path. And then we can talk about it later with no judgements. This part is important. I’ve found out what an amazing and complicated person my brother is, and I’ve learned that the path to happiness in one’s life is very different person to person.
I get the strong feeling that Nancy is surrounding herself with people who are less desirable because maybe they make her feel so much better about herself. Like, she is loving other people who also might feel really unloved. These ex boyfriends are/were assholes to her, but they might also be sad people going through some painful shit right now too, and really need someone to listen to them. Nancy might get a weird self-esteem boost because now she’s the successful person in her life. At least *she* has a job/isn’t an alcoholic, ect…. unlike her boyfriends. It’s crazy to think about but she sounds like she’s in a crazy mental place.
Stop babying her. If she’s old enough to drop out of her master’s program, then she’s old enough to be treated like the young adult she’s struggling to be. Listen to her, you might find out she’s an educated and caring person.
FireStar July 5, 2012, 12:19 pm
So the gifts and trips that you give your sister to act as a respite from her miserable life – do just that. She never has to deal with the unyielding consequences of her choices since she can escape her life on occasion… and you all try to shield her from the consequences of her poor choices as much as you can – or even distract her from them. I promise you – I understand. I walked on eggs shells around my brother my whole life and protected him unfailingly from his own choices until he behaved so badly that I had to put my foot down. But since he wasn’t familiar with consequences when I finally stopped shielding him from them he was resentful. It is hard – because you love them – you feel their pain and their choices ultimately affect you – unless you have boundaries in place. I, ultimately, lost my brother over his choices and now we have no contact which is unlikely to change. It would be nice if everyone did everything they were supposed to do but we don’t control that. Maybe when your sister fully understands that there is no familial respite from her choices is when she makes some changes to improve her lot. You can let her know you are concerned for her – she is your sister – you will always have time to talk to her and to give her guidance if she wants it but for now you have to invest your financial resources in your own family/home/whatever should she ask for money. Lots of families/friends don’t have the same income levels and resources – that doesn’t mean they can’t spend time walking in a park or going on a picnic or whatever. Go visit her in her life – you don’t have to draw her into your life to interact with her.
I had no choice but to confront my brother but I don’t see much point in confronting your sister about the double dip – not directly anyway. You can mention it casually that “mom said she gave you some money for a trip – are you going somewhere else too?” Maybe to let her know YOU know…you don’t want to embolden bad behaviour with silence. Ultimately though – you are only responsible for your actions and your life – you can’t make her act the way you want – you can just put boundaries in place to protect yourself against any bad behaviour on her part. I hope it works out for you.
Moneypenny July 5, 2012, 12:42 pm
I have to agree with the others that this doesn’t sound like stealing, but lying about it is still not ok. It sounds like this LW isn’t giving her sister enough credit here- she knew exactly what she was doing when she double-dipped her mom and sister. And it sounds like the family is just enabling her, which is never going to help her get on her own two feet and out of her current situation. I agree with Wendy and others, that there is really nothing that the family can do here, as she’s an adult and is making her own decisions, and has to want to help herself. If she doesn’t want to change her situation, she has to come to the realization on her own and, with her family’s support (besides cash), can possibly get out of it. Until then, there’s nothing you can do really. I’ve seen similar situations happen in my extended family, and the family ends up coddling the kids, who are grown adults with kids of their own.
I agree with other posters (I don’t think I’m adding anything new here)- giving her money equals enabling, which is not, on its own, going to help this girl. Being supportive, being there for her whenever she needs a place to stay or a listening ear, is going to be more beneficial in the long run. And it’s hard to see someone you love going down an unhealthy road and not want to do whatever you can for them. I hope that things work out for the LW and her sister, this is a hard thing to have to go through for everyone involved.
6napkinburger July 5, 2012, 12:51 pm
Isn’t there the huge risk that if the whole family cuts the sister off financially, that she will become even more dependent on the BF? Even though the LW describes him basically as broke, I’m sure he has SOME sort of income and then she will be dependent on that.
When I was in grad school, I didn’t work; my food/shelter came out of student loan money (as did basically everyone else who couldn’t just pay out of pocket)– there was no time for a job. Also, my parents paid for my tuition, rent and food in college — my job was in a lab on campus, which paid crap but was a fantastic experience, which was the point.
If her parents were supporting her while in her master’s program, cutting her off might mean there’s no chance of her going back because she has to get a full time job. I know most people don’t like conditional money, but I think that might be appropriate here, especially if she is “fairly” dependent on her parents, if they supported her instead of having her take out student loans. The condition that that unless she goes back to school, there will be a huge differential in the support that she receives (but not nothing), is the only bargaining chip they have. Yes, people have to do things in their own time, but sometimes that can be the wakeup call. And there’s no way that LW’s parents are going to let her get evicted and starving, especially considering that this is relatively new, rather than a whole life of a fucked up kid that they can no longer enable.
I think that everyone up and pulling out the support unequivacally on this girl because will absolutely drive her further into the arms of this bum, because she’ll feel utterly abandoned by her family and she’ll get defensive about her life decisions. I don’t think it’s necessarily time for the “extreme tough love” approach. How is she when she comes home? Does she sit in your parent’s house smoking pot? or is she the sister you’ve known and loved? It might be that you guys need to get closer, rather than pulling back. I get Wendy’s point about having treated her with kid gloves, so maybe phase that out. Back off with the lecturing. Say you’ve accepted him. Ask how the boyfriend is. Ask lots of open ended questiosn so she has to hear her own answers and she’ll start making excuses. If you don’t push the excuses, she won’t have to get defensive and she’ll realize how f’d up everything is. Ask about her friends from college and basically make her tell you about their successes and happiness. If you keep it cheerful and don’t push, she’ll realize it herself.
katie July 5, 2012, 12:58 pm
i think that stopping the extra spending money that will just go to her boyfriends pot stash is different then cutting off rent money or something… but yes, its a very fine, very blurry line.. good point.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 1:00 pm
WWS. But I am going to go even further with it, I think.
Look, this entire letter is decidedly odd. First, there is a whole bunch of backstory that isn’t truly relevant, but there solely so we all loathe this terrible, less worthy, sister, I guess… And the family “shock” about how this horrible bitch even got into a good college speaks volumes. I mean, it certainly seems you all wrote her off as I loser long BEFORE she became one and yet are suddenly so surprised that it became a self fulfilling prophecy…
Hell, even the use of the word “stealing” is a bit self serving. I mean, if BOTH you and your mother promised her money to come home and she was desperate for it I can see why she would take it… It’s dishonest, but taking money offered to you isn’t stealing. You make it sound like she raided the cookie jar… Something I’m sure you are most disappointed she hasn’t done…yet. Maybe next time you should withdraw thousands of dollars from you account and then tell her exactly where all this cash is so she won’t disappoint you again…
It seems to me that you, especially, just RELISH hating your sister. That will probably piss a lot of people off on here, but the whole tone of this letter is just GLEEFUL about how much you hate your sister, how utterly worthless she is, and how much you want to tell her off… How much BETTER you are… Talk about a hollow victory.
NEWSFLASH: as far as sibling rivalry goes, you FUCKING won. Game over. Now stop being such a mega-bitch about it. Seriously. Your sister is a major fuck up, but you certainly had a big hand in that with your petty, cunty treatment of her. For starters, I can only imagine how many times you just oh-so-casually mentioned your great surprise that she got into that “dream college” to begin with. Again, you’ve WON! So, bravo! Hope it makes you happy…
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:42 pm
Wow, 8 likes already. Clearly I wrote into DW to relish in hating my sister. That makes a lot of sense.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:43 pm
I consider an exceptional, extremely compassionate, beautiful, intelligent, trusting and trustworthy human being like my sister
Was it this line that made it clear to everyone? Or the part about me looking for advice on how to make her life better/help her be happier?
katie July 5, 2012, 1:56 pm
dont take it personally… there is a lot of the time one certain thing that will stand out to us and create the whole opinion we then take on the letter.. i know ive done it before.
but, ill be super honest here, the way you describe your sister is not in a very kind way. you describe her like a small child too stupid to open a medicine bottle that the rest of the family laughs softly at while opening the bottle for her.. and never teaching her how to open the bottle herself…
jlyfsh July 5, 2012, 2:02 pm
i think that this is very true, each individual reading a letter is going to have something that sticks out to them that they focus on and kind of puts the rest of the letter in a different light based on that comment. i too think that there is a certain tone to each letter, at least there is for me.
and i think like katie said the description of your sister kind of was off putting to some people. the way it was written, at least to me, came across as she wasn’t as good as the rest of the family and has always had to work hardest, like she’s the poor little train that could. and when you focus on that and read the rest of the letter with that tone in mind it kind of comes across as you look down on her.
and honestly maybe she does feel that way and you guys just don’t know it. i think sometimes we discount how much the way we treat people affects them. like they grew up with us that’s how we’ve always acted, what do you mean it’s a problem. and that is exactly the problem we don’t stop and think oh maybe i do baby her and treat her like she’s a little bit less even if that’s not at all how i intend to treat them or act toward them. i don’t know if that makes any sense?
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:07 pm
I look at hard work as a great, admirable thing, so I actually thought that me saying she had to work harder in school was an admittedly odd, but still complimentary way of getting my point across.
The way I’ve treated her like a baby is clearly not the way to be, or helpful. I give people a hard time about enabling others, but really, its fucking hard not to do when you love someone.
jlyfsh July 5, 2012, 2:12 pm
it is hard to not do when you love someone. it’s hard to watch them hit bottom and make mistakes when you know you can fix it very easily. but sometimes you just have to let them do it. they can’t go through the rest of their life with training wheels on you know?
and like i said i think the way you read something is going to be different than the way i or another commenter reads that same sentence. and reading your extra description below made that comment come across different for me. i know it’s hard to fit in enough to adequately describe the situation sometimes and then we’re left with what’s in the letter and our own opinions and experiences to set the tone for us. so while to you it was admirable to others it came across as she was the one who just wasn’t as smart as the rest of us.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:39 pm
Hearing all of this is really making me worry about how I’ll be when my kid is older. I know how bad enabling is, but its just so hard to not do it.
theattack July 5, 2012, 3:00 pm
Luckily you just realized it could be an issue for you, and you have several years to work on it between now and then. You’ll do just fine. 🙂
And hey, at least your problem is that you care too much. It is probably the best problem you can have as a parent.
AnotherWendy July 5, 2012, 10:08 pm
It is SO SO hard not to enable your own child because your instinct is to make things all better immediately. Just try to keep a long term perspective: Am I offering a solution that’s good for this minute, or one that’s good for the next year or two (or a lifetime.) I learned how to do this because my daughter had a phobia with dogs when she around ages 3-9(never bitten or attacked, just a deep fear of dogs like most people have with snakes.) She could spot a teacup poodle 300 yards away I swear! So what would we do when a dog approached, knowing how scared whe was? Navigate WAY around it, pick her up, hold her hand tighter….things to reassure her she was ok. When we finally took her to counseling for it (it was really impeding her ability to function, dogs are everywhere!), the counselor pointed out to us that what we thought was reassuring her was actually reinforcing the fear. She would think “oh, dogs must be bad because mom and dad are making sure it doesn’t come any closer to me”, etc. We should have acted like no big deal when the dog came around – not force her to interact with it, and not remove her from any close contact. Just act like no big deal (unless we had reason to belive it was a vicious dog.)That was REALLY hard to do because I could feel the fear coming off of her. I have forgotten how hard that was, now that I think about it (it’s been about 7 years now since she recovered.) Anyway, my point is that the whole experience taught me to really focus on what’s best for her long term, rather than what will make things ok in this moment. Of course, I still screw up with this from time to time, but I do try really hard to remember the goal is to raise a well functioning adult, not to have a happy for the moment kid. (She is a teen ager so she’d probably say I’m doing a good job of not letting her be happy for any moments of her life, in fact, OMG, am I purposely trying to make her life miserable?!)
painted_lady July 5, 2012, 10:16 pm
That’s actually a really interesting perspective. I find basic behavior conditioning fascinating. I assume she got past it since she sounds like your average teenager right now, but that had to have been so hard not to comfort her and take away that fear when she was obviously so, so scared. How long did it take before she was finally past it?
AnotherWendy July 5, 2012, 11:09 pm
We had tried to get her to see a counselor for it when she was seven and eight and she refused to cooperate. As the counselor said “she’s very well defended” (she would swear she wasn’t afraid, she just didn’t like them. She wouldn’t look at pictures of dogs they showed her. she just basically refused to participate in counseling) At age nine I told her that this birthday party she had been invited to was the last one where I would call and ask the family to put their dog in another room or outside while she was there. I think that, combined with the fact that her friends were now figuring out she was afraid of dogs, incented her to work on getting over it. Power of peer pressure!
Anyway, the counselor started with having her look at pictures of dogs. Then looking at movies about dogs. Then she had to touch the pictures of dogs. Then we took her to pet stores and she looked at dogs from a distance. Then it moved to touching the glass of their cages. After she seemed comfortable with that I took her to my friend’s house. They had an older golden that was really sweet. She was in her crate and my daughter petted her in the crate for awhile. Then she said she wanted to pet her outside of the crate. And from there it just ended! She had no problems with dogs any more. Freakiest thing! That whole process only took like 3 weeks. I thought she would always be kind of skittish of dogs, but she totally is normal around them and even has a dog at her dad’s house that she adores.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:04 pm
We do treat her like a baby. I appreciate your comment because its nicely eye opening. We didn’t always, but when several huge mistakes were being made (the bfs, dropping out, losing her job), we definitely started to. Someone below said something about enabling v. empowering, which really hit home for me.
katie July 5, 2012, 2:07 pm
exactly. its a tiny, blurry line for sure. im the oldest too, and i find myself doing it as well sometimes… its hard to turn off the “mother” that oldest siblings have in them sometimes.
katie July 5, 2012, 2:07 pm
and especially hard when you have the means (ie money) to actually help…
MJ July 5, 2012, 1:49 pm
The way people read things into letters that aren’t there is pretty over-the-top. I think you did a good job. It’s weird how our perception and preconceived ideas about the world determine so many things.
JK July 5, 2012, 1:51 pm
With this letter I noticed more than ever how each person´s personal experience influenced their opinions.
Nadine July 6, 2012, 7:32 am
You are very right. Family dynamics are one thing that everyone can relate to, and everyone can feel defensive over.
theattack July 5, 2012, 2:04 pm
LBH, I don’t think you meant it in a cruel way at all. But I do think that your language about her college situation might have conveyed some feelings about your sister’s place in life that you might not be consciously aware of. And then again, maybe it was totally just a poor way to word it, and everyone’s latching onto it. That happens pretty frequently with LWs.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 2:08 pm
Again, it was the tone of your letter. Obviously, it’s not be at all how you truly feel, but, unfortunately, the tone of your letter implied to me (and at least 9 others) that you simply don’t like your sister much… And for the record, people write into to advice columnists all the time seemingly asking to hate their fill in the blank whoever… It happens.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:17 pm
I’m just not seeing it. I wrote about loving her a million times.
katie July 5, 2012, 2:28 pm
its like painted lady said:
“Yeah, as the family fuckup, we expected as much, you sweet little dummy, let’s fix this for you.”
so its like, yea shes my sister, shes awesome, shes great, i love her, but she generally sucks at life and cant be trusted to do anything right without some sort of our help.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:42 pm
Its more like “shes my sister, shes awesome, shes great, i love her, but for a little while now she’s fucking up a lot and I’ve tried to help but its not working”
The fact that I’m getting angry everytime I read a comment that implies my sister is dumb (even though they’re basing it off of what I wrote), is making it clear to me that I do not think she is dumb or a failure or anything like that.
LadyinPurpleNotRed July 5, 2012, 2:44 pm
I can tell that you love your sister and want the best from her (and I’m not saying that you do this, but it’s a possibility), but does she know that? Do you sometimes come off like you did when you were talking about her in the letter? Because even if you don’t mean it, it could appear to her that you think that she’s dumb or a screw up.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:49 pm
I’ll be very alert to that from now on, but I feel like I always have been. She recently landed another job and I went on and on about how I wasn’t surprised, she’d be such an asset to any office, etc.
katie July 5, 2012, 2:53 pm
thats good! and i would encourage your family to do the same thing…
i dont think that anyone here thinks that you outright just say that shes a screwup or that shes dumb or anything… but, if this enviornment has been created, it has been very -very- subtle, very subconscious. so on the surface you wouldnt even see it… that is usually how it happens. but its still there, and im sure that she sees it and feels it, even if it is subconscious for her as well.
theattack July 5, 2012, 2:55 pm
Interesting. I also do wonder if her sister could use some extra encouragement about her abilities and her intelligence. Maybe she doesn’t realize that people still think she’s smart. It’s easy to lose that self-image when you’ve lost other parts of yourself, and of course, it’s only natural to assume that other people have changed their thoughts of you as well. LBH, maybe something you could do generally would be to default to her thoughts on random things sometimes. Call her up because you heard this interesting thing and wanted to hear what she thought about it since she’s the “expert” on it. It could help her self-esteem and let her know that you still think highly of her.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:59 pm
This is great advice, which is what I was hoping for…some explicit ways to foster her be proud of herself. I’m almost glad this double dip issue came up, because it got me to write in about the bigger issue and get some good advice on how to deal with it.
theattack July 5, 2012, 3:06 pm
Yay!! So glad it helps!
painted_lady July 5, 2012, 1:56 pm
BGM, while you have surpassed yourself again in being harsh (seriously, wow), there’s definitely truth to this. The sister’s the family fuckup, which makes everyone feel good about themselves for at least not being that dumb and every time she screws up, everyone essentially says, “Yeah, as the family fuckup, we expected as much, you sweet little dummy, let’s fix this for you.” Even when she succeeds, there’s a condescension to the congratulations. I’m blatantly stealing from Captain Awkward here, but it’s very much a “Look who made poo-poo in the big girl potty!” kind of moment. And she totally gets a certain amount of glee in being the family fuckup, too. Trust me, even when your expectations are of the worst possible side to someone, there is definitely satisfaction in being able to prove your point, if only to yourself. LBH, quit treating your sister like a fuckup. In the grand scheme, she’s actually done pretty well – got into her dream school despite the family’s low expectations, got into grad school despite a bad relationship that could have derailed that plan…and yes, she dropped out of grad school. She didn’t drop out of high school or even college – she dropped out of GRAD SCHOOL. And it’s her right as an adult to do so if she wants, and if she wants to run her finances into the ground, she can do that. Give her the respect of knowing she can figure it out on her own. Give her the respect of being able to dig herself out without swooping in to save her like she’s some helpless damsel in distress. She may not realize it, but that shit is insulting.
What do you say when something bad happens to a friend? For me, it’s some variation of, “Damn, dude, that sucks. What are you gonna do?” Practice saying that phrase, whatever it is, and prepare yourself to say it to your sister A LOT.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:16 pm
See, maybe there are a lot of cruel family members out there, but never once has any of us every been happy or felt better about themselves when Nancy has fucked up. We’ve all felt true sadness for her and have tried to do anything and everything we can to help her. You want to say we’ve babied her, fine, we have, but to say we get off on her fuckups is entirely reading into what you want to see in this letter. There has never been any condescension to our congratulations, ever. Just pure pride. I’ve never wanted to prove myself right and I have to be honest, like you are, I think its rather bitchy to say that when tehre is nothing to back that up. I made it clear I was very proud of her accomplishments, but also made it clear that at some point, her life took a bad turn and that all I want to do is help fix that. Like I’ve said elsewhere on here, if she told me her dream was flipping burgers and she’s incredibly happy doing that, I would be nothing less than extremely happy that she seemed truly happy. Finally, when something bad happens to a friend, I ask how I can help. I guess I just hate everyone.
theattack July 5, 2012, 2:48 pm
It’s really easy to project our own experiences into the way we interpret letters. It is so hard to write letters so that there’s no room for creative interpretation, and we all just kind of fill in the blanks with our own backgrounds. I hope that can make you feel better with the harsher comments, or the comments that just don’t fit your situation at all. I know when I’ve written into DW, my letter seemed so clear and simple to me, but when I read the comments, everyone had created a totally different situation from what I wrote in about. Everyone here gives great advice, but the advice is only helpful when the situation translates clearly.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:51 pm
Yea, I’m guilty of it myself too, and the comments that were simply wrong do nothing to help me, but luckily they are far outweighed by the very helpful comments.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 6:28 pm
But the wrong comments SHOULD be helpful, frankly. They really should give you pause a bit about the way you talk about your sister… Look, if it was just ME that misread your letter, yeah, fine, blow it off, whatever… But A LOT of people took your letter the same exact way… Think about how you sound when you talk to your sister… I’m not so sure you are being as supportive as you think you are, or maybe even though you mean to be supportive it simply isn’t come across that way… TO HER.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 6:29 pm
There is just A LOT of judgement in your tone when it come to your sister. There really is.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 6:51 pm
If I felt they were applicable, or even possible, I would have. There were many things I admitted to not considering. For example if I say her bf is a dirtbag, that’s saying she has poor judgement in men. I know I don’t hate my sister. I know I dont come across as thinking I’m better than her. So those are te comments that are useless to me. There were a lot of ones that were eye opening and gave me pause though so those will be the ones I keep considering when I deal with her.
painted_lady July 5, 2012, 6:36 pm
Oh honey, I’m sorry. I really wasn’t explaining myself well at all – I didn’t mean that you were like, “Woohoo! Failed again!” It’s more like a weird kind of satisfaction where expectations are met and roles are fulfilled, however dysfunctional they may be. At least for me, as much as I hate when my parents say something hurtful or my brother does something irresponsible, there’s part of me that’s vindicated, I guess, rather than happy or even satisfied, because even in the most loving families, there are resentments and old hurts or a need for people to fulfill roles that they’ve always played. I hate that my little brother can’t get his shit together. Hate. It. It makes me angry. And yet there is something so bizarrely satisfying in how exasperated he makes me. “Why can’t he just get it together? What the hell? Why does he insist on dating every Jerry Springer stereotype in a 25-mile radius?!” If it weren’t giving me something, if it were nothing but soul-crushing and hurtful to talk about him, I likely wouldn’t spend so much time talking about him. And if he one day called to tell me he’d been working at a full-time job making $60k and was in the process of buying a house and was dating a girl but wanted to take it slow because she really wanted to focus on school right now, I would be a little thrown. What the hell would I talk about with my parents? If my brother’s not the one in the family that needs the most fixing, then who is he? And it’s not so much that I enjoy him filling that role, it’s that that role is the way I’ve thought about him for years. It would be like my mom all of a sudden deciding she was going to pick up classic piano as her artistic focus. It’s not that I love that she isn’t a pianist, it’s that I’ve never thought about her from that framework.
And I never, never, never meant to imply that just because you want to help people means you hate them. I think you know enough about me to know that, too. But asking to help friends is – to my mind at least – different than helping your sister. You’d have to be a really, really good friend for me to give you money in the first place, and I can’t think of a single friend that I would do that with more than once or twice. I don’t have that same caretaker role with friends that I do with family and especially younger siblings. And it would be inappropriate for me to assume that a friend needs my uninvited help on a regular basis. But I think for the time being especially, you need to distance yourself from the idea that you can or should fix things for your sister. Even if the fix is simple and even if it is SO OBVIOUS to you, she needs to figure out that all of this is every bit as much in her power as it is yours.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 6:56 pm
Thanks painted. The thing is, is that we all are genuinely surprised when she “fucks up” because that’s just not her. At least I know I feel shocked when I hear bad news about her. None of this is like her. The bad boyfriends are I guess, but even that is still surprising. We don’t look at her like the black sheep. I did a shitty job in trying to illustrate why she may feel like less than us, we don’t think she is though. Im sorry I jumped on your comment to be defensive. Having it forced down my throat how bad enabling is was very needed and helpful.
painted_lady July 5, 2012, 7:20 pm
Girl, I have been there. I wrote a letter way back in the Frisky days, and people jumped on a trivial detail that wasn’t part of my question plus poor wording and ripped me to shreds based on that.
Just food for thought, my brother made a comment once that totally made me re-think how some of my praise was being received. One of my standard encouragements used to be “I knew you could do it!” In my mind, that meant, “I wish you could see how much smarter you are than you think; I have so much more faith in your abilities than you do, and I wish you could see that!” He’s got really low self-esteem, and it sounds like your sister might as well, and what he was hearing was, “See how smart I am, little bro? Even this victory for you was actually a bigger victory for me because I actually see things way more clearly than you do.” You may not be doing anything like that, but I had to seriously re-think my wording so I could be heard the way I intended.
theattack July 5, 2012, 2:01 pm
Yeah, I agree with you mostly, but I don’t think the LW is aware that she’s doing it. It’s probably not malicious, but she does need a reality check.
CatsMeow July 5, 2012, 1:11 pm
“Heather, WHY are you such a mega-bitch?”
“Because I can be.”
Sorry, this is a pointless comment, but I can’t hear “mega-bitch” without thinking of Heathers.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 1:16 pm
Hah! You’re actually surprisingly on point for picking that up, CatsMeow… As that’s precisely WHAT I was thinking of when I used that word in particular… Revised film scene:
“LW, why can’t you just be a sister? Why are you such a mega-bitch?”
“Because I can be…”
AKchic July 5, 2012, 1:17 pm
I hate to say this, but she didn’t really steal from you. You offered her money and she accepted. She was under no obligation to tell you that your mother gave her money as well. If you phrased it as “if you need money, I can help”, then honestly, you have nobody to blame but yourself. She manipulated the situation.
It’s time to stop thinking of your sister as “fragile” and less intelligent (the least book smart is the least intelligent by your standards). When you think of her that way, you baby her. When you baby her, you enable her and her poor choices and her poor behavior.
We all did this with my youngest sister. To our detriment and to hers. She is now a spoiled, incompetent brat. She’s 25, finally married to the father of her two kids (he didn’t want to marry her, but the CO said either marry her or get rid of her and he didn’t want to pay child support), no diploma, no job, can’t live without extra money from both my mom and her inlaws, has no license, and only 16-19 year olds can stand talking to her for short periods of time.
The thing is, unless you change how you and your family handles your sister, she isn’t going to change how she deals with things. She isn’t going to quit borrowing money until the money tree stops producing fruit. She isn’t going to act responsibly until people start expecting her to and hold her to it. Your entire family needs to sit down together without her and make a pact to stop babying her and start treating her like a productive citizen and that you won’t be bailing her out anymore. Once that decision has been made, someone needs to be elected spokesperson and needs to tell your sister.
I will tell you, she is not going to like this intervention-like telling that she isn’t going to get anymore money from the family. Which is why only one person need do it, as a representative from the entire family. Otherwise, she will feel ganged up on and feel like you all are attacking her like a child. It will make her feel even worse and she will distance herself. The object isn’t to make her distance herself, but to shake her out of her current situation.
She will bitch to her boyfriend and HE will get pissed. He may seclude her away from you guys more. Things may get worse for her. She may lose her apartment. Things may get physical. The thing is – something needs to happen for her to hit her rock bottom and realize that what she is doing isn’t healthy or right for her life. Something to get her to leave him and better herself. She won’t do it so long as she has a safety net. Stop being her safety net and hold her accountable to life.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:26 pm
Hey guys, I’m the LW. Waited to announce that so I’d get fair replies.
First, thanks everyone. I was hoping there was some magical answer to solve this immediate issue (the double dip) and the bigger BF/life direction issue. I was scared to write this because I knew any little word could be misinterpreted. I was especially hesitant to mention the book smart thing, because I anticipated that’s all anyone would see and that I’d be labeled as, well, as BGM did. But, I also wanted ideas, honesty and a different perspective on this.
I hoped it’d be obvious how much I love my sister. No one has ever said anything even remotely hinting at what I called the book smart thing or that we were “shocked” she got into that school. I shouldn’t have used the word shocked I guess, more very pleasantly surprised. She just had to work harder, which I find more admirable than people who just slide right into what they want without having to work really hard. I felt like I had to paint the whole Nancy picture, and that is part of it in my eyes. Someone said she may have always felt it, even without us saying it, and that’s definitely true. I hope not though. She often compares herself to my other siblings, which we then say ‘oh your crazy, you’re just as smart, or you have x, y and z, I wish I did.’ I hate that she does it, I sincerely hope I haven’t added to that and I don’t think I have, but you never know. I’ve always celebrated her successes and we all make a huge deal when any one of us does something that deserves a big Way to Go.
I’m actually going to visit with her very soon so I’m happy to have gotten to hear everything from you guys now. I feel prepared on how/where to go from here. I will no longer be giving her any money, and will not bring the double dip up. (btw, I know it wasn’t outright stealing, I certainly trust her to never actually steal from me, but it felt like that at the time. I was extremely hurt and that’s just how it felt to me.) At most, I may mention that I know, but not aggressively. I liked everyone’s suggestions on how to do that. I just think there’s no point and many of you agreed.
At the end of the day, I just want her to be truly happy, whether she’s a rocket scientist or flipping burgers or living off welfare (ok, maybe not that!). I don’t think she’s happy now. I don’t think she’s proud of herself or feeling fulifilled in life. I don’t want to lose our closeness and while I don’t think she tells me everything, and likely leaves out the bad stuff, I still think she will come to me if she has to. I’ve told her plenty of times that if she decides to go back to school, or decides she wants to “start fresh”, she is always more than welcome to come live with us for free while she pursues whatever dream she may have.
When she was home last, she was still mostly herself, the same sister I’ve always known. One thing Wendy cut out was that she seems to feel entitled to things that she doesn’t work for, which sure, I’ve enabled, but she never had that attitude about it. Like anyone who has anything was just lucky and handed a sweet life. That’s something I hope she stops quickly. For now, no more enabling. Thanks again.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:27 pm
One last thing, I will stop babying her. I do it to all my younger siblings and I love it. I will try really hard to stop though.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 1:30 pm
Yikes, well, hopefully then, I completely misinterpreted your letter… It set me off because the tone of it mirrors the situation of a good childhood friend of mine where I do very much blame the family for how she turned out… They have always been so gleeful about her being the black sheep that it just REALLY set me off reading what seem to be a very similar situation…
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:32 pm
Something tells me your just saying that to not feel like a dick…
I luckily really don’t think I am, nor do I think my sister has ever thought that, otherwise I’d probably be feeling pretty shitty right now.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:34 pm
Weird, you added to this comment? I get it, I anticipated a few people would think of me that way. I actually was surprised it seemed to only be you. I know people who love that they have a black sheep, but I really don’t think anyone in my family thinks of her like that, or are anything but really troubled about some of the choices she’s made. We’ve all spoken about it at some point or another and it usually ends in tears about just being sad for Nancy.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 1:41 pm
Good. But that’s not how it came out in your letter. I just isn’t. That doesn’t mean that what you say isn’t true by any means, but that you just wrote a letter that could easily be misinterpreted. I do say though that the whole “stealing” exaggeration played a huge part in forming my opinion. Had you simply said instead: “I was then shocked to learn that our mother had already given my sister traveling money. And yet she demanded it from me, too? So dishonest!” But instead it was all this hyperbole about stealing which is a curiously lax interpretation of something that has a very clear legal definition. “Had you said, I feel like she stole from us…” Your own feelings were have been much more clear and understandable…
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:46 pm
I was shocked. She is a very honest, kind person and it hurt to feel like now she is becoming someone who would essentially steal from her own family.
Is “essentially” not pretty damn close to “feel like”? I guess not.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 1:56 pm
Actually, now that you mention it, the word “essentially” is pretty close. But by then you had already been done in by that bolded MY OWN SISTER STOLE FROM ME headline, which — of course — you didn’t even write… Also, the opening paragraph did little to help your cause. Unfortunately, it just came off rather badly, it really did.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:02 pm
Not to sound like every other LW, but there was stuff cut out of that that I specifically wrote to make it not sound the way it did. They are still my words up there though. Its quite tough to paint an accurate picture honestly. What I was trying to get across was that she compares herself to my genius siblings (finished high school early, got into the top medical schools in the country early, things like that) and that we baby her for not having the means that my siblings have.
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 2:14 pm
The other issue that should not be overlooked is that, yeah, right now you are pretty damn mad at your sister! That probably bled through into the letter in ways you simply didn’t realize…
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:21 pm
I was mad when I wrote it. I was even thinking of just calling her and telling her to return the money. But I love her, and didn’t want to hurt her, so I wrote this, calmed down a bit, and waited to hear from Wendy. Even still though, at no point did I hate her, or think she was a loser, even when I was mad. I actually thought people would say I was letting her bf take the fall for Nancy’s mistakes.
AKchic July 5, 2012, 2:00 pm
I used to be the black sheep of the family, and in some ways, I still am.
I was the major black sheep because I married a completely lousy, abusive bum (much like your sister’s Ed), had two kids at 18, was bisexual, a high school drop-out (everyone who spoke badly about me glossed over the fact that I had a GED), no license (my husband didn’t allow me to have one), and was “pagan” (everyone in my family is Baptist at this point).
That was in 2002. Here I am 10 years later with two more kids, two divorces under my belt, a driver’s license and my family doesn’t know who to badmouth more. Me, my sister, or my aunt and her family. It all depends on what they are complaining about. If it’s welfare – my aunt and her family. If it’s religion, divorces or alternative lifestyles – it’s me. If it’s general stupidity or sluttiness – it’s my sister. My sister won the sluttiness coin because she got a few STDs in her few years of playing the village bicycle around the military base.
oldie July 5, 2012, 2:09 pm
I think BGM is over the top, but you likely have revealed more about what you and your family think of Nancy than you realize. The reaction to her getting into her dream school is revealing. You all considered her to be not as ‘book smart’ as the rest of you. If that is what the family thought of her, it is very unlikely that she didn’t realize this. Then everyone in the family criticizes her first choice of boyfriend, although from what you say, he really wasn’t all that awful.
If you criticize a person’s SO, you criticize the person. It’s basically questioning both their judgement and what they are seeking in life. For everyone in the family, including her close sibs, who claim to be extremely supportive, to bounce her around about her choice in SO had to be very painful for her. I think one expects the criticism less and therefore reacts to it worse from sibs, than from parents. With parents, there’s always a bit of ‘nobody is good enough for my little girl’, the sibs are expected to be more on the same page and understanding. This sort of rejection of a chosen loved one seldom works and usually just drives the couple closer together and the sib farther from the criticizer. It’s also so much wasted drama, because college romances often don’t survive the departure from college. Criticism of her first bf makes her less likely to listen to the current criticism of current bf. She now assumes family will be negative and not trust her choices.
Saying she is both unemployed and not keeping up the apartment sounds to me like she may be depressed.
JK July 5, 2012, 2:15 pm
But isn´t everyone conscious on some level of their “role”in family dynamics?
I know for sure I was always the “smart” and “good” one in my family.
And I would guess it´s even more so in lbh´s sister´s case, with other sibling (s?) doing so well academically, and even lbh´s story as well.
I dunno, I just really think that each family is it´s own little world, so it can be extremely difficult if not impossible to know what´s going on, esp. when it´s just from a letter. I mean, Arturo STILL doesn´t get my family dynamics, and he´s been with me for 10 years!
katie July 5, 2012, 2:25 pm
that may be true, but that doesnt mean that the dynamics are healthy.. thats the issue. whether they know it or not, its not healthy.
JK July 5, 2012, 2:34 pm
True, but really, how many families have perfectly healthy dynamics? And it´s not really something you can fix so easily. It also isn´t an excuse for the sister´s behaviour. A lot of comments seem to be saying “yeah, she fucked up, but it´s because of how you treat her!”
katie July 5, 2012, 2:37 pm
well yes, your right about that. it cant be used as an excuse for her… but it can be looked at as a probable cause and maybe by the family coming together and realizing the bad dynamics they have they really can ultimately help her by fixing the behavior.
JK July 5, 2012, 2:44 pm
You are right that the actual problem is a lot bigger than this money thing, and I hope maybe something can be done at family level. But I really think the main work here is up to the sister, and it is a wait and see situation, unfortunately.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:46 pm
I hear what you’re saying. If I thought even 1% of her recent issues were caused by us inadvertently making her feel like “less” than us, I would talk to my family about what you’re saying. We have really done nothing to make her think that. She has done that herself by constantly comparing herself to my otehr siblings, to the point that I’ve asked one of them to NOT tell her about his accomplishments anymore because it might make her feel bad.
katie July 5, 2012, 2:55 pm
that is sad, lbh. my sister recently said something to my boyfriend alone those lines- something like she gets this amazing dream job that just falls in her lap and i dont even know what to do with my life or something.. i felt really bad. but at the same time, why should i feel bad about being happy and accomplished, you know? that reflects on her, and about what she is going through… she sounds like she is having a really rough time.
JK July 5, 2012, 3:00 pm
OK, this might sound bitchy, but does anyone really think it´s better to hide stuff so the sister doesn´t feel bad?
I mean, it´s life. There´s always going to be someone that does better than us, and people that do worse, as well. And I´m sure the sister will find out the big stuff eventually, anyway.
I dunno, it feels to me like it´s just another way of babying her, like she´s not going to be able to handle the truth.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 3:02 pm
She is having a hard time, and all these other things like her bf just add to it. My friends think she is the kindest, prettiest, sweetest person they’ve ever met. She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. It kills me to see that she is hurting.
ktfran July 5, 2012, 2:38 pm
I had this conversation with my therapist a couple months ago. I’m the one that will sacrifice my own happiness to make sure everyone else is happy. I know I do it myself, but sometimes I resent the others for not being more empathetic to my needs. Anyway, everyone plays a role of some sort.
Lili July 5, 2012, 3:29 pm
THIS, IS ME!!!
ktfran July 5, 2012, 4:19 pm
Are you by chance the oldest sibling?
Lili July 5, 2012, 4:30 pm
ktfran July 6, 2012, 10:10 am
Me too Lili. Too funny.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 2:27 pm
I agree with your second paragraph, however, it was strange to me she’d make the same mistake again since she acknowledged the first boyfriend was a mistake. I do think she’s depressed, but won’t actually say it. I wish I could do something to change that. Nothing I’ve tried has worked.
6napkinburger July 5, 2012, 1:30 pm
And this is why I give LW’s the benefit of the doubt!! There is no easy way to describe either positive or negative facts without sounding arrogant, bitchy or stupid.
niki July 5, 2012, 4:45 pm
I didn’t mind the tone of the letter at all. I understood what you were trying to say (though I can see BGM’s side too). I know you said you would stop coddling her and I think that’s the right decision. Your family has been walking on eggshells trying not to damage her fragile self-esteem for years. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin for ya?” Basically, the way the family has been interacting with her hasn’t worked, so it’s time to change the approach. I know that she’s not a drug-addict per se, but you said she’s turned into a pretty big pothead. I know addiction isn’t really the issue, but Al-Anon is really great for helping families change their enabling ways. It might be something worth looking into. My father had many of the same issues as your sister (lots of bad decisions, being the least accomplished of the siblings, not feeling good enough, etc) but he also had a drug problem. Al-Anon was very helpful because there were people in our family who thought if we just loved him enough and tried to build up his self esteem, things would get better. We learned how to make sure he knew we loved him without enabling his bad decisions. Good Luck regardless what you decide.
cdjd0523 July 5, 2012, 5:18 pm
I would feel entitled to if my family picked up the ball every time I dropped it. I can completely understand not wanting your sister to live without certain things and good for you for saying I won’t support this behavior any more however if the rest of your family continues to hand over money her behavior will not change but your relationship will. I am a big believer in tough love and letting a person hit rock bottom, maybe your sister needs to be homeless before she realizes how off track shes become. As hard as it is to watch I think she would probably benefit from that more then getting her bills paid from various family members.
Side note, I did not get the feeling while reading your letter that you thought any less of your sister but that you genuinely care for her. I’ve have been in a slightly similar situation and the relationship between me and my family member became almost non existant. It took awhile to recover that but in the end we did and I would not hesitate to use the same approach again.
ktfran July 5, 2012, 1:34 pm
I kind of new this was your letter because of something that was said on another post. And that’s part of the reason I had a hard time coming up with an answer – because I feel like I know you and I know you’re not the person some people are reading into. I really think you just want whats best for your sis and you don’t know how to go about doing it. I wish I had better advice, but I still think Wendy’s was pretty good.
ktfran July 5, 2012, 1:35 pm
That was supposed to be a reply to lbh’s.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:38 pm
Thanks for being easy on me 🙂
ktfran July 5, 2012, 2:59 pm
You’re welcome. Family dynamics intrigue me. And even when reading your letter, I knew you had your sis’s best interest at heart. And I would also be completely ticked at the double dipping. I don’t know what I would do about it. I do know I would be pretty upset.
I did have a similar situation with my bff. She had low self esteem, and in high school, she started dating a guy who took advantage of that and basically sucker her happy go lucky attitude right out of her. She also lost a ton of weight while dating him that she didn’t need to. Anyway, I saw what it was doing to her and it upset me. I wrote her a letter. She didn’t like what it had to say. We didn’t talk for three years after that. Once she finally realized this guy was bad for her, she called my mom – she had still be in contact with my mom and sisters those three years unknown to me – and asked if I would talk to her again. My mom said try. She did. And it was like nothing ever changed.
Last year, she told me she kept that letter. And she is happy that I could see in her what she didn’t.
So, what I’m trying to say to you. Is do the best you can with your sister. She might not like it, but if you’re as close as you say your family is, she’ll come around. I’m sure of it.
ktfran July 5, 2012, 3:00 pm
Oh, and my mom always thought of my bff as her 4th daughter.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 3:19 pm
Krissy July 5, 2012, 1:35 pm
I think one of the important effects of your enabling behavior with your sister is being overlooked. When someone is enabling another person, they are doing it for a reason. They want to gain some kind of control over the other person. This is often done under the guise of love and caring, but the truth is that the enabler is overly invested in the other persons life and wants a way to take control of it so that they can allay their own fear and anxiety. The end result of this is that the person being enabled ends up resenting the enabler anyways because they feel that they are always being manipulated. My point is, keeping on this path with sending her money (even if the strings attached to it are subtle, ie. you can only spend this money I’m giving you on things I deem appropriate, not your pothead boyfriend) will eventually lead your sister to resent you anyways. (It sounds like this cycle has already started considering the double dipping of you and your mother) So instead of continuing down this path, work on empowering her instead. Support her goals, acknowledge her achievements and help her feel that she is capable of handling life’s challenges on her own. I actually teach a course on enabling vs empowerment at my job. I know that this is a tough cycle to break. It is also a highly unhealthy relationship for everyone involved. You need to remove your feelings from your sisters choices and acknowledge that what she does with her life is completely independent of your own. That is the first step to healthy boundaries. Good luck!
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 1:40 pm
“wants a way to take control of it so that they can allay their own fear and anxiety”
You’re absolutely right. I know its wrong, but I do wish I could kind of just say Do This and your life will be easier/happier. Awesome, awesome advice. Thanks.
6napkinburger July 5, 2012, 2:59 pm
I’ve been thinking about it more and I’m not sure it needs a decision on your part — enable her/don’t enable, support/don’t support; baby/don’t baby. I would say — talk to your sister and listen to her. Next time she visits (or go visit her if you know the bf is out of town), send your daughter to grandma’s and sit down with your sister and a bottle of wine and have a conversation the topic of which is “Are you happy?”
Listen to her response. Does she think everything is ok? If so, then smile and be really happy for her. Ask everything with no judgment, completely neutral. Ask questions that will let you know if she content borrowing money all the time? Or does she feel like a loser and is she shame-spiraling? Is the boyfriend the only spot of light in this otherwise shitty world? Or is he pretty good but she doesn’t think she can do better? Does she see any of his flaws? [Don’t point them out, just talk to her about him, having accepted him. Let her point them out; maybe point out some of your boyfriend’s flaws. (maybe ones that aren’t real)]. Is she where she wants to be in her life? Was the master’s program just not a good fit? Something she may want to go back to? Where does she want to be in 5 years? Really listen.
If you give her an environment where she does not have to be defensive, no matter what she says, where you have a sympathetic look and a nod — she’ll be way more likely to open up and to tell you things in the future. My older sister hated my boyfriend. Hated him. So I couldn’t tell her anything bad about him because I’d be proving her point. Only when she got neutral and was happy to listen to good and bad, did I open up about the bad things. And when she and my mother basically staged an intervention a couple of months later, I didn’t take defensively, because it wasn’t the same old story they had been saying the whole time. It was a contemplative analysis that they had made and they needed to share. I heard them and realized how right they were. I wound up breaking up with him immediately. I never would have done that if my sister hadn’t backed off and given him a chance.
Open up the lines of communication so you don’t have to make these decisions by guessing how she feels — she’ll have told you/you’ll have read it on her face.
JK July 5, 2012, 3:02 pm
Love your first couple of paragraphs. I really feel that the problem here is the sister´s, not lbh´s.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 3:14 pm
I’ve tried that. Exactly that. She basically says she is while trying to hide her tears. When I discuss him, she says (cut out of the letter) he has no one else and he would do the same for her (which is not true, historically). Its heartwrenching. She called me once, a few years ago, and burst into tears saying she wants to leave him, is miserable, knows he’s ruining her life and taking advantage of her, just saying really hard things for me to hear. I told her I’d be there the next morning to help her move and find a new place, whatever she needed. It was a huge breakthrough. The next morning, I called her to ask how she was today and tell her I was leaving soon. She said she just had a really bad night, didn’t mean any of it and was fine. She has never again told me anything like she did that night. It scared me and we all basically staged an intervention that did nothing but likely make her feel bad.
Another time we were on vacation, and I said (hoping to open her eyes a bit) that I was so jealous that she was at a point (she’d just lost a job and dropped out of the masters program) where she could pick up her life and go anywhere she wanted and do anything she wanted (very possible as I know and she knew this would have been bankrolled for her). I mentioned my dream of traveling and studying abroad. She shut me down immediately. It was sad because I know she’s not happy. I relaly believe she’s brainwashed by him.
I’ll try the neutral nod more.
JK July 5, 2012, 3:19 pm
How old is your sister? I don´t remember having seen that detail in the letter or comments. I would guess early 20s, but she seems to have done a lot to be that age.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 3:22 pm
JK July 5, 2012, 3:25 pm
Ah ok. I don´t know why I pegged her as the baby of the family. Thanks.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 3:29 pm
No, I think that you reminded me of something though. Things got worse for her around the same time the baby of the family got into a top ranked medical school. While I was extremely proud and happy for her, I’ll admit I felt a bit inadequate compared to her accomplishment, so I imagine Nancy did too.
6napkinburger July 5, 2012, 3:21 pm
What was the masters program in? And what industry is her (recently lost) job in?
AKchic July 5, 2012, 3:58 pm
At this point, I think she knows how bad things are for her, but she feels trapped. Ed reminds me of my 1st husband, and yes, brainwashing (as you put it) is something that happens. An abuser (and what you’ve described of Ed, he sounds like an abuser) will tell their victim/girlfriend/wife/live-in/partner that they are worthless, that they can’t make it on their own, that they can’t handle life without having them (the abuser) around, that if they try to live without them (the abuser) that things will get worse (they’ll lose their apartment, the abuser will get sick, they won’t be able to manage the bills, the day-to-day cleaning, etc), and will tell them that they (the abuser) as nobody else and that by “getting rid of” them (the abuser) it’s abandoning them like “an unwanted animal” and they would be homeless, they would be friendless… and trust me, these types will go to great lengths to appear pitiful/pathetic. They will leave all of their belongings in the apartment under the guise of “I have no place to take it” and then try to live on the street right outside of the apartment, they will live in the closest shelter, they will make sure to update the now-ex about the “horrors” of the street life, and pretend it is all happening to them, or say they are staying in a shelter when they are living with a friend or family member in order to get pity and a chance to get back into the home they once lived in, and a chance to change the ex’s mind.
These types are the epitome of manipulation. It’s how they survive. He not only resides with your sister, he is firmly living in her head. Until her self-esteem is boosted on a regular basis and stays elevated, she isn’t going to get rid of him. It sounds like she is depressed (and who wouldn’t be with someone constantly telling you that you’re worthless and can’t function as a normal human being without being “helped” by a big strong man like him – which is what these types do), and so what may help is getting her treated for her depression and outright paying for her depression treatment. Whether that’s counseling or medication (and having the pills dispensed by someone else or somewhere else, like a neighbor or a medication management facility), that’s up to you as the family.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 4:13 pm
How do I suggest therapy though? Everything you’re saying is pretty accurate I think.
BettyBoop July 5, 2012, 6:12 pm
I would go to your sister and tell her “It seems like you’ve been unhappy/frustrated/sad a lot and I know you don’t want me meddling in your life. Can I please help you by paying for some therapy so you have a chance to talk all of this out with a completely neutral party? I want to help you find whatever it is you want without being overbearing. I love you and I hope you’ll be comfortable accepting this as a gift not a judgement. Take some time to think about it and let me know what you need. I am more than happy to do all the research as well since I know you’ve got a lot going on.” It’s all about not judging, not telling and not demanding anything from her. Offer it with love, with the understanding you will probably never know how it’s going, and without judgement. It’s one of the kindest things you can do for somebody who’s suffering from depression.
AKchic July 5, 2012, 6:32 pm
I want to say that therapy is going to be a hard sell on your own. After you all have cut her off from cash, then the actual intervention needs to happen.
Ed has already and is actively undermining her on a daily basis, and part of that is telling her that therapy is not going to help her, that therapy is either a conspiracy of some sort (government, pill consortium, insert something else here), or that she’s such a lost cause or hopeless case that it won’t help her no matter what so the money might as well go towards something useful (i.e., HIM).
This is where the family needs to come in together and say that they love her and are worried about her and that they are concerned about her wellbeing. That the behaviors she’s exhibiting aren’t the typical, smart, responsible things they are used to seeing, nor are they the types of things they know she is capable of. Never say “disappointed”. Just concerned and worried. That you all want to help her. That you are there to support her in whatever decisions she makes because you love her and you know that she will make the best decisions for her. BUT, knowing that you all are possibly putting too much pressure on her, and that Ed may be putting too much pressure on her, that you are willing to pay for a 3rd party for her to be able to talk to in order to be able to have a neutral sounding board for herself, with no judgements.
Hopefully, she will agree. Tell her that you guys will agree to say it’s “family gatherings” so Ed will never know that she’s seeing a therapist should she get worried about it. Don’t bring it up first. Also know that a therapist will NEVER discuss what she says without an ROI.
Skyblossom July 5, 2012, 3:03 pm
If you want to help the best thing you could do would be to pay for counseling so that your sister works through her own demons. Money for things like gas and clothes isn’t going to help her, it only enables her and the bf to spend more on drugs. It sounds like she has terrible self-esteem, which isn’t surprising if she is the dumb one of the family, even if she is quite bright. Her childhood memories are probably quite negative, full of a sense of being stupid and inadequate and not living up to her own family’s achievements. So now she looks around and says that everyone else was just lucky. In the sense that everyone else is smarter, then she is right that they are lucky. At the same time she’s ignoring the fact that they all worked hard and have been making responsible decisions which has nothing to do with being lucky.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 3:16 pm
Hard to read, but probably true. I’m not sure how I’d suggest therapy though without sounding like a judgmental asshole.
Skyblossom July 5, 2012, 3:31 pm
I really don’t know how to do that either. The only thing I can think of is if you are sitting and talking together in a nonjudgemental way and if you were able to ask if she was happy you could ask if she would like counseling. I know that includes lots of ifs. Maybe someone has a better idea.
MissDre July 5, 2012, 3:51 pm
I always felt like the dumb one in my family. I AM smart, but my brother is definitely way smarter. My parents were always very supportive of me and very encouraging, but I still felt like I was walking in my brother’s shadow. Everywhere I went, I had people telling me how amazing my brother is. The fist time I went out west to visit my extended family (it was the 1st time I met many of them) all they did was ask me about my amazing brother and tell me how great and smart and funny he is. Nobody really even asked me anything about myself. So, I can sort of understand how the sister is feeling. It’s not that anybody went out of their way to make me feel dumb, or that they supported him more than me, it’s just that when you’re the youngest and your older sibling is really smart, you always feel like you’re a step behind.
Unfortunately I don’t really have any advice, but LBH if your sister feels like the dumb one of the family it’s not necessarily your fault or anybody’s fault, so don’t beat yourself up or let anybody make you feel bad. I see how much you love her. I agree that counseling would be a really good idea for her to work on her self esteem and build up a sense of self, her own identity. How to bring it up, I’m not really sure.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 4:09 pm
MissDre, this is EXACTLY what Nancy would say. Exactly. While she is smart, our other siblings are insanely smart and everyone treats them like they are the second coming. Its not easy, even when everyone still is interested in what she’s doing or I’m doing, its not the same. People have actually joked that God asks them questions if he’s unsure about something. Its pretty ridiculous. I find it funny, and bring them back down to earth often while still bragging about them, but I’m a pretty tough person. I can only imagine how difficult that can be for her.
oldie July 5, 2012, 3:31 pm
In a large, space-out age-wise family, the younger sibs are part of the family, but really grow up in a totally different family setting than the older kids. The parents are a little more relaxed about parenting, the over-pushing that comes from worrying is less present because the older kids are turning out alright. The parents are a little worn out from parenting. The family likely has more $ available, so life is easier. The younger kids tend to turn out less Type A, be less forced to make it on their own, be more enjoyed for their friendly, loving, slightly quirky, charming, more free-spirited personalities.
I never thought of my 12-year younger sister as less intelligent than the rest of us, but was shocked when Mom just casually commented once that they were one-day confronted with the shock realization that ‘she is just as smart’. The parents were definitely less academically demanding with her. She definitely picked her own road and didn’t follow in our footsteps. She definitely had a better personality than most of us. In a sense, she may have been short-changed by having less demands to be driven placed upon her, but she is very successful, a wonderful mother, very happy, and has an altogether great life, still with the great giving personality. Somehow along the way, she did self-transition into being very driven. But, she definitely had very different parents than I did and all of us did look at her as the much loved little sister, because she was younger. And yes, my parents didn’t like any of her bf, including her now-husband. THe sibs were a lot more supportive and did push back on our parents. Her bfs were all just fine. My parents had become more out of touch with the current generation, and were also more protective of the girls.
I wonder if LWs sister really did agree with her assessment of first bf. Certainly, right after a breakup, every ex is a complete shit-head. He really doesn’
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 3:34 pm
Hmmm. Interesting. The odd dynamic we have is that me and my older brother cant act like the parents a bit (not always by any means), moreso than my parents do.
Caris July 5, 2012, 3:50 pm
Wow, what a shitty situation :/ I am so sorry this is happening to your sister lbh.
Only thing I can think of is stop enabling her by giving her money like others already mentioned. I would tell you to not criticize her bf in front of her, cause it doesn’t do any good but you already know that.
Is there any chance you could convince her to maybe move nearer you w/o the bf tagging along?
(She def has low self esteem issues, in a way she sounds like my mom: She knows the bf is bad for her but she still stays with him for whatever reason. Even my mom’s therapist told her to dump the toxic bf, but she refuses to listen.)
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 4:02 pm
I’ve stopped saying things about him to her, but I have continued to say things like – Has he been able to find any jobs lately? You say he’d do it for you, so is he helping with all your bills now? I guess still obvious, but not direct. Should I stop all of it? I feel like those questions might serve as a wake up to her and how crappy he is.
We have tried basically everything to get her to come home, or closer to home. Even got her a job that pays in the very high 5 figures. Not interested. I actually do understand that. We were so supportive and proud when she bravely moved far from home to the place she loved being as a kid. I think its a big point of pride for her at this stage, aside from the bf being there whom she would never leave.
Caris July 5, 2012, 4:29 pm
I’d stop asking her those questions too. At least with my mom they don’t work, and she gets all defensive about it. :/
BettyBoop July 5, 2012, 6:19 pm
ABSOLUTELY stop making any negative comments about the boyfriend. Stop saying anything that could be construed as negative about the boyfriend. It just puts her in position where she feels like she’s stuck between her family and the one she loves. It doesn’t matter that you know better, you can’t tell or show her that. Your best bet is to simply ask how he’s doing and pretend your happy to hear that everything is wonderful. Lying sucks but, in this instance, it serves the purpose of not insulting your sister by way of her choice in men. You’ve already said your piece, anything further just encourages the view that she can’t do anything right.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 6:26 pm
Ok. Thanks a lot. I’ll do this, not sayig it’ll be easy, but I really am seeing the connection between insulting him and me insulting her choice in men. wish me luck!
BettyBoop July 5, 2012, 6:54 pm
Forget the luck, you can do this!
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 4:20 pm
I had to laugh when I just compared this letter to the email I sent Wendy. It was extremely long so I can see why she had to cut a bunch out, but here is part of the original…
“was the least book smart so it was a great surprise that she was able to achieve this goal of hers to get into this particular college. (For the record, I hate to make it sound like I think any less of her but couldn’t think of a better way to explain the book smarts thing. In fact, she is someone whose traits I very, very much admire.) ”
So I tried to make it clear I don’t think she’s dumb or that we’re better than her.
“I feel as though Nancy stole from me, or at the very least, was deceptive in order to get extra money. It was very clear that I was giving her money in order to get here and back.”
And I acknowledged it could have been deception and not actual stealing.
Anyway, I’ll have to be a little more compassionate to the LWs I suppose 🙂
bittergaymark July 5, 2012, 6:39 pm
Even with the rest of the context, though, that line all about everybody’s “great surprise” really strikes me as incredibly condescending… Honestly, I don’t know how else to take it. Why not just say, “Even though she was least book smart of us all, she got into the college of her dreams making every one of us so proud…” The phrase “great surprise” is just so loaded with judgment and a lack of faith…
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 6:59 pm
Well fwiw the way you put it is how I wished I had. And not because it “sounded better” but bc it’s way more accurate.
valene July 5, 2012, 7:20 pm
If that was said IRL, it could have been interpreted as with pride. Does that make sense?
Skyblossom July 5, 2012, 4:27 pm
One thing I think you can do is shake the idea she has that everyone else just got lucky. Next time she makes a comment about how you all have things because you’re lucky you should just comment about how it wasn’t lucky to be unmarried and pregnant by a guy you would never want to be the father of your child. It wasn’t lucky to be in that situation and it wasn’t luck that got you out of it, it was hard work and determination. If others in the family have faced difficulties you can include their stories.
iwannatalktosampson July 5, 2012, 6:59 pm
LBH I just wanted to add a few more thoughts now that I have time and have read all the comments.
I think the counseling is a great idea – and whoever suggested discussing it over a bottle of wine was spot on. I have had some amazing break throughs with people after a glass or two of wine (but not 4 – it’s a fine line). She might have too much pride to ask for help – especially considering that all her other siblings are so self sufficient. But if you break down her walls she might be more likely to reach out.
My second thought is that siblings are ALWAYS compared to each other – and it really sucks. I am the youngest and people always compare me to my older brother. He is 3.5 years older and I graduated college only 9 months after him. School has always been a breeze for me (well not law school but that’s another discussion) whereas he had to try really hard and even take some classes over – but he’s an engineer – which is WAY harder than my finance class load. Anyway now that we’re out and he owns a nice condo downtown and pays for his own vacations and is stable the tables have turned – now in the real world I’m the mess. I didn’t like being the “more successful” one and now I don’t like being the least successful one. Everyone is on their own path in life and it’s important that she not feel that the only way to be successful in life is to be a doctor or lawyer.
That last discussion wasnt really advice – but I just hate how successful families always have so much pressure on them – even thiugh y’all are just trying to help her reach her potential it can be really overwhelming. Where does the rat race of life stop? Is it after she is a doctor with her house paid off and 2.5 kids and a dog? I guess this just hits home because it’s something I struggle with. Like people think I’ve arrived but I don’t know I just don’t know when I’ll feel content and at peace with my life.
Anyway its obvious how much you love her – and I think y’all are doing the right things – but at the same time you might have to back off for a while until she can figure out who she is and who she wants to be on her own. 🙁
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 7:08 pm
Thanks Iwanna. You’re totally right about the comparisons. And I’ll never enjoy it. I hated when I was young single and pregnant next to my brother who was doing well and I hate now that I’m ok and it’s making my sister possibly feel like shit to the point that she’s not only not happy for the ones who are doing well, but worse, thinking she sucks. I gotta back off. I never have completely. I get way too involved in all their lives. I’ve whined before on here how they all ” left me” to pursue their dreams. How selfish is that? Anyway, writing in helped. I’m going to try something new and just be there but butt out!
ele4phant July 5, 2012, 7:02 pm
You need to stop enabling your sister. She’s not a child. If she wants to live her life this way, she’s a grown-up and gets to make that decision even if you and your family don’t like it. But like any other adult, she needs to live with the consequences of her choices. So stop bailing her out. I know, you love her, and that’s can be hard. But constantly helping her out of her own messes isn’t helping anyone. I know you’re worried about this guy abusing her, but you can’t force her to leave if she doesn’t want to.
Speak your piece. Tell her your opinion, then butt out and let her deal with her own fuck-ups.
And if she ever does come around and gets herself together, please think about how you treat her in comparison to your other siblings. She’s the least “book smart”? You were all surprised that she got into college much less graduate school? I can’t imagine how being treated like the dunce of the family would make you a happy, well adjusted, and confident individual.
lets_be_honest July 5, 2012, 7:12 pm
Good advice. I’ll say it again though, I was surprised she got into her reach school. Hell I was surprised I graduated high school, that doesn’t mean I think I’m an idiot. Treating her gently and making it seem to her like we thinks she’s dumb are two extremely different things. I like to think I’m sensitive to her and have gone out of my way to beer make her feel like just bc she isn’t Einstein like someone of my siblings are (seriously) that I don’t think she has just a many assets as they do.
ele4phant July 5, 2012, 7:33 pm
Yeah, I posted before I saw much of this had long since been addressed. And I even before I saw the updates, I didn’t think you or anyone in your family was literally treating her like the idiot. My family has gone through similar stuff with my younger brother. Despite being blindingly intelligent he and school have never meshed. He’s been unfocused. He got deep into a pretty rough scene for a while. He dated some crazy, I mean CUH-RAZY girls. And every time he flunked out of school, or couldn’t make rent, my parents were there. With a money and a lecture. My other brother and I also treated him like a child. Like he couldn’t handle his own choices, and when he’d screw up (again and again and again), we were all disappointed but unsurprised.
Eventually, with some coaching from someone else in our extended family who had dealt with much worse issues, we stopped. My parents stopped giving money, and my older brother and I stopped giving sanctimonious lectures, and we waited. And it was haaarrrrdddd. Things didn’t change over night. I don’t think there’s anything worse than watching someone you love drown while you just stand there watching from shore, metaphorically speaking
But you know what? We all came out the other side. He joined the army (which truth be told was somewhat alarming to us at first, but we were the new us so we didn’t try to stop him) and he’s doing great. He’s doing really well there, he loves what he’s doing, he has goals that he’s chosen himself and is working towards, and he’s happy and self sufficient. Its everything we ever wanted for him, but we just had to let him do it himself.
Its hard, really hard. But you have to back off.
Kristina July 5, 2012, 7:49 pm
I’ve been thinking about this letter more, and since I made a rushed reply at work earlier, I just thought I would add more. When someone needs money and they don’t have the means of obtaining it easily, they often lie. Your sister is not a bad person, but the lying is a manipulative instinct. She can’t exactly help it in her clouded judgment–not saying that it it’s okay either–she’s being resourceful in her mind. It likely makes her feel better to get money this way than the traditional route of directly asking, and it makes her feel less ashamed. It appears that your sister feels helpless in her own life and that she can’t make those changes, and having been there myself, and having watched several other people self destruct like that, your sister is right. She believes it, and therefore is unable to make those necessary changes. As much as you and your family can help uplift her spirits and support her without enabling her, it’s likely that nothing will change until she hits rock bottom. I think that’s okay and when she is *ready* for change and for a new beginning, she will know that her family is there for her because they have supported her emotionally. You and your family can help her believe that she is *not* helpless right now, but until she sees and it believes it herself, nothing will change. Money is a temporary fix and it allows her to dig herself into a deeper and deeper hole with herself and her relationships with her family. It also appears superficial. Family members are eager or willing to throw money her way to help her out and help her get back on her feet, but throwing compassion and the energy to support (not enable) her is paramount. She will definitely notice a difference in that too, which could ultimately really help her in the long run.
And in terms of being sensitive about her being not as book smart, I think what you’re doing may hurt. In most cases, handicapped and disabled people want to feel normal and be accepted like the rest of us in society. They don’t want special treatment just because they may be in a wheelchair. They don’t want to stand out, because in their eyes, they already do. They try to blend in with the rest of us. Your sister likely knows she stands out from her family, and she probably doesn’t want that. As much as people like to claim how unique they are, people so desperately want to fit in and be ‘normal’. So don’t go out of your way to be sensitive to that issue. Of course, don’t be rude, but be happy for her accomplishments for what they are, *not* because it is she who achieved them.
For the record, I didn’t think your letter was harsh nor did I think it left the impression where you think you are better than her. It’s obvious you care a lot about your sister and helping her get back on her feet.
ele4phant July 5, 2012, 9:05 pm
“And in terms of being sensitive about her being not as book smart, I think what you’re doing may hurt. In most cases, handicapped and disabled people want to feel normal and be accepted like the rest of us in society.”
I think you’re right about this. My family and I took *great* pains to be aware and sensitive of my younger brother’s difficulties with school, particularly compared to my older brother and I, and now we know that all that gentle handling and shielding made him feel like he stuck out worse. We all felt terrible, that of course wasn’t our intent.
No special treatment. No extra sensitivity. You may feel like you’re being kind and doing favors, and its certainly coming from a loving place, but its anything but. I wish we had figured that out waaaaaay sooner.
Addie Pray July 5, 2012, 7:53 pm
For what it’s worth, lbh, I’m kind of surprised anyone could have interpreted this letter as anything other than you loving your sister and truly wanting to help her. …
ele4phant July 5, 2012, 9:12 pm
For what it’s worth, I think lbh isn’t being anything other than a loving sister and truly wants to help her, too.
Its just based on my own family experiences with a similar wayward sibling, I think she needs to change her approach. Not the love behind it, just the way its being expressed.
Leroy July 5, 2012, 11:15 pm
I’d simply read this as coming from a protective sibling. A lot to the inferences being drawn, regarding LBH’s motives, are off the wall. I suspect that what’s gotten her in trouble here is that she’d provided too much detail, probably hoping to cover her bases knowing the forum, and inadvertently turned her letter into a Rorschach test.
lets_be_honest July 10, 2012, 1:18 pm
Minor update: We spent a few days together this weekend. Went up to visit her. We met at another family member’s house near where she lives and stayed together a few nights there. Didn’t say anything about the double dip. Asked how her boyfriend is doing, said hopefully we’ll get to see him next time (as he was absent the entire time, as usual). Talked about her new job. I basically let her lead the conversation and supported any positive ideas/comments she shared, and nodded and smiled with the other things she said. When I couldn’t fake it, I very casually got up with the excuse of needing to grab a sweater and silently screamed my frustrations at my SO, who would just calm me down. All in all, it was a really nice time with my sister who mostly acted like the sister I’ve always known and loved. She was very appreciative of our treating her to lunches and dinners (had we not, we wouldn’t have enjoyed as much time with her which is the most important to me). At one point, we were shopping and she commented negatively on my spending habits and I just said I’ve been really good about saving and finding deals lately. My SO suggested we not go shopping with her in the future as she may feel like its a little “rubbing it in her face” and maybe making her feel sad that she can’t treat herself to things like I can. I agreed so we’ll avoid that now. Maybe its better for her to see how nice it can be to treat yourself if you act responsibly with money, but I’m sure she’s already well aware of that. My SO also made a point of being near her when he had to deal with work so she would see its not all fun and games, but hard work too.
fast eddie July 5, 2012, 7:58 pm
Enablers are just that and her family is doing her a disservice by continuing. The parallels to alcoholism are ragingly obvious. I’d let her know that your on to her and future funding is not available. Kiss off the money you gave her and NEVER do it again. She’ll never stand on her own feet if you and the family keep bailing her out. Just like an alcoholic she wont make any changes until she bottoms out. That will be hard to watch but it’s the only way that change will occur. A visit to an Al-Anon meeting would help you discover strategies to deal with this.
Meredith July 5, 2012, 10:53 pm
I think you really do have to treat your sister like a family member with an addiction. Your whole family is enabling her, as I know you know. You have to agree together to all stop the enabling and stick together. It doesn’t mean you don’t love her, it means you love her so much you no longer wish to play a part in extending the cycle of “addiction” if you will. You have to allow her to hit rock bottom in this terrible relationship/lifestyle she’s gotten herself into. It could take six months, it could take forty years. It will probably get really ugly. You’ll want to rescue her and bail her out, but don’t. She is an adult and she has to figure this out herself. It doesn’t mean cutting her off or not having a relationship with her. Shower her with love, but no more money. Oh, and speaking from experience, talking badly about the boyfriend will only drive her away. You need to protect yourself and your heart too, bc if you continue to emotionally invest in her life the way you do, you are in for a world of continued hurt and heartache. If she calls you up and starts telling the latest story that gets you riled up about what a loser boyfriend is and how she’s throwing her life away, stay really neutral, avoid emotional responses or obviously prejudiced statements. Say stuff like, “Oh wow, that sounds rough, I’m sorry you’re going through that.” or “How does that make you feel?” without interjecting your own opinion on how she should solve the problem. This approach will help you be able to hang up the phone without feeling like you’ve just ridden on an emotional roller coaster. Hang in there. I “lost” my best friend of 20 years to an abusive boyfriend. We still talk, but she lost who she was a long time ago, and I lost my lifelong friendship. She’s still with him after 7 years, but I’m able to continue a sort of relationship with her and not feel like I’m put through the ringer after each call.