I feel betrayed because whenever she needed something or someone, I was there. She met her friend, a 42-year-old man, a couple months ago, and he doesn’t know about the state of her mental health. I was glad she had made a new friend until I was slapped with the accusation that no one (my other siblings and I) have ever been nice to her. One day she complained that I don’t ask her how she is. Then I asked her, and she said she had had to beg for it and could do without the attention. I asked her again, and she brushed me off.
I have an insane schedule, but I make time for her every day. Maybe she’s right that I don’t ask her enough how she is, but I thought she would be able appreciate my actions if not my words.
She finally says she wants to end it all, but her friend is the only reason she keeps going. Now, I don’t know where I went wrong or how I neglected her, but that really hurt me. Like: “I’ve been with you for years, but nothing I ever did was good enough.” I would really appreciate some advice on what to do or how to make sense of this situation. — Sister in Crisis
I can imagine how hurtful your sister’s words must be and what a slap in the face it is for her to credit this new friend, and only him, for basically saving her from suicide instead of for her to show you appreciation for always being there for her. It’s important to remember though that her words and actions are a reflection of the state of her mental health and not her true feelings for you. And like everyone, you can’t control her behavior; you can only control your reaction to her behavior.
So how do you react in a way that continues to support her while also honoring your needs and the boundaries that are important for you to have in place? I would say something to her like, “It’s hard to hear that you think I’ve neglected you as I have actively worked to support you. Obviously, my actions have fallen short in your eyes and I’m sorry to hear that. I can’t promise to be perfect, but I want to support you and it would help me if you could articulate how I can better do that.”
Her calling you out or being passive aggressive in naming this “friend” as her one true savior is really just a call for help, so when she does that, try to separate your own hurt feelings from her mental health. Put them in a little box to be dealt with later, and continue to assert that you want to support her, and that you believed you were supporting her, but that if she has needs you aren’t meeting, then you want her to express what they are and how you can better meet them.
The likely case is that your sister has needs you simply cannot meet. It’s not your job to be her therapist or her doctor or to help manage her mental health. You’re 20 years old with limited life experience and a future of your own you’re pursuing. It’s ok – it’s healthy and necessary! – to create some boundaries when it comes to your sister. It’s ok for her to say she needs X, Y, and Z, and for you to say, “I can happily do X, but Y and Z are beyond what I can offer. But I love you, and to the best of my ability I will help you find the resources to address Y and Z.” And if that’s not enough for your sister, you can feel confident that this isn’t your failing. It’s not your failing because it’s not your job to be all things for her and to meet all her needs.
I hope that you can give grace to both yourself and your sister. It’s not her fault she lacks the ability right now to maintain healthy boundaries and relationships any more than it’s your fault for feeling hurt by that. You are both existing inside limitations that make fostering a close sibling relationship challenging. Those limitations may change or they may remain rigid in the place they are now. But your happiness and well-being should not be dependent on your sister’s well-being or on the relationship you’re able to foster with her. You need to continue pursuing your own joy, your own fulfillment, and your own friendships so that YOUR needs can be met. Because your needs are just as important as hers.
Sometimes, when we love someone whose mental health is unstable, it’s easy to make that instability the center of our relationship. I hope that in time you can find (or remember) connections with your sister outside of simply meeting or failing to meet her needs. I hope there’s a space for her in your heart where love can thrive. This may mean actively making that space with strong boundaries that are built with “no’s” and deliberately shifting energy from defending yourself to pursuing your own happiness. Even if this space isn’t one she actively or readily wants to share with you, it will be a well of love you can access when you need it and when you want to connect with positive memories of your relationship.