Tell Me About It

My sister preys on people’s weaknesses, and causes nothing but trouble

Tell Me About It: I am sickened by the injustice and recently stopped visiting

PROBLEM: My sociopathic sister has caused nothing but trouble in my family since she was a child and my mother refuses to confront it.

She presents herself as everyone’s friend and fixer, but behind their back she undermines them and their relationships with each other with lies and vendettas. She preys on people’s weaknesses, so they go along with her, especially my mother who is dependent on her. I and another sibling often call her out on her lies and troublemaking. She retaliates by isolating us from family get-togethers, and has made up horrible things about us to relatives and friends.

She coerces loyalty with favours and her money. Dad is dominated by her and my mother. Now, old and sick, he stays quiet and goes along. Her husband was a lovely man, but he became an alcoholic and left her. Nobody has ever challenged her on how she contributed to his demise and I doubt anyone will. I am sickened by the injustice and recently stopped visiting which makes me sad.

I can’t bear the way she glorifies herself, or watching my mother cover up her appalling behaviour by comparing the favours she does versus the rest of us.

I miss seeing my lovely sweet Dad but at this point I feel unwelcome.

ADVICE: You sound consumed by your sister’s behaviour and in spite of the fact that you have stopped calling to her, you continue to suffer. Everyone seems trapped in a pattern of behaviour that leads to unhappiness and while you cannot change other’s actions, you can do something about your own approach and attitude.

It seems from your letter that your sister lives with your mum and dad following her separation and this has intensified your (and at least another sibling’s) hurt and outrage at her behaviour. However, if you stop for a moment and think about the situation, you might come up with a different approach. Your dad clearly needs your attention and love at this time of physical deterioration and to deprive him of this is cruel to you both.

The reason you are so angry and resentful is that you care enormously about all this – after all, this is your family

Has it occurred to you that people who attempt to dominate and undermine are, at heart, themselves full of fear? It seems that your sister has to put others down in order for her to feel worthwhile and she “glorifies” herself as she may feel that if she does not do this she will not be seen as worth anything if she is simply herself.

It may be that your mum does not challenge this as she sees the vulnerability behind it; indeed, your sister has been left by her husband and at least one of her siblings, so your mum’s fear could be very real.

It may also be that your sister has learned this behaviour from your mother as she too appears to be very insecure.

If your mum were to challenge your sister’s behaviour, she would also have to own these patterns in herself. In reality, you are dealing with fear and insecurity and patterns of behaviour that are life-long.

Your dad’s way of dealing with this is to lie low and hope that things improve without any intervention from him.

Unfortunately, he is now bearing the consequences of this approach as his voice and needs are not being heard and he takes on a victim persona.

The reason you are so angry and resentful is that you care enormously about all this – after all, this is your family. Could it be that your attempts to broach the issue with your sister come across to her as having sprung from anger, blame and a desire for punishment?

Can you accept her as she is, rather than be so disappointed that she is not the way you think she should be?

If so, perhaps you should not be surprised at her inability to take on board what you are saying. She is hardly going to ask you how she can be a better person while you are listing her faults. Your sister has clearly suffered too, she has been abandoned by her husband, both by his drinking and his leaving, and it seems that you are following this example.

Is it possible for you to see that she needs help, even if you are not the person that this should come from?

Can you accept her as she is, rather than be so disappointed that she is not the way you think she should be?

This is not to say that you accept her lies and deceits, but it is possible to correct these things without dismissing the whole person. The reason she lists her favours to others is that she is trying to convince herself that she is a good person. Could you model this for her, for example, how to have faith in your own worth and not need to prove it all the time?

You do not need to be endlessly triggered if you understand the underlying issue. Reinforce anything from her that is genuine and try to wait for opportunities when she might be open to some real discussion. This may take some time but, with perseverance, it will happen.

Your family needs to prioritise love and care and this may be your biggest contribution; commit to caring for your dad and show the power of love to overcome blame and resentment.