I recently relocated near where my older sister lives. I come from a large, two-generation family with 17 years between the oldest and me, the youngest.
The younger siblings didn’t grow up with our narcissistic father. My mom had left him when I was a baby as he was abusive, detached, unkind, and had had many mistresses.
The elder kids have obvious scars from growing up with him, and difficult personalities.
My mom is kind, generous, and never bad-mouthed him.
Money was extremely tight, but the older kids were very demanding. I spent much of my youth trying to please them (therapy has taught me this).
I don’t let my siblings’ wants and needs dominate my life anymore. (I’m in my 40s).
That’s harder now, living close to my sister. Last year, she told me that it was my fault our parents split up!
She acts selfishly, is obsessed with her son, and often tactless trying to control others.
I try to see her once a month or two (which we both want), but she keeps doing upsetting things.
Examples: Not coming to see our first house, not inviting us for Thanksgiving meal while we were living out of boxes, inviting us only during my toddler son’s nap so he won’t “annoy” her teenager.
I need to set really distinct boundaries, which upsets her.
I don't know how much longer I can take it. My husband and friends see nothing wrong with cutting her out of my life, which is very tempting.
But I also don’t want my elderly mother to have to work around this conflict when she visits.
I need better ways to cope with our interactions. I’m too busy for therapy again, with commuting, work, and caring for our son.
Set those boundaries. You’ve gained good understanding of the family divisions.
She is who she is – and may even have a link to her father’s narcissism either through the trauma of his difficult personality or if there’s a genetic link (not scientifically certain).
If she refuses to accept your limits – these don’t have to be unkind, just protective of your family’s needs – then you’ll have to distance yourself further.
Your mother will understand, since she apparently always has.
Comment - I wrote to you a few years ago because I couldn't stand that my spouse was drumming on everything.
The noise was driving me crazy, so badly that I was going to leave.
Then I read a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.
This book has completely changed the way I look at others and myself. As an introvert and highly sensitive person (HSP), I need to relax on my own, in a controlled environment, in order to feel recharged.
My spouse on the other hand, is an extrovert, and needs outside stimulation. He couldn't understand why the drumming bothered me so much.
So, for the boyfriend whose girlfriend's sniffling was bothering him: Like you said, the sniffling could be caused by a number of factors, but maybe the sniffing's not the problem.
It's possible that he’s sensitive to many types of noise.
Just understanding this concept has helped in the way I now balance my life. If I'm in a noisy store, I put my headphones on. If I'm at a party and start to feel overwhelmed, I can leave without feeling badly about it.
If the drumming starts, I understand why it's bothering me, and I can change the situation.
FEEDBACK Regarding the young woman whose parents “nagged” her about safe-keeping for her medications while she travelled (Jan. 16):
Reader – “She should listen to her parents' advice.
“As a former flight attendant of almost 40 years, I always carried, and still do, a list of all my medications and vitamin supplements. I also carried my medical history and a list of my doctors.
“I never travel without a copy of my credit card, health insurance card, driver's license, birth certificate, and several copies of my passport.
“Remember to include the telephone numbers listed at the back of all those documents so the issuers can be reached in case of loss/theft. Also, carry them separately from your actual documents.
“Most important: NEVER PUT ANY MEDICATIONS IN YOUR CHECK-IN BAGGAGE. They should always be placed in your carry-on. This is a standard airline recommendation, in case of loss or theft.”
Tip of the day:
When childhood divisions still create adult conflicts, set self-protective limits.