I think my sister is delusional
April 16, 2010 5:06 AM   Subscribe

DTMFA-filter - but she's my sister. Advice and/or anecdata needed, please.

I am the second-oldest in a family of four daughters, one son, all of us grown. My youngest sister, D4, got married last month, and the next oldest, D3, was head bridesmaid. At the reception, D3 got very drunk and announced to various people that our mother used to physically and verbally abuse her.

Word quickly spread within the family, and our mother was devastated -- understandably so since, as far as we know or remember she was never abused. Sure, we all got yelled at, whacked with a wooden spoon when we did something really bad. But this was 20-30 years ago, in a culture where that was normal (never mind that it's not now).

Now, a month later, I've received a CC of a letter D3 has written to our mother, declaring that:
1) she will never apologise for what she said at the reception
2) she was abused, not only by our mother, but by me and my older sister
3) D4 was a witness to the abuse

Our mother and all the sisters received identical letters today and quickly called each other. My stepdad called D3, got her voicemail, and left an angry message, while our mother has been crying all evening. I spoke to D1 and D4, neither of whom can recall any abuse, verbal or physical, that goes beyond sisterly teasing and fighting. I can't see any way that our antics as kids could be considered abuse. Since D3 states D4 was a witness, I figure this effectively nullifies much of the letter.

But I have this horrible sick feeling, and it's damaging our family severely. We are almost all married with children, and D3 has, until the wedding last month, been a great aunt to my kids, a supportive and loving sister, and in regular contact with our mother, as they live in the same town (D3 and I are in other towns, not physically close).

D3 also has, I think, a drinking problem (her father is a severe alcoholic) but denies it. She binge-drinks regularly to the point where she starts fights and evidently makes these crazy claims. I don't know whether we need to get her to address the drinking first, or the contents of the letter. I half-suspect narcissistic personality disorder or something similar, some desperate attempt to get attention. She claims in the letter that she's seen a therapist, but D4 spoke to her soon after the wedding and at that point she said she'd spoken to her GP only. I doubt she's actually spoken to an kind of counsellor as such. She obviously has mental health issues but I don't know where to begin. Mostly I'm hurt, sad, confused, angry and I feel betrayed by my sister, obviously, because I thought we had a great relationship. I want to make this better.

Other things that may clarify her state of wellbeing: she will often tell us stories that make her sound really put-upon, martyred, or in which she describes herself as the best at something, whether it's her job, her sports, or relationships. In the past she has hosted Christmas and Easter at her house and puts tremendous effort into making them fantastic, planning table settings and activities to the nth degree. She thrives on approval and on being the best sister, the best daughter (it seems to me). She has had a few boyfriends in the past, but my family noticed that after a couple of years, she would start bullying and verbally abusing them until they got fed up and left. Her current partner is a great guy, very patient, and I think they may well stick with it. D3 and I were hypothesising today that since she's not bullying him, she needs another outlet.

So I suppose, after this long and convoluted story, my questions are these:
1) Do I respond to the letter in any way to state my side of the story? Would it be a bad idea to give her attention?
2) She has effectively removed herself from communication through email, facebook, and isn't answering her phone. Should I just...leave things alone? I feel like she's dragged me into it by naming me as one of her abusers now. Do I sever my ties, which means she has no access to her nieces/nephews? Will that make her rethink what she's doing?
3) What on earth could cause someone to make these sorts of claims? How can she be convinced they're false, when she seems to believe them?
4) Does anyone have any anecdotes of similar situations that will help me feel like this is something that can be resolved positively? Our mother is going to move from upset to angry very quickly, and there may be no chance to save the relationships after that.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1) What would be the point? She believes what she believes (or at least says she does) and I'm sure the rest of your family, who are also accused believe you too.
2) If she wanted to be contacted, she'd be contactable. She's not, so stop trying. She effectively severed the relationship when she accused you of these horrible things. Of course, I wouldn't want anyone who would say such a thing around my children (if I had any). Why expose them to the possible crazy if it can be avoided. The kids will have questions, but they'll get over it.
3) It's entirely possible she was abused. Maybe not by the people she says, but by another person who took care of her when she was young. It's possible that her memory is faulty. Memory is a fragile thing.
4) You can't control your sister's actions. All you can do is control your reaction. I wouldn't engage her until and unless she admits she lied about you.
posted by inturnaround at 5:35 AM on April 16, 2010

I'm sorry that this is happening to you. Unfortunately, your sister sounds like a drama monster. Do not feed the drama monster! Things only escalate: words get twisted, buttons get pushed, angry reactions get escalated. If your relatives ask you about the incident, firmly insist on the truth and drop the subject; don't bring it up on your own.

It's good that you have family members sharing this experience. They're the ones you should go to to hash this out, discussing this with uninvolved relatives is just likely to amplify the drama. Also, talk to a therapist if you want some perspective on your situation and help plan things to say if you want to be prepared if your sister directly confronts you.
posted by Alison at 5:46 AM on April 16, 2010

I'm not sure how helpful this is but:

- My wedding was a small affair, with my wife's family being 4 times as big (divorced parents who remarried and had kids), so we limited it to parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles (no cousins, second cousins, friends, etc)
- The day of my wedding, about three hours before, my aunt comes to my door and yells at me until I cry about not inviting her kids to the wedding and how she can't believe I would be such an asshole
- They immediately go pack their bags and drive back to Michigan (from Dallas!)
- I haven't spoken to them since (6 years ago)

The collateral here is the kids, as I grew up with them and of course would have loved to have them there, but logistically it didn't make sense. We didn't speak for a long time just because of awkwardness, but recently I've been reaching out to them, met up with one when I was in DC for business, talk to the other on facebook.

I guess my advice is: she's crazy, and there's no need to stick around crazy if she's attacking you, assuming she has a support system. She's obviously delusional and angry, and as such, irrational, so I think there's nothing to do until she calms down or you can speak on a more relaxed level.
posted by CharlesV42 at 5:47 AM on April 16, 2010

1) Do not respond to the letter. You have no upside in doing so. She is fishing for a fight and you would be biting the bait. Hooked is not the position you want to be in.
2) Wait. Do not severe ties, but do not proactively make any plans until either this is resolved or enough time passes that you will not be an emotional wreck when you interact with her.
3) The reasons someone does this are so many and varied that we cannot know. You cannot and will not convince her she is wrong. Either she actually is right by her standards or thoughts or she is not, but will not come around until she gets mental help. SHe should if she is right or wrong. Either work to get past the abuse or find out what is really troubling her.
4) This appears to me to be a case where the only resolution will come with time. My father and his father did not speak for many years over what I do not know. I do know that when my grandfather got sick, my father visited him in the hospital and all appeared good after that.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:47 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) don't respond - validating this will only make it worse.

2) Leave things alone, anything you do or say will only have the effect of making you feel shit, and her feel shit too, probably. You're not responsible for her emotional states or choices. Don't forget! Your kids etc will probably feel a bit shit, depending on how you act about it, but they might not. Kids have fights with siblings/friends all the time; they understand about it.

3 + 4) My brother sounds a bit like your sister. He's a bit of a fuck up (less so now, but still a bit of a fuck up) he's had a chip on his shoulder the size of a frigging mountain for years. Feels that he was incredibly hard done by, singled out, ignored, had it tougher. Seemed to have a completely different childhood to us other three siblings. Except, he didn't. I was there. We were all there. He was treated no different to the rest of us, i.e. not perfect - naturally, but good enough, damn it.

He has hurled all kinds of accusations (not abuse, but not much too far short of it) at my parents and siblings. Hurtful things. Mean things. He has "borrowed" thousands of dollars from my parents that they will never see again (a privilege not extended to the rest of us, not that we would have asked). He has not shown up, made scenes, abused my poor grandmother's trust.

My parents, and - to a lesser degree - my other siblings, have beaten themselves up over the years. Could these wild accusations be true? Are we monsters? Why would he say/do such things, be such an outlier compared to us other three? Explanations tossed up have included closeted homosexuality, drug abuse, etc etc.

Perhaps because I'm the youngest, and perhaps because I was the victim of an earlier, whole other level and type of damage from him, I like to think that I came to a realisation about my brother that my other family members have slowly been moving to over time:

He's not addicted to drugs, he's not in the closet. He wasn't a victim, he didn't get special treatment. There's no secret, that if only we could crack he would interact and particpate in our family like everyone else does, like he should, like a normal person would.

The reason he does everything he does, is that, basically, he's just a bit of an arsehole. Like most arseholes, he's not an arsehole all the time. He can, indeed, act quite nice on occasion, but fundamentally at the end of the day, he's just an arsehole. The world is full of them, it's not that surprising that we got one in a family of six.

So what do we do? Lower expectations. Don't depend. Take what you can get, and accept for some of us. For others (me) take even less than that and don't think about it too much. Make sure you and everyone else is as protected as possible, emotionally speaking. Reassure your parents, your siblings, that they did do a good job. They are okay. Sometimes, people are just arseholes. And don't lend them money.

I feel for you, good luck. Everybody will deal with it slightly differently, but they'll all adapt. Don't take on responsibility for your crazy sister's emotions and behaviour.
posted by smoke at 5:53 AM on April 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this.

Unfortunately, you'll probably never get any answers out of your sister which will be even remotely satisfactory. If you go down the path of engaging with her on this topic, she'll twist things around and more ugly drama will result. Protect yourself and your children. Support your other siblings and your parents. Walk away from your sister who is claiming abuse and being confrontational about it. In time, if she gets the help she needs, she may approach you again. Then again, she might never.

My mother's sister made similar claims and all the siblings deny any abuse allegations. My aunt was always kind to us kids until my parents divorced. Then the crazy got bad. She's since attempted to kidnap the three of us kids, declaring that Mom was unfit. She kept her daughters away from my sister because my sister's mental retardation "might be catching." She's threatened to kill her own granddaughters. She's also manipulated extended family members into believing that my mother would abuse my grandmother before grandma passed away (nevermind the fact that there was no contact between then since the kidnapping attempt). The list goes on and on. Even without contact, the crazy still seeps into the family.

I am sorry. But having seen the destructive impact such behavior has on generations of family, I seriously think you're better off not engaging with her. What do you have to defend yourself from? What side of the story for you exists beyond "Your claims are false. We never did what you're claiming."? Someone here once pointed out to me that we should live our lives so that such claims against us are proven to be wrong. Good luck.
posted by onhazier at 6:01 AM on April 16, 2010

1. There is no point in responding to the letter. Engaging her in a letter writing battle will NEVER end with good results. Best case scenario would be that nothing is resolved. Worse case scenario would be that she will misconstrue something in one of your letters that adds to her feelings of abuse and/or give her ammunition for later battles.

2. She has severed your ties, and contacting her will do no good until she is ready to talk to you again. If you feel compelled to let her know that you still care, a short email/phone message/snail mail note could let her know that you do, but anything beyond that would be pointless. I would deny her access to my children when not in my presence, so that you know what is being put into their heads that you may need to deprogram or nip in the bud.

3. What Inturnaround said.

4. Getting totally wasted at your sister's wedding and spouting accusations at your family seems like a very loud cry for help. I would encourage her to seek counseling for her alcoholism if nothing else. I suspect that if that problem were addressed it would cause a magnifying glass to be put to the rest of her life/her beliefs and bring a lot of truth (and yes pain and suffering) to the light to be dealt with. Her relationship with your mother is completely out of your hands, you have no power to make other people work out their issues.

Do you have contact with her SO? Perhaps he could be brought in as an ally to get her into counseling. Whether he believes her or not, whether the abuse is true or not, this is obviously a woman in a great deal of pain who could benefit greatly from some time on the couch, and possible medication. If she has been abused, this will help her work out her feelings and direct her anger in the proper direction. If she truly think she has been abused but was not, this could help her come to terms with the truth. If she is only seeking drama, then she will have someone who is being paid to listen to her vent for an hour, thus providing the attention she so disparately wants while hopefully providing at least a modicum of thought on her part about her actions and how much her drinking is controlling her.

I think the important decision you have to make is whether your relationship with your sister is worth saving and how much effort you are willing to put into it. You are the only one who can make that distinction. Either way, I would push her getting counseling as the best way to begin resolving this situation.
posted by CoffeeDregs at 6:10 AM on April 16, 2010

My dad is the oldest child with four younger sisters. The three oldest children suffered physical, emotional, and some sexual abuse at the hands of their mother and father. The second to the youngest suffered physical and emotional abuse. The youngest was treated like some kind of miracle and not only was she not abused, but she was spoiled.

About fifteen years ago the youngest caused problems by claiming abuse that never happened. It caused a lot of problems and heartache in my family. After that she made false legal claims about her husband. None of my family speaks to her any more (except equally crazy grandma), not even most of her own children.

I don't know how you want to handle this, but I have to recommend cutting your sister out of your life. If you want to contact her SO and let him know that the letter was deeply hurtful and that she shouldn't contact you again I would understand, but I don't think you should engage with your sister. If this is the reality she has made for herself, whether through mental illness or not, I wouldn't give her any more ammunition for her war.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:16 AM on April 16, 2010

1) Just ignore her - she's being a drama queen

2) I doubt it will make her rethink what she's doing but I don't think I would want my (hypothetical) children around someone who accused me of abusing them - what if she tries to convince your children that you're abusing them too?

3) While its possible that she's just plain delusional or she doesn't actually believe it and she's just making drama - its also possible that someone new in her life (the boyfriend maybe) has convinced her that the "normal" yelling , being hit with a spoon and sisterly teasing amounts to 'abuse'. Different people have different standard of what they think is 'normal' in terms of discipline. I'm nearly 30 and where I'm from I don't think when I was growing up it would have been considered acceptable to hit your child with a spoon so it may not be that she's making it up or making references to occurrences that you have no memory of but that she's re-framed these events that you do remember, as abuse - probably through the influence of a 3rd party who had a very different 'normal' upbringing.
posted by missmagenta at 6:56 AM on April 16, 2010

Forgive me if I missed something in your question, but have you actually spoken directly to your sister about the abuse she says she suffered at your hands? Do you know exactly what incidents she's referring to? Is it possible that although you, yourself, can't recall any "abuse, verbal or physical", that some of the "sisterly teasing and fighting" hurt her more than you realise? As an only child, I witnessed many incidents of (perhaps quite normal) sibling teasing/bullying/torture/abuse which are probably now remembered very differently by the participants. I know many siblings who differ in their interpretation of such childhood altercations. For example, two brothers: one of whom believes he was horribly beaten by the other for the best part of eight years (and had a broken arm at one point to prove it), while the other insists it was never more than normal brotherly roughhousing. After a period of estrangement, they worked it out and are now closer than ever.

It's also possible for a parent to treat one child more harshly than their siblings without anyone really picking up on it at the time. My mum was beaten and verbally abused (or "yelled at, whacked with a wooden spoon") by her own mother much harder and more often than her two brothers ever were. The brothers didn't realise this at the time, and their mother never admitted it, to herself or to anyone else. Does that mean my mum's making the whole thing up? On the contrary, it's just another example of the Rashomon of Family Life.

I guess all I'm saying is that I don't see enough information in your question to completely dismiss your sister as a drunk, mentally ill, unreliable fantasist. Maybe she is these things, maybe not. Either way, it's still possible that her experience of childhood events is different to how the rest of the family now remembers them. You may find that simply listening to her grievances and acknowledging that her experiences are valid—even if they differ from your own remembrances—goes some way to resolving the situation. Or maybe not; maybe she really is delusional. I just don't think you can leap to that conclusion without at least listening to what she has to say, with as little defensiveness and prejudgement as possible. You say she's not answering her phone since she received the angry voicemail message from your step-father, and that's not unexpected. But if/when she's ready to talk to you, see if you can give her a chance.

It may take time. It may not work. You may be right, and her complaints are nothing more than "crazy claims" from someone with a "personality disorder". But genuine listening is almost always a good first step towards reconciliation.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:28 AM on April 16, 2010 [16 favorites]

What you've outlined really seems to fit this pattern:

1. Do something obnoxious, objectionable, or rude.
2. When confronted, turn it back on accuser by claiming they did something worse, or that they are a bad person for bringing up your shortcomings.
3. Turn it into an issue about how family, friends, or significant others are to blame.

I've seen it before. The only way to resolve this is to not engage your sister on these claims. If you can interact with her in other, more normal ways, do so with caution. But if she tries to get you to react to anything like this, especially emotionally or via argument, back away. Politely say you have to go and hang up the phone, leave her place, or do whatever it takes.

If she asks why you're acting like that, tell her that you believe she may have a problem. Whatever you do, do not allow her to start a conversation about this point. She needs to be the one to take the next step, and no amount of talking about it will likely convince her. She knows what she's doing at some level.
posted by mikeh at 7:39 AM on April 16, 2010

On preview, I see hot soup girl n I are on roughly the same page.

Maybe you need to hear her out - find out what she feels was 'abuse' and whether what she remembers, no matter how 'crazy' it is, of your behaviour was hurtful. You are dismissing her outright and that is bothering me a bit. If she's been a great aunt, has a good relationship and it took her many drinks to get to the point of saying something difficult, then took the time to write it out in sobriety - well I'd listen.

It may be dramatic or libel you - and you may be right. How do we internet strangers really know about how harmless or harmful your natal home was? In my experience of four siblings, we barely have common memories even though we shared the same house n parents for a few decades. My brother recalls things that I think are total bullshit, but he's adamant and has diaries etc. I recall my dad being an utter drunk, falling all over the place vomiting and hassling my mother, but my sister can't remember him drinking at all. I recalled being belted weekly with a strap, but my dad says he didn't lay a hand on me my entire childhood. I watched my sister get beaten and kicked by dad and she can't remember it happening - even though she was in her teens. My sister thinks my account of the family is ridiculous at times, but hers seem equally preposterous. Who knows with families? I also know that sibling dynamics are significant and that siblings play shitty games that really hurt.

'Abuse' is a very loaded term and it's hard to decipher. I probably wouldn't leap to the conclusions you and others here have about her making this all up. Things are more complicated. The anecdotes about the bullying of significant others in your sister's relationship history seem to me to support the idea that she did experience some kind of trauma in her development. It is interesting that her relationship with this new guy is stable and that you perceive her 'bullying' you instead of her lover is an 'outlet'. I dunno, maybe she is finally angry at the right people and not at the proxy provided by her lovers.

I thought this from Mikeh

1. Do something obnoxious, objectionable, or rude.
2. When confronted, turn it back on accuser by claiming they did something worse, or that they are a bad person for bringing up your shortcomings.
3. Turn it into an issue about how family, friends, or significant others are to blame.

was an interrogation of the OP's methodology rather than the sister's until I read further. Interesting.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:51 AM on April 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

She's either a liar willing to tear your family apart, or she's deluded and cannot accurately tell reality from fantasy.

Either way, this is not someone who should be around your children, for their saftey.
posted by spaltavian at 8:20 AM on April 16, 2010

Months from now when this all plays out... If you and/or your kids still have a relationship with this sister, be extra certain that there is no alcohol present in any of their encounters.
posted by CathyG at 8:26 AM on April 16, 2010

Interesting. This is essentially my interaction with my family, but I'm your sister. And sober.

One person's normal childhood is another person's abusive childhood. Maybe she was treated differently. Maybe she's more sensitive (I know I am a sensitive person who is able to tolerate much less yelling, anger, etc. than a lot of other people).

Either way, she maybe has a drinking problem or a psychological problem. You truly think she's sick. Why not be nice to her?

If she is a good person, aunt, and sister, then keep treating her that way. Tell her you love her no matter what. That's generally a good default behavior when it comes to family members.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:33 AM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Also--please don't be offended by this--your family is making her out to be the "sick" one, but from your description, your mother has been married/partnered at least three times. That's not to say that she is a bad person, but it does indicate that your sister is not the only person whom your mother has a hard time getting along with.

Nor does it indicate that your sister's relationship troubles stem from some sort of personality defect that is abnormal for your family. Is your mother capable of being a bully? Did she bully your sister and use her as her "outlet", as you see your sister using her partners?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:37 AM on April 16, 2010

In situations where bad things did occur, it's not unusual for most family members to claim it wasn't that bad or didn't happen, and to blame the person who brought it up. So, the fact that you don't consider anything that happened to be all that bad could mean it really was not all that bad, or it could mean that she has come around to seeing it differently. What I want is for you not to lose touch with this sister and aunt to your children, if possible. I'm afraid that would happen if you just paint her as totally deluded. I'd encourage you to approach this with an open mind and a willingness to hear her sense of being hurt by other family members, and even to acknowledge hurtful things that you may have done. If she has some mental illness or is completely delusional, that will become apparent over time. (I don't think you can diagnose her with NPD on the facts you've given.) I'd leave a short cooling off period and then try to understand her view, just try to understand what hurt her; you don't have to agree it was "abuse." If some of my sisterly teasing was now even remembered by my siblings much less remembered as abuse, I would be terribly sorry and want to ask for their forgiveness, because I didn't mean to do any harm and I want us to have a good relationship. Then, if it turned out they were seriously delusional, I don't think I'd feel bad for having apologized.
posted by salvia at 9:27 AM on April 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'd second what other commenters have said, after stepping back and really thinking about what was said. Hear her out. Ask what you can do. I glossed over the fact that she'd been a good aunt/sister until this recently came out, but it sounds like there's definitely more here than meets the eye and her suddenly switching to being confrontational is the issue. If there's anything to take from what I said earlier, without judgment, is this: There is nothing useful about yelling back at someone who's emotionally distraught.
posted by mikeh at 9:48 AM on April 16, 2010

Read up on some personality disorders - Narcissistic and Borderline, as well as Bipolar Disorder. Many people recommend Stop Walking on Eggshells, which is on my to-be-read pile.

My mother was an alcoholic, probably with Bipolar Disorder. My sister can be characterized as Narcissistic, Borderline and/or Bipolar. Psychiatric diagnosis is imprecise. A psychiatrist friend of the family agreed with my assessment, on an informal basis. My sister has seen therapists, but she's very engaging and intelligent, and it's hard to know if a therapist has gotten beyond her defenses. Her version of the therapist's recommendations may or may not be reliable. Other members of my family have very credible reports of fairly extreme behavior, some of it causing harm or danger to others, though far from life-threatening. So, I feel your pain.

A close friend's sister made a claim that she was sexually abused by their father. Over 10 years later, the stories had become so slippery and contradictory that her family mutually agreed that the recollections were assisted by an over-eager therapist, and were not credible. During that time, her parents suffered tremendous emotional anguish. Fortunately, there were no police or lawyers involved.

At one point, my sister insinuated very strongly that her ex-husband sexually abused their child. She no longer makes this claim. She has stated that our mother beat her in a manner that I do not find credible. Her versions of past events is quite fluid.

Search your memory for anything you want to apologize for. Ask your siblings to do the same. Think long and hard about her behavior, and decide for yourself how credible her reports are. Perhaps a really well-trained, highly skilled family therapist/psychologist could meet with the family as a group. Such well-trained and skilled practitioners are difficult to find.

When my sister behaved quite badly to me, I wrote her an email where I summarized the events, and asked her to please seek professional help. I love my sister. She can be loving, fun, interesting. She genuinely, deeply, wants to be a truly good person, and works hard to make herself a good person. But sometimes, the crazy gets the better of her. I limit my interaction with her to times and places where I feel safe (long story shortened: she physically threw me out of her house during an ice storm when I was already ill, because I described something as over-sensitive.)

Understand that your sister believes what she's saying, and that any credibility given to her strengthens her belief. Any emotional response to her feeds her emotional turmoil. She is terrified of abandonment, rejection, disapproval, and being wrong. She's incredibly sensitive to any comment or behavior that she perceives as hurtful. The world is a terrifying place where the people she loves hurt her and reject her. However, she may be incredibly unaware of how her words and behavior affect others, because she believes them and feels justified. The more you can be calm, unemotional and avoid her tangled logic, the better. She needs you and your family, despite what looks like rejection.

I'm so sorry you and your family are going through this, and that you are being put through so much public shaming. I believe that a compassionate, and no-bullshit-tolerated response, while not easy, is also the best response to attempt. Good luck to all of you.
posted by Mom at 10:44 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, I am sorry you have to go through this.

I am usually an advocate of the fact that adult children are not responsible for their parents or their siblings, and if those parents or siblings are abusive then it is acceptable to cut contact. If that is your choice then I would understand and not judge you harshly.

However, your post seems to indicate that this is really the first incident, not a pattern of problems with a long history, so I suggest trying something different.

Maybe instead of giving your side of the story, you reach out to your sister. Maybe a private letter to her along the lines of "I am really sorry for any heartache or problems I caused you when we were younger. I hope you know that I love you, and I would love to work things out. It hurts me to know that you feel this way, and that you didn't feel like you could bring this to me directly. Please contact me, so that we can do whatever is necessary to work through this." I know that would be hard to do, and that this opens you up and makes you vulnerable. And if she attacks you, then you know to back off and let her be. But at least she knows you are there for her.

But it is very likely that she will contact you. And maybe you can talk this through with her. And work it out. That is what you want, right? To work it out, and be a happy family again? Do not worry about assigning blame, or "winning" the argument. Just try and get your sister back. She knows what is right, but maybe she is depressed or going through problems and is too proud to admit she was wrong. If you don't make her do that, if you save her pride, you have a greater chance of getting her back as the good sister to you and wonderful aunt to your kids.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:23 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I read your post again to see why there's a buncha folks suggesting major diagnoses of mental problems and jumping on your bandwagon without careful scrutiny. We tend to take the OP's word for it in these questions but really, shouldn't we scrutinise someone whose title for this post is DTFMA about her own sister? A sister whose infraction seems to have been to 'announce to various people' [who?] she experienced beatings with objects and yelling etc. Did she get up and make a Hollywood film announcement with a microphone or did she, in the course of a conversation with a person, or small group of people, compare notes on childhoods and say, oh yeah our family got hit with the wooden spoon and yelled at'. Instead of talking to her, this situation escalates some pejorative conclusions, not loving inquiry. There's so much 'then I rang this sister/checked in with this sister/then dad rang' drama, dismissal n wailing [not to mention this dramatic askme post for drumming up more support] since the wedding, I am not surprised she took the route of an email.

Now she's a binge drinker. Now, aha, her relationships were all flawed, now there's a recasting of her Christmas efforts as needy [rather than generous effort] and this whole 'best daughter' thing as 'martyr' actally sounds like you are all in the race. [Martyr=now she's bullying us! with an email! In which she says we bullied her!] In all this recast of her character and with the wailing, indignation, DTMFA attitude and the dramatic angry questions at the end of this post, I'm not quite sure whether we are calling the right person a martyred narcissistic drama queen. I don't think we have the right, nor the whole story, to suggest that the sister needs medication, alcoholism treatment, shunning etc.

If you can admit that there was some aspect of treatment that wouldn't sit well with you now, or with your own children - listen to her. I think Internet Fraud Detective has some useful points to consider - there's more wailing and hysteria from the 'she must have a mental disorder' family members than from the sister.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:26 PM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

For the purposes of this reply, I'm going to take what you've said on face value. In other words, I don't know if there's not some secrets, nor do I care. It's not the place of AskMe to challenge you on that.

If what you say is true, what you're hearing is somewhat a cry for help...and even more a cry for attention. This is something of a no-lose scenario for her now -- either everybody runs to her, showering her with declarations of eternal love and importance, or everybody shuns her, and now she can complain to everybody else.

The best you can do is be uninteresting, unexciting, and lame. Love her. But let her be.

Warning: Memory is VERY fragile. At the point you've made a big social play based on it...it becomes a real memory, even if it was just a cry for attention. It may get very elaborate. I'm so sorry for you and your family.
posted by effugas at 1:03 AM on April 18, 2010

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