Should I break up with my narcissistic sister?
May 13, 2012 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Estranged from my sister because of her wedding and personality. To make this right or cut off my narcissistic sister.

My sister and I have been estranged since 2008. I am four years older than her. We're in our 30's. At this point, though we have superficial conversations (which is a step up from the hostile silence of the past three years), I am fairly ready to the throw in the towel. I am tired of her. I don't think we can recover from our history, or at least that I've exerted the control over which we could. I am also too hurt by her hatred and the way she has attacked me about my adult onset disability. Sometimes I think she is a sociopath. This all started because of her wedding.

She met her fiance at my wedding. They were a groomsman and maid of honor. They had a blossoming romance and ended up both moving to the Big City where my husband at the time were living. My sister wanted us to have lot of "girl time" which she fantasized about having with a sister -- both of drinking champagne and shopping. This is the happiest I can remember our adult relationship being. Thing is that I was beginning to be very ill. I was beginning to need tube feeding in my arm. My husband at the time was beginning to be very eager to divorce me for being ill. He'd already ask me for an open relationship. I was in the hospital from Thanksgiving until New Years that year. My sister had no interest in visiting me in the hospital (she didn't once) and definitely not interested in supporting me as I was left by a husband.

In fact, she insisted we both remain in the wedding party. I don't know whose planet that would have worked on, two acrimiously separated people in a wedding party. My divorce lawyer didn't want me to be in casual contact with my ex and didn't think I could go to the wedding , something I conveyed to my sister. In the end, my ex went, was in the wedding party and I didn't even attend. I just couldn't go at the time; we were delivering each other legal papers. Hashing things out. Communicating through lawyers. It was awful and painful and I'm glad that friends fed me soup and let me cry cry cry. I forgave her for doing that, and letting my ex get that dig at me, -- but the thing is, she doesn't think she did anything wrong. She thinks that's the whole problem, that I betrayed her by not going to her wedding.

She wants me to apologize for missing her wedding if we are going to be friends as adults. I just.. ugh... I *never* expected an apology from her; I thought it would just be behind us. That it was best to never speak of it again; she had been young. The first thing she addressed when we got back in contact was: MY WEDDING. YOUR RSVP IS LATE. When I've pointed out the ridiculousness of expecting me to apologize for not attending, that I couldn't have made another decision, and asked her what she would have had done in the same circumstances (you know, like in a rational discussion), she has been slightly wavering, but has then returned to this strident, bullying position, almost offended that she was tempted to reconsider. I don't know if she's interested in listening. I am not cowed by her stridence. I just don't want to be around it, so we slip back into estrangement. (Asking her to drop it has been unsuccessful, especially now that she knows it bothers me.)

I'm chronically ill. I'm feeling mortality nipping at my back lately. My sister, a medical professional, has been a major source of spreading disbelief about my illness in my family -- about an illness I don't even have. (She denies this, even though I have received identical reports from multiple family members describing her education efforts. When I catch her red handed she just acts sort of indifferent.) This weird axe she is grinding has cost me a lot of family support and caused a lot of skepticism toward me in my family. It isn't cool that my sister is using her position as a medical professional this way because of her grudge about the wedding -- and has been for years. I am housebound and have a reduced lifespan. It has been hard to lose my family because of her poisoning the well. She also regularly urges me (after years of immune suppressives and specialist treatment) to get psychiatric help in order to become undisabled (I have a psychiatrist and a therapist, thank you, always have, it doesn't work that way). She will not respect boundaries about this.

Some part of me wants us to get along and make up -- partly because I have more of a sense than ever that there's not infinite future to make up in. Some other part of me knows she is horrible and that just can't happen, not on any tolerable terms. She does not seem to feel guilt and feels so much entitlement. It seems like meeting her halfway would be meeting in a bad place. Can this sisterhood be saved? How do I cut off a narcissist if not? Ever had to cut out a sibling? It's so hard not to keep trying. We live thousands of miles from each other and she's averse, so counseling for both of us is not an option. Therapy for me is already happening. Book/web/etc recommendations welcome.
posted by sweltering to Human Relations (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, my God. I have a feeling you'd tell your best friend or anyone else to cut this abuse off IMMEDIATELY, sister or not. Regardless of her relationship to you, your sister is toxic and harmful. Please extend yourself some kindness and stop putting yourself through this. I am so sorry.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:59 AM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cut your losses. I have a sister who sounds very similar to yours. After giving it one final try, I finally just have it up as a bad cause. I still send her kids birthday/christmas gifts but that's the extent of it. It's a bit hard on the rest of the family but it's so much nicer for me. No drama, no guilt, no nuthin'. It's awesome.

If there's a research organization for your medical condition you might want to point your relatives in that direction - it might help counter some of the misinformation your sister is spreading.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:07 AM on May 13, 2012

My situation is not as dire as yours, but it is two formerly close sibs, my brother and I, and it does involve a major family life event, the death of our mother. The last time we spoke must've been 2008, too, and it involved me asking him some patient questions and him seething with anger and for the next year or so, things were very strained. The last time we talked, he was just as vicious as ever (prior to this our relationship was fine) and the way I left it was: when you can talk to me without insults or anger, give me a call.

Like you, there are times I think I'd like to just patch things up, and I too am the older sib. Bottom line, though, I don't think I have to make this right for him and since he still has such feelings towards me (we have another brother & sister, so I hear things), I guess that it would be me apologizing for something I didn't do, so I am in no hurry.

Too long of a story short, I agree with those who posted before me that you aren't losing anything by not having more to do with your toxic sister.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:15 AM on May 13, 2012

Best answer: You have a big heart. And, It's natural to want to improve relationships when you know that your time is limited. But, your sister has done a lot of terrible things to you. She appears to be selfish and lacks empathy or concern for others. She didn't visit you in the hospital, she fails to understand your perspective, she takes advantage of her medical background which in itself is unethical, and she has overall made life worse for you.

I don't think this relationship can be saved. There is a lot of history that's just difficult to move past, especially when there are so many negative memories. Also, your sister lacks the ability to empathize with you and seems very selfish. You have already tried to work on this relationship, but it's been very one sided.

I'd recommend cutting off contact by removing her out of your life via all social media platforms. Don't call her or text her. Don't return her calls. If you really want to, you can tell her WHY you are doing this. You can say that you wish her well while asking her not to contact you after reading the email. That's up to you of course, but doing even this might result in her responding and saying statements like "what about me, look at how much pain you've caused me!"
posted by livinglearning at 9:41 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sometimes it's just like this. Clearly you don't want to have a relationship with this toxic monster. So don't. You have my permission.

As a chronically ill person, you need peace and tranquility. Yes, your sister is being a dick in giving mis-information to your family. You can't change her behavior. You can only change your reaction to it. If your family is siding with her, it's probably because that's what they want to believe. It's hard to face a sick relative and it's easier to believe that they aren't really sick.

It's hurtful, but you don't have to cut off your family. Continue to see them, on your terms and don't discuss your diagnosis with them. It's none of their business. If you need their help, ask for it, appreciate them when you get it.

As for your sister, don't do anything dramatic. Just don't respond. Don't answer calls, don't email, don't look at her facebook. When you meet at family functions, keep things perfunctory. When drama occurs don't engage. Leave early if you have to. It sucks, but after a while your family will see that you're doing your best, and she's clearly antagonizing. Or they may never see it, but you won't be subject to tantrums, or hassle, and that's the most important thing.

Some people are just not healthy for us, you sister isn't healthy for you. It's okay to divorce her. It's more than okay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:44 AM on May 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

I cut off my sister just over a year ago after she justified allowing her dog to bleed to death over 24 hours by saying she had no money, at the same time as she'd just booked a £3,000 trip to the Barcelona Grand Prix. This was the final event in a lifetime of outrageous behaviour from her that convinced me she is a toxic human being and I wanted nothing further to do with her. Throughout our lives she's been narcissistic, entitled, selfish, manipulative, and I decided I didn't need her in my life any more.

I don't miss having contact with her at all. For me it's been a very positive thing to not have to listen to her lies or deal with her crap any more.
posted by essexjan at 10:09 AM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

You've forgiven her about the many things she has done to hurt you, with or without realizing it, and are ready to move past them. She not only does not recognize this, but is demanding an apology for an imagined slight against her. If she can't get over that without forcing you to apologize, then . . . well, that's it. You've done what you can, you cannot do any more. Leave it alone, you don't need her in your life. Maybe she'll become more reasonable in time, and honestly seek reconciliation. Maybe not. But until she does, there isn't more you can do.
posted by Garm at 10:10 AM on May 13, 2012

Cutting off your family is not something to be done lightly - although it can be necessary, or even healthy, for periods of time. My ex-girlfriend's Italian uncle once told me, "your family are your arms and legs". I think there's a lot of wisdom in that, that's easily forgotten in individualistic cultures. And he should know, following his example all the members of his staunchly Roman Catholic, large family had become Buddhists. A remarkable man.

Here's the thing: nothing in your description of your relationship with your sister tells me that either of you are "selfish", or "toxic". Just that your needs have conflicted, communication has faltered, and the whole thing has festered. Sure you need time out. But don't convince yourself yours is the only viewpoint. It isn't. Some people have no choice but to distance themselves from genuinely abusive family members. Otherwise, just remember ... they're your arms and legs.
posted by iotic at 10:12 AM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: "...I'm glad that friends fed me soup and let me cry cry cry"

These people are your family now. Maintain good contact with your friends; they seem to "get" you. A blood relationship does not make a true family, and never has.
posted by BostonTerrier at 10:29 AM on May 13, 2012 [19 favorites]

If I were you I might write a letter to my family, the same letter for all of them, which read something like this:

Dear Family,

I'm writing because there seems to be a lot of confusion in the family about my diagnosis of _________ and what that means. I want to be sure everyone has the same basic information about what it means for me and my health, and also for you. In the first place, __________ is/is not genetic/multifactorial -- this means that my close relatives are/are not at increased risk, there is/is not a genetic test, etc.

___________ causes (technical biological details), which lead to the symptoms X Y and Z. Treatment so far has included A, B, and C. My prognosis is such and such. I realize this is upsetting; there are support groups for family and friends (such as

I understand that this is difficult to talk about, but I wanted to make sure everyone had the same understanding of the situation with my health. If you have any further questions, please ask -- I may not be up for talking about it at the time, but I find that in the long term misunderstandings are even more exhausting.

With love,


* * *

The point being to cut off a lot of her toxic gossip off at the root. And yes, I would call spreading lies about a family member's medical condition toxic gossip.
posted by endless_forms at 10:37 AM on May 13, 2012 [31 favorites]

Oh, and I'd send them snail mail. Email opens itself up to a big CC:all conversation including your sister, which is NOT what you want.
posted by endless_forms at 10:44 AM on May 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

The kindest interpretation I can make of your sister's behavior (which might or might not actually fit at all) is that she cannot stand to feel that anything might be wrong that might affect her. If she makes you bring your nearly-ex-husband to your wedding, well, that means that your divorce can't be so bad, right? It sounds like she is in complete denial about your health, whether it's because of her freak out over the change in your relationship (and it sounds like potentially losing you) or the reminder of her own mortality.

It sounds like she relates to things as she wishes they were instead of as they actually are - regardless of how destructive that is to the people around her. At her age, this is probably not going to change.

It sounds to me like you need, at least, a break from the relationship with her. It seems plausible to me that at some point you'll have the inner space and leisure to maintain boundaries for some kind of superficial relationship with her that isn't hurtful to you, but that's not what you need to be concentrating your time and energy on now. It's up to you to deal with the sister you actually have and not the sister that you wish you had, and the best thing to do for now might be to step back from her as far as you need to let her stop being a source of stress in your life.

I hear that it feels like there's time pressure on this because of your illness. But I guess that rushing won't actually help and could potentially hurt both you and the potential for any future relationship with her.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:57 AM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I really like endless_forms's suggestion. You might also think about authorizing certain family members (though explicitly NOT your sister) to talk with someone on your care team, if that feels comfortable to you.

Your sister is doing a terrible, terrible thing. The idea of undermining other family members' support for you while you're experiencing a life-limiting and potentially life-threatening chronic illness is just one of the cruelest things I have ever contemplated in my life. Who would do that? Of course you should continue to deny this toxic and cruel person a place in your life.

But I also think that one of the great things about endless_forms's suggestion is that it just cuts your sister out of the loop entirely. You'd be communicating frankly and appropriately and generously with other family members about your current health challenges, not getting into a back-and-forth with your horrible sister. That's a beautiful thing. Then it's up to them whether they want to stay in her soap opera or join you in reality.

And sometimes friends become a better chosen family than your family of origin ever could be. I am so glad that you have that source of support and love, especially when your family of origin is so easily swayed against you.

You will be in my thoughts. As someone with chronic illness myself (though admittedly a far less serious set of challenges than you've had to face, for which I honor you--tube feeding, yikes! you are a hero of the revolution for having to cope with that) I think you're handling this with immense grace and mindfulness. My wish is that you and the other family members can find a place of connection that feels supportive for you, whatever it might be, and that your sister will find all of her hallways filled with the spikiest Legos and that pigeons will shit from a great height on her head.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:22 PM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm dealing with a similar situation. While it is too painful for me to continue to reach out to the person in question in light of the mind-bogglingly selfish and cold-hearted behavior that has emerged in recent times, I still love this loved one, even though I sometimes wonder if pod people somehow absconded with the caring person I remember when nobody was looking. I know I always will love this person. My secret hope is that this is some kind of phase, something to be grown out of or sloughed off with time and the empathy that sometimes comes with finally experiencing a few of life's hard knocks yourself. And then maybe I can let the person back into my life for real. This is my hope. I don't realistically expect the behavior to change, though.

So the hard compromise I've made with myself is that I am keeping the distance I need for my own emotional well-being, but I try to keep the door open. This means gifts for holidays and perhaps the occasional email once in a blue moon. It's nowhere near the hours we used to spend on the phone or the visits we used to enjoy, which pretty much breaks my heart, but it's the best I can do.

If you think you might still want your sister in your life down the line, maybe see if there's a way to keep the door open that works for you. But your first priority should be caring for yourself and your physical and emotional health first. Hugs to you.
posted by anonnymoose at 1:18 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

She does not seem to feel guilt and feels so much entitlement.

It is understandable that a part of you wants to make up because you realise that you have limited time. But this sentence is the core of the problem. You have the heart and intention to put in all the effort to save this relationship but if that effort does not go both ways it is unlikely that the relationship can be saved. It is likely to eventually make you bitter and resentful. At the same time, this is not something you have to decide on at all either. You can mentally cut her off, without it sounding off like the declaration of independence. You don't have to write or tell her or your family members about it. Your emotional health is obviously your priority. You can just let those people in who are helpful and not think much about or have much contact with the rest. I know it is easier said than done but with her behaviour you are better off at a distance.

Sounds like you are blessed with some awesome friends. Not everyone gets that in life.
posted by xm at 1:45 PM on May 13, 2012

I can't imagine that dealing with this situation is doing your health any good. For your own sake, I think you should avoid your sister. Maybe not forever, but certainly for now. Don't make a big drama out of cutting off contact with her, just don't respond to her attempts to contact you. I wish you all the best.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 3:27 PM on May 13, 2012

nothing in your description of your relationship with your sister tells me that either of you are "selfish", or "toxic". Just that your needs have conflicted, communication has faltered, and the whole thing has festered.

Actually, I think someone who would feed the OP's family misinformation about her medical condition and continues to berate the OP about having missed her wedding is both selfish and toxic.

My ex-girlfriend's Italian uncle once told me, "your family are your arms and legs". I think there's a lot of wisdom in that, that's easily forgotten in individualistic cultures.

Sure. I agree it's ideal to maintain good relationships with your family, as it is best to keep all your extremities if possible. But if a limb is gangrenous, you should amputate before it kills you.

OP, your sister is being unreasonable and harmful to your health--it sounds like your friends are being supportive and that is what you need right now. It's OK to limit or put an end to the amount of time and energy you spend on your relationship with your sister. As others have said, it doesn't need to be dramatic, but do what you need to maintain your sanity. You need support and kindness, not a drain on your precious physical and mental resources.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:35 PM on May 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

You should definitely protect yourself via the letter to family as described above, and you should reduce expectations of how your sister treats you, but I'm not positive you need to completely cut her off. Does this follow a lifetime of cruelty and narcissism? Or is what's going on here is that you're seeking a way out of this stressful impasse? If so, I wonder if there's not a way that the core estrangement could be eased a bit to get you out of the impasse in a way that allows some kind of relationship to exist.

So, I'll talk about the wedding issue. I can see how charged this is for you, and I completely "side with" you, but I'll present a bit of her viewpoint in hopes that having it might help you find a way to reduce the tension or even just come to a deeper peace with yourself. If you really just want lots of support, and if hearing a different perspective will only be angering and stressful, you might want to skip this novel-length comment.

I can barely imagine what it'd be like to be discovering a disability and losing a husband. That must have been terrifying. And enraging. And to have your sister not show up, not take your side, and even make it WORSE?? I'd feel SO upset and betrayed. I cannot believe that she insisted that you and your ex- be in a wedding party during an acrimonious divorce. I have no idea why she didn't drop him from the wedding party. That's what I would have done. In your shoes, her keeping him in would've been incredibly painful to me. I'm able to write this in part by making up some fiction that keeps me from getting outraged at her.

So I start by pretending that there was some reason (however misguided) that she felt he HAD to be in the wedding party. It might be a dumb reason, like having a matchy-matchy set of people on both sides of the aisle, or "not letting you push her around for once," or that he had been in her life for so long. I just assume it felt like it was not an option at the time. And I could see then feeling hurt and angry that you would not attend. That makes sense, right? Everyone wants their family to support them at their wedding. On its face, this is a pretty understandable thing, that she'd feel hurt and angry that you did not attend her wedding.

Your way of seeing this is that you basically had NO choice in the matter, that it was all written in stone once she decided to keep him in. That's where my questions start. Was it really, really like that? The "my lawyer said not to talk to him therefore I cannot attend" reasoning doesn't quite make sense to me. Could you have gone and not talked to him? Lawyers help you figure out how to do what you want, for the most part. I can see it being inadvisable, but I can't see how it couldn't have been overcome. I think if your lawyer barred you from attending against your will, you'd be presenting a different set of questions to us ("should I have fired the lawyer and gotten another one? Having listened to him has changed my relationship with my sister forever! Was it really unavoidable??"). So, I think you made the choice here.

Yes, it would've been incredibly awful. It'd be six hours of exerting the utmost self-control to keep from breaking into a screaming match. You might've had to carefully control what you communicated to keep from disadvantaging your case. All this, at an already exhausting time. You certainly, and quite understandably, felt emotionally unable to do this, and angry at being asked to, especially in the context of not receiving other support from her. I do NOT blame you for your choice. But it was a choice, no? Was it not at least possible to attend in some limited capacity, maybe in a wheelchair, maybe just for a short portion, or maybe even by video camera? Could you not have participated more if you had wanted to be there with every fiber of your body?

The big question here for me is about how you're communicating with her about this. It comes off a bit like you have a very valid reason for your choice, but that you're hiding behind excuses rather than taking responsibility for a choice that really hurt her. I think doing so would go a long way.

You not acknowledging that you made a choice there raises other questions. Was it a pure intention like "I just feel emotionally unable to do this, it hurts me deeply to not be there for you, but I just can't, I'm sorry?" Or was the whole "uninvite him or I can't come" thing a bit of a power play? Was it that you wanted her to choose you over your ex (and I do NOT blame you one bit for that) since you were already feeling unsupported? But maybe she wanted you to choose her over your anger at your ex? Was it almost a contest about who cares about one another more, or whose big life events are more important? "My wedding is more important than your fights with Bob, just suck it up for one night," "No, this divorce and the illness causing it is my entire life, how can you put something trivial like having a matchy-matchy wedding party over supporting me here?" "no, my thing is more important," "no, my thing is." Was there even a bit of retaliation in your decision? I could see being VERY angry if a family member sided with someone who abandoned me when I contracted a disability and was acrimoniously divorcing me, hell yes. Was this in part to get back at her? If you did something to hurt her in return for the hurt you felt, it might help to acknowledge that.

I could also see that your refusal to discuss it now might make it hard as well. It kinda makes sense that it'd be easier for you to forgive. (E.g., if you did it in part to get back at her for her decision, well, now you're even.) And now your position seems to be, "I had no choice, she was outrageously wrong but young, let's just not speak of it." If someone had an attitude of "you're wrong but too immature to see how wrong you are, so I forgive you. Let's not discuss it unless you come to your senses, maybe when you're no longer so immature," that would deeply offend me. If I was angry and the person would not discuss it and dismissed my anger in that way, that would be absolutely infuriating.

Yes, you tried to discuss it with her. It sounds like you tried to have her see your side. (And be "reasonable." Ugh, sorry to say, but that word is so condescending.) So I'm not sure if she's completely unreachable, or if that conversation didn't work because you didn't acknowledge her side and just wanted her to acknowledge yours. You may have tried to acknowledge it a hundred times and just not mentioned it, but I can't tell from the question if you ever apologized or even validated her anger at all. Being angry and having the conversation stonewalled with condescending assumptions, she may find a relationship hard.

Did you ever say, "I'm sorry I did not come. I can imagine that from your side it must feel like I chose to put my anger at my ex- over you." Or -- I'm not sure that's the right thing to say, but did you ever sincerely apologize for the piece that you contributed to something that was hard for her? You could even explain it in the context of what you were feeling in general about her at the time, perhaps. Did you even do a half-apology thing to acknowledge how hard it probably was for her that you couldn't come? I might also help (if you haven't already) to explain how hurt and betrayed you felt, in a non-blaming way while leaving room to acknowledge that maybe it wasn't her intent to hurt you and you're not saying she's flawed as a person.

I don't blame you for being deeply angry and entrenched here. I'm not trying to say you are to blame here. I just can't agree that it's completely unreasonable for her to be frustrated about this. And I don't have enough information to conclude that she's a congenital narcissist with whom you'll never have a rewarding relationship again. You may have other information that supports this conclusion. But if it's just this impasse, I wonder if you couldn't work towards at least some level of a relationship.

Either way, you might seek something you can say with integrity, something that you'd want her to know. Surely given your thoughts of mortality, you don't want your communications to her to never go beyond: "yes, you're hurt and angry because I didn't attend a sacred ceremony in your life but I had to -- the lawyers were delivering papers." Maybe you could find the thing that you really want to say, even if she never acknowledges what she contributed nor treats you the way you want to be treated, and feel more peace about this one way or another?

Sorry for this full length novel, and I hope it's helpful rather than hurtful, given the difficulty of everything you'd dealing with right now. I know only the 1000 words you wrote about your life and your relationship, so please take whatever rings true and ignore the rest.
posted by salvia at 4:06 PM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

did you ever sincerely apologize for the piece that you contributed to something that was hard for her?

I seriously don't think that anyone should have to apologize for not wanting to be in a wedding party with the ex-spouse with whom one had/is having an acrimonious divorce.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:43 PM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I seriously don't think that anyone should have to apologize for not wanting to be in a wedding party with the ex-spouse with whom one had/is having an acrimonious divorce.

I do, if it's a family member.

I doubt there's a single wedding or funeral that doesn't include at least one set of people who loathe each other with every fiber of their being, often justifiably. You still show up if you can. If you just can't make yourself do it, you sincerely apologize for this awful, terribly contagious head cold, stomach flu and pink eye that suddenly came upon you and kept you from even making a token showing, not so much for yourself, but for all the people who would die if they caught even one of the diseases you have right this minute. It just wouldn't have been fair to them if you'd come.

And then you apologize again every time it comes up, even if your apology is utterly insincere. Otherwise, it comes across that your hatred of this stupid guy was greater than your love and loyalty to your family.

I doubt your apology would have been insincere, though- I suspect you regretted not being able to go, and was sorry you came down with an acute allergy to your POS ex. (If he hadn't been there, you'd have gone, right? Bummer that you couldn't. So apologize that life interfered.)

That said, the rest of what your sister is doing is seriously awful. I have people in my life who use their professional education to try to reinterpret the world in ways they wish it really was, and their reinvisioning efforts work best if they can convince other people of their deluded worldview. Then they get a feedback loop that supports their ideas.

I suspect she strongly prefers a universe in which your illness is self-imposed, rather than the actual universe which deals out losing tickets in the worst lottery ever. In the old days you'd would have heard that God was punishing you. These days you're not thinking positive thoughts, or possibly you ate a batch of non-organic strawberries. It's a particularly toxic version of the Just World Fallacy. I am sorry she's so terrified of your illness that she's spreading poison that she is, and I think calling her on it loudly and clearly every time you feel up for it is good for you, and anyone else in her sphere of influence. I also think shunning her is a completely reasonable and healthy thing to do.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:47 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

See, I disagree. I think the person who needs to apologize is the sister, because she was the one who created a wedding party with two angry people who didn't want to see each other in it. The ex-husband isn't part of her family.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:49 PM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't know how long the OP was together with her husband, but in our family exes are usually still family if they want to be.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:51 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess my point is that the ex isn't only the OP's ex, if he was in the picture any length of time. He was likely also a brother-in-law, a son-in-law and a friend of dozens of the people at the wedding, including either the sister or her new husband, since the sister met her new husband at the OP & ex's wedding. He's been connected to a lot of people for a long time.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:55 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

By that reasoning, the OP has been connected to those same people for a hell of a lot longer, so... not really sure why that has any bearing on the issue.
posted by palomar at 7:28 PM on May 13, 2012

Avoiding people who choose to hurt you is good self-care. Anecdata: I have a diagnosed narcissist in my immediate family, who I cut off after realizing that there was nothing good or healthy in that relationship. I do not regret missing the past 15 years of dramatics, manipulation, and lack of compassion. I definitely grieved that I could never have the healthy relationship with them that I desperately wanted. There was a rough 2-3 years between quietly stopping contact and having the rest of my family understand why no contact was a self-preserving/healthy/acceptable choice for me. You might be suffering the most from her behavior, where their brushes with the narcissistic aspects may be limited.

Be clear, not vindictive, and give the same short reasoning to everyone if they ask why your sister called them to see why you're ignoring her. Your honesty and consistency will resonate. She's not bad, she's just not good for you just now.

No need for a general announcement of estrangement, which would cause drama that you don't need. A paper letter with brief details about your illness will give your family the tools to make an informed choice about their level of support. Openness will also soundly shut down her whisper campaign. I hope they choose to be very supportive! You sound like a kind, forgiving person, living with very challenging circumstances, and you deserve to be surrounded by wonderful loving people!
posted by BigJen at 10:30 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your ex- is either a family member or best friend of your sister's husband. So it would have been helpful to have a discussion about why you felt you couldn't participate in her wedding. Maybe you could have simply attending the ceremony or made some other attempt to share your sister's happiness. She wants me to apologize for missing her wedding if we are going to be friends as adults. There's a different approach: I wish I could have been there and shared your wedding day. I was really sad to miss it.

Why break up with your sister? It will cause more drama. Be polite and distant.

Talk to your parents or other close family members about your illness, ask them to spread the accurate version, especially in terms of your much-needed emotional support. The drama with your sister isn't helping, so opt out. No need to write a letter of have any other declaration. save your strength for getting well.
posted by theora55 at 3:07 AM on May 14, 2012

I think your sister is scared shitless by your diagnosis, and is living in denial. I also think she is doing these incredibly painful things to you because subconsciously it is easier for her to cause an estrangement now - somewhere in her mind is a protection mechanism that leads her to think it will make it easier to deal with the inevitable consequence of your health condition.

Just my two cents.
posted by corn_bread at 6:54 AM on May 14, 2012

Best answer: Siblings are people you've known a long time, and spent a huge amount of time with.

That's a lot. But it's not a lifetime pass to be an asshole.
posted by French Fry at 7:55 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't need her being an energy vampire in your life right now. Cut her off without a backward glance, you have yourself to worry about. Don't engage in her dramas.

I like the idea mentioned further up to write an email/letter to all your family to clear up any confusion about your diagnosis and what it means and it will help head off the gossiping by your sister.
posted by wwax at 9:03 AM on May 14, 2012

Response by poster: If I had pressed at being in the wedding party, it is unlikely my ex would have gone to her wedding. Our divorce was at a pretty bad defcon; I had fled and not seen him since. I felt threatened and traumatized by him. He did not want to see me at all. I didn't have it in me at the time to press or play stupid cold war games with him about who would remain in the wedding party; I was sick and emotionally exhausted. I didn't have the money to file separation papers stipulating that he not attend, as was suggested to me, to avoid this with my sister. I thought I would let her decide, because the whole thing was just surreal to me. Being in the wedding party was my ex's dig at me - he hasn't been in touch with a relative, including sis and her husband, since. He always complained about my family and my hometown while we were together.

Many people in the family opposed my sister's choice at the time (given the divorce logistics) and my uncle even got up and spoke at the wedding about how inappropriate it was that I wasn't there. It was a pretty lousy forced choice, if it was a choice at all.

I don't know. I think I'm going to stick to just realizing that we're never going to have some deep accord or emotional honesty, because she doesn't have those kind of feelings. I listen to her talk about her patients and she is kind of... soulless? vicious? It really disappoints me. It does come from a lifetime of this semi-sociopathic kind of behavior and a very abusive background she has never gotten any help to deal with (and I, by contrast, have been in constant therapy for), but I have always thought she would grow up and be a better person, as the older sib, however condescending that sounds.
posted by sweltering at 4:42 PM on May 14, 2012

Sounds like you want your sister to be someone she is not. It's not going to happen. Especially if she has an abusive background that she doesn't deal with. You have two options. Accept her as she is, or not. She sounds a bit damaged, so it's not really reasonable to expect her to be an awesome older sister. I would look at her just that way, someone who, like you (but different) is ill, made so by her past. She can only give what she can give. Backing up and having a relationship that is a bit more distant can absolutely be done. Realizing that you are never going to have some made for t.v. sister relationship might be the healthiest and easiest way to go. Just as gentle and casual as you can. Back up as necessary according to her toxicity level.

Also, just if you like, understand that you can apologize for not being at her wedding. You had an abuser that was there, so it was totally justified as you may have gotten hurt, but you can still express to her that you are sorry that you had to miss it. Not being there for a good reason and being sorry about the circumstances aren't mutually exclusive. (be nice if she could apologize as well, but maybe you can imagine that that apology is living somewhere under her toxic protective behavior)
posted by Vaike at 10:25 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Want to do a shout-out as somebody with an adult-onset disability and family troubles:

Once I became disabled, I re-engaged with members of my family from whom I'd been estranged. I was at the time a professional with a good job with benefits, and I lost all that. I leaned more and more on my family.

Then I found that I was dependent upon them in a number of essential ways. Money. Library books when I was in the hospital for three months. Phone calls. They were my world.

A bunch of stuff happened that I won't go into, but let's say that your sister is not just toxic, she is MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON A PLANE TOXIC. Maybe she's lovely to all but you. But to you she is nuclear waste. Get away. Far away.

I might understand the mortality thing. What can you do in this life? Camus sez that you can loosen the chains of the prisoner next to you. Your sister's chains are not of your making and you can not loosen them.

But you can enjoy every single moment of this crazy beautiful world that can be enjoyed. Do this and fuck the bad.

Memail me anytime.
posted by angrycat at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2012

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