My crazy, manipulative sister
October 3, 2017 3:27 AM   Subscribe

What's wrong with her, and how do I protect myself?

Crazy manipulative sister -- what's wrong with her, and how do I protect myself?

I have a complicated and dysfunctional family dynamic, one I moved thousands of miles away from over five years ago. Until last year, I had extremely limited contact with any of my family members, including my older sister. As I was married this year and moved to a foreign country, I opened myself up to communicating with my family members again, and even went home to visit with my now-husband.

Over the summer, we had a large wedding in the country where we now live, and my parents and sister attended. My sister stayed with me and my husband for two weeks.

Her trip was trying. She drinks heavily, at least one bottle of liquor a day, but to my British in-laws, she was the life of the party (she always is). In addition, as she is quite charming, she befriended all of them, becoming close penpals with my husband's aunt and maintaining intimate online friendships with much of his extended family. My husband has two younger brothers who are twelve years younger than my sister: she tried to bed one over a period of days, but he spurned her advances; she set her eyes on the other and managed to sleep with him on the night of our wedding. She gleefully told me this (I would have rather not known) and also informed me that she did not disclose to him her incurable STD (they had unprotected sex--another detail she divulged which I did not ask for).

These details are intended to explain what I would classify as her total lack of boundaries with regard to me. On this same visit, we got into a fight while she was very drunk, and she physically assaulted me in my husband's parents' house. Did I mention she is 36? In any event, I went to bed early that night, while she stayed up, telling my mother-in-law and husband's aunt a long and emotionally manipulative story about what a horrible sister I am to her and have been. I only know this as my mother-in-law commented that she stayed up all night with her, and in a later comment to me, that I needed to "get over the past" as I had "really hurt" my sister.

In previous attempts at having a relationship with her, my sister has gone out of her way to turn my own friends against me, and she has succeeded in a couple of cases (including a lifelong childhood friend my sister discouraged from ever speaking to me again--my sister actually told me this herself while she was visiting, but as she is an angry drunk, I let it go, choosing to avoid conflict).

I have been extremely bothered by her attempts at ingratiating herself with every member of my husband's family who are here locally. As they have enjoyed partying with her, I feel like I look like the killjoy who simply doesn't appreciate my sister's show-stealing personality. However, after she decided to stop speaking me over a totally separate matter (you can see a previous question of mine re: student loans -- she claims I am ruining my parents' life simply because they cosigned, and because I don't have the cash to pay off the loans in full), I let her know that I am aware she "confided" in my mother-in-law, that I find it extremely inappropriate and manipulative, and that she is not welcome in my and my husband's home anytime soon.

My sister responded by telling me that when she returns to my country, she will be staying with my husband's aunt (news to her, I'm sure), and then threatened to "tell all" to my parents-in-law regarding the cosigned loans as an attempt to turn them against me. Further, she blocked me from WhatsApp and also deleted me from Facebook, though she maintains her online friendships with my husband's entire family (even including great aunts and uncles).

I am very, very upset by all of this, and my anxiety is through the roof. I deeply regret ever letting her back into my life, and feel like I have let myself be burned by her again and again, apparently without learning anything. I have attempted to, in vague language, let my husband's aunt and my mother-in-law know of the problematic dynamic; I also told my mother-in-law of her threats, in a perhaps misguided attempt to "get ahead of the story." However, I am afraid that this makes me look like the crazy one, and that my sister will make good on those threats.

I guess my questions are as follows:
a) am I overreacting here? Does the above seem normal?
b) apart from what seems like alcoholism, what is wrong with my sister?
c) how do I protect myself from her accusations?
d) is there any way to really explain to my in-laws what is going on, without looking like the problem is actually me?

Since moving abroad, I no longer have access to my therapist, and my husband isn't the most emotionally empathetic (he is not neurotypical), so it is hard for him to do much apart from listen: I would really like some feedback, any similar experiences with a friend or family member, and any advice on how to delicately manage this situation with my in-laws. They are the type of people who believe family trumps all other concerns, and can't understand why I have any issue with my sister. My husband suggests that in time this will blow over, as my sister is very far away -- however, she is a flight attendant, and I would not be surprised were she to make good on her threats to come to my country with the explicit purpose of glomming on to my in-laws (people she refers to as "her family"). I am also concerned that she will succeed in turning some of them against me, as she is very manipulative, and adept at getting others to feel sorry for her.

I know this is long. Any comments greatly appreciated.
posted by nonmerci to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
a) am I overreacting here? Does the above seem normal?

The above does not seem normal. However, you do appear to be beating yourself up about it more than is helpful to you.

b) apart from what seems like alcoholism, what is wrong with my sister?

She's not only a drunk but a horrible drunk.

c) how do I protect myself from her accusations?

Getting ahead of the story was a good instinct, and about all that could have been done. The main thing you need to do now is as little as possible. This will be difficult. Do it anyway. You will likely suffer some temporary reputational damage as a result. Maintaining a dignified silence in the face of this will be hard, but will most likely minimize that damage. If somebody comes to you directly to fact-check something they heard from your sister, do your very best to stick to offering verifiable facts while saying nothing bad against her. Further pre-emptive strikes risk more blowback than they're worth.

If two people A and B are estranged, and A is in the habit of saying awful things about B, but B is generally known to be a decent person and not given to saying awful things about A, then over time it becomes apparent to most people who know them both that A is the one with the problems, not B.

It's really, really hard to avoid fighting back to more than the extremely minimal extent that's absolutely necessary, bit if you want that who-is-the-real-problem dynamic to work itself out as quickly as it possibly can and leave the minimum possible residual murk, I think that's what you're going to need to learn to do.

d) is there any way to really explain to my in-laws what is going on, without looking like the problem is actually me?

Sounds to me as if you've already done what you can along those lines, and the main thing you need to do now is sit tight, concentrate on preserving your own mental health, and let Hurricane Sister continue to blow wherever it's going to because you're for damn sure never going to stop a hurricane; best you can do is keep an eye on them and arrange to keep out of their way.

I deeply regret ever letting her back into my life, and feel like I have let myself be burned by her again and again, apparently without learning anything.

So now you've learned something.

Hopefully you will also now learn that simply being related to another person does not give them an automatic claim on your loyalty. Family loyalty that isn't mutual is simply parasitism, and if as in your case you have family members with a consistent record of making your life worse whenever they enter your orbit, you're 100% justified in choosing to orbit entirely elsewhere.

I would not be surprised were she to make good on her threats to come to my country with the explicit purpose of glomming on to my in-laws (people she refers to as "her family"). I am also concerned that she will succeed in turning some of them against me, as she is very manipulative, and adept at getting others to feel sorry for her.

Don't try to out-manipulate a master manipulator. Instead, remind yourself of the fury that almost everybody feels on discovering they've been manipulated.

Nobody actually likes being glommed onto, especially by an ugly drunk. Your sister is going to have to live with the consequences of her own actions. She's already run her account with you irretrievably into the red; have a little faith in her ability to to likewise with everybody else she spends any non-trivial amount of time around.
posted by flabdablet at 4:08 AM on October 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


However, I am afraid that this makes me look like the crazy one

Are you able to get your husband to quietly pass the message on to his family? I have had a similar (although not as extreme) situation with my wife who now lives with me in my country and we recently had a visit from her older sister from their country.

All seemed to me to be going well as I wasn't really paying attention but my wife was unhappy as she felt the older sister was trying to "muscle in" on the relationship that she, my wife, has with my parents.

Once my wife had explained to me that the history between them both and that the sister did not have a healthy track record in this area, I was able to gently let my parents know that they needed to be a little wary of the sister and in vague terms told them why.

If it comes from him, they might take it more seriously - "Well, as husband thinks it is a problem then it probably is!". You might even get him to push the "You'd be doing me a big favour if you pushed back on the sister" angle... Plus it wouldn't be seen as you pushing "your family's" agenda onto "their family"
posted by jontyjago at 4:35 AM on October 3, 2017 [19 favorites]


I deeply regret ever letting her back into my life, and feel like I have let myself be burned by her again and again, apparently without learning anything.

Having a destructive family member is something to grieve. As in, there's denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, and hopefully some acceptance, in no particular order, on repeat. Try to be gentle with yourself.

One suggestion is to focus on your individual relationship with each in-law, rather than your collective relationship with all the in-laws. This has helped me in an analogous situation where someone was glomming onto my extended family and badmouthing me. Thinking about "my family" collectively created huge fear that this person was injuring all my cherished family relationships. But thinking individually reduced that fear of loss (I could name some cousins that I'm really not that interested in spending buckets of time with, and if they think less of me, no big deal), and it gave me a path forward for strengthening those relationships that I really do cherish (the more I keep my beloved and trustworthy grandma up to date on my life, the more equipped she is to respond to lies about me with the truth).
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 5:13 AM on October 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


The term you are looking for is malignant narcissist. My sister is one; we don't speak. There's no way to win except to not engage.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:26 AM on October 3, 2017 [17 favorites]


I think, in time, your in-laws will get it. She will not be able to control her behavior and will show her hand. I would block her from all social media and limit contact with any in-law who she has latched onto till it it all passes. You may want to let your new brother her- in-law know that she has exposed him to a STD, but who knows if that is true or not. You could just tell him the truth. My sis told me she had unprotected sex with you and that she did not disclose to you that she has an incurable STD. You might want to get checked out. And say no more about it. Don't let your anxiety suck you back into her drama. That is what she wants... she wants to be the center of attention all of the time. Drunks can also be narcissistic.

I am visiting family in a foreign country right now. The kids love me more than their drunken grandmother who is visiting after I leave. They decorated my room with pictures and I asked the older one if they are going to do anything for grandma when she visits. He said no. I feel bad about this because this is going to cause jealousy, hurt feelings, and psychological payback between all of them. I spent a few visits with my therapist about how to handle it all. Really how to protect everyone from her bullshit. There is nothing I can do. They have to deal with it. I have discussed it with her daughter who is anxious about how this will all play out but we are both tired of being held hostage by her alcoholism and attention seeking bull shit.

Congrats on your wedding. I hope you can get on with a happy life after you get rid of her.
posted by cairnoflore at 5:43 AM on October 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


You need to completely sever your relationship with your sister, forever. She is awful.

With your extended family, do nothing, and say nothing. If they want to talk about your sister, tell them that you don't want to talk about it and change the subject. Practice a line like, "Unfortunately my sister is no longer part of my life. What did you think of the Sportsball Tournament yesterday?" They are adults who have to figure out their relationships with her, and you can't control that. All you can do is disengage.
posted by medusa at 5:51 AM on October 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


I accidentally hit post too soon. It would be good for you to find a therapist in your new country.

I also suggest that you print out this thread or bookmark it. In a couple years when you feel lonely or nostalgic for family, reread it to remind yourself why you should never, ever get back together with your sister.
posted by medusa at 5:55 AM on October 3, 2017 [10 favorites]


She's a narcissist and is triangulating against you. She is trying to turn people against you because it makes her feel bigger and because she likes hurting and upsetting you. Don't let her visit again, don't talk to her, don't have contact.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:32 AM on October 3, 2017 [18 favorites]


I'm sorry, but you're going to have to go totally no-contact with her: that means absolutely no social media like facebook or twitter or anything else; no phone calls made to her or accepted from her, ever; if she snail-mails a letter or package it goes straight into the trash unopened. And tell your in-laws that, unfortunately, you've had to do this, and while you don't care one way or the other if they are in contact with your sister, you do not ever want to hear about it, nor will you accept any communications from her through them.

Your sister will never change, even if she did stop drinking and dry out. We cannot change other people: you cannot change your sister's abusive personality or her drunken behavior. All any of us can do is change how we ourselves react. So react differently: go 100% no-contact permanently, immediately, and refuse to accept your sister's abuse.

Also, yes, medusa is right: please do (quietly, privately) take your brother-in-law aside and tell him that he needs to get checked for that STD. Tell him once, then never bring it up again.
posted by easily confused at 7:13 AM on October 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


Relational aggression

"X is hard to get along with."
"X is hard to get along with."
"X is hard to get along with."

No more.
posted by jointhedance at 7:30 AM on October 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


As a previous poster said, get your husband to sort this out. A few quiet “oh god, Sister is so two-faced. She seems lovely but then she makes up these outrageous stories about people” comments, in the right ears, will set people straight. Just a matter of fact “oh yeah she completely made that up. Total lie. She does this all the time” when people mention things to him. You may have to prompt your husband to correct people, if he doesn’t have that kind of relationship with his family already.

You may suffer some brief reputational damage until people catch on that she is the problem, but they aren’t going to cut off their son on her say-so, and therefore they will not be able to cut off you. So there will be ample time to put your side across.

And unless you have very trashy in-laws, the fact that she tried to sleep with both brothers is not going to endear her to anybody, once that story gets around. I’d be interested to know what the brothers think of her actually - I bet it isn’t flattering.
posted by tinkletown at 8:41 AM on October 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


Oh I totally missed that she’d given your brother in law an STD. Really, this will sort itself out very quickly.
posted by tinkletown at 8:42 AM on October 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have no clue about her history, but this sort of narcissism tends to burn through friends and relatives quickly unless they have deeper emotional stakes. As her sister, you've been kind enough to give her the chance to be in your life again, and she's used that as an opening to take advantage of your hospitality. I'm sorry you had to deal with all of this.

There are two different categories your sister has sorted people into: those that find her intensity and enthusiasm interesting and humor her, and those who don't buy that act and she feels have slighted her. There's no in-between. The former will forever be subtly (or not so subtly) taken advantage of, and the latter are railed against. That is, until she can badger and abuse them into dealing with her shit again, at which point they're her allies, although she'll pivot on them the moment they question her.

I'm sure she told your mother-in-law some sob story about how you were critical of her or shunned her, while leaving out all of the reasons why you've avoided her. As hard as it is, the best approach is to be emotionally neutral and avoid details unless questioned. The grander the narrative, the more it plays into her drama. It's not that the best revenge is living well -- you don't need revenge or drama, that's her realm -- it's that being a stable, emotionally mature person in the face of the dramatic abyss she's presenting makes it clear who's the reasonable person. People like your sister bring out the worst behavior in others, and that muddles the situation to the extent where you'll be questioning whether you're the crazy one eventually!
posted by mikeh at 8:58 AM on October 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


I agree that your best bet is to take the high road and let others learn for themselves what kind of person Sister is. If they ask, "Have you heard from Sister?" or "When is Sister visiting again?," you can say, "Unfortunately I've realized in the last few months that the downsides of her personality are too much for me, and so we're not in touch." Resist when they probe for details: "I don't want to interfere with any relationship you may have with her; I just can't be part of it."
posted by lakeroon at 9:09 AM on October 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


the fact that she tried to sleep with both brothers is not going to endear her to anybody, once that story gets around. I’d be interested to know what the brothers think of her actually - I bet it isn’t flattering.

Slut shaming her is not okay. The brothers are as culpable as she is. She can be someone you need to avoid and have out of your life without slut shaming her.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:12 AM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


Great book about dealing with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder, also useful for dealing with anyone who has poor boundaries, is manipulative, highly dramatic, etc. Stop Walking on Eggshells.

Avoid her. Reduce your interactions as much as possible. If your brother-in-law has not been tested, make sure he gets tested. I have a sister who is not as bad, but has similar issues. She appears to be smart and funny and wonderful, but has turned on everyone in her life at some point. I don't live near her, and I keep our relationship limited. For a number of years, every time I have visited family, she has attacked me, including physically.

When anyone mentions her, use some calm, true statement. X is quite dramatic. X and I have had a difficult history. I worry about X's drinking. My relationship with X has caused a lot of pain. then change the subject. Your sister thrives on drama, and when she doesn't get it from you, she'll move on. Your husband can help by doing the same thing. If his Mom says something to him about X, he can roll his eyes and say the same things. He can be more blunt X is really quite difficult and has caused a lot of trouble. Be careful what you believe from X. but no stories or discussion.
posted by theora55 at 9:14 AM on October 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


[One deleted. AskMe's not a place for debate or back-and-forth. OP please don't get into a back-and-forth with commenters; totally fair if you think some advice is off-base but you can decide internally for yourself which advice is useful or applicable to your situation, and just ignore the rest.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:34 AM on October 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize providing additional information was no longer permitted on AskMe.

Thanks, everyone, for the insightful and useful comments--I don't know what to mark as best answer as they are all so helpful.
posted by nonmerci at 9:44 AM on October 3, 2017


I would think that your husband quietly mentioning to his family that unfortunately your sister is a troubled alcoholic with some serious behavioral and credibility issues should take care of this. People may enjoy the life of the party but nobody likes to feel bamboozled.

You, of course, should cut ties with her completely.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:54 AM on October 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


BIL needs to be told that he's been exposed to an STD and get tested pronto.
posted by brujita at 12:06 PM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I would tell BIL "my sister isn't the most reliable truth teller but she has told me that she has {specific STD} and after the wedding, she said that you guys had unprotected sex. I don't know if that is true, but if it is, you might want to get yourself checked out"

This protects you if she was lying about the sex or BIL would like to deny that it happened while also laying the groundwork for not believing everything she says.
posted by metahawk at 12:24 PM on October 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


Cut her off, don't worry about the family. Your sister is a time bomb that will inevitably go off sooner rather than later. The in laws will learn this for themselves, just as you have done, and the problem will resolve itself. Resist the temptation to fight fire with fire. You cannot beat your sister at her own game. Thankfully, she is self defeating.

Don't engage on any level, and if questioned say, "I prefer not to really about her, we have a difficult relationship and I have been hurt in the past."

Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 1:24 PM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


My husband has two younger brothers who are twelve years younger than my sister: she tried to bed one over a period of days, but he spurned her advances; she set her eyes on the other and managed to sleep with him on the night of our wedding. She gleefully told me this (I would have rather not known) and also informed me that she did not disclose to him her incurable STD (they had unprotected sex--another detail she divulged which I did not ask for).

This sounds quite like it could have been coercive to me, and the goal could've been to put a wedge between you and your brother in law, especially as he'll be feeling pretty conflicted about this whole situation. I think probably someone needs to be checking he's OK with her having had sex with him, as well as telling him about the STD. And I think it needs to be someone less mortifying than his new sister-in-law (who really, really shouldn't have had to have known about this happening on her wedding day).

So if you can get your husband to talk through strategies with you, and to work out a way that someone can put out a sympathetic ear to your brother-in-law about this (potentially) awful thing happening to him, that would be helpful.

And I think indirectly that might help you recover the tone of your relationship with your in-laws, who your sister is quite deliberately trying to distance you from. I know a little of this kind of thing, and I'm sorry for you. It's not great.
posted by ambrosen at 3:31 PM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


« Older help me find modest workout clothes   |   "Life is what happens when you're busy making... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.