Sister starting blog: drama imminent.
June 28, 2018 10:30 AM   Subscribe

My sister told me that she's planning on writing a blog and speaking publicly about her struggles. I'm happy for her, but worried that her blog is going to be hurtful. She is often... loose with the truth. Have you ever had to deal with something like this?

I love my sister a lot, but I've always had a stressful relationship with her. She's kind of a bully. She can be passive aggressive, condescending, and gaslighty. She's only recently stopped brutally picking on me about my appearance, and we're in our late 30s (!). Growing up she was our narcissistic mother's golden child and I was trash. Everyone in the family, including her, participated in abusing me. I had a breakdown in my late teens when a sexual predator in our family died and Sister was absolutely furious about the attention I got from our parents. She is still very, very angry about it.

Sister has not had it easy in adulthood. She has serious, life-threatening health issues, a debilitating disease, an anxiety disorder, and a difficult family of origin. She's extremely intelligent, resilient, and compassionate. She has also supported me enormously over the years. And I could be cruel to her when we were little kids (we hit each other a lot, but I was always much stronger), and a massive pain in the ass and emotional burden as a teenager and adult.

I know she will expect me to read her blog and go to her talks and support her efforts, but I don't trust her not to slyly take shots at me and deny the years of abuse that I endured. She likes to put me down and minimize what I went through in order to facilitate her own stories of childhood hardship. The way she embellishes or outright manufactures these stories is unsettling and hurtful. I don't think she even realizes she's lying sometimes? Maybe it's a coping mechanism?

If I don't read her blog it will become A Huge Thing and will strain our relationship. What to do? She's extremely sensitive to criticism and I don't think I can talk to her about this without causing a shit storm. Should I meditate or something before I read it? Or maybe I just need to chill and wait and see what happens.
posted by Stonkle to Human Relations (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Wait and see what happens. Blogging can be a kind of therapy for people. I have a personal private blog I have had for years, (14+!) and are friends with strangers I don't know on there who I could care less about their opinions. This doesn't sound like that kind of situation, but maybe she is looking for support in you this time around.

It could be good. It could be hurtful. But I do think that if it IS hurtful, you should speak with her privately about it. Don't ignore it or act like you never read it. I hope this works out POSITIVELY for you.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 10:34 AM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

If I don't read her blog it will become A Huge Thing and will strain our relationship.

Why do you need to have a close relationship with this person? She sounds like a serious net negative in your life.

Don't read it. Tell her your therapist told you that it's too intimate and family members should have space to have thoughts and feelings of their own. Let her live her life. There's nothing you can do about her doing this, but you have 100% control about what you consume and participate in.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on June 28, 2018 [40 favorites]

You do not have to read this blog. Full stop.

If it becomes a "huge thing" that is entirely on her.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:46 AM on June 28, 2018 [25 favorites]

If I don't read her blog it will become A Huge Thing and will strain our relationship.

It sounds like your relationship is already strained. Tell her frankly that you're not comfortable with it, and don't, and let her do her own thing, and let her work through her own issues, and don't let her decide what your level of engagement is. Her feelings about that are her feelings to manage along with everything else here and if the blog helps her with that, great, but you don't have to help her with the blog if it's going to hurt you.

I think she's likely to be overestimating how much traction something like this will get, but that makes it all the more important not to engage, because this blog can't just turn into a way for her to shout at family without them being able to have their side of the conversation. If you don't read it, she might not like that, but at least she'll go into this knowing she can't expect you to have read it and can't use it to communicate things to you.
posted by Sequence at 10:50 AM on June 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

Your compassion and clear-headedness over your sister and your relationship shines through here; as a fellow grown child of narcissists with *really* complicated sibling relationships: kudos. Seriously. You sound awesome.

I agree with the above: you have these Internet strangers' FULL permission to not read this blog. It is not your responsibility. Your sister cannot force you to engage with her story, and if she tries, you have to view it as a perpetuation of what sounds like very bad patterns set by your mutual family of origin. If she blows up, she does. Maybe you take it as a time to tell her about boundaries, maybe it impacts your long-term relationship...but it's her responsibility. You absolutely should not subject yourself to painful and likely distorting/distorted material to appease her.

If you are *also* insanely curious about what she writes (as it might be hard not to be), the one thing that springs to mind is considering whether you have a loved one or close friend who could pre-vet entries when it gets started up and see how, uh, awful or not it's going to be for you to read? (And also, if it's not anonymous, this person could check whether there's anything you need to follow up on, which is a dimension of this that's not clear. I have a sibling whose version of our childhood is so twisted and hurtful to me that I can't deal with correcting it, but if they ever started a public blog about their issues under their own name, I'd feel compelled to say something.)
posted by LadyInWaiting at 10:52 AM on June 28, 2018 [21 favorites]

It is completely ok for you to set down a boundary. It is not okay for her to push against the boundary but you can't control her behaviour. So when she asks "Did you read my blog?" I would deflect, but address the emotional need the blog is filling for her: "No, I haven't it just isn't possible for me right now. You must feel cathartic after writing it." And try to change the topic if possible, if not from the content of the blog by maybe more towards the logistics - asking about drafts, where she writes it, what her inspiration is etc. Good luck, hopefully she will lose interest in it before long but that writing out the stories will help her to achieve closure.
posted by saucysault at 10:55 AM on June 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

Has she actually started the blog yet?

Lots of people say they plan to start blogs. Some people actually start them. Few people get much further than Hello World and an anemic post or two.

If she does start one, don't read it. Just like you wouldn't read her journal.
posted by mochapickle at 10:56 AM on June 28, 2018 [28 favorites]

You can only control your own actions and reactions.

Just don't read it. If you're going to face drama either way, at least choose the path where you don't have to read it.

Also, talks for her blog? Say what now? Does your sister think this is 2003?
posted by veggieboy at 10:56 AM on June 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

I wonder if you can make a pre-emptive comment of support, but yet give a polite boundary that lets her understand a bit of the why.

Something like - "I love you. I'm proud of you for [writing, doing whatever it takes to make yourself healthier, or some positive complement]"

If you feel so inclined, chip in money towards the blog hosting and tell her at a later point "I feel strongly that I want to support your goal" (only if you do).

But also tell her that in general, you have painful feelings about childhood, too, and even rereading or thinking about some experiences are painful for you - so you can't do it. But still, you are proud (go back and restate why you are proud of her/supportive, etc.).

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 10:59 AM on June 28, 2018 [14 favorites]

Being both "gaslighty" and "compassionate" is a complicated combination. (But, people are often complicated.)

The strategy I turn to when people I care about ask me to comment on their awful work is to make obvious excuses and put them off repeatedly. They eventually stop asking. It's far from ideal, but it's worked pretty well so far and allows us to continue to enjoy each other's company in other contexts.

Expecting a blog to become a huge thing - assuming she's not famous already - seems optimistic. This may just fade away on its own without the need for a confrontation.
posted by eotvos at 11:03 AM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

If I don't read her blog it will become A Huge Thing and will strain our relationship.

This stuck out to me: it sounds like the eggshells that we walk on when our family member is a narcissist. You are anticipating A Huge Thing in advance of it actually becoming A Huge Thing. Believe you me, I know this feeling so very well, and I still work on unplugging from it.

But here's the rub -- it will only become A Huge Thing if you provide the other half of the Huge Thing. If you can manage to defuse your own reactions to both the blog and to how you handle it with her, you can do yourself a big favor. That's what I mean by unplugging from it -- I'm not trying to avoid the narcissist herself, or change how it goes, or what A Big Thing it is to her. I'm trying to change how I react to it, and whether I let it be A Big Thing for me, because I'm the only person who can determine that.

I like what saucysault said a lot -- create boundaries about what you will and won't discuss, and deflect. You can say as a side comment something like "my understanding was different, and I think we'll have to agree to disagree there" and then redirect with something like "but how about the font?"

Practice lots of variations on "I'm not willing to talk about that" or "that's not something I want to debate" (but not "it hurts me to talk about that" -- do not crack that door open). Have lots of other topics like font choices and frequency of posting and how long does it take to write that? in mind.
posted by Dashy at 11:07 AM on June 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

- Genuinely encourage her to follow her path.

It's true she may never get to it.

- When/if she follows through, use one of the scripts above to never ever read it. Never ever read it.

I'm also kinda wondering how you handle avoiding discussions of the past with her now, and if you are able to use those tools well, or if you need more tools? As this ramps up you will need more tools to keep your PEACE. By this, I mean you need to keep your "piece" away from her "piece." So, healthy boundaries maintained with respect and compassion.

And YES! If you don't already have a practice that includes exercise, breathwork, and some sort of meditation GET ONE!

You wanna know what it's good for? When she starts in and that conversation reverberates in your brain even though you used your "boundary tools," you can go hiking or to spin class or yoga or whatever your jam is and change what you're feeling and thinking. Seriously, yes get a practice and use it to help yourself. Whatever else you do, do this for yourself!
posted by jbenben at 11:09 AM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

How would she know you don't read it?
I would ask a friend to check it occasionally and give you a summary.
One of my brothers has a lot of mental health issues, and if i hear him talk about our childhood one might think we grew up in different families, but we are only 3 years apart and grew up in the same family for 18 years.
After a lot of painful scenes, it dawned on me one day that just as i have a right to my own narrative of childhood, so does he. He loves talking about the past.
These days when people comment on how he tells and want to know the “truth“ i ignore the question of possible, and change the topic or whatever suits the situation.
If he begins one of his frequent rants on how his is the only valid narrative of our childhood, i refuse the bait and tell myself it is ok for him to have his as i have mine.
It is not at all easy. But try not be drawn into it. Change the topic, distract if possible.
Allow her to wallow in her narrative, but refuse to make it yours.
Easier written than done, it took me years.
posted by 15L06 at 11:32 AM on June 28, 2018 [13 favorites]

She likes to put me down and minimize what I went through in order to facilitate her own stories of childhood hardship.

I think this is a very clear-headed insight into what siblings from these sorts of backgrounds do to each other (often unintentionally or out of ignorance because they only witnessed their own pain, not yours, etc.). In fact, from what you've written here it's possible she may feel it's mutual (not saying she'd be correct, just saying.) Like if the older family member who I feel physically abused me said we hit each other a lot, but I was always much stronger I would consider that minimizing. Again, not saying that's the case but everyone in a family has a different experience. Maybe if you frame it that way, it won't seem like such a distortion to you: it's not stretching the truth, it's her own experience of her own story.

Ultimately, I agree with everyone that it's best to detach. You're not obligated to read it. And if you do, it's not your obligation (or really your place) to object to her narratives. If your worry is that your experiences will be misrepresented, I don't think her readers (if any) would extrapolate to that degree. She owns her experiences, you own yours.
posted by kapers at 11:39 AM on June 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

I come with advice from a strange source - having to watch other friends' not-so-great theater. I swear this will help.

What you want to do is - come up with some say-something-tell-nothing phrases to keep in your back pocket for when she asks you what you think. This is something that a lot of people with friends in theater do for when they're dragged to see something god-awful, and their friend comes out after the show all bright-eyed and smiley and says "so whadja think?" A lot of us have some pet phrase that we trot out in those moments:

"Wow, you've done it again!"
"It was stunning!" (Only we will know that what was "stunning" was how bad it was.)
"That was a yeoman's effort!"

You know? something that sounds good, but doesn't really say anything specifically positive. And if the friend in the horrible show then asks for details ("What did you think of the roller derby dance in scene 2?") something like "I'm still mulling over the details, overall it was stunning" or something. Or if they ask about "ugh, I hope no one saw I did this one thing wrong, did you?" then "I didn't see anything unusual." (I legit used that once.)

Try coming up with something like that for if your sister asks you if you've been reading her blog - something generic like "It's such a brave thing you're doing to be open with your thoughts" or something like that, with vague deflections of "I'm still mulling over the details, it's a lot to think about" if she asks you for detailed reviews.

As for actually READING it - this is even easier. You could a) not read it at all, or periodically just go to her blog, wait like 3 seconds for the blog to register your "view", and then leave again. She has no way of knowing you actually read it aside from reading her page count tracker, and that page count tracker only counts when your computer is showing that page, not whether you are looking at your computer at the time. (and if she ever asks something really specific like "what did you think of the post I made last Tuesday", then I would claim that your computer had a virus last week, but you'll make a note to get to it, you promise. then....just don't.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:53 AM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

You don't have to read it.

If you do read it, you don't have any overarching responsibility to correct it. As others have said, she can have her truth and you can have yours. There's no judge reading her blog who's going to issue edicts based on her truth; you don't have to play defense lawyer.

You don't have to attend any talks she gives, but I seriously doubt she's going to be invited to give any talks, anyway.
posted by lazuli at 11:54 AM on June 28, 2018

If you haven't already, lay down some ground rules about how much personal info she's allowed to reveal, beginning with your name. You don't want these half-truths to haunt your Google footprint forever.
posted by acidic at 11:57 AM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have a sister who is very similar. Dramatic, sometimes abusive, sometimes supportive. She has her own version of the truth. She is a Narcissist with a capital N, quite intelligent. She genuinely cares about becoming a Better Person, but equally genuinely lacks any ability to see herself objectively.

Because my family was pretty unhealthy, I live 1,000 miles from where I grew up and where my sisters live. I maintain contact but not close contact. To have a relationship with my Narcissistic sister, I have to accept that she is better, smarter, more important, is the only one who has consequences from our dysfunctional family, is the center if the universe. I don't have the energy.

If you want to be part of your sister's life, blog or no blog, read Stop Walking On Eggshells. Develop and maintain very strong boundaries. Accept the good she has to offer, reject the crap.
posted by Mom at 11:59 AM on June 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

My experience with the narcissists in my life tells me this: if she plans to write memoir, consider that she will write about you. Consider that she will not disguise your identity at all and write about you in an erroneous, insulting way. Drawing a boundary like "don't write about me" is likely to cause conflict with a narcissist, yes. But it may be worth it to maintain your own privacy, depending on your own professional field.

Just something to think about.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

You all are the best, seriously! I am much calmer about this now. Your proposed action plans and different takes on the situation are extremely helpful.

I just wanted to say (maybe unnecessarily?) that I was trying to be succinct so I didn't flesh my sister's personality out much in that post. She has some serious issues due to our upbringing, but most of the time she is kind to me. We have a strong bond and survived some awful situations and people together. I mostly understand why she behaves the way she does (it's not easy being forced to be a co dependent golden child of a narcissist) and I decided that the benefits of our relationship massively out-weigh the occasional blips. Also she's my little sister and I have fierce, probably illogical, feelings of loyalty and protection for her.
posted by Stonkle at 1:35 PM on June 28, 2018 [10 favorites]

All of the advice you've gotten is terrific, and I want to highlight this: if she does write it, whatever she does write is her truth, from her experience and likely told in a way that makes her the most sympathetic. It is only her truth. It's not your truth, or The Absolute Truth. I hope she does this with some self-awareness, for everyone's sake.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

Blogs becoming a Big Thing stopped being a Thing in about 2005. I admin a blog for someone who (very) occasionally gets stopped in the street by a reader/fan. Most days their blog gets 10-15 hits.
posted by scruss at 2:42 PM on June 28, 2018

All of the advice you've gotten is terrific, and I want to highlight this: if she does write it, whatever she does write is her truth, from her experience and likely told in a way that makes her the most sympathetic. It is only her truth. It's not your truth, or The Absolute Truth. I hope she does this with some self-awareness, for everyone's sake.

Thinking about this, I'd like to encourage you to write down (privately) your version of the events of your childhood. Since your sister was recently abusive and recently gaslighty--since you fear gaslighty reactions, still--and since she was the golden child, there's a real risk that her publishing a version of the narrative (no matter how unimportant her blog is in the scheme of things) will push that version of events into the public consciousness of your family. If your narcissistic parent is still around, and they're aware of the blog, I would hate for it to be used to hurt your further or to excuse or justify the abuse you faced. Knowing the behavior and power dynamics at play in narcissistic families, this is a likely outcome.

Remember that it's okay to draw boundaries. If you haven't read it, skim the Bill of Assertive Rights. Some boundaries you might choose could be to not read the blog, to ask that your likeness or name only be used in appropriate ways, or to not discuss it with family members.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:17 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

The way she embellishes or outright manufactures these stories is unsettling and hurtful. I don't think she even realizes she's lying sometimes?

I'm not sure you realize how dangerous a road this is to go down. Suppose someone said this about you, more in sorrow than in anger; that you're not really dishonest, even though your stories about your childhood can't be trusted, because you believe you're telling the truth, you don't even realize you're lying. How could you argue against this characterization with anyone who wasn't there to witness your life? and what if they were there, but remember it differently, how would you even know they were wrong?

I second the point that habitual physical fights with a much weaker little sister you used to hit is not consistent with fixed, unchanging familial roles where she was the bully and you the victim. even if she hit you back or hit you first some of the time. It is very typical for younger/weaker siblings who always lose in a punching fight to fall back on words, where abilities are more equal and they have a better chance at winning some of the time. experiencing verbal attacks but not physical attacks as bullying is a point of view, but not the only point of view.

I don't think you should read the blog and I do think you should request that she not use your name. you shouldn't pretend to read it, feel free to say that it dredges up bad memories for you and you need to not read it for the same reasons she needs to write it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:38 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure you realize how dangerous a road this is to go down. Suppose someone said this about you, more in sorrow than in anger; that you're not really dishonest, even though your stories about your childhood can't be trusted, because you believe you're telling the truth, you don't even realize you're lying.

Wow. That's a pretty offensive thing to say to a child abuse and CSA survivor. I don't have to imagine or suppose what that's like, because it's my reality. I don't think you quite grasp the dynamic here. Lying is part of the gaslighting that goes on in my family of origin, and it is also used as a weapon. For example, Sister lies to our mother that I hit her in the back with a hammer. Mother then uses this lie as an excuse to excessively physically punish me. Sister delights in this, and then incorporates the hammer story into her roster.

Tag-teaming with adult abusers is very different from normal sibling fighting.

PhoBWanKenobi - I have been writing things down and even corroborating them when possible, no worries. I even have saved letters and emails from family members acknowledging certain events (some events which the very same people denied later). I started doing this decades ago when a therapist taught me about gaslighting. It kept me from losing myself.

Sorry mods. I'll stop thread sitting.
posted by Stonkle at 5:11 PM on June 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

Something I was reminded of last night: lots of people with completely unfraught relationships have boundaries around reading/not reading each others' personal stuff, just depending on the personalities involved. I have friends who write professionally and some of them won't show it to anyone else until their partner has read it, and others who just would rather not be put in that sort of intimate-critique position so the partner doesn't see it until just before publication...or in at least one case at all, because it's just Too Much, Too Close. In the heyday of the blogging years, it wasn't unusual if one's partner just chose not to read, or read silently but never said anything unless it was really urgent. And for "partner" also read: parent, child, sibling, friends.

It's a boundary that is totally normal, just not absolute. It's like personal space or private time. Some people use the bathroom/change clothes/talk on the phone with the door open, some don't.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:22 AM on June 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Can you not just be busy? You're really busy at work. Too busy to read blogs. Too busy to comment on blogs. Too busy to really meet up for coffee for a few initial weeks - you'll see her when it slows down a bit.
posted by Nyx at 12:24 PM on June 29, 2018

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