Wanted: your best wisdom & resources to support an 'estrangee'
March 15, 2019 10:29 AM   Subscribe

My sibling has stopped speaking with me under typical-sounding but (and?) genuinely unfathomable circumstances. Most of the advice on the internet feels hurtful because it's always invalidating towards the estrangee and unconditionally supportive of the estranger. I need different help and recommendations!

My sibling, C, has been estranged from our abusive parents for almost a decade. I've gone extremely low-contact with parents myself since I was 16, and have always fully supported C in their estrangement. Now it seems C has cut me off too since the last few weeks. I have no idea why. This has come out of the freaking blue. I feel stupid even typing this: I know how it sounds to say, "But they never even explained why!" but.... it's true, and I don't know what else to say except I wish I did know why.

C and I didn't have much of a relationship when we were growing up. I left home under (parent-perpetrated) traumatic circumstances when I was 16 (C was 8), and we only reconnected when I was 21, when I got engaged. I then tried to be a supportive outside presence in C's life, offering contact and help, but also giving them all the space which they indicated they needed. Ten years ago, C moved to a town a just couple of hours away from me, and our relationship has steadily grown stronger...

Or I thought so, at least. For example, when we met over Christmas last year, we had the loveliest time. C became visibly emotional and hugged me when they opened the present I gave them (a piece of art that I made referencing how far we both have come since our childhood). C and C's spouse M ate dinner with us and then played board games with my kids (who, btw, looove C and M). After the kids were in bed, we were up late into the night, laughing and talking and drinking and being silly, same as any other time we have hung out together. Even just three days before C stopped speaking with me, we were texting about a great book I was reading and they were acting perfectly "normal" - enthusiastic about my recommendation, saying it was going on their TBR list.

But three days after that, I texted to say my kids and I would like to drive over to visit for a weekend sometime in the next two months, what do they think?

C said, "M and I are busy."

This type of terse brush-off is a frequent occurrence - due to having grown up with enmeshed, controlling, clingy parents, my sibling seems to need distance even from me, and I generally just roll with that. However, over the past 20 months I've only seen C (and M) twice, and for less than a day each time, despite us living only two hours away. It's quite a precipitous drop from years past when I used to see them for 2-3 times a year for 2-3 days at a time. So, deciding I was going to push back ever so gently for the first time in the 10 years we've lived close by, I said, "Aw, that's disappointing. Maybe we can plan in advance for sometime in May or June? Let me know what works."

That was three weeks ago. There has been no response. Recently I also noticed I wasn't seeing them on Facebook, either, and realized both C and M have blocked me. And that's that.

My kids are asking when we'll be seeing C & M next... I don't know what to say. I should probably just tell them the truth. I feel angry and hurt that C would do this after so many years of trying to build a relationship. I feel like I need to protect my (elementary-school-aged) kids from this flaky push-pull behavior, probably by refusing to have anything to do with C even if they contact me again -- but I question myself and my judgement in that regard given how angry and hurt I am.

The good news is I have a therapist I've been working with for almost a year now for other issues (divorce, sexual assault, parental shenanigans). I guess this is another thing on my plate for therapy.

But I also want to hear from you, MeFites. Have any of you been in my shoes? What did you find helpful when you went through something similar? Any favorite books, websites, advice columns, etc.?

The main reason I'm asking is, it seems like all the advice on the internet regarding family estrangements talks about how the estranger had their reasons and the estrangee needs to keep the other's needs in mind, blah blah blah. It feels invalidating and angering, TBH, that any trustworthy, Xennial/millennial-friendly advice columnist you can name, is so quick to advocate for throwing relationships away without a second thought. It's probably just my newfound sensitivity to this issue, but there's a disturbing amount of advice out there along the lines of, "You don't owe anybody an explanation," and "No is a complete sentence," and "You are allowed to never see your family again if that's what you want," -- which, oh god, is FINE and TRUE and I don't want to sound like I'm entitled to cross anyone's boundaries. But it also makes me want to scream right now. Like, why isn't there ever a caveat about "Uhhh, maybe don't treat real people like they're disposable?" and "If your non-abusive, tried-her-best-to-be-supportive sister has offended you, it's fucking irresponsible and hurtful to go straight to cutting her AND YOUR NIECE AND NEPHEW out of your life entirely?"

I'd love some words of comfort right now. And maybe I should pick up a copy of "What We Owe Each Other" (from the Good Place, lol) in the hope that it's about asshole siblings and not, like, jargony moral philosophy.
posted by Aarti_Faarti to Human Relations (56 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I 100% sympathize with your feelings, but emailing her and expressing your anger and hurt has zero chance of improving your relationship with her. None of us can tell you what's in her mind, but even though it's very painful, you have to meet her where she's at right now as part of your long-term efforts to maintain a good relationship with her.

It's no problem to keep reaching out to her, I think, as long as it's not too frequent (may try again in a month or two?) and as long as she doesn't ask you to stop doing it. If you do this, make sure the messages you send are entirely loving and don't lay your anger or frustration on her. Again, not because you shouldn't feel those things, but because it's the best strategy for not pushing her further away.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:43 AM on March 15 [5 favorites]


That was three weeks ago. There has been no response. Recently I also noticed I wasn't seeing them on Facebook, either, and realized both C and M have blocked me. And that's that.

I think it's a little bit of a leap to call this estrangement. Like, that certainly might be what's happening here, but all you have to go on is that your sister didn't respond to a text and blocked you on facebook (or went off facebook entirely). There are all sorts of reasons why she might have done that (especially if you're friends with your parents on facebook) that do not constitute estrangement.

An email to the effect of "hey, it seems like you've been intentionally keeping some distance lately, anything we need to talk about?" seems like a good next step.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:45 AM on March 15 [12 favorites]


I should have mentioned - it's very common for no-contact-with-parents siblings to cut off contact with low-contact-with-parents siblings, not because of any problem with their sibling per se, but because it feels necessary for keeping themselves completely separated from their parents.

For example, if after your recent visit you mentioned to your parents that you had seen her (or they saw it on Facebook or whatever) and they then tried to contact her about it, she may fear that you are not a safe confidant due to the risk of more information getting back to them. And even if that didn't happen, she may be afraid that it might happen, and that thought may be driving this behavior.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:47 AM on March 15 [12 favorites]


I should have clarified from the start:

C knows that I am a blank wall to my parents on the matter of my sibling; I carry no information or messages back and forth no matter how much my parents ask. I figured out the harms of triangulation at age 6, haha.

I have not reached out to C again after that last text (asking to get together in May/June), and do not plan to reach out to again on my own unless y'all have good reasons to say I should?
posted by Aarti_Faarti at 10:51 AM on March 15


My kids are asking when we'll be seeing C & M next... I don't know what to say. I should probably just tell them the truth.

I think there's a middle road between what you are perceiving as the Xennial advice and your own hurt feelings which is that this is what is happening right now and you don't know what is going to happen in the future. Maybe they're going through some things. Maybe they just suck and are being terrible people. You don't know, you don't have enough information and you have to get yourself a little bit more in a place where this isn't a raw wound for you. I'm a meditater, I work on "acceptance" meditations when this sort of thing is happening. I'm not great at it but it can help.

I don't want to sound like I'm entitled to cross anyone's boundaries. But

You grew up in a place, if I am understanding you correctly, where other people felt entitled to things that were not their to take. The "but" after this sentence, to me, indicates that this maybe has been something that is difficult for you in this situation. Basically I look to the Ring Theory for stuff like this. You are hurt because of how your sibling is treating you. Totally understandable and okay! I would feel this way too. It hurts. However, you need to get your comfort and support for your bad feeling (and maybe closure on this, right now, situation) from someone who is not them. And this is hard.

You want to hurt your sibling because they are hurting you. But a passive hurting is different from an active hurting. And even though they both hurt, your words and feelings here are making it seem like you're seeing this as an active thing they're doing to you instead of maybe they have shit going on, maybe they suck, who knows, you don't know. And if you don't know, and not knowing is also hard!, then you need to leave it alone for now. And if it helps, give yourself some future time where maybe you'll look into this again.
posted by jessamyn at 10:51 AM on March 15 [31 favorites]


You're right to want to put some distance between your feelings, which are understandably intense, and your behavior. Kudos---this is not an easy situation. I respect the fact that you feel angry and are able to have enough distance from that feeling to recognize what is going on, and I agree with you that it's important not to make big decisions when you're feeling this level of emotional intensity.

Because you mention your high levels of emotional intensity, and because your tone reads to me as really angry, maybe even enraged, I would suggest focusing on managing your feelings and behavior first, and working on the long-term issues second. If your spouse is less upset about this, I suggest asking them to deal with the kids. I don't think that you are going to be able to handle this with them in a calm way. That is totally normal and fine, but it's worth letting your spouse handle this one.

I am confident that you can get through this difficult time in a healthy way. In the meantime, it's important to avoid making the problem worse. You are already on top of this because you realize that you are having a lot of intense feelings, so you're already on the ball. To help you cope going forward, you might get some benefit from distress tolerance skills. Explicit skills for distress tolerance are PARTICULARLY helpful when you didn't have healthy distress tolerance modeled for you as a child.

There are a lot of distress tolerance resources online which I find really helpful. Find one that speaks to you and try the methods out. If something doesn't work, don't do it; if something does work, bookmark it.

You can also talk to your therapist about working through some distress tolerance skills with her. They are typically part of dialectical behavioral therapy, but you don't have to be doing that style of therapy to get a lot out of them.

I do want to push back on something you've said, with the caveat that you might not be in the place to hear this right now, but I think it's important. You said this:

So, deciding I was going to push back ever so gently for the first time in the 10 years we've lived close by, I said, "Aw, that's disappointing. Maybe we can plan in advance for sometime in May or June? Let me know what works."

It sounds like you do know what happened. You're really angry about it and it feels unfair and you wish it hadn't happened. But it seems like it is clear to you that your text made them uncomfortable and they are taking space. You're really, really angry about that because it feels disproportionate and hurtful. I understand that you feel like you are being treated like you are abusive, even though you are not. However, I think it will help you heal to realize that you are not completely in the dark here. Instead, you are having trouble accepting something that is really, really hurtful for you and feels really shocking. I bring this up because telling yourself that you don't know what happened can be a distraction from acknowledging the core of the issue, which is your anger and hurt about what happened.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:03 AM on March 15 [13 favorites]


For reasons probably both understandable and mysterious to you, given the background, C needs to do this right now as part of their mental health management (or mismanagement, there's no way for you to know which). This is a thing they are doing for themselves to handle their shit on their terms, it is not a thing they are doing TO you. And even if you are blameless, you are still a witness; you still know what the damage is, and to a person living with trauma that can be too much sometimes. Not your fault, just a thing that is true. Trauma-bond is a forced intimacy and can be overwhelming.

But...your framework of being owed is problematic, harmful to them, and unproductive for yourself. You are not owed the relationship you want on your terms by rules you dictate. You can't just go get an ethics dissertation and shake it at someone as proof that they must do what you want regardless of what they need (or want) because there's The Greater Good and then there's staying alive and functioning as an individual human right now.

Your own trauma is at play here, and the most direct path to easing that pain is to treat it yourself instead of needing an external person with trauma of their own to fix it for you. If you are capable of offering a neutral-supportive open line of communication - 'hey, no need to reply if you don't want, just thinking about you, let me know if you need anything' - while you do that work, so they know a) you recognize the change in tone b) aren't going to hurt them for it c) are receptive to whatever effort they are able to make d) still an ally/not a threat - you should do that if your goal is a lifelong relationship.

All the advice to a person in C's position is valid without you being the villain here. They need to do what they need to do, end of sentence. Not because you're bad, just because it's what they need. You're the only person making you the bad guy, and they can't fix that. Only you can.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:03 AM on March 15 [30 favorites]


C knows that I am a blank wall to my parents on the matter of my sibling; I carry no information or messages back and forth no matter how much my parents ask. I figured out the harms of triangulation at age 6, haha.

Again, though, I think you are confusing what you want to be true (your sibling is okay with your contact with your parents) with what showbiz_liz is (correctly) telling you is the reality of the situation. Your sibling is no contact with your parents and you are in contact with your parents. Many people in your sibling's situation do care about that and find it stressful. It may be driving your sibling's behavior to some extent. This is true even if you do not think that it should be driving their behavior, or even if you think it is unreasonable for your sibling to care.

I have not reached out to C again after that last text (asking to get together in May/June), and do not plan to reach out to again on my own unless y'all have good reasons to say I should?

I don't think that you should given how upset you are right now. It would have to be a sincerely open and no-pressure text and, again, understandably, you are not in a good position to send that right now. It's better to err on the side of giving them the space that they have clearly indicated that they want.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:10 AM on March 15 [12 favorites]


it's very common for no-contact-with-parents siblings to cut off contact with low-contact-with-parents siblings, not because of any problem with their sibling per se, but because it feels necessary for keeping themselves completely separated from their parents.

I am very close with someone who has gone no-contact with their parents. Their siblings are all in contact (to varying degrees) with the parents, and my person is not in regular contact with any of the siblings, and they find it triggering to know their sibs are in contact with the parents EVEN IF the sibs don't mention their parents and say they don't "report back" on them to their parents. As my person has said to me, after a lifetime of being pitted against one another by their parents, it's really hard to have a normal adult relationship with their siblings. It's not even necessarily because they think poorly of any of their siblings--in fact, I know they hold one sibling in especially high regard and fondness, but there's no real contact there.

And I wonder if it's the same with your sister. I imagine you must be so terribly hurt. I would be in your shoes. But I think you will need to respect her current boundary (and who knows, it may change, she may reach out to you again--and then you'll need to decide how YOU feel about reconnecting). You both grew up with parents who didn't respect your boundaries, and it sounds like you recognize that and don't want to perpetuate the cycle...even if it feels like the other person's boundary is ill-chosen.

Your own pain is valid, even though we are telling you to respect the boundary your sister has put up. I hope your therapist is able to help you come to a place of less acute pain over this. I'm so sorry, because it does sound very painful for you.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:23 AM on March 15 [10 favorites]


I would punt on telling your kids what is up right now. Just say something along the lines of C is taking time for herself while reassuring them on the usual things.

In the future, if C attempts to reconnect, while not laying your kids' well being on C, if I were you, I'd consider this event before getting your kids back into contact with C.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:29 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Skimming through the responses, it seems like a lot of people are trying to explain/justify C's behavior to you.
This is what I see
- C hasn't replied to your recent messages. This seems like a deliberate no-contact response not just that they are busy or didn't see the message since they blocked you on facebook. (Are you sure of that? Any chance someone is in the hospital and they just aren't doing social media etc. Seems less likely, but make sure you ask yourself the question.
- You have worked really hard on your relationship with C and the growing connection between you is/was meaningful to you and your family. To have a significant relationship be in trouble is hard. To have it be cut off abruptly with no warning or explanation is really hurtful. Absolutely!!
- C has reasons on their side - everyone always does. They may (or may not) be good reasons. They may or may not even be based on the reality of who you are or anything you done. Whatever they are, you don't know so you don't even know if an explanation or apology could fix things because you weren't given the chance. Not knowing makes the hurt harder.
- You do recognize that C doesn't owe you an explanation. (Hey, people, she said so!) But that doesn't take away the hurt and the crazy making confusion.

My suggestion based on dealing with other people's stuff is that you need to give C a lot of room right now. Whatever happened probably felt big on their side which it means it will take time for them to get to a better place. Also, you are too caught up in the emotional impact to be able to do the extra emotional labor of being the calm, mature, generous person that the relationship would probably need you to be if it is going to work. The best you can do is to occasionally reach out and extend a low pressure invitation to connect. If the next one is rebuffed, wait a little longer but still try from time to time. You have many, many decades of being sisters ahead of you - play the long game.

As for the kids, I would say something true, but not the whole truth. Maybe as simple as "I don't know when we will see them again. I invited them and I haven't heard back so I think it will be a while before we can get together again." If they ask why, tell them you don't know why - it will happen when it happens. Try to keep the kids out of the drama as much as possible. They will take your lead in how to respond.
posted by metahawk at 11:33 AM on March 15 [24 favorites]


I think it would be wise to remove your kids from the equation for now, and just work on your own relationship/visits with C. I say this because it sounds like your feelings about C estranging YOU and estranging your children are pretty muddled together right now, and it will be super hard to keep those feelings separate if, as you say, you want your own relationship with C but don't want her to let your kids down all the time.

there's a disturbing amount of advice out there along the lines of, "You don't owe anybody an explanation," and "No is a complete sentence," and "You are allowed to never see your family again if that's what you want," -- which, oh god, is FINE and TRUE and I don't want to sound like I'm entitled to cross anyone's boundaries. But it also makes me want to scream right now.

I do completely understand your frustration, but might it help to think that the obverse side of this advice, for the estrangee, is this: you can't force another adult to explain or act any way that you want, or to even want to explain/act/etc...

In a way, that frees you from the trap of "but they should want to! but they sort of owe me! but it's not right!" All of those things might be true, and still - you can't force them. We all are working in the universe of what other people decide to choose and value on their own. Railing and wishing that it were otherwise may feel good and indignant, but is ultimately unproductive. We can only engage with what the person is actually doing and saying to us, and what we're willing to put in from there.

In the end, the advice to estrangers and estrangees is roughly the same: strive to accept the person they are now. You don't have to like or admire exactly who they are right now. But a relationship requires that you ACCEPT where they are and decide if your boundaries can support interacting with them where they are.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:34 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I promise to shut this tab and go away for several hours so as to not thread-sit from now on. But since this hits at the heart of what prompted me to post the thread, I'd like to talk about it.

it is not a thing they are doing TO you.

Maybe they just suck and are being terrible people. You don't know, you don't have enough information

your words and feelings here are making it seem like you're seeing this as an active thing they're doing to you

While the reasons for for C's actions may be purely to take care of themselves, the fact remains that they are doing this "to me" in addition to "for themselves." I am the target of their action, and even if I am only collateral damage, their action was damaging to me.

I feel like most people recognize that this is unkind and does qualify as "active harm" when this behavior occurs outside of sibling estrangement and parental estrangement by adult children. For example, if a long-term boyfriend treated me (and my kids!) in this manner, you all would not doubt that he is an asshole (even if he had all of the emotional baggage equivalent to this scenario, like say, if I happened to cross paths with his estranged parents regularly because I go to the same church as they do.) You all would agree that it's an expected part of the social contract that he needs to speak up and let me know there is a problem, or at the very least send me a fucking breakup text rather that ghost me after 10 years of long-distance dating. None of you would be in here saying he didn't do this TO me, that this isn't active harm, or whatever.

I posted this thread BECAUSE it was so upsetting to see these sentiments espoused all over the internet for sibling/parent family estrangements. And I am getting more of the same here from this community I trust, which is confusing. Am I missing something, or is there a double standard here? Would you all really be responding in the exact same way if C had been my boyfriend and not my sibling?

I doubt I want to fight for this relationship or make any efforts to reconcile, but who knows what I will feel 3 years from now. Please understand: I am not asking for advice. I would like resources that are going to help me through this time without making excuses for C's behavior.

(Thank you for pointing out that I do know where the estrangement is coming from. You are right that I am not clueless in this regard, just hurt and angry about the shitty behavior. It helps to recognize that.)

(PS: Folks, I have been careful not to speak of my sibling's gender and would appreciate it if y'all didn't assume that C is female. Thanks. )
posted by Aarti_Faarti at 11:45 AM on March 15 [17 favorites]


I have an aunt who is more like a very distant and much older sibling, because we were raised by the same woman (her mother, my grandmother) and our family dynamic is super weird and abusive in some ways. She maintained minimal contact with the family in the last few years of Grandma's life, helped out with some legal stuff as official next of kin during Grandma's slow death, and came up for a week to help me tie up loose ends after it was all over. We had a pretty good week, all things considered, and while we had never been close, I sort of wondered if maybe now we might form a new bond without our shared parent being involved anymore.

Nope. Haven't heard from her since she Venmo'd me my share of what remained in Grandma's bank accounts about a year ago. I texted her once last summer, but she left me on read, and I know she's on FB but I can't find her profile so I assume she's preemptively blocked me. And it stings a bit, but after I got to thinking about it I realized that we can never have a relationship devoid of any influence from our shared parent (a woman who pitted us against each other right up to the last few months of her life) or the rest of our family (sweet jesus, the harrowing tales I could tell you about my damaged-ass family). That's just completely impossible. Having to talk to me reminds her of a whole mess of things she went through intensive therapy to get over and which she told me she still struggles with on a regular basis, and interacting with her also dredges up some of that same stuff for me if I'm being honest with myself. It's just too much. It's not something that happened without a second thought, though, so I'd encourage you to move away from that kind of thinking in regards to your sister's choice. The truth is that you don't know anything about her thought process on this, and so to decide that she's an asshole who deliberately hurt you on a whim with zero forethought and is trying to hurt your kids as well... while I very much understand the impetus to make someone the bad guy, maybe there's just no bad guy here. You know? Maybe she's just doing what she needs to do to preserve her own well-being right now. Recasting her actions as being about her needs instead of about deliberately trying to hurt you will probably go a long way toward resolving some of your anger at her. And you 1000000% need to resolve that anger before you try to contact her again, unless your aim is to convince her that she's right to shut you out permanently.
posted by palomar at 11:47 AM on March 15 [6 favorites]


(apologies for gendering your sibling)
posted by palomar at 11:48 AM on March 15


FWIW I think you're right and this does suck and is unfair. There is a real double standard around this stuff on the internet but I think that's because there are a lot of REALLY shitty families out there and advice-givers want folks who have been hurt by that to find some relief. But the flip side is cases like this where you as a person didnt do anything wrong and don't deserve to be thrown away. I'm sorry this is happening.
posted by bleep at 11:51 AM on March 15 [9 favorites]


Or I thought so, at least. For example, when we met over Christmas last year, we had the loveliest time. C became visibly emotional and hugged me when they opened the present I gave them (a piece of art that I made referencing how far we both have come since our childhood). C and C's spouse M ate dinner with us and then played board games with my kids (who, btw, looove C and M). After the kids were in bed, we were up late into the night, laughing and talking and drinking and being silly, same as any other time we have hung out together. Even just three days before C stopped speaking with me, we were texting about a great book I was reading and they were acting perfectly "normal" - enthusiastic about my recommendation, saying it was going on their TBR list.

But three days after that, I texted to say my kids and I would like to drive over to visit for a weekend sometime in the next two months, what do they think?

C said, "M and I are busy."

My guess is some aspect of these memories was too much for C, and that contact with you is now a trigger for them. If so, I think that will fade in time, but that you will have to back off and let C come to you.

However, I've seen and heard about families with abusive parents where a sibling in C's position chose for reasons they couldn't articulate even to themselves to resume contact with the parents, and then could not face their siblings.
posted by jamjam at 11:56 AM on March 15


Am I missing something, or is there a double standard here? Would you all really be responding in the exact same way if C had been my boyfriend and not my sibling?

No, but C is not your boyfriend. They are a victim of childhood abuse. They are your sibling. The situations are different.

I refuse to tell you that your sibling is an "asshole" based on what you have described. Doing that would feel inappropriate. I do not know them and they are a victim of abuse. I have sympathy for both of you. Your hurt and anger are valid. I respect them. I think that your feelings are reasonable. But I absolutely do not agree that you need to have strangers tell you that your sibling is an asshole. I do not agree that it would constitute "support" of you instead of punishment of your sibling. And I do not agree that you are being victimized by the people here telling you, honestly, that your sibling is not necessarily an asshole for doing this.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:59 AM on March 15 [29 favorites]


Also, I feel like I am being overly harsh here --- I know how utterly shocking and upsetting this must be for you. I have an enormous amount of sympathy for what you must be feeling, to have put so much effort into this relationship only to feel like it was snatched away from you arbitrarily. At the same time, I want to make it 100% clear to you that it is okay for you to be angry and hurt and shocked regardless of whether your sibling is right or wrong. You deserve sympathy and support regardless, even if your sibling also deserves sympathy and support. I say this because thinking this way will, I believe, ultimately be in your best interest.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:04 PM on March 15 [9 favorites]


I just want to chime in and say the hurt and rejection you're feeling is 100% valid, and, yes, this is something that your sibling has done to you. I also think other people in this thread are coming from the perspective that you want to be supportive and maintain a good relationship with your sibling in the long run. But it's absolutely okay to be angry, upset and hurt. It's also good advice not to direct those feelings at your sibling--maybe not ever, and certainly not right now. You're doing the right thing by talking to your therapist. Try and express these negative feelings in a neutral setting--write a letter that you have no intention to send, for instance.
posted by zeusianfog at 12:04 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


the fact remains that they are doing this "to me" in addition to "for themselves." I am the target of their action

No, you're not. This may be very hard to understand or accept, but you're not. You two, but especially C, are survivors of child abuse. For some people, that is like the weather over their heads for the rest of their lives. It can abruptly and unpredictably make things that might ordinarily be pleasurable intolerable. Something happened. Who knows what. If you really care for your sibling, you will care more that your sibling take care of themselves (at least as they perceive that they need to) than that they spend time with you. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be pouring all this out to your therapist and trying to figure out ways to cope with the feelings of pain and rejection. It does mean that as a grown person, you should be keeping a grip on your priorities. (By the way, you are yourself allowed to decide that you don't want to pursue a relationship with your sibling on these terms if it's just too painful for you. What you can't do is dictate terms to C.)

Honestly, the more worked up you get about this (especially the way you're using your kids as a proxy for your own hurt feelings, which shows pretty limited insight in this area), the more I wonder whether you have been unintentionally trespassing boundaries in other ways in your interactions with your sibling.
posted by praemunire at 12:16 PM on March 15 [14 favorites]


If I'm understanding this correctly, you left your 8 year old sibling with abusive parents, and didn't try to help them or even stay in contact with them. You then sparked up a relationship when you were 21. That would feel very problematic to me.

Wow, OP was sixteen, and describes it as having left under parent-driven traumatic circumstances. Under those circumstances (e.g., this easily fits with having been kicked out of the house for being gay or trans and having nowhere to go as a high school sophomore!), I think it's really unfair to describe it as "abandoning" C. Abused people often feel guilt about "abandoning" siblings under those circumstances, but it's not a rational or fair guilt.
posted by praemunire at 12:20 PM on March 15 [48 favorites]


I also apologize for gendering, I think I mixed up that YOU are C's sister, not vice versa.

I posted this thread BECAUSE it was so upsetting to see these sentiments espoused all over the internet for sibling/parent family estrangements. And I am getting more of the same here from this community I trust, which is confusing. Am I missing something, or is there a double standard here? Would you all really be responding in the exact same way if C had been my boyfriend and not my sibling?


FWIW, yes, my advice would still be the same. Is it shitty and frustrating for a boyfriend to ghost you? Yes. Would you probably break up with that boyfriend? Also yes. But would you need to accept that this is what/how your boyfriend is if you still wanted even a friendship with him or thought he was worth trying to mend the problem? Yep.

Even if we all agreed that C is an asshole, the real question is, can you accept C's assholery and set boundaries to make the relationship still worthwhile? That's something only you can determine over time.

The resource underlying my advice is the concept of 'loving detachment'. This might be a good starting point. I truly hope something in it resonates with you.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:21 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


I keep a shrug ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ handy for when people ask about my estranged brother. I have no idea why he's not in touch. It hurts, but I know that whatever his reasons are, I shouldn't try to talk him out of them.
posted by vespabelle at 12:29 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Your sibling is not a boyfriend, the technical relationship the two of you have is unseverable but the terms of that relationship could be anything from "never met" to "anatomically connected since gestation" and every possible configuration of emotional relationship can exist at any point on that spectrum.

There are points in my mental health cycles where I am not able to do anything but work, because I have no choice, take care of my pets because...because, I and interact with my husband in a way that is hopefully not awful, and that is mostly because we live in the same house so I do owe him a less than terrible living situation. During that time I do not have the resources to interact in a non-critical way with anyone else - not my parents, next nearest family, or even closest friends. They may suffer from my inability to give them attention I would otherwise, but I'm NOT doing this TO them. It's just what I have to do to get through the day, and anyone who can't live with that...doesn't get my attention in the future.

My closest people and I all have an understanding that we're going to be opted in and opted out in waves, that humans sometimes have to make calls about what we've got the spoons for at any given time, and some days the answer just has to be "not you". Nobody takes it personally, because it's not being done TO us, it's just happening. Some of us have lost friends over this, or opportunities, or family relationships, but we can only do what we can do and there's no point putting in the effort toward someone who can't accept us and what we have to give on the merits.

The same advice you hate is the advice you yourself can take: if you do not like how your sibling acts toward you, you do not have to stand for it. You can cut them off. Same as a bad boyfriend or a terrible job or living in a place where the weather or architecture is harming your physical or mental well-being: you can go. You can't make them change, or do what you want, but you can set a boundary and enforce it.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:42 PM on March 15 [16 favorites]


If I'm understanding this correctly, you left your 8 year old sibling with abusive parents, and didn't try to help them or even stay in contact with them. You then sparked up a relationship when you were 21. That would feel very problematic to me.

There’s a huge leap in this comment between “C is hurt that the OP ‘abandoned’” them and “OP, you need to think about your part in what happened to them because you contributed to the abuse.” Which is the crux of why so much advice on this topic comes off as a bit unhinged.

OP, it’s obviously not your fault for abandoning a sibling when you were a child. C might perceive it as abandonment, however, which makes your relationship a more difficult one for them than you despite the fact that progress was being made. Your emotions are both valid and your view of a relationship with them would eventually need to encompass this fact to be healthy. (If you want to have a relationship, that is.)

I completely understand your frustration, disappointment, and anger. But a positive relationship can only bloom from compassion and an ability to listen. You may not have it in you for them right now, and that’s OK. But it might help to accept things if you consider C’s feelings as real, something that would eventually crop up no matter what. Their feelings may be misguided, disfigured by abuse, who knows. But they’re real, and C needs to deal with them.

If I were you I’d ratchet down my expectations of them going forward until trust is rebuilt. If you love them, remind yourself that they need this for some reason. Tell your kids C is spending some time on themselves right now (phrased in a way kids will get). Realize that you may have moved forward in your feelings faster than them, trusted faster, and that you’re lucky you have this capacity.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:43 PM on March 15 [7 favorites]


Would you all really be responding in the exact same way if C had been my boyfriend and not my sibling?

Only because you asked and not to pick at this scab but yes. You can not make other people do what you want, you can not make them not hurt you with their inattention or lack of engagement. You can set boundaries. If this person was your boyfriend I would say that pulling away like that makes it clear they are no longer your boyfriend. But your sibling will always be your sibling.

And I'm going to double down on this not being done TO you only because I think it's a cognitive distortion you have, maybe because of your upbringing, maybe because of something else. But people can do negative actions that have you as the only actee and still not have that be an intentional thing they did to harm you. And I hear you, the fact that you were harmed is absolutely clear and true. At the same time, do you get to "go after" the sibling because they made you feel SO bad? My answer to that is no. I feel sympathy for both of you, it's terribly hard and comes after a lot of terrible harder times.

A personal anecdote: my partner has an adult son with a chronic mental health issue. The son does better and worse. He has a good life and is a contented person most of the time. Sometimes, rarely, he does very badly and is hospitalized. My partner, while understandably upset by this, I think gets MORE upset as time goes by and not less. Because, over time, he has to face the fact that his son is less and less likely to "get better" in any real sense of the world and my partner sees the life ahead of him as bounded and limited by his son, who he loves more than life itself. This is terribly hard for him, because there is some part of secret hope that's been extinguished. If I were guessing I'd say that having the holiday reunion that was more like "normal" times, that was emotionally fulfilling for you and that felt both familial and non-painful kindled some hope that maybe you could get something out of the wreckage that was your abusive childhood. And now not only did that good feeling not continue, there are bad feelings that are supplanting them, and some hope that is getting endangered, or maybe lost.

In general w/r/t the boyfriend metaphor, it's really really hard when someone doesn't feel in a reciprocal way about us whether that person is a sibling, a partner, a bad parent or someone else. It sucks and is awful. At the same time, it's a thing that happens, and has to be managed the same way all the other things that happen (pain, illness, death, inconvenience) without making someone else a target of a level of rage that is not equivalent to the thing that is happening right now. i am sorry this is happening and I'm sorry you're hurting.
posted by jessamyn at 1:32 PM on March 15 [19 favorites]


I could be your sibling, except I'm the older one in my set. Sometimes it really is just too much to interact with my sister. I love her and we can have a really lovely time together. We also have quite different lives and experiences of our childhoods and current outlooks. It takes a lot more energy for me to see and interact with her and her kids than for me to hang out with friends. Especially as her kids grow more attached to me - family bonds make me intensely uncomfortable and I am doing my best to navigate that, but that's where we are. It sounds like your sibling doesn't have kids. Their niece and nephew are probably a lot of pressure that they don't always know how to deal with.

Sometimes when my sister texts to get together, all I can muster with a lot of energy is a gentle blow off like the one you received. Sometimes, I just don't respond for a month. Or two. I am not proud of this and it makes me feel like absolute shit when I just can't get back to her. But I can't. I try to send pictures or something else when words are too much, just so she knows that I love her and I'm thinking of her, but can't interact like a proper adult.

It truly truly truly isn't something that I'm doing TO her, as you keep framing it. Detaching from taking it personally is super hard, but it will serve you well in every single relationship you have. Your sibling isn't your boyfriend. You haven't made mutual commitments to each other to work it through when things are hard. You don't have a romantic relationship with them.

Sometimes it is truly and completely impossible to give an answer that will satisfy, especially with trauma brain. and sometimes that knowledge alone makes it so you don't even try. Because would you honestly feel better if C said "I just can't" to you? I don't think you would, since that's basically what they said and here you are. Sometimes that is the entire explanation. That SUCKS. And let me tell you, from the other side? It sucks just as much or more. I WANT to be able to. I want to have the ability to just hang out and respond and have a normal sibling relationship. But also, I can't.

I mean, listen. I would understand if my sister felt like I was an asshole. The fact that she doesn't and is understanding when I need to retreat means that we have a relationship at all. Maybe someday I will not flip out about family bonds. But this is where we are now.

I think that a lot of what you're finding on the internet that's hurting is people trying to explain. Trying really hard to help the "estrangee" understand that it's not a judgement on them. That it's not personal. That sometimes the only way forward is to allow yourself some space, even if you don't have the words to explain it right.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:53 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


I am sorry for gendering your sibling in my previous answer--I mistook you being C's sister for them being your sister.

is there a double standard here? Would you all really be responding in the exact same way if C had been my boyfriend and not my sibling?

I can't answer for other people, but yes, I would have given the same answer if C were your boyfriend: I would tell you that your feelings are valid, and you have every right to feel devastated and hurt, and I'd feel the same way. But I'd still tell you that there was no percentage in continuing to push for contact, and I'd encourage you to talk to your therapist so you can find a way to work through the hurt.

Although I 100% believe your feelings of hurt should be validated, I really don't think it would help your mental health to have someone tell you that your sibling is an asshole. I mean, why? In your post, you seem to have a lot of compassion and empathy for your sibling (even though you are understandably angry at them right now). Why would it be helpful to hear us call your sibling, whom you love and whom you understand had a traumatic childhood just as you did--why would it help to hear us, a bunch of internet strangers, call them an asshole?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:55 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


You all would agree that it's an expected part of the social contract that he needs to speak up and let me know there is a problem, or at the very least send me a fucking breakup text rather that ghost me after 10 years of long-distance dating. None of you would be in here saying he didn't do this TO me, that this isn't active harm, or whatever.

OK though, here's the thing: when people post on Ask saying, "my ex ghosted me, can I keep calling him, should I make him explain, etc.", we would say what we're saying here: No, no you shouldn't, you can't make him explain, and shitty as it is he does not owe you that. Fundamentally nobody owes anybody contact. It's just a hard stupid shitty fact.

Honestly I wonder whether, given the (I agree, pretty harsh) tone of resources on estrangement toward the estrangee, advice on breakups is maybe where to look. Baggage Reclaim is one that comes to mind for people dealing with breakups that are very one-sided.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:17 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


So: I have some insight into this, this dynamic plays out in a portion of the family I married into, except the C person here talks to me - even the age difference is the same.

Sometimes people who grew up with child abuse have different ways of dealing with it. And often when one person is a young sibling who didn’t get out and an older one who did, there’s a lot of baggage there. Even if it’s unfair, there’s a lot of “why didn’t you take me with you when you left?” Even without adding on you being in contact with parents and C not being.

Those resentments often arise precisely when there are good times. They think “why wasn’t it always like this?” And it sends them spiralling. Or they expect you to be in a better or healthier place than you are.

You are not bad and neither is your sib. I hope someday C finds their way back.
posted by corb at 2:24 PM on March 15 [7 favorites]


the fact remains that they are doing this "to me"

My own sister was unable to understand my request in similar circumstances. I asked her to step back so I could manage my mental health at the time (I was in a bad place), and it was nothing to do with her or a rejection of her, or anything. She did not feature in any way beyond her frequent presence at my house when I was "holding on" at the time.

Her anger, hurt, lashing out, drama, guilt trips and tit for tat have lengthened the estrangent indefinitely because frankly I'm just so tired, and am sick of trying not to piss her off and then dealing with the fall out and drama.

It has been liberating not having to deal with it, and she had shown no inclination to change. I've almost certainly blown this up bigger in my head than it had to be, that's anxiety for you.

Respect your sibling's wishes, let go of your anger and really understand that it truly may not have anything to do with you. My sister's inability to get that my withdrawal wasn't a weapon aimed at her has done more damage to our relationship than anything else.
posted by smoke at 3:06 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


I’m going to cut against the grain and say, based on the limited info, it doesn’t sound like you’ve been estranged or cut off. I don’t want to disbelieve you as you know the situation better than we do, but 3 weeks is like nothing. It sounds like your sibling loves you and also only wants to see you once or twice a year. You put out a bid for seeing them more often per year and got rejected. Maybe you could expect to see them again in 10-12 months.
posted by cricketcello at 3:23 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


You all would agree that it's an expected part of the social contract that he needs to speak up and let me know there is a problem, or at the very least send me a fucking breakup text rather that ghost me after 10 years of long-distance dating.

This bit, I think you're right about. Usually people do say that it is poor practice to ghost a romantic partner, and not actually come out and admit you don't want to see them many more. People would usually affirm that it's reasonable to be upset in this situation.

But. As others have said, if someone does break the social contract in this way then there is nothing you can do about it and no way you can force them to engage with you in the way that you want them to. If it was a romantic relationship people would be advising you to grieve, process and move on.

Because it's not a romantic relationship but a sibling relationship, it is more likely that this situation can be resolved in the future in a way that sees you back in contact that suits you both. And either way they will be your sibling forever. This is potentially positive. But people have given advice and suggestions taking this into account, so it's going to be different from advice about a boyfriend who you no inherent connection to.
posted by plonkee at 3:33 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


My sibling and I have had similar ups and downs.

The thing is, your sibling doesn’t owe you a relationship. That might sound harsh, but I think the path to less pain for you is to really sit with that. I would suggest journaling your desires...what is it that you would like from your sibling. If you work through that by writing it all down, you may find that there are some irreplaceable things, like missing that person’s hugs or sense of humour. And then there will be some things related to the past like someone who understands certain things. And then there will be more theoretical things like someone who shows up at hard times with soup or who can look after your kids.

Once you’ve done that you will probably find there are some things you need that friends or other people in your life can provide...and putting your energy into building those relationships will enrich your life. For the past things, you probably have to grieve them anyway. A sense of being sheltered or included by your sibling, for example (or the reality that you weren’t) will be something to process in the context of your abused past. I think this is where a lot of your anger is coming from. It’s a child’s cry: don’t leave me! And it’s not fair! So real and so painful. But remember there was no eternal promise between you two. You are biological and accidental co-passengers.

And then if your sibling hasn’t shifted by then, then yes, you grieve the loss of that specific person. Grief is painful but if you let that desire to control that you are having now go, it will make space in your life for other, different, experiences and people.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:25 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry you've received a lot of what might feel like a lot of invalidation here. Not a lot of substantive advice to give, other than I'd be hesitant about re-engaging your children with your sibling if C is the sort of person who (is unstable enough to?) react to a text asking to hang out *within the next few months* by: Sending a rude response, blocking you on facebook (wtf), and ghosting you for at least a few weeks with no explanation. I have to say would be traumatized by that kind of behavior and unpredicatability; can't imagine how unhealthy it would be to expose your kids to a person like this in his/her/pronoun's current state.
posted by shaademaan at 4:31 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Here is a chart for dealing with anxiety that I found particularly helpful in a similar situation. I think the lack of contact ends up causing a lot of anxiety mixed with anger, so managing the anxiety component might be helpful for you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:46 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


It sounds like you're hurt and angry, because you don't know why this is happening, and it feels so unfair because wtf did you do? Nothing. It's so baffling. So my only internet advice is to give that unfairness a voice. Write a letter and don't send it. Vent to friends. Accept that under it all there is pain. Is it triggering other pain / abandonment / anger issues for you? Like you let down your guard and then this happened. Maybe you can explore it with a professional.

Your sibling might just be in locks own mode over something else, they might resurface, who knows. Right now is time for self care and to ride it the bad hurt feeling as best you can. Hugs.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:52 PM on March 15


This is a difficult thread to read. I can chime in as someone who estranged myself from my entire, extended family, and in fact my entire hometown and the vast majority of people I knew growing up, due to the pain of my mother's mental illness and its effects.

When she died, I reconnected to a limited degree with my extended family. One of my younger cousins expressed hurt that I had cut him off, and he hadn't done anything to me.

It's true; he hadn't. But it was also true that he really, genuinely didn't know what had happened to me. He knew the general gist of the story, but he didn't really know it, and he didn't understand what was behind my decision to distance myself. It was too much to explain to him fully, but I am 100% confident that it was the right decision and saved my life.

All this to say: you don't know your sibling's story. You know the general story, but you *do not* know their life and world. You were not there for their upbringing, you do not know the full contours of their life now, you do not know their limits and their private miseries. You do not know why this makes sense to them but at some level it does. Period. Yes, it's unfair and it sucks that you don't get to make a decision here. I understand your regret and your loss. Respect your sib and give that distance. Let them know the door is open and they will walk through if and when they're able. That's all.
posted by Sublimity at 5:04 PM on March 15 [8 favorites]


Basically, it hurts. And nothing anyone can say to you will make it not hurt. And yes, it matters a great deal that it hurts.

I'm going to say that your sibling is being a jerk to you. And I am going to say that your sibling has indicated that they do not value their relationship with you. Hearing that you are not valued or wanted from anyone you care about is going to hurt.

There are lots of times when people's needs run counter to each other and we have to somehow try to make peace with it. For example, if a mother needs to go back to work when their child is at a vulnerable stage, then the kid gets hurt. Or if two kids are competing for a scarce resource in the family - parental approval perhaps - and only one kid wins, then the other kid is going to be hurt. Sometimes the stakes are small - your sibling gets to pick the movie instead of you and they pick a movie that you loathe. And sometimes the stakes are large perhaps when a sibling chooses to move away from your area and follow their career so the relationship drifts apart. Or a sibling chooses their new partner over their relationship with their brother/sister.

It is what it is, and grieving is appropriate. By blocking you they have also blocked the chances of you trusting them again. Yes, they may have needed to block you, but this means they are somebody who has the need to do things that hurt you. This means that even if they come back and say they are feeling up to being social again, you won't be able to feel close to them, not the same way.

Maybe you can grieve the way you would grieve if your sibling had taken a job at the other side of the country. Or a job overseas. Maybe you can grieve the way you would if your sibling was living a difficult live, short of money, or homeless or legal troubles and you couldn't help them and they had to go underground and disappear from your life for awhile.

Often it helps to divide the person into two people in your mind - sibling you love, and sibling that is a jerk. People contain multitudes. You can love someone very dearly and still break up with them. You don't have to hate them. You don't have to blame yourself either.

You seem to me to be entitled to your anger and your hurt; you also seem to be being reasonable about them. You mention being angry, but never mention hurting back or retaliating. Someone above suggested that you want to hurt your sibling. I don't know where they got that from. I didn't read anything you said to indicate that you wish your sibling anything but happiness and healing.

Perhaps consider perhaps that you don't know why your sibling has cut you off. The implication is that you did something wrong, and they aren't telling you what. But it is perfectly possible - probable! - that you did nothing wrong. It's possible that your sibling has social anxiety and trying to be comfortable around you is something they can't manage. It's possible that your sibling has something going on in their life that they are ashamed of and don't want you to know about. It's possible that your sibling is hoping like heck that what they are doing doesn't hurt you. It's possible that your sibling is distancing themself from you because they don't want to hurt you and think contacting you would hurt you more.

Try, maybe to hang onto that idea. No blame. Not on you, not on them. Bad luck. Good intentions on both your parts.

It's possible that your sibling is hugely angry and wants to blame you for not rescuing them by taking them away from home with you when they were eight, but also knows that this anger is not reasonable, given that you and they would have been located and they would have been returned home in jig time if you had tried to rescue them. It's very possible your sibling has an unresolvable conflict like this, that they are turning some of their anger at your parents, at you.

There's some kind of unresolvable conflict going on. But the pair of you seem to be both trying very hard to limit the damage you do to each other. Your sibling could have phoned you and told you just how much they can't stand you - and that would not have made you feel better; it would have felt deeply unjust. You want to know why but there may not even be a reason they could explain. They can't bear to be around you because they are too sensitive because your family background is an open wound, or they don't know how to communicate their needs. if they could tell you they would have. You can understand that. But you don't have to accept that what is best for them is best for you. They are another person in your family who is writing you off and pushing you way, the same as your parents did. Yeah, when you went no contact, your parents forced that situation. And now your sibling has forced a similar situation so it is a repeat trauma.

I wish I could give you a hug and make you feel better. I'm sorry that this has happened and that the wretched past has set this up so that it happened to you.

If your sibling had died people would send flowers and casseroles and there would be some kind of memorial ritual. Of course your sibling has not died and might send you an e-mail three days from now telling you that they just had their internet access cut off while they were in hospital for three weeks. It could be. Or not. Anyway, you could try to think of something tangible that you could do to grieve to help you with your feelings, and look at the funeral/memorial customs that people use to help them with grief. Do something special for yourself. Take a walk where you lived as a child as a way to say farewell to them. Make a macarroni chicken casserole and eat comfort food. Or oatmeal. Oatmeal is good. Buy a bunch of flowers and put them on the centre of your kitchen table and tell yourself that as long as they are alive you will grieve and sorrow, but when the flowers wither you will throw them away and begin to move on. Light a candle for you sibling and stare at the flame and either pray for them, or send your strongest, strongest feelings of love, desperately hoping that wherever they have gone it is a place where they can be happy.

Be kind to yourself. You have lost a family member. It's natural to mourn.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:35 PM on March 15 [12 favorites]


It's been...a month? You need to chill.

I looooooove my sister, but if she wanted to see me as often as you are expressing, I'd say the same thing that your sibling did (because I am(!) busy). Proximity does not give you a right to more frequent contact.

Especially in light of the fact that your parents (of whom your sibling is estranged) are very clingy, I think you need to take a big step back and avoid replicating their behavior. Deep breath.

Your sibling has drawn a boundary. Abusive families with a lot of boundary crossing tend to treat boundaries as end-of-the-world transgressions. As PERSONAL REJECTION. Don't do this (you are doing this).

Give them space. Stop, for the love of god, reaching out. Self-soothe. Your sibling will be a part of your life when they are able.

When your kids ask about seeing them, why not tell them the truth? "Sibling is busy right now. Also it might be weird for them to see us because we're still in contact with the grands (who they don't like)." Then, in a year, if you don't hear from them, you can reach out again (without laying on the guilt).
posted by whimsicalnymph at 5:55 PM on March 15 [10 favorites]


I just wanted to chime in and say I tend to think there's an unwillingness to confront how much pain that kind of estrangement-without-explanation causes. I still believe putting on your own oxygen mask is excellent advice, but I do think it's kinder to at least provide some explanation if you are able to do so. I also know from experience that if you have a not-great childhood, then siblings take on a huge importance that exceeds accidental biology. I get why having a relationship with your sib would be hugely important to you. If my sister ghosted on me, I would be devastated in a way no romantic relationship ending would ever approach.

This said, what kind of explanation would you be able to accept if you really are being ghosted? What kind of words would do?

From what you wrote, I would guess that part of what feels so bad is that you extended yourself to ask for more from the relationship and now feel as though you're being punished. And that might even be true. Your sib may have all kinds of anger at everyone related to your childhoods and may have rules of engagement (of which they may even not be aware) that you have overstepped. It's important you know that it doesn't mean you've done something wrong. It's okay to ask for what you need from a relationship, and if this is the response you get then it doesn't mean the ask was abusive. It isn't much comfort, I realise, but it may be if you can let go of self blame then the absence will be easier.

I would let some time go by and maybe get some help from a therapist to figure out what you would really like to say, and what you could profitably say. Most of those things you'll only end up saying to yourself, but I would guess in these circumstances you probably need to do that as well.
posted by frumiousb at 6:07 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


The conclusions you drew based on the story in your post are surprising and confusing to me. Unless you are really mischaracterizing your relationship with C, I don't think it makes any sense to assume that C has "estranged" you and that you should now assume that C never wants to speak to you again. All they did was not reply to your email for three weeks and block you on Facebook. (How do you know this? I don't think that you are supposed to be able to tell if someone blocked you on Facebook. I unfollow and unfriend people all the time on Facebook just because I'm trying to tweak what the Facebook algorithm puts on my feed.)

I love my parents and I have also failed to respond to emails from them for weeks at a time because of garden-variety procrastination.

I would assume that your relationship with C is exactly the same as it was a month ago, update slightly in the direction of them wanting to hang out less, and email them the next time you might want to invite them to do something together.
posted by value of information at 6:33 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


To me, there seems like two different issues here. One is, is it okay for your sibling to cut off contact. Two, do they owe you some kind of explanation, or at least notice, if they choose to do so.

I firmly agree with everyone else that at the end of the day people need to take care of themselves and if interacting with you causes them stress or unpleasant memories then they have the right to withdraw.

I also definitely think they owe you some kind of simple acknowledgment of what is going on. The existential uncertainty that you have to undergo is not fair, and it's not kind. This might be excused by their situation but that doesn't make it right. You have to sit in the position of not knowing whether you're actually being cut off, or they simply are busy with stuff and forgot to respond and deleted their facebook. You have to explain to your kids what is going on. I think it's a completely reasonable expectation that if they need space they at least send you a message "hey I need space for a while. Sorry I know this sucks". That satisfies those in the camp that people don't owe explanations. But given that you're siblings and suffered through a similar situation I think people should strive for at least some explanation of "hey I'm sorry but interacting with you just reminds me too much of our parents. It's not your fault, and there's nothing you could do about it. I'm going to therapy (or wtvr) and hopefully we can reconnect some time in the future."

The situation you're in would make me very upset to be on the receiving end. I absolutely think it is equivalent to ghosting a boyfriend or partner. Just like with a partner, noone would ever say they owe you to stay in the relationship. But they certainly owe you some minimal acknowledgment that it's over.

This sucks. I'm sorry.

P.S. one probably unhelpful piece of advice. But maybe try texting them again. Something innocent like "hey", just to see if they'll respond, and have another data point.
posted by aaabbbccc at 8:10 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


If you're interested in a more sympathetic view towards the estranged, there are a few stories in the short story compliation Runaway by Alice Munro that focus on a woman estranged by her adult daughter, with no obvious explanation. The movie Julieta by Almodovar is set in Spain and based on the same stories. The portrayal of the hurt and longing by the mother is quite moving in both the book and movie version.
posted by emd3737 at 3:27 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


You write really well about tensions in such cultural ethical norms.

I would feel the same if my family member/s cut me off in such circumstances. I can't imagine the pain.

Your hurt reads as fierce not defeated, you read as someone who has got their own back despite the world knocking them around. That might be part of some of the pushback here on this forum. Either way, all the best in best utilising your resilience to best get through this.

My condolences, all the best.
posted by hotcoroner at 5:06 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


I feel like I've been on both sides of this, coming from a family with three siblings where there have been different degrees of estrangement from our parents and-- consequently, in my mind-- from each other. The words of comfort I would give would be that these things have seasons. Your relationship is in a kind of fallow season right now. Nobody has said anything about estrangement or cutting each other off. The relationship is just in a less active state.

This may well suck. I know in my family, there have been some fairly extreme statements made and I've had the feeling at times that maybe I will not be seeing much these people any more, and it's not a good feeling. But the thing is, you still have a choice in this relationship. Maybe, in the light of how your sibling is acting at the moment, you're going to find you don't want as much of a relationship as you thought. And that's fine. Or you may end up feeling that you want more of a relationship than they do, and you will come to accommodate that in whatever way. That is hard, harder than with an ex or former friend because in those cases the relationship usually dissolves and after a while you don't actively miss it. But after this current period of confusion and uncertainty, you will have some idea of what you are dealing with. You won't always be feeling like you are feeling right now.
posted by BibiRose at 6:04 AM on March 16


[One comment deleted. Sorry, OP, AskMe isn't a place for back-and-forth responses or metadiscussion; if you want to talk at a meta level about how a thread went, that would go in Metatalk instead.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:57 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I don't have any resources, but wanted to let you know you're not alone.

My sister cut off contact with me a year and a half ago. There was a Very Big Thing that happened several years ago, then a Super Big Thing that happened a year and a half ago. I thanked her for helping out with stuff related to Super Big Thing, which was tangentially related to Very Big Thing. She decided to go off on me, telling me that the Very Big Thing and the Super Big Thing had ruined everyone's lives and were absolutely, entirely my fault. And while decisions I made 13 years ago eventually led to both Big Things, they were absolutely not my fault. (A year of therapy to get to that point for me.)

But here's the thing. It's on her. She decided to flip her shit. She decided to cut off contact. She decided to blame me. And none of that has anything to do with me. It's not my circus, not my monkeys. It's on her. I refuse to take that on. It's one of those "what you think of me is none of my business" kind of things. (So maybe I do have a resource after all.)

Other random tidbits:

* Hubert Humphrey once said, "It's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left."
* Worry is a misuse of your imagination.
* It is only a thought, and a thought can be changed.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 1:28 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


So my sibling situation is not yours. And I don't know what's up with the Facebook thing. But I just wanted to say that my little sister frequently can't answer texts and emails, but tries to contact me when she's up for it. I accepted years ago the limitations that depression and chronic illness put on her, even if I don't know what is specifically going on any time I don't hear from her. It's taken time and negotiation to get to this place, but I'm a lot happier for it. (Back before we had cell phones, we used to make plans to meet up that included how long I'd wait for her before leaving. It helped me to stop getting upset the times she didn't show and also to pick places I enjoyed being more.)

And since you mentioned your kids, I'll say that my daughter adores her, but understands that she can't always follow through like she'd like to. (Things like, your aunt said she's coming to visit, so fifty/fifty chance and we'll keep our fingers crossed.) It's a little easier to explain unexpected hospital visits than mental health problems, but they both get in the way of both visits and communicating well, and kids can understand that. (Hopefully there's some overlap of my situation and yours. Wishing for the best for you.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:50 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


You’re right that you’re entitled to a decent sibling relationship given that you’ve been a decent sister, but the people who fucked that up for you and your sister are your parents. At least some of this anger and hurt are on them. Toxic or unworkable sibling dynamics are the result of abusive parenting, not the children involved (neither you or your sister.) Something to think about.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:48 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]


Thank you, everyone, for helping me process and think about a very difficult situation. You all took the time and effort to write out answers and share your stories, many of you coming back in here multiple times to add thoughts. A huge thank you to folks who included links to articles and shared personal mottos or quotes.

Right now I feel most helped by the comments which gave me the unconditional support and empathy I was looking for. I've marked these as "best" for now. Some other comments hurt to read in the moment, but each and every one still came from a place of kindness and wanting to help me notice what I'm missing. I will keep coming back here over the next few weeks to see if my ability to understand your views changes as my emotions settle. Thank you.
posted by Aarti_Faarti at 6:10 AM on March 17 [9 favorites]


Hang in there. This is really hard but I believe that you can get through it.

Depending on what your parents are like, you might be able to find additional support on one of two reddit groups, r/raisedbyborderlines and r/raisedbynarcissists. They also have a lot of links and information that you might find helpful to read as you’re processing this situation, even if you’re not interested in posting/commenting.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:19 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


there's a disturbing amount of advice out there along the lines of, "You don't owe anybody an explanation," and "No is a complete sentence," and "You are allowed to never see your family again if that's what you want," -- which, oh god, is FINE and TRUE and I don't want to sound like I'm entitled to cross anyone's boundaries.

You know this attitude is a complete load of self-sufficientist hooey, right? I know this is a minority opinion, but I actually believe that people DO have an obligation to each other, not just for an explanation, but for not abandoning other people. I would say it's even more so for a romantic partner, because they chose to get into a relationship with you in the first place, whereas a sibling did not. But still, your sibling is an adult, who made the choice to have a relationship with you as an adult. Treatment for abuse victims should involve not only helping the victim's pain but also halting the cycle of abuse, and abandonment is abuse. I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:15 PM on March 19


The idea of being abandoned is, rightly, terrifying, but that is not what is happening here. It is not possible to abandon an adult who does not depend on you. An unexpected break in intimacy or contact may feel like abandonment, and it may be extraordinarily painful and frightening. People certainly fail to honor their commitments, break promises, or do any number of painful and/or inconsiderate things. But "abandonment" is not a concept that applies to independent adults. Considering oneself to be "abandoned" in the manner of a child or a dependent, and therefore a victim of "abuse" as a child or dependent would be if left alone or without contact, may be a temporarily relieving form of splitting, but it is a distortion of reality that overemphasizes helplessness and a lack of agency that just doesn't exist in a relationship between two independent adults. In the long run, it's important to believe that you are a capable, strong, safe adult who can cope with a lack of contact or a relationship failure---both because it's true---everything here indicates that you are strong, capable, and smart --- and because that confidence will allow you to take the steps you need to take to care for yourself.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:28 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


But "abandonment" is not a concept that applies to independent adults.

Obviously, I strongly disagree. Abandonment ABSOLUTELY applies to all human beings. People don't magically stop having attachment and needs just because they are adults.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:35 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


« Older It’s Annus Domini 2019 and It Is Time   |   Moving to MoCo Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments