Should I feel guilty about my sister’s wedding 5 years ago?
December 15, 2021 10:05 AM   Subscribe

I was 24, her 35, and her maid of honor. I didn’t help plan her wedding, and brought my boyfriend who she invited but then changed her mind about inviting. I am now engaged and feeling guilty, just wanting perspective.

I am 29F and just got engaged. I have been beginning the wedding planning process.

When I was 24, my sister, at the time 35F, got married (her second wedding, third engagement).

She made me maid of honor, even though we weren’t really close and and she was kind of hostile to me. I remember when she came to announce her engagement to my dad and stepmom, I was still living with my dad, sleeping upstairs in my room, because I was a baker and had odd hours. I remember being at the top of the stairs, and my sister saying judgementally to her fiancé, “ OMG she’s wearing TiE DYE,” she didn’t approve of my sleep shirt. She made our two stepsister brides maids, even though she doesn’t really like them at all.

Anyways, I feel bad now but I didn’t help with wedding planning or anything, until really the day of, helping with flowers, centerpieces, and cupcakes. I was so naive it didn’t occur to me really, I believe I offered to help, but can’t remember. My sister is very very organized, capable, everything like that. I’d hardly been to maybe two weddings before when I was a child. I didn’t realize maybe I should help. I do remember with her second engagement coming over to help with stuff.
I started dating a guy in 2014 and her wedding was in 2016. She invited him to her wedding. A month before the big day, we got together for a walk. She asked about my boyfriend, I confided in her about negative things in our relationship, she told me she had no idea what I was doing with him, he was gross, and encouraged me to break up with him. I kept saying I didn’t know if I wanted to, she kept saying why not, just do it.
Then, soon after she sent me an email saying that since I am planning on breaking up with him soon, to not bring him to her wedding since she didnt want him in pictures. After I got home and thought and hung out with my boyfriend, I had a change of heart, I didn’t want to leave him, wasn’t ready, and I am not close with my family and really was looking forward to having a plus one at her wedding.

I freaked out when I got that email, had extreme anxiety and a very sick feeling, I shouldn’t have talked behind my boyfriends back, I didn’t know how to tell my boyfriend that he was uninvited or whatever. I talked to my mom, who my sister doesn’t speak to, and confided in her, looking back I shouldn’t have. My mom freaked out, she is a bit crazy, and called my sister up and told her not to do that to me. My mom kept saying, “she’s trying to hurt your heart!” Idk, my mom overreacted, and sister said okay it’s fine to bring him.

So he came, and on the day of I kinda realized how big a deal the wedding was, how special. He was in photos.

I broke up with him over 6 months later, it was extremely hard and my whole gut and body didn’t want to, and I felt sick when I remembered my sisters request not to bring him if I was going to break up with him…

Anyways, my sister picked a fight (I feel) recently, and I told her she is judgemental and critical and that’s why I don’t tell her things about my life, and she immediately said very contemptuously, “GUESS who’s in MY WEDDiNG PICUTRES.” And then started yelling about how I talked crap on him for two hours in her car, and let him be in her pictures. And then she drudged up stuff that happened so long ago and sent me many emails about what a piece of crap I am and deleted me from social media. I was never the sister she fantasized about, she thinks I’m trash.

I saw her a couple months later at her sons birthday party and she kinda of apologized, saying she doesn’t mean to be judgmental or critical, and that maybe it’s a misunderstanding and we can talk sometime. I wasn’t ready to talk.

Anyways, now that I’m engaged, I am starting to feel bad about how I was at her wedding, but I don’t know if it’s reasonable guilt or not. I don’t expect anyone to help plan my wedding, I’m fine with doing it myself. I didn’t realize how much planning and money goes into a wedding. And I just am feeling quilts about the last. I was naive.
posted by anon1129 to Human Relations (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You should not feel bad at all. She's yelling at you five years later about your long term BF at the time being in pictures? There's people I don't want in my wedding photos either, but they were in my life at the time. She's being ridiculous (this is just one example, I need to get), and if you can get away with never talking to her again, I would do just that.
posted by joycehealy at 10:10 AM on December 15, 2021 [9 favorites]


Response by poster: Also I would add, I went to dress fittings, wedding dress shopping, and the bachelorette party. I just didn’t help with planning I guess.

Also, she said that I threw a “tantrum” about bringing my boyfriend, I found that really offensive, my best friend said she could never see me throwing a “tantrum”. I was just having anxiety and didn’t know what to do.
posted by anon1129 at 10:14 AM on December 15, 2021


Photoshop.

Anyway, she sounds like a horrible "piece of work." Nothing to feel guilty about.
posted by DMelanogaster at 10:14 AM on December 15, 2021 [5 favorites]


Best answer: Every single one of us who had a wedding has people in our wedding photos that are no longer in our lives anymore, sometimes because of sad or unpleasant things that happened between us. That’s because that’s what a normal life is; people come into our lives and often leave them too, for lots of reasons. I guarantee you there are other people in those photos your sister no longer has contact with, having nothing to do with you. Your sister is being incredibly petty and childish, and that’s the kindest way I could think to put it, believe me.
posted by holborne at 10:17 AM on December 15, 2021 [55 favorites]


Best answer: Oh, and disinviting your long-term boyfriend from her wedding because you might break up with him sometime in the future was appallingly rude. Appallingly. Like, beyond words. That is simply not something decent people do, period.
posted by holborne at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2021 [75 favorites]


Live and learn. Recently I found the advice that everything you've done to this moment was the best you could do in those moments. Be kind to your younger self.

If it would be helpful, like if your sister would die and you would feel bad that you never expressed these thoughts, acknowledge to her that your actions at the time would be different had you known what you know now and that you wish you would have been of more help and taken it more seriously or whatever you actually wish. Sometimes you have to take the high road. Instead of starting out with "I'm sorry" consider how you could start with "thank you" as in "thanks for putting up with my younger antics or thanks for understanding or even just thanks for listening". End with I'd like to value our relationship and do the best I can going forward.

Then going forward now ... do the best you can.

This won't be the first time you look back and think about how you would have done something differently based on the life experience you've had since then. That's how life works, you grow and learn.

(I'm always amazed with ask.me's DTMF mentality. None of us are perfect. If we ditched our family and friends for every single transgression, we wouldn't have any family and friends. Jeez.)
posted by RoadScholar at 10:24 AM on December 15, 2021 [7 favorites]


What purpose does this guilt serve, except to keep you (and your sister) living in the past and ruminating over what could have/should have/would have been?
posted by sm1tten at 10:25 AM on December 15, 2021 [3 favorites]


I was going to advise you that your own wedding is kind of a chance to process with your sister, but then I read further.

If your relationship is such that she yells at you and you don't talk much otherwise, I don't think that getting together for coffee and saying, hey, planning this wedding has brought up some memories and made me think about my own behavior from a different perspective, cool that life is long and we are sisters and can talk about things, is actually going to meaningfully change your relationship with her.

I think it's great that you are thinking about things from a more mature perspective, but there's not really any obligation on your part to allow her a chance to yell at you again about this.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 10:28 AM on December 15, 2021 [6 favorites]


Best answer: You don't invite people and then disinvite them. You also don't invite someone in a long-term relationship and not invite their partner. You also don't keep bashing someone over the head with something that happened years ago.

Regarding helping with the wedding: Did she ask you for help and you refused? Or you just didn't know to offer? If the latter, let it go. You were young. She could have asked. If the former, also let it go. You would do it differently now.

P.S. Every couple in my wedding photos is now divorced. Including me.
posted by HotToddy at 10:30 AM on December 15, 2021 [43 favorites]


I was never the sister she fantasized about

Honestly, it sounds like your sister is someone who puts a fair bit of stock into fantasy - someone who needs to have the perfect wedding, down to the perfect wedding photos. (And presumably your ex-boyfriend is only in a handful of photos) You didn't ruin your sister's wedding, her unrealistic expectations ruined it. And how much planning people expect the the maid of honor to do varies widely (there is a reason for professional wedding planners).
posted by coffeecat at 10:31 AM on December 15, 2021 [14 favorites]


Best answer: She wants a normal, calm, supportive family life, with help planning her wedding and stable, meaningful long-term family relationships. She can’t have it because your family of origin is abusive. She tries to over control the things she can control to give herself a sense of safety and security.

It sounds like you’re furious at her but can’t accept your anger because you realize that she’s a victim of your family background too. She did deserve someone to be her Maid of Honor and help her plan her wedding; that person was not you. You were clueless because you had no older, supportive relatives teaching you how to fulfill your social role. These social roles we play are transmitted through time from elders to young adults. Your sister probably had to learn most of them on her own, from books and TV and movies. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go but if you didn’t grow up with positive role models, you don’t know that.

You keep saying she didn’t need help because she was so capable. She was capable because she looked around and saw that no one else was. So she white knuckled it. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t need help. She needs a LOT. But probably not from you. She subconsciously or consciously wants you to pick up the heavy burden she’s hauling around, but it won’t make either of you happy. She needs to mourn the losses of her life, the things she wasn’t given.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:31 AM on December 15, 2021 [33 favorites]


Best answer: I just realized I have commented on your other posts as well. A lot of people who are confused and appalled by your sister’s behavior probably weren’t nearly pushed down the stairs by their abusive fathers. (Which is not a bad thing; when you aren’t acculturated to abuse, it is appalling.) Yes, when that’s the kind of parenting you get, one viable escape is to embrace a fantasy life and try your hardest to live there.

She does need therapy, or some deep self-discovery. It sounds like you want to be let off the hook and told that your sisters expectations were not realistic. Well, they aren’t. You are free of them in the eyes of polite society. Every therapist in the world would be on your side. But you sound pretty lost too, like you are circling the drain with these emotions. Your sister is not the authority of your life; the only reason you feel like she is is because your parents failed so profoundly. Even if your sister is a dyed in the wool awful narcissistic on a deep genetic level unaffected by parenting, your parents totally failed to protect you. Hopefully you are in therapy yourself.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:39 AM on December 15, 2021 [19 favorites]


Response by poster: To add: she never asked for my help, unless I’m really forgetting something
posted by anon1129 at 10:39 AM on December 15, 2021


Best answer: To be honest, I'd expect a 35-year-old woman on her second wedding to be handling most arrangements herself.

Either way, if your sister is still in the stage of yelling at you about things that happened five years ago, it doesn't sound like she's in a state of mind to have that kind of reflective conversation. Maybe in a few years.

Sometimes when you come from the same abusive background you think that should make you a natural team, but the abuse damages everyone's capacity and skills for difficult social interactions, which actually makes it harder for you to get along.
posted by praemunire at 10:43 AM on December 15, 2021 [20 favorites]


Response by poster: I am in therapy. My current therapist almost seems to be on my sisters side, she always just says to try seeing things from my sisters perspective. Maybe I need a new therapist, she tries to help on a surface level but I don’t think it feels like she really connects deep with me to validate my perspective and help with self compassion.

My sister and I were both deeply abused (physically, metaphysically) and it’s still happening (dad is neglectful, mother is very verbally, emotionally, socially, mentally abusive).

There’s a lot to work through.
posted by anon1129 at 10:46 AM on December 15, 2021 [4 favorites]


You know, sometimes we are just monsters to our family members. And sometimes they are total monsters to us. We all get away with it due to familial obligation. We say things to family members we wouldn't say to other people. We can be far more vulnerable with family and far, far more wounded by family. It's a mess. I have two half sisters and two brothers and I'm not close with any of them. Luckily, we don't fight but it still pains me.

At 24, with no prior experience, I wouldn't expect you to know to do anything especially heroic. I had a maid of honor and my young cousins were my "bridesmaids" and they were all coming from out of state and I asked nothing of them. My local friends threw me a wedding shower and bachelorette party because we were all young and super into that at the time but if I had a second wedding over ten years later? I wouldn't mess with any of that.

I think, though, that you have one thing that is real and true and you yourself feel like now that you have perspective that you wish you could have done more to help her with her wedding back then. I think that's the one and only thing that you maybe ought to address with your sister. But not in a dredging up fashion just in a very casual, maybe even by text way, like, "Hey sis! I'm in the depths of wedding planning and really wishing I had been more helpful to you back when. Just laughing about how little I knew! Lol." That's it. The way your sister behaved was not appropriate at all and actually, from my read on it, doesn't have anything to do with you too much. You two also have an age gap (ten years is huge!) and I think your sister just has something else going on about her feelings about family. Don't take that on. You can't solve this issue for her and you really, really have no obligation to right whatever seemed to be wrong to her years ago. Let it go.

ETA: the fact that you say your family was abusive would have me changing the wording of some of what I have said above. Children who grow up in unstable environments often get triggered by different things. Just, go forward with compassion for yourself and your sibling and know that everyone was doing their best at that time even if their best wasn't that great. You still have nothing to apologize for. You are a good person.
posted by amanda at 10:51 AM on December 15, 2021 [2 favorites]


When I was around 18, my dad got married for the second time. They planned a small church ceremony and her daughters were bridesmaids (for the record I would not have wanted to be a bridesmaid and was not bothered by not having been asked to.)

My stepmother-to-be asked me if I would serve at the reception. I said no, and later complained to my grandmother & aunt about them being too cheap to hire people to serve. My grandmother looked at me like I was crazy and said "it was meant as an honor!" Like, they didn't want me walking around in a waiter's uniform with a tray of appetizers or bussing tables, I'd be standing there dressed up and serving cake or whatnot. I had NO idea that was a thing, and to this day I am embarrassed I said no.

Sometimes you just don't know what you don't know, and sometimes expectations are not made clear, and sometimes expectations are out of line (such as uninviting your boyfriend.) I don't see any reason for you to hang on to any guilt over this.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:53 AM on December 15, 2021 [6 favorites]


You are okay. You did fine. Really, you did. Yes, you should have helped your sister more with her wedding, but you didn't know that at the time, and that's okay. I did the same thing when I was that age: I utterly flaked on a friend's wedding because I just didn't know what my responsibilities were, because nobody had taught me. My friend didn't know either. We were just kids and young and dumb and it was totally fine.

If you want to apologize to your sister for not helping more with her wedding, you should. You could just tell her that you've come to realize that you didn't help in the normal way, and that it wasn't because you didn't want to, it was because you literally didn't know the rules. If you had known you were supposed to help, you would have.

I'm glad you're in therapy: therapy is great. It's too bad, though, that you feel like your therapist is on your sister's side. Is it possible that your therapist is trying to help you understand your sister so you can engage with her in a way that works better for you? (Like, is it possible she is on your side and trying to help YOU, by helping you understand your sister?) I feel like that might be possible. If you feel comfortable, you might want to just flat-out ask your therapist and see what she says. Or yeah, you could just get a different therapist, if what you're doing with your current one doesn't feel like it's helping very much.

Good luck! There is no reason for you to feel guilty or bad about any of this.
posted by Susan PG at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: and she immediately said very contemptuously, “GUESS who’s in MY WEDDiNG PICUTRES.”

"...that guy you're no longer married to? Or are you talking about the photos from your second wedding?"
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:43 AM on December 15, 2021 [9 favorites]


My current therapist almost seems to be on my sisters side, she always just says to try seeing things from my sisters perspective.

I don’t think it necessarily means what you think it does when your therapist says it. Saying “try to see things from this person’s perspective” doesn’t always mean “this person is right and you’re wrong,” it can also mean “because of who this person is, their perspective is inherently limited and very different from yours, so if you’re only applying your own perspective to their actions, you may be misunderstanding what they think, want, say, and mean.” If you can embrace the idea that your sister’s perspective is fundamentally different, then maybe you can forgive yourself for not living up to her ideals or having a better relationship with her, because her ideals are HER ideals alone.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:54 AM on December 15, 2021 [15 favorites]


Just as a data point, I didn’t do any of the wedding planning when I was a maid of honor. I wasn’t asked to. The bride and her family were super organized, and I assume that if she’d needed anything from me she would’ve asked for it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:02 PM on December 15, 2021 [2 favorites]


> My current therapist almost seems to be on my sisters side, she always just says to try seeing things from my sisters perspective. Maybe I need a new therapist

This seems to imply that your sister's side is the opposite of your side, that you both are opponents. I didn't get that impression at all from reading your post. It sounds like both of you are suffering the effects of serious childhood abuse, and in my book, that puts you both on the same side.

In so many ways, you both are typical siblings. Look at how you're saying *you feel* she picked a fight with you, for example. Look at how you're casting your part in that argument as totally calm and reasonable, when really you said some pretty hurtful and extremely critical things to her yourself! I can't imagine anything more apt than "a typical sibling interaction" to describe that.

And yet, the filter of childhood abuse totally distorts your interactions with each other, overlaying the drama of controlling parent vs. resentful rebel on top of your typical sibling behavior. Childhood abuse caused her to become parentified. Parentification is where her criticism and judgment comes from. That is also where your resentment and feeling of being controlled by her comes from.

This is not to excuse or condone your sister yelling at you and disparaging you. And equally it doesn't condone you reacting to your sister like she's your parent (expecting a certain level of nurturing from her, reacting to her criticism as if it's a binding pronouncement on your fate, rebelling against her, making life choices seemingly to spite her?).

With the kind of abuse that you both suffered, she was almost certainly overly independent from too young an age and parentified to boot. She's been thrust in the role of managing everyone around her for practical necessities waaaaay before she was able to develop a the capacity to emotionally nurture anyone. You understand what I'm saying? As a child who was forced to do parenting tasks all by herself, she just didn't have the brain development necessary to understand how to manage other people's emotional wellbeing in addition to taking care of survival tasks well beyond her scope. What was modeled for her in her home environment, after all? Yelling, criticism, judgment, and worse besides. That's all she ever knew about how adults should behave when they're in charge... and she's always had to be in charge. Of course, at 35 years old, she has had plenty of opportunity to reflect and try to change those sticky old habits. And that's why you see her doing things your parents never taught her to do: apologizing to you, reaching out to you to repair and connect after fucking up. She's growing and changing, and as she does so, she's healing from childhood abuse.

By the same token, due to the type of abuse both of you suffered, you were almost certainly forced to look to her for the parenting that was so badly lacking in your life. The age gap between the two of you meant that you could not help seeing her as part of the "big people" around you. She was an adult by the time you were barely halfway through elementary school. *Of course* you treat her like she's your parent. *Of course* you feel she has an incredible amount of power over you (even when she's only your sibling and thus has no say). *Of course* you have immense feelings of hostility towards her because, in your eyes, she was so much older and wiser and more capable than you AND YET she failed to protect you from your parents and she failed to be the nurturing caregiver you sorely needed. This completely explains why you felt the inexplicable change of heart about your boyfriend after she said you needed to break up with him - you already knew he was bad for you, and you ended up breaking up with him anyway after six months, but the moment SHE said he's bad for you, you felt like she was being the same old judgmental, critical, high-and-mighty, running-your-life-for-you queen bitch, and that ... that felt like annihilation for you, same as any controlling parent would be.

But look at you now, capable of reflecting on the same painful past event with new eyes. This is not what your parents ever taught you to do! This has never been part of your life experience, that someone looks past your obnoxious behavior to see how you were hurting underneath. But nevertheless that's the grace you're extending to your sister. Where did this new ability come from? This is YOUR own growth, YOUR hard work towards your healing. You, too, like your sister, are growing and changing and healing.

You both are not on opposite sides, OP. You're both starting off from your shared childhoods and trying to journey towards healing. What's more, you're both doing it in parallel. Both of you are learning new skills and new ways of being at the same time. When your therapist tries to get you to see things from her point of view, they're not "siding with your sister against you". They're trying to get you to see that she's not your enemy. She's not the one who abused you. She's not the one who failed you. She's not the one who hurt you. And in fact, she is as much of a victim as you are, of the same people who victimized you.

What you do with this knowledge is your decision. This is not a tactic to pressure you to drop everything and become your sister's soul buddy tomorrow. You may never have enough in common to build a TV-movie type sisterly bond. And this is certainly not a tactic to pressure you to stuff all the anger you have towards her down inside your belly, and make nice. NOPE.

All this is, is a reframing of your mindset, and encouragement to see the truth about your childhood not just intellectually but emotionally too. Take the leap, work through it on your own, learn to honor the best and most generous impulses within yourself as you grow, and who knows what happens next.
posted by MiraK at 12:08 PM on December 15, 2021 [16 favorites]


I think one reason why your therapist is asking you to view things from your sister's side is that your therapist is trying to enable you to feel empathy for her. It's not about picking sides. It's about moving on from anger and hurt from this "you versus me" cycle which is an extremely self-compassionate thing to do.
posted by sm1tten at 12:09 PM on December 15, 2021 [8 favorites]


Your behavior sounds reasonable; hers does not. Tie-dye pajamas, Quelle horreur. Bringing up wedding photos, seriously? She sounds dramatic and self-involved and I'd be cautious around her, at best. You're getting married; involve her and other family members as much or as little as you want, though I think inviting family is a good thing generally.

Weddings involve family, choices, and have baggage attached, but you do not Have to engage in all that unless you want to.
posted by theora55 at 12:20 PM on December 15, 2021 [1 favorite]


My current therapist almost seems to be on my sisters side, she always just says to try seeing things from my sisters perspective.

To an extent, I agree with others that being able to put yourself in your sister's shoes is a valuable way to be able to empathise with her, and see how her behaviour is not about you. However.

Maybe I need a new therapist, she tries to help on a surface level but I don’t think it feels like she really connects deep with me to validate my perspective and help with self compassion.

Yeah, I think I agree with you. Research suggests that by far THE biggest predictor of a successful outcome from therapy is the quality of the relationship between client and therapist. If you do not feel supported by and connected to your therapist, the chances are you're not getting the real value of your work with them that you could be.
posted by greenish at 12:27 PM on December 15, 2021 [6 favorites]


I tend to think that this "maid of honor is actually an unpaid wedding planner who does a tremendous amount of work over many months before the wedding" thing is really somewhat new (at least since my friends were getting married twenty years ago) and is not a universal expectation.

For the record, I think that "inviting" someone to do a part time job for six months, totally unpaid, is not honoring them quite as much as some people would like to think - ditto the whole "we're having a destination wedding, you will need to pony up $5000" business that has become the norm.
posted by Frowner at 1:37 PM on December 15, 2021 [8 favorites]


Best answer: You shouldn't feel guilty, you did nothing wrong. It's completely normal to bring your boyfriend to a wedding. You weren't obligated to be an unpaid party planner. It was 5 years ago.

It sounds like your sister's been awful to you.

I hope you can let go of your guilt. Just because someone is mad at you, that doesn't mean you did anything wrong.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:54 PM on December 15, 2021 [6 favorites]


In a lot of families, boyfriends/girlfriends are invited to the wedding, but aren't in (all of) the family pictures until they're engaged or married. It's just not that big a deal to get a photo with everyone, and then a photo just with "official" spouses/fiance/es. If she was that worried about you breaking up and having the BF have to be in the photos, she should have just had two sets of pictures taken, one with everyone, and one only with the legally-part-of-the-family people (or whatever cutoff makes sense in your family).

(Also, agree that MoH is not a free wedding planner/servant; it's a totally unreasonable expectation. The MoH should be expected to show up to the rehearsal and the wedding in appropriate clothes and that's about it. It's nice if the MoH is able to throw a shower, if you want one; it's nice if the MoH is able to go dress shopping with you (and you want her to). But you're meant to be HONORING this person, not making them a personal servant!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:04 PM on December 15, 2021 [4 favorites]


If this were a friendship question, I would say to do a slow fade on your sister, maybe ghost her if she pushes against that. Some people feel family gets different rules and expectations but I don't think that means they get to treat me worse than the people I actually chose to be with.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:06 PM on December 15, 2021 [1 favorite]


The world is not divided into good people and bad people.
posted by amtho at 3:14 PM on December 15, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Dear OP, this is your third post about your sister as of late and I understand you're struggling with your relationship now that you're going through a big life transition of engagement and marriage. And here's what I see: your sister treats you terribly. And you feel guilty, you feel bad about yourself, you doubt yourself, you don't feel good enough for her, you doubt if it's ok to feel guilty, you have *physical reactions* to the ways she's talked to you.

This is not ok! It's not ok that your sister treats you this way, that she's so nasty and contemptuous towards you, that she tells you how terrible you are, how disappointed she is in you, that you've done all these awful things etc. etc. Jesus Christ! I wish I could shake her by the shoulders and say, give it a fucking rest! What the hell is wrong with you!

Like this is so fucked up, emphasis mine: "I told her she is judgemental and critical and that’s why I don’t tell her things about my life, and she immediately said very contemptuously, “GUESS who’s in MY WEDDiNG PICUTRES.” And then started yelling about how I talked crap on him for two hours in her car, and let him be in her pictures. And then she drudged up stuff that happened so long ago and sent me many emails about what a piece of crap I am and deleted me from social media. I was never the sister she fantasized about, she thinks I’m trash."

That to me is abusive. I think your sister is emotionally abusive. I didn't even catch it myself in your earlier posts. I don't know if it will help *you* to think of your sister as abusive, or if it will make things worse for you? I think you, and a lot of the commenters, are sympathetic to you and your sister for the abuse that you both endured (myself included). That doesn't make her abuse towards you ok, or lessens the pain of how she treats you. Maybe it gives some insight, but it doesn't matter. Your sister is abusive. Your sister is WRONG in the way that she treats you. You are NOT a horrible, awful person. I hope you can feel that truth deep in your bones. If not now, someday. Soon.

And once you recognize it's abuse, what do you do? You have to get away from the abuse as much as possible. I know that's hard because she's family and there are different considerations there. My wish for you is that you stop worrying so much your sister, how she feels, her getting offended by whatever, you worrying about doing the wrong thing around her. I want you to put yourself first and say NO (at least in your head) to her shitty treatment of you.

For the next long while, until she gets a lot of therapy to deal with her trauma, she is going to keep treating you like this. It doesn't matter why, where it's coming from or whatever. I know I said last time it's huge that she recognizes her judgement and criticism of you and she would like to talk. Now? I honestly wouldn't trust anything good to come out of that. She has WAY too much work to do. Until she can recognize that she's been *abusive* to you, I would avoid her at all costs and not engage. Figure out what you need from her before you engage. I commented about my relationship to my sister in your post from two posts ago and it took me a long time to realize what I needed from my sister: for her to deal with her shit. I didn't even realize I needed anything from my sister because the entire time I was focused on avoiding her, being annoyed by her, feeling not good enough for her, etc.

My hope is that someday, you stand up to her somehow, and basically tell her you're not going to take her abuse anymore. She'll likely rage back, but the point is not to try to change her; the point is for you to say what you need to say to her. And maybe you don't know that yet and that's ok. Or who knows - maybe you standing up for yourself opens her mind a tiny crack and gets her on the path to realizing that maaaybe she's treated you wrong. I wouldn't hold my breath for that though.

Also yes, get another therapist that can help you process what you feel, and figure out what actions to take re: your sister, instead of being told that you should see things from her POV. That clearly is not helping you, and if you don't feel a good connection with your therapist, definitely find one that's a better fit for you.

Edit: how do you feel about the way she treats you? What do you think of it?
posted by foxjacket at 5:31 PM on December 15, 2021 [12 favorites]


Another thought: your sister is the problem, not you. Have you ever considered that?
posted by foxjacket at 5:40 PM on December 15, 2021 [2 favorites]


My current therapist almost seems to be on my sisters side, she always just says to try seeing things from my sisters perspective. Maybe I need a new therapist, she tries to help on a surface level but I don’t think it feels like she really connects deep with me to validate my perspective and help with self compassion.

She might not be the right therapist for you. If you want to give it every chance before switching, you've got what you need right here, and if you haven't told her, you could. When she says something that makes you feel like she's on your sister's side, and you want her to validate yours, you could tell her that's how you feel. You could also tell her that you'd like her to help you with self-compassion. It's so valuable that you have such clarity about what you're missing from her, and maybe you've already told her... but if not, I could see that becoming a turning-point in your work with her.
posted by daisyace at 6:18 PM on December 15, 2021 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Foxjacket reply:

Thank you so much for this. I do find it very validating. It is all very confusing because she has been going to therapy for a long time, and when I was 20 and depressed she said I should go to therapy, our family is not normal and is dysfunctional, and she referred me to her therapist who I saw. She says that our mom is very verbally abusive to her and doesn’t talk to her. She says our dad was abusive and unfair and neglectful and mean but she has gotten over it a bit, enough to have a relationship with him where she sees him once a week to let him play with the grandkids. She has also done a lot for me, like tell me about a program where I could go to community college for free, helped me find jobs and do my resume when I was starting out… but then there’s this other stuff where she is really mean. So I used to always feel that she was the one with her head on straight, and I believed in her perespective, and then she talks to me poorly and makes me feel terrible about myself and so angry and sick. I’m sure she would deny so hard that she is “abusive” to me. It’s hard to know what to think.
posted by anon1129 at 6:45 PM on December 15, 2021


Someone can genuinely care about you and also act abusively. It doesn’t obligate you to tolerate the abuse.

I would still recommend Pete Walker’s book on C-PTSD. Your sister is locked into the “fight” trauma response. The fact that she “made it” in life despite everything is probably a result of her being incredibly hard on herself, which as a result makes her immensely critical and hard on everyone else. This isn’t an excuse but it might help you see how the good and bad are related.

She learned to “fight back” growing up and now when she’s under threat, real or perceived, she fights. This can definitely result in narcissistic behavior. She probably carries around a huge core of insecurity— as the result of intense abandonment and abuse. Which is the hallmark of narcissism. People locked into this pattern can’t give the kind of unconditional love and acceptance you want. And as someone wisely said above, your sister can never give you the unconditional love you were deprived of by your abusive parents.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:06 PM on December 15, 2021 [2 favorites]


The world is also not divided into victims and perpetrators. Anyone can be both or neither -- and most people are both.
posted by amtho at 7:54 PM on December 15, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: It’s hard to know what to think.

That's totally understandable. I'm glad you feel validated.

This is what's insidious with abuse: it messes up your sense of reality. You don't know what's right or wrong, up from down. You learn not to trust your instincts. You also let other people define your reality - it's in your comment. It's a hard task to realize those people who you've let define your reality, could be wrong. Your sister told you about the abuse, and so because you agree and believe her, you believe everything she says, including all the shit about you. So you start to believe you're an awful person. It's hard work to realize the truth of your own experiences - that while you had the same family members, both of you may have had different experiences. Try to separate out your own experiences of your family and not "adopt" hers as your own. In other words, find your own truth. About her, yourself, your family, the abuse your experienced from your parents, and from her.

The other thing about people who abuse is that they don't do it 100% of the time. They can absolutely be kind and caring at times too. It doesn't mean you have to accept the abuse, or that it makes it ok. I understand that it's totally confusing. That's one of the purposes of abuse - to confuse and destabilize.

I’m sure she would deny so hard that she is “abusive” to me.

I'm sure she would. Very, very few abusive people ever own up to their abuse. But like I said, the purpose of talking to her about her treatment of you (if you so choose, it's ok if you don't want to) is not to get her to admit it, or to even try to get her to change. It's to say your truth. You can't change other people. I hope you can find a good therapist that can help you find your truth.
posted by foxjacket at 8:14 PM on December 15, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Just because someone is mad at you, that doesn't mean you did anything wrong.

The opposite of this completely correct principle is what most abused children end up internalizing, many of them for life. It will take many, many repetitions of the correct version to start overriding that early training, and that's work that's totally worthwhile to do.
posted by flabdablet at 11:13 PM on December 15, 2021 [4 favorites]


Congratulations on your engagement.

Please elope.
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 3:52 AM on December 16, 2021


Best answer: For therapy to be trustful I just don’t think you should see your sister’s therapist.

So. New therapist, and maybe start with where you are after these few threads :
Family triangles and,
Shifting allegiances
Family violence
Mental health instability in your mother’s care of her children
Sibling rivalry of a pronounced degree - your sister is jealous of you
Controlling and episodically destructive episodes of abuse from your sister
Avoidance and shame about who you are
Second guessing adult decisions because you can’t trust your own perceptions of the world (including the time you confided in your sister about your relationship doubts, and she weaponised this confidence later)

All of these are signs of an abusive interplay so start with absorbing the idea that siblings can wield their limited resources inside an abusive home against others in an abusive way.

You don’t need to say any of this, or anything, to your sister. It’s your business to find a path to trust and individuation.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:36 AM on December 16, 2021 [2 favorites]


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