Sister judges me for working at a new company she disapproves of?
May 25, 2023 8:11 PM   Subscribe

How do I (30F) handle my sister (41F) who judges the company I work for?

I just got a new job working at a company that makes colorful dyes that go in everything from food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetic products, and industrial products. Think of the color of your chocolate candies, makeups, and window cleaner. It’s in more things than you can imagine. My sister is very self righteous, judgmental, and holier than thou in general but she definitely is judging the life out of me for working in their customer service department.

She is a semi-newly granola stay at home mom and has been all about being green for a little while. I haven’t researched all the impacts of dyes and I understand that they may cause issues but they’re almost unavoidable. I don’t necessarily feel proud to work for this company which was a reason I didn’t take the job, and I knew my sister would judge me harshly for it. However, her husband works for a company that makes planes used in war.

This job was a 20% increase in pay for me and lots of perks. I could tell she was judging, she was like “where’s it at?” since it’s not in a great neighborhood but is a fenced building with high security. I was feeling the intense disapproval from her, so I said “I know you don’t like it” and she said snarkily, like she could wait to tell me, “yeah don’t tell them who your sister is, she protests against it!!” as she was eating mint ice cream dyed green and her kid was eating hot pink dyed cake. She does minimize the dyes her family is exposed to but we were at a birthday party. I’m not necessarily proud to work for them but it’s a job with a very well run company that was going to give me a lot of good experience. I KNOW she is talking about me and my decisions behind my back. Since we aren’t close, I know how she is, and she likes to create a narrative that I’m a failure and just nuts with what I’m doing with my life, if I’m not buddy buddy and super close to her I’m her enemy and she tries to tear me down at every opportunity. I honestly feel kinda sick around her. She talks about and judges and disapproves of everyone behind their back. I don’t know why it bothers me sooo much, it’s annoying.

Like I said I’m not necessarily proud of working for this company or the last company I worked for, it is a well run company and very organized, I just know what they produce can be harmful to humans.

How do I handle?

TLDR: I work for a dye company and my sister hates it.
posted by anon1129 to Human Relations (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, to get sweary about it, who gives a fuck if she hates it? I mean, you care to some extent, but do you think that seeking her approval is a positive thing in your life? Maybe you could consider how it would feel to tell her less about your job and not try to defend your reasonable, adult choices to make money and live in this ethically compromised world.

If she's a judgemental gossip, you don't have to feed her material.
posted by medusa at 8:30 PM on May 25 [34 favorites]

You have every right to be annoyed.

Most likely, they are very very insecure about something of their own and are projecting.

In my experience, you want to minimize your engagement. Also frame your employer as ‘just a job’ and not even worth talking about after hours, so they can understand this criticism doesn’t work on you.
posted by nickggully at 8:31 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like this isn’t the first go-round with this iteration of judgmental behaviour, so of course it is resonating with you and making you feel insecure about your choices.

You don’t use these words, but your description of the situation shows that she is hypocritical, backstabbing, insecure and well, she’s showing you that ‘being green’ is a posture most useful to her for a kind of concrete footing to ‘tear you down’ this time. She’s found a Thing in which to source her latent anger about you.

One of the things you could use to frame your feelings is possibly gratitude for the awareness this concrete situation gives you of an overall competitive, angry and condescending pattern that has probably pervaded your entire experience of her as a sister. We don’t look at sibling relationships as closely as parental ones in the psychological formation of the Self, but there are numerous ways in which siblings construct our identity. In this case, she has made you second guess, defend and even feel guilty about your adult choices. The good thing though is that you are starting your thirties with a bit of recognition and anger about how her participation in your life makes you feel.

Sit with that and realise that you have a right to make choices about your career and well-being. When her aggressive tear downs enter your communication, try to think of a succinct way to say something true about your choices. “I am adult, making a career choice, and it is the right one for me currently.”
posted by honey-barbara at 8:33 PM on May 25 [32 favorites]

I rather suspect this is more a matter of the dynamic between you two than it is about any specific choice you may or may not have made, and that therefore if you have the inclination and opportunity you may benefit from talking with a professional in order to work out how you should think about this, as well as effective ways to deal with her. I'm fairly sure this would be a good use of your time/money in the end.

As I am an objectively terrible person I'll refrain from giving personal advice aside from the above and one further remark below, but oh boy I have opinions on this kind of thing. my one further remark actually comes from my mother: "Do you like that person? Do you think they're smart, or important to you? If not, then why do you care what they think about anything at all? Spend your time worrying about the people that matter."

(I'm not saying your sister does, or does not, matter. Just kinda throwing it out there.)
posted by aramaic at 8:34 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

You cannot control the way people think about you or how they behave. What you can control is your reaction to those things. You can also control how much information about your life that you give her access to, and the actual time you spend with her.

You have no obligation to spend time or share your life with anyone, even family.
posted by cooker girl at 8:39 PM on May 25 [7 favorites]

You could ask her what she expects of you, in all sincerity. Should you quit your job? Literally say, "What do you think I should do? Should I quit this job and do something else? What would you do if you were in my position?" Maybe she'll say, "Of course you should quit your terrible job" or "Absolutely I would quit that job, it's awful" but you can, quite naturally, say "Well, I will not quit this job. I like it/I think it's okay/It suits me just fine for now. You can bitch about it until you're blue in the face, but that's just going to make it difficult for us to get along." Sometimes people who act like your sister does- making pronouncements and judgments about things that don't solidly involve them or affect them very much- don't really treat the topics of their words as real things or people who exist. They just know that they have strong feelings about this and that notion or topic, and the realness and personness of the other humans in their lives are overlooked. You can (kindly and with humor) remind these people that you are a full person who makes decisions (like to keep your job) and that things still exist even when they seem weird (like your career). Just keep in mind that your sister is behaving in an unserious way, and that means it's okay to laugh at how she talks, because come on, it's kinda silly. You're not going to change your career just because she thinks it's icky. I find it helpful to literally use playful/immature/childlike vocabulary when I find myself in one of these discussions. Like "icky" or "silly." That is sort of the level at which she's treating this stuff- she's acting like you've stepped in mud and now you're dirty, and now she's saying, "Ew gross." I mean, you can criticize someone for their profession, but if you're going to do that, you should do it with some thought to it.
posted by panhopticon at 8:43 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I didn’t even tell her I got the job, which she was “hurt” by. If I don’t tell her things about my life then she feels left out and rejected and then rejects me it feels like. If I do tell her about my life then she gives unsolicited advice and disapproves and meddles and tries to control me or judges me, which is why I don’t tell her things about my life.

There has been 3 family birthday parties in the last month during the interview process and then after I got the job. I feel a compulsion to mention things about my life since my family treats me suspiciously if I’m quiet about my life. I don’t like bringing my boyfriend around and my sisters haven’t met him because I don’t like how they make me feel or who I am around them. I mention things about my life and my sister always seems to disapprove so I don’t tell them anything and then they get mad and suspicious. My dad was really excited about my new job because he used to work for this company doing construction for them 20 years ago and knew people and had stories to tell. My sister seemed offended when I saw her time before today and was like “I didn’t even know you got a new job” and my stepmom is the same way with the disapproving and trying to tear me down. I only want to tell my dad things because he actually supports me (he used to be abusive and neglectful though).

I feel it’s always a no win situation with my sister. I tell her stuff she judges, I don’t tell her stuff and she gets standoffish. I feel I am always on the defensive with my sister and stepmom. I had to cut my very mentally ill, extremely abusive mom out.

It annoys me because my sister has participated in tons of “immoral” things and has made the same decisions she judges others so harshly for now. I know it’s a her issue, but I also don’t feel the best working for this company, idk.
posted by anon1129 at 8:59 PM on May 25

As the saying goes: unless she is paying your bills, her opinion is not your business/problem.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:09 PM on May 25 [8 favorites]

One thing to consider is:
Is the shame you feel about this job contributing to what she feels that she can get away with saying to you about it?

Imagine that you went to her and said. "I've been offered a job! The work I'll be doing matches the skills that I currently have and will allow me to take on some additional responsibilities and learn new skills! And I'll be earning a little bit more money. I feel really grateful for this opportunity."

How much of an asshole would she be to turn that conversation around and try to focus on anything possibly negative?

If she is that much of an asshole then it confirms that whatever she says is not about you. It's about her.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:18 PM on May 25

Best answer: “Judgemental comments like this are why I don’t tell you anything about my life anymore…I would be surprised if ANYONE tell you anything about their life anymore….”
posted by Jubey at 9:18 PM on May 25 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Being green is a LUXURY that a stay-home mom can afford to indulge in. Just ignore the snot who doesn't understand any of the chemistry and safety protocols that goes into making the colors safe. She's fallen into the "mommy knows best" nature cult where "everything must be all natural for my babies".
posted by kschang at 9:55 PM on May 25 [14 favorites]

God. I'm sorry. Your job is soooo not evil? I work for a corporation a lot of people hate and I actually often hate them too, and I still feel way, WAY less apologetic about working there than you, a person who works in customer service for a company that makes food be different colors than that food is in nature.

Damn, I thought from your title that you were in the "extra poisonous pesticides" department at Monsanto or the "bottling the water that a community naturally gets from a spring and selling it to them" department at Nestle. You are fine and your sister is wack.

In your position I'd probably be heard to drop some saccharine little comments about how those of us who need to work for money can't always be so choosy about whether we only work for the company that's out there making fair-trade organic gossamer sweaters for unicorns. But you are clearly better about tolerating this person's crap than I would be.
posted by potrzebie at 11:04 PM on May 25 [8 favorites]

Look, it would be one thing if you worked for a cigarette company.

But food dyes? Your sister is being unreasonable.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 12:16 AM on May 26 [5 favorites]

Best answer: However, her husband works for a company that makes planes used in war.

I mean wow. Next time she tries it on with you, just say “oh hmm maybe some dye is bad for kids but at least it doesn’t kill as many kids as your husband’s planes!”

Now granted this is a terrible idea if you don’t want to permanently blow up the relationship (just like her husband’s planes blow up civilians!) but boy would I be tempted.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:43 AM on May 26 [29 favorites]

Best answer: Tbh, I think your sister is desperately trying to use this green crunchy mum thing to gain some sort of social credit. Being a SAHM can be boring and isolating. It’s so easy to lose your identity. Whenever you meet someone socially and they ask what you do and you tell you’re home with the kids, so often people’s eyes glaze over because apparently unless you have a job to give you social cache you’re not worth talking to.

So your sister has latched onto the green defence as a way of forming her new identity to try and make it work for her and maybe find some community around it.

And in the meantime there you are, with your shiny life, new job, new boyfriend, out there making it happen in the world. You mention it to your dad and he’s all over it and you two can bond over that and everyone was probably wanting to know all about it.

I bet your sister saw that and it just made her..jealous and she took her shot to dull your sparkle and knock you down a peg or two.

I’m not saying she’s right (I think she’s pretty horrible!) but I’m saying what she said probably has absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with where she is in her life right now.

Unfortunately if my guess is right, that’s her road to walk. If you need to distance yourself, go straight ahead. Congrats on your new job too!
posted by Jubey at 2:01 AM on May 26 [21 favorites]

Best answer: Re your follow up:

You could just say blandly, unemotionally and firmly with direct eye contact only these words and nothing else:
“Id like you to speak to me respectfully and with care. I’d like you to stop negging me. Can you do that?”
There will be:
digging deeper,
refusing to agree that negging is what is happening,
justifying the negs,
appealing to others to reinforce the negs,
using body language of disgust,
walking away,
having a separate tantrum about something else

None of this is something to engage with, none. Watch it, wait it out, be bland in your affect, maybe look at your watch, say nothing. When she peters out at not getting shame, humiliation, defences, anger, you calmly say

“it’s a Yes/No question. I’m hearing ‘no,’ you can’t stop negging me. Everything demonstrated right now is a No.
I think you *can* stop negging me, you just don’t want to. That is a you problem that you need to fix. I’m not going to converse with you about my life so that you can try to make me feel bad no matter what.”

Don’t get drawn into discussion about it, or listen to excuses or explanations or litigations. There will be double down, be prepared to ignore her. Get up, walk out.

The biggest gift you can give your whole rest of life as you enter your thirties, is to step into your truth *now* - your intimate relationships, your physical health, your sense of adult mastery and resilience, your ability to sleep well at night will flow from this moment.

Being cowed, pondering /divining the motives of bullies, feeling unsupported by your family, having jealousy and rage take increasingly brutal forms etc are key ways in which I believe our bodies are primed for fight or flight. It’s not good for our health.

Congratulations on your new job. Buy yourself something nice to celebrate stepping intoadult strength and out of old patterns.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:18 AM on May 26 [23 favorites]

My hunch is perhaps your dad appreciates how you’ve opted for healthier interactions with distancing with your mom, and that you are striving for better family dynamics, especially now that you all are adults and whatever has landed you with a stepparent is no longer fresh. Children of divorce often see adults communicating very negatively about people they love, and can carry parental issues and communication patterns into their own adult relationships if they are not careful. Do not be drawn into your sister’s style, just call it out with what has been mentioned above and change the subject or walk away. It’s fair to ask your sister about if she has been busy with helping others in her community or neighborhood, if she’s met any new neighbors while out with a kiddo, etc. It will take a few tries (likely) and you may need to walk away more than once when you’re at your limit.

A personal example on the impact of divorce- Our family had an adult kiddo let go of a divorce issue in a brand new job. When offered a chance to travel for a conference they responded to the supervisor that they felt like they were being “forced” to travel, why couldn’t they just read more literature? The supervisor patiently provided another context, including that they will meet potential external mentors, might eventually present and have more recognition as well as promotion and collaboration opportunities. “Forced” was kiddo’s knee-jerk response/language with divorce-framing, as most in that work role would see opportunities, and all that was said was a presumption that they would enjoy going to their first professional conference. They shared the story as an appreciation of the shift in family dynamics and are traveling for at least 4 conferences this year, and when timing works out, visit family that are happy to encourage their success.
posted by childofTethys at 4:44 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]

The people advising how you could defend your job to her are right; you *could* say those things. Or you could frame the whole thing as concern (or faux concern) for her, based on her reaction. 'Wow; you seem to be really upset about where I work, which surprises me, since it doesn't have anything to do with you. I don't want to make you upset! Best if we just don't talk about it.' When she tries to keep the argument going, you keep going along those lines; 'Nah, see, this is what I'm talking about. Look how upset you are! Over my job, which doesn't really have anything to do with you! Let's stop.' Of course she won't, so then take it up one notch: 'Understand how you feel, but surely you don't think I should quit based on your feelings about it, right? Because that would be crazy. Ok then, so we agree there's no point continuing this argument.'

Bonus: If you respond to a lot of what she says on other subjects with 'Wow, you seem to be really upset about this subject! Best if we just don't talk about it,' even she might notice the trend.

If you're a people pleaser, you'll still need to get comfortable with the idea of purposely not pleasing her. But knowing that you are 'right,' rationally speaking, might help.
posted by troywestfield at 4:47 AM on May 26 [3 favorites]

Good advice here. Just a little added fodder. Food scientist Ann Reardon has a great video on Food Dyes. Take away is artificial food dyes aren't bad for you, but if you don't like them, don't eat them. They are always listed as an ingredient on the side of packaged foods (which your crunchy sister shouldn't be eating anyway).
posted by Toddles at 5:13 AM on May 26 [3 favorites]

Best answer: However, her husband works for a company that makes planes used in war.

This is classic pot/kettle situation. It's not really about your job, it's about you. If it were about jobs, she'd be telling her husband to quit his warmonger job and wash the blood off his hands, but I suspect she's just really too comfortable with the profits to mind.

Tell her you're looking for more wholesome jobs (even if that's a lie), ask how her husband's job hunting is going, because surely he must be hardly able to sleep with all the harm he's causing.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:28 AM on May 26 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There's no perfect response that's going to fix all this, it's kind of up to you to figure out the most likely feasible outcomes and reverse engineer from that.

But you also need to learn to let people be unhappy if that's what they choose. You don't HAVE to be a people-pleaser, and it's easier if you think of it as respecting someone's right to have their own emotions, even if they are crap emotions that result in some annoyance to you. They annoy and distress you even MORE when you interfere.

Pretty much every interaction you've described is people being shitty to you in what are probably long-established ways that give them some kind of payoff, whether it's the satisfaction of being an asshole or manipulating you into doing what they want. It probably also is meant to keep you in your "place", which I'm going to guess is low-status in the family dynamic.

You can't really "win" these games (unless you're willing to get really mean, and is that worth the prize?), but you can swerve. When your sister uses you to prop up her self esteem in these ways, there is a magic word you can use:


And she's gonna screech to a halt, because you didn't give her any fuel to continue. "What?"
*shrug* "Okay. Bad job, got it."
"B-b-but no, I mean your job is...bad."
"Mhmm, yes." *Go get some water and do something else.*

Family: "Anon, who is a grown-ass adult, isn't telling us every single detail of their life for us to pick at, grr!"
You: *shrug and continue to not say anything because yes, this is true*
Family: "B-b-but, our delicious hate though! You're bad because you act like a totally normal adult who doesn't want to get picked on!"
You: "Okay."
Family: "Well and you also...have a bad personality!"
You: "Mm."
Family: " smell bad?"
You: "Noted. Bad smell."

It's going to make them mad at first when you take away their toys and pose a direct threat to the family hierarchy by just stepping to the side. Because what if one of them falls in the hole and has to be the kicked dog now?? But your other option is to fade way back and simply not interact with them at all, and I assume if that's what you actually wanted you would have taken that sweet relief long ago. It's not wrong to love your family even when it's fucked up, and if they are a warts-and-all part of your life the only safe way to interact with their toxicity is to put on your protective clothing. It's also a form of kindness, even if they can't stand kindness, to not give them an easy target. They MIGHT have to hear themselves for once in the quiet of your non-responses, and it could actually improve the quality of the engagement you get from them.

So anyway, in conclusion, you could have gotten a job as the Puppy Administrator to the Holy Spirit and your sister would still make up something to complain about, because she's a jerk and insecure. You can just avoid her, or you can engage with her but not take her bait and change the conversation to something that she's happy about, if there is anything, because you feel bad for how unhappy she mostly is.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:43 AM on May 26 [13 favorites]

HOWEVER, if your sister ever says that "don't tell them you're my sister" thing again, you have my full encouragement to roll your eyes until they fall out of your head and go, "Oh yeah, they're real scared of you."
posted by Lyn Never at 5:48 AM on May 26 [6 favorites]

Maybe there's more, but in your question, I didn't see any way in which she explicitly criticized or questioned your choices, except when she responded to after you said, "I know you don’t like it." Maybe she is judging it, or maybe she's just reacting to what she perceives as your judgement of her. One possible approach is to simply assume - or at least pretend - that she just doesn't care. If she doesn't, then everything would be fine. If she does, at least you won't have to deal with it.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:21 AM on May 26 [4 favorites]

Maybe there's more, but in your question, I didn't see any way in which she explicitly criticized or questioned your choic

Seconding this. There's a lot of jumping on the bandwagon here in comments of assumptions that the sister is super judgmental and trying to convince you not to work there, when reading the facts of what happened, that's not clear at all. She expressed hr opinion when asked.

It's not my aim to defend your sister. But it's also important to look at the possibility that you are setting up a situation where you are presuming she is judging ans criticizing you a lot more than she actually is.
posted by bearette at 7:52 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]

She talks about and judges and disapproves of everyone behind their back.

It seems like you might be more worried that she's telling everyone bad things about you and that they might believe it. When I've had to deal with people like this, I remind myself that everyone that has any history with them has likely had an experience similar to yours and now doesn't really believe what they say about anyone else. So you can take that off your list of things to stress out about.

I feel it’s always a no win situation with my sister. I tell her stuff she judges, I don’t tell her stuff and she gets standoffish.

No win situations are actually the best because that means that you get to pick what you do. In this case, I would keep her at arm's distance. Don't sit near her at parties. If she comes and sits at your table, make up an excuse to get up and go to a different area. If she follows you around, make up an excuse to leave the party and go do something fun. You don't owe her or anyone your presence if all they're going to do is treat you poorly.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:54 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

Maybe there's more, but in your question, I didn't see any way in which she explicitly criticized or questioned your choices

This was my reaction too. You emphasized that you "know" she is "definitely" judging you... but it sounded like this is mostly your belief, rather than the result of specific statements about your job that your sister has made.

My advice would be not to let her live rent-free in your head. Maybe she's saying terrible things about you behind your back; maybe she's not. You have no way of knowing, short of actual reports from third parties.

You can respond to any direct judgmental statements she makes to you. You can also respond to judgmental statements she makes to others that are reported to you.

But you can't really do anything about thoughts you suspect she's thinking, or things you suspect she's saying. And really, it's not worth wasting time or worry on stuff like that, that may or may not even exist.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:45 AM on May 26 [3 favorites]

I'm really sorry, I'm a little confused why it would be so difficult to just say something along the lines of "cool, don't give a shit sis" to any judgey comment she makes and sorta hold that line 100% of the time?

"You know you work for an EVIL company right?"
"Great, don't care"

"Don't tell your company who your sister is lol!"
"Don't really fuckin' care"

"Wow, you don't care about the toxic blah blah and so and so that Big Dye pollutes our foods with?"
"Nope, don't give a shit"

"Haha, you've always been sort of a mess and my lesser, it is so like you to take a job like this"
"Great, don't fucking care"

Like...I understand it can be difficult to be somewhat confrontational, but I feel like this is level 2 out of 10? It's not about starting a debate or pulling your sister aside to let them know your feelings and have a big talk and yadda yadda. Just like...shut it down ASAP, is all it takes sometimes. I have a cousin who is kind of an asshole and makes judgy comments like this and they don't do it anymore now that they realize it's just a complete dead-end, per examples like the above.
posted by windbox at 10:36 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]

How do I handle?

I'm not sure I have any advice but how I would handle it would be to deliver a huge glass jar of Skittles or anything else that has approximately one million units of food dye for her next birthday/holiday/anniversary.

You don't have anything to be ashamed of and if you can just laugh the next time she pulls this one out, go for it. If she asks why you're laughing, bring out the line about the planes her husband's company makes.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:37 AM on May 26

Response by poster: I know my sister and can tell when she is judging and disproving. I told her dues are in everything, and she said, “Yeah, it’s HORRIBLE!!!”
posted by anon1129 at 10:40 AM on May 26

she said, “Yeah, it’s HORRIBLE!!!”

posted by flabdablet at 10:57 AM on May 26 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a relative like this, who is rather picky-pouncy but also blind to their own stuff.

I just blandly ignore it. Like, no, I'm not interested in lectures about a Ziploc bag from someone with twice as many houses, twice as many children, and eight times as many plane rides a year as me.

If I did point out the hypocrisy, or respond with a zinger, it would actually just escalate things.

"Hm, interesting." Takes the wind right out of her sails.
posted by champers at 11:35 AM on May 26 [9 favorites]

Best answer: My mother cautioned me in no uncertain terms to never work for "private industry" (shudder). She worked all her life for the US Federal Government, a small corner of the Defense Department. I ended up working all my life writing software for the Banking industry. Hey, it could have been worse, I almost ended up working in the Insurance industry.

So you see, I probably just ended up insulting a very large number of people, but it wasn't intentional. Most people don't get to cherry pick their professions and/or their employers (including me). Everybody hits the ground running and beggars can't be choosers.

In the opinion of this internet stranger, your sister has got some issues, but I'm not a professional so I can't tell whether it's gaslighting, straw man argumentation, narcissism, projection, moving the goal posts or just plain emotional abuse.

Or, as Mr. Spock from Star Trek put it: “May I say that I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans? I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.”
posted by forthright at 1:26 PM on May 26 [6 favorites]

Hey, I'm here for the happy birthday guy/gal!

Not here for any bullshit negativity.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:11 PM on May 26

you handle it by no longer giving a fuck what she thinks

you are the only person you need to answer to
posted by Jacqueline at 12:51 AM on May 27 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Keep in mind that people who criticize like this often have no control over having negative over-reactions to things. If your sister criticizes everything you do, does she also criticize every change and everything in her life she has no control over? Some people respond with irritable rejection to everything. Being like that also makes them miserable because if you paint your kitchen cupboards a new colour they end up struggling with feeling dismayed, whether or not you are present when they find out you did the painting, and you never hear that they had a twenty minute rant after they saw the photograph of you and your cat in your freshly painted kitchen. "Turquoise?? Turquoise is SO mid-century!!"

Sometimes, though, people are only negative and critical towards one person or situation, or only a small handful of people and situations. It can happen that while you were growing up your sister got into being competitive with you and cutting you down at every opportunity - especially if other people in the family modeled the same belief that 'everything anon1129 does is wrong'. During an intense period of power fluctuations this competition is not unusual or even necessarily harmful. It's one of the things we do when we start to differentiate from other people, the way that an adolescent flips from thinking Dad is a rock of strength and wisdom who can solve any of my problems, to thinking that dad is a wittering idiot who couldn't figure out how to escape from a wet paper bag. The adolescent needs to do this, so that they can start to solve their problems independently or they might spend the rest of their life trying to get Dad to rescue them. They also need to get over it, or they will spend the rest of their life being upset that they didn't have a father who was a rock of strength and wisdom and feeling that the poor man ruined their life, instead of getting on with becoming strong and wise, just like their ideal.

Similarly if there are two sisters and one of them is the "good sister" and the other one is the naughty, clumsy one, the good sister can become invested in that identity. If the other sister shows signs of growing out of being the bad sister, they start to lose their identity and will work to redouble evidence of that contrast. If either one of you was ever identified as having strong traits, the other one may have ended up with the perk of not having those strong traits or the shame of being the only one with those strong traits. Whoever was better off had a strong incentive to try to maintain the status quo and the identity. If they still keep doing that, it shows that their identity is still weak in that area.

So you might want to consider if your sister is like this because your whole family has a history of scapegoating you, and/or other family members, or if she got stuck in a competitive rut a decade or three ago, or if she is never pleased with anything most people who matter to her do. Your response to her can differ depending on if one of these seems to be clearly the situation. The perfect withering comeback is a nice idea - something that would shut her down and end the competition for all time. But if you actually want to have a relationship with her, that's not the way to go.

You can ask yourself if perhaps she is tearing away at your life choices because she is not happy with the life choices that life has handed her. She might be feeling lost and left behind and passed over, stuck as a stay-at-home parent, and your career success be delineating the fact that giving up on working was the best choice for her, but still one that leads to no income and no public career recognition.

You can ask yourself if the family has always dog-piled on you, if your sister is the vanguard of this, the one whose family role is to come up with another reason why you are the loser and deserve to be treated with contempt. It's worth noting that if the family switches who they gang up on, your sister's attack may not be out of any malice, but out of terror that if the family doesn't find anyone else to criticize and put down, they will soon turn on her, and all her faults, foibles and ill luck will be the focus of scathing, snide excoriations. Stay-at-home mothers are particularly vulnerable to this. We all know how any mother who doesn't have a secure pedestal beneath her is apt to find herself branded an unfit mother, dependa, leech and wannabe welfare queen.

But you don't have to be understanding towards your sister if that means becoming a doormat and absorbing abuse. Getting some insight into why she is so defensive might make it easier to laugh it off. "Poor old Sissy - still fighting to be the most popular mean girl in junior high!" Just keep in mind that her inability to be enthusiastic and supportive means that she is a screw-up. Strong functional competent people build up members of their own tribe because a strong, cohesive tribe is valuable to them all. Panicky, socially-inept people tear down other tribe members. Your poor sister! She could be cultivating a wonderful allo-parent aunt for her kids, and is instead breaking up and damaging her primary support network. She's not so powerful she can't use all the allies she can get, especially one like you who is doing well in life.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:02 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]

Jane the Brown, that is a very wise and compassionate take.

It can be helpful to understand how other people's negative behavior is a product of their own pain. As you say, it doesn't mean you have be a doormat and just accept it. But it can still be useful as a source of perspective.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 1:21 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]

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