Thursday, June 21, 2007

Are We Required to Keep a Sibling in Our Lives?

I left off the story of my sister after telling how her lying and thievery played a large role in ruining my cousin's life. For all previous installments of my attempt to describe my relationship with my sister click here.

I had limited interaction with my sister after I left my parent's home the second time. Sister went off to college; I was busy working and raising my young daughter. A year after re-marrying I was packing boxes and moved to another state about 400 miles away from my family. During the year I was gone my marriage fell apart. I moved back to the city my parents lived in after calling a close girlfriend and being offered a job where she was office manager.

Living my own life, raising my daughter, and being yet again a divorcee' I was spending very little time with my parents and even less time with my sister. Then the event that completely changed my sister's way of relating to me occurred. She became pregnant. She claims she was raped. From her description of events, a logical person can conclude she teased someone until he took what she was tantalizingly holding out to him.

Here is how she describes the event. You can decide for yourself whether or not she was raped. This male was someone she had met through her work. He lived in near-by state. She invited him to come stay at our parent's place for a visit. I was ordered (by both sister and mother) to pick him up at the airport one afternoon. I was singularly unimpressed. By the time I dropped him off at my parent's home (only about a five mile trip), I was certain this guy was not the Mr. Wonderful my sister had described him as being.

It was during this visit that the rape occurred. Sister's boyfriend was staying in her old bedroom. The door to her old bedroom was about three feet down the hall from my parent's bedroom. She admits that after she had dressed for bed (in a skimpy summer nightie), she went up to the bedroom where her boyfriend was. She laid on the bed with him. She was just being playful, says she. Not surprisingly the guy got excited. My sister had remained a technical virgin with her first boyfriend because boyfriend #1 was willing to take "no" for an answer. Apparently, my sister thought all men could be that self-controlled in the presence of a cock tease. Surprise, surprise. When this boyfriend started to aggressively go for the prize, and she said "no", he didn't take "no" for an answer. He took the scantily clad female in his bed as a sign that she really wanted it. Her actions spoke louder than her "no". Her claims to being raped get even more lame when you realize my father was only a matter of feet away from the scene of the "crime". One scream from her and it would have all been over. My father would not have hesitated to come to her rescue and my sister knew that. In fact, I know that my father always had a hard time believing the rape charge for this very reason. He directly asked my sister why she didn't call out for help. She weakly replied that she was afraid of causing a scene. That never sat well with our father. I have to admit that it seriously undercut her credibility with me as well, though I never challenged her claim to having been raped because it would have done no good. This was how she was going to maintain "face" in the situation of being unmarried and pregnant. (And, no, she never contacted law enforcement either.) Something she had haughtily told me back when I became pregnant out of wedlock that she would never do. Since she gets to call this a rape, she has still never done what I did. I was willing, she was a victim. Wish I had been so creative as to come up with a rape charge. But I wanted to get out of the house of insanity and torment, so I had no motivation to be that creative.

My sister was around 24 years old when she got knocked up. She made the decision for adoption. She and my mother informed me that it was decided that before sister would start to "show" she would go into seclusion. The private religious adoption agency found a family in a far away city in another state who would take her in for the final months of her pregnancy.

This was a lonely time for my sister. Suddenly she was cut off from everyone she knew except for my parents and me. No one else was to know of her pregnancy. The reason given for this was not because she was ashamed. No, it was only to keep the boyfriend from ever knowing of the child's existence so he couldn't have a chance at custody. Whatever. I know, at least for my mother, there was relief that no one would ever know that daughter #2 had also ended up pregnant out of wedlock.

Prior to getting pregnant, sister dearest considered herself quite the star at her work place. She wasn't shy about constantly telling us how her boss was chasing her skirt, how she was openly admired by everyone, no one had ever done the wonderful things she was doing, etc. Work had been a rich source of supply for sister. But she was now pregnant and going into seclusion; she had no one to stroke her gigantic ego and her figure was swelling up. Suddenly, her interests turned in my direction.

I went with my mother and sister when it was time to trundle sister off to her place of hiding. I don't remember calling her to keep in touch. I did make another trip up to her hiding place when she was getting close to term. I do remember her sending me a few cards while she was in confinement. Most of the communication was through the proxy of my mother. I started to hear things that left me feeling a bit confused. Things like, "Your sister loves you so much. You really should try harder to have a relationship with her." "Your sister respects and admires you so much. It is too bad you don't love her like she loves you." These declarations of love and respect were news to me. Sister's behaviors in the past didn't line up with what I was now hearing. I was suddenly re-cast in the role of the reluctant sister. The sister who wouldn't reciprocate the undying affection of her sibling. With a sudden twist of events, I was again being told that I was deficient in my dealings with the sister who had used and abused me for years. Mom and sister were acting like my sister had always loved me and had always felt nothing but respect and admiration for me. It is one of those alternate realities that leave your head spinning. I was supposed to act like this alternate reality was just as real as they were pretending it was. I was having a hard time making the leap. I was kind to my sister, but I just couldn't get into my new role by acting like we were the closest of friends and always had been.

For the next fifteen plus years I would continue to hear my mother repeat variations of the above declarations. It became a new set of "tape recordings". I did have a relationship with my sister. We would occasionally talk on the phone or visit each other infrequently. We had a warmly polite relationship. When my sister would occasionally demand a visit, I would make the effort to comply. But because I never put my sister into a position of "best friend" I was made to feel that I wasn't giving enough of myself into the relationship. My mother made it her job to make sure I knew I wasn't measuring up to my sisterly duties. My sister was not so obvious with her disappointment with me. She would always tell me how much she missed me and wished I would visit her more, but didn't directly impugn my love for her. She used her mother for that.

This is the Reader's Digest version of the majority of my adult relationship with my sister. The years were punctuated with little betrayals of my trust. Once in awhile I would confide something with my sister and it would nearly always get back to our mother. These things were not anything big because I was wise enough not to entrust her with the big stuff. These little betrayals simply told me that everything I said was being repeated to mommy dearest by my sister. The things I had told my sister would fall so casually from my mother's lips that I knew my sister was blathering everything I would tell her without a smidgen of shame, hesitation or reserve. After I would recover from what felt like a betrayal of my confidence, I would try it again to feel better about my sister, probably because I was hammered all the time about how I was supposed to have a good relationship with my sister because she's la familia.

I began a different tack by specifically stating to sister when something I was telling her needed to remain between her and me. She would still blab it to Mom. When I would confront her, she would always act so apologetic and surprised. "Oh, I guess I forgot you told me not to share it with mom." This made me feel like she wasn't all that invested in our having a friendship if my specific wishes would slip out of her head so easily. (That was the kindest construction I could put on her so-called memory lapses.) Every time I would try to trust my sister with just a small measure of fidelity, she would fail. This prevented us from having the "joined at the hip" relationship my sister was idealizing for us.

I don't think I can be blamed for not feeling close to someone who couldn't keep even one confidence. Especially considering our history together with very large trust violations that had never been acknowledged by her. The biggest problem in my life was my mother. To have a sister who would do nothing to protect information about me from getting back to my mother was not conducive to closeness. I didn't feel like being held to account by my mother for the things about my life I would share with my sister! Consequently, I would tell very little about me to my sister. The last five years of our relationship, I started to notice an interesting thing. Sister wasn't all that interested in what was going on in my life. (Frankly, I was relieved.) She didn't notice the lack of information flow from me to her. I only spoke in generalities when she would ask. This seemed to work for her. When sister would call me, it was all about her. She would talk my ear off for two hours and then, just before the call would end she would pretend to want to hear about me. Because I would share so little with her and never complained about things she liked to characterize my life as "boring", "placid", "easy". Of course, her life was filled with drama and interesting things.

The other aspect of my relationship with my sister during this time was that she would occasionally get pushy. What sister wants, sister gets. Because I was constantly cast in the role of unloving and emotionally distant sister, I would feel pressure from her and my mother to give whatever sister wanted when she demanded it. Living far apart geographically helped keep these demands to a minimum, but on occasion she would insist on what she wanted. My mother did the same thing. These two felt that because they didn't ask for much, whatever they did ask for they were completely entitled to. And if you give them what they feel entitled to then it is the very least you can do. Therefore, no gratitude. I admit that pushy people are only a problem to someone who is too weak to say "no". I was weak. So the fault lies with me that I felt pushed around. Thankfully, I'm not weak that way anymore.

There have been genuine reasons for me to have sympathy for my sister. Her delivery of the baby left her severely injured because of an incompetent boob of a doctor. Plastic surgery was required later to put her back together "down there". She had a cascade of real health problems for the next many years because of that delivery. She, of course, also had to go through the real pain of giving up a child. For all these things I continue to feel sincere compassion for my sister. As she went through her various health crises I wanted to be there for her in some capacity. I wanted to be her friend. After a number of years of her physical suffering there were signs that she might be maturing somewhat. I was able to find some genuine pleasure in her company. These realities make this story a sad one for me. My sister is not "all bad". She has some very strong narcissistic traits, but I am not convinced she is a malignant narcissist. But the combination of her strongly narcissistic traits with the fact that she keeps me connected to my mother makes a relationship with her untenable for now.

At the point in time where sister's health was the poorest, she was the most enjoyable to be around. It would seem she had little energy for manipulations. She seemed humbled by life's circumstances. Then her health turned around. I was thrilled for her. So much so that I, my husband and daughter went and visited her shortly after her improvement because she wanted us to see how well she was doing. It was amazing to see the genuine and radical improvement. It was miraculous. She had been in poor health for over ten years, so this was a joyful turn of events.

The saddest part of the story for me is what happened next. It was a very short time after the majority of her health problems resolved that my sister was introduced to a Christianized form of psychology through her church. She would monopolize our conversations by telling me about the "incredible" things she was learning. Her focus turned completely inward. Now she was spending inordinate amounts of time and energy thinking about her childhood. She would talk incessantly about things she remembered from her childhood. The abuse stories were legion. And some of them were imagined. I was there, too, and I was older...I knew what happened in many cases better than she did. Her imagination started creating "memories" out of whole cloth. She started to recount her dreams. Dreams of spiders and snakes were "proof" to her that she had been sexually abused as a child. She wasn't sure by whom. I started to worry that she would lay charges at my dad's feet. For all his faults, he never ever was inappropriate with us. I worried she was getting dangerous as it related to our father.

Sister insisted my then 19 year old daughter come for a visit. So I put daughter on a plane and let her stay two weeks with her aunt. My poor daughter was assailed with sister's psychologized view of everything. Daughter felt a bit intimidated by how her aunt was now analyzing my daughter's childhood and seeing pathologies everywhere. Sister made my daughter promise to transcribe a seminar by this husband/wife team of psychologists after she got home. (The story was that sister was now good friends with the psychologists and had offered to help them make their seminars better. Sister often talks about her associations with "important" people and her important contributions to their greatness.) I am sure sister wanted to force my daughter to be exposed to this psycho-babble by creating this "job" for her. My daughter did start to do the transcription a few weeks after getting home. She started to voice her questions and concerns to my husband and I about things she was hearing these people say. I started to get involved by checking it out for myself. I realized that my sister had greatly idealized the message of these psycho-babblers and put her own spin on what they were saying so I wouldn't find them objectionable. When I went straight to the "horse's mouth", I found out what they were really teaching. There were big problems with their ideas. Especially with how they were trying to foist off very old Freudian ideas as something new and pretending these ideas were biblical. Freud was an admitted atheist and was openly hostile to Christianity. Any similarity of his ideas to Christianity is incidental and largely imagined.

I include this bit of history because it marked the decline in my relationship with my sister. She was no longer showing those signs of maturation of previous years. She was so completely self-focused as to be a total bore. She was dwelling constantly on her "issues" even while claiming these psycho-babblers' message would free everyone forever from their "issues" once you dug down to the bottom of the well of early childhood memories and confronted everyone with how they injured you. (There was even a recommended confrontational letter near the end of the book that was a guaranteed way to make sure you pissed off whomever you were confronting. It included a large dose of self-righteous language as an added bonus.)

I wasn't seeing any end in sight for all the self-focus and all the mulling of how mistreated she was as a child. As I've alluded to before, I wondered when all these trips down memory lane would take her to the part of her life where she was the one inflicting damage on others. She never took that route. One year, two years, three years, four years. She was relentlessly self-focused and never seeming to be able to rise above the "damage" of her youth as she delightedly rehearsed old memories. She now had the perfect excuse for anything she has ever done against someone else even while claiming that this new religious psychology didn't provide people with a way out of accountability. She talked about her "damage" as she explained away her bad behaviors of past and present. The more she talked about her "issues" the less she was interested in anyone but herself.The sharp turn into her narcissistic tendencies was a hard thing to have to witness. I have direct evidence in her that pop psychology makes people with narcissistic tendencies worse, not better. This is even more true for malignant narcissists as therapists have been coming to realize.

I have a real problem with most of pop psychology. The problems increase many fold when it dresses up in Christian vernacular and foists itself off as the next best thing to the Second Coming. I watched the steady decline of my sister's character as she grabbed onto it and made herself into a perpetual victim. As an added bonus, she now felt qualified to psychoanalyze everyone else around her. Never favorably. Her sense of superiority started to take on the dimensions of her much younger self. I did weeks of research on the book written by her favorite psychobabblers. I wrote up what I found. I refuted the most objectionable of their theories with facts. I emailed her my research. No response. Finally we were reunited at my parent's home due to a funeral of a family friend in July of 2002. Sister brought up her favorite theme...psychologized Christianity...and I finally dared to try to present my views to her in person. I wasn't aggressive or "in her face". I just started to voice what I believed in contradiction to things she was saying. She got hostile. Finally, she just walked away while I was still talking and acted like I wasn't there. She left the next morning without saying good-bye.

This didn't settle well with me. Once again, when I dared to contradict one of her pet ideas she got hostile. I determined to have even less to do with her than ever. Her rude behavior was dismissive and condescending. It snapped me back many years to when she often treated me that way. I didn't deserve her condescension. I had well-thought out points that she simply was refusing to give the time of day and then treating me like a lower life form for expressing them.

The fact that my sister was reverting to being much more self-involved meant her attitude and behaviors were starting to bring up old feelings in me. I am a very forgiving person. I have been too forgiving for much of my life. What I mean by that is I would forgive when no forgiveness was asked for. To forgive someone who isn't sorry means you're going to go round and round with repeats of the same objectionable behavior coming at you. Which is pointless. These reviving feelings were reminders of my past with my sister. Being reminded of past behavior by what was going on in the present was forcing me to assess our relationship. Did I need to keep a person in my life who considered herself guilt-less when misusing me and who held herself to no account when she mistreated me?

Then my mother struck. A few months later she pulled her Thanksgiving stunt in my home on my daughter. I called my sister a few days after the event to see what version of the story she had gotten from mom. This connected us again. Some months after the Thanksgiving debacle, my sister was the one who suggested that our mother fit the profile of a narcissist. I took that ball and ran with it. I read everything I could on malignant narcissism and then would have long conversations with my sister as we discussed what I was learning.

Perhaps my willingness to accept psychology's label for my mother seems contradictory to what I've said above about my opinion of psychology. Here's the deal. Psychology doesn't make excuses for malignant narcissism. It also recognizes that a person is a malignant narcissist by choice. I can accept this premise of psychology's opinion and approach to malignant narcissism therefore I am willing to use their terms. Because the psych community recognizes that changing a person with NPD is well nigh to impossible, they tend to stay much more objective about NPD. They focus more on observable facts rather than delving into the non-scientific realm of conjecture and guesses. In other words, the psych community sticks closer to what we call science when they are dealing with personality disordered people.

For two years my sister and I were connected by discussions of our mother and NPD. She seemed interested in the subject of malignant narcissism, but not enough to read on her own. She claimed it was "too much" for her emotionally to spend time reading up on it. Doesn't that seem curious to you? I couldn't read enough about NPD when I finally figured out that there was a name for what I'd lived through. It was almost a sense of euphoria the relief was so intense. What is with my sister's reaction? Her little phone call to me asking me if I thought she might be a narcissist goes a long way to explaining it. She was seeing too much of herself in the information on NPD which is why she completely stopped investigating shortly after mentioning to me that maybe our mother had NPD.

During these two years of our discussions on NPD my sister was appearing to take in information. I think now, in retrospect, that she was mostly just enjoying the fact that I had joined her in her condemnation of our mother. Sister still like to occasionally ramble on about her childhood speaking in a way that it seemed like she was talking to someone who hadn't lived through it too. She still loved focusing on "her pain" much more than studying the objective realities of NPD. I tried not to dwell on my annoyance at this recurring theme of hers and her tendency to act like I hadn't lived through the same things. She liked to tell me how I was just different than most people in the fact that I was able to rise above my childhood and build a good life minus a bunch of hang-ups. It was an interesting way she explained away my having taken accountability for my own choices. I was just different, an anomaly. Now, let's get back to talking about my pain and my so very valid reasons for frakking up my to speak.

At this time the only communication between me and my mother was in writing. It appeared my sister was honoring my demand that she not share anything about me or my family in her conversations with mom. It looked like there was hope for us to have an ongoing good relationship since it seemed she could deal with a measure of my trust. I didn't trust her completely yet, but I was trying. I had no way to verify whether or not she was not sharing things with mom since I wasn't in contact with my mother or anyone else in mom's life. I chose to believe the best of my sister.

This history is the prelude to the event that caused me to cut off my sister. It wasn't an earth-shattering event. The significance of the event can only be discerned by having some knowledge of what had gone before. It was the proverbial straw breaking the camel's back.

I'm happy to tell you that if you have a destructive or narcissistic sibling you are under no law in heaven or earth to keep that sister or brother in your life. A relationship with an adult sibling should be entirely voluntary. No one is obligated to keep a sibling in their life if they don't want to. (In a dysfunctional family the pressure to keep another family member in your life will be especially intense.) If you have come to the point where you are willing to go against your family and don't worry about their opinion of you, freeing yourself of a nasty sibling is easy. Once you and your siblings are adults, you should expect a sibling relationship to have the same elements of a friendship. Mutual kindness, respect, and hopefully shared values. If you look at your sibling and say, "If I wasn't related to this person I wouldn't have a thing to do with them." that is a sign that you don't have anything resembling a friendship with them. When a sibling uses your shared genetics as a license to mistreat you it is reason enough to have nothing to do with them. An accident of birth made you blood relations. Choice should be what keeps you together. In an ideal world all siblings would love each other and be the best of friends. This isn't an ideal world. Having the same parents and being raised in the same home does little to ensure that siblings will develop true friendship. Siblings aren't little cookie-cutter copies. They are unique individuals. It often happens that siblings take very different courses in life resulting in widely divergent characters. Not everyone can get along. Once you are an adult and have formed your own family it is very important to not keep people in your life whose influence on you is destructive or negative. What affects you affects those closest to you. Emotionally destructive siblings have no god-given right to be in your life. You have the right to chose your friends. That would include your siblings. If they refuse to abide by general rules of friendship then they are simply using your family relationship to their own ends. You don't have to put up with that.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I have cut off my sibling. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it wold be, rather, it was enormously easier than continuing the relationship. That tells me a lot.

Thank you for this blog. You are a tremendous writer and have helped me immensely.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I am 55 years old. I grew up with a NPD sister two years my senior. A nightmare that I am just emerging from.
Her ex-husband enlightened me to the disorder and when I read about it I was FREE! My whole life explained. No one knew what we were dealing with and I believe she inherited it from my father who also has strong, strong tendencies. Needless to say they butt heads often.
Years of depression--and the sense of being invisible were explained in a few paragraphs. I am among the "walking wounded." I keep a distance --though have not cut her off. I did for awhile but right now we are in the phase of a few calls a year and don't bother to argue.
I believe learning about NPD is a great gift. I have written a couple of poems about her and will pass on later.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts about cutting off sibs. I had to cut off my brother a few years back. He inflicted cruelty and pain on everyone and I couldn't live with it anymore. Many thanks for all you've shared. You've been incredibly helpful.

Anonymous said...

Whether your sister was raped or not, I resent the language you use. Statements like, "she teased someone until he took what she was tantalizingly holding out to him" and other references to your sister's "cock-teasing" ways smack of a victim blaming mentality that holds women responsible for being sexually assaulted (instead of the men who commit the acts).

You don't believe your sister was raped. Fine. But don't be a rape apologist in your reasoning for why you don't believe it.

I know it wasn't your intention to trivialize rape - but framing is everything. I can tell by your other posts that you are a thoughtful, and considerate woman - so please extend that kindness to readers who may be victims of sexual assault (like me) and find your wording hurtful.

Anna Valerious said...

The person who trivialized the word "rape" was my sister. Not me. I have presented the facts including the details that she presented. I too have been a rape victim. It was a stranger. It was with threatened violence. It was the scariest thing I ever experienced. For my sister to call what happened to her "rape" is to trivialize what REAL rape victims have gone through. It trivializes what real rape is. The rape I was subjected to was nothing like what my sister experienced. If my father was within earshot of me...believe me....I would have screamed bloody murder. My sister never even pretended that her boyfriend was threatening her with violence. She was clear. She didn't want to yell because she didn't want her dad to get upset. That is not how a real rape victim would behave. Ever.