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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

The trouble with siblings,
by Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,
Is there such a thing as just not liking your sibling?

Just to give you a rough overview of my sister Isobel, she has a superiority complex, she's a bit of a princess, she has expensive taste, she likes things a certain way -- her way! But her heart's in the right place really -- when you can find it!

But I always seem to be saying the wrong things and life sometimes just feels like prolonged misery. I wonder if i am genetically designed to be a geek or a loser or something lowly and everybody around me knows it except ME!!

My sister Isobel is a few years older than I am. My conflicts with her started a dozen years ago. From the usual sibling rivalry, to bullying, they have never been outright shoutfests, but it just seemed that she was always trying to undermine everything that i was doing or saying through constant contradictions, and diverting blame onto me.

Whenever we have debates, she's always hopping from one standpoint to another if she is losing. It gets confusing to the point where I don't even remember what we were arguing about -- but i just know that I came out the loser again! She speaks in grammatically correct sentences, but she has no concept of the negative/positive aspects of the words she uses. As such, any assumption i make on the phrases she makes is usually wrong. If I don't agree with her and try to pin her down with what she was trying to say, she'll usually say 'that's not what I meant'. She can say something that's insulting but she'll say it's just a joke. She says it in a deadpan tone but when i tell her that's not fair she says 'i was just joking' or 'that wasn't what I meant' with this long-suffering sigh as if it's my fault that I never understand what she says.

Ever since Isobel and I had our latest argument, she hasn't called me. I miss her. But at the same time she drives me nuts!!

WHY can't i STAND my own sister?????? Even when I'm feeling wretched and miserable and want us to be okay again?

'Elaine' (not my real name)

Dear 'Elaine',

Thanks -- fascinating letter!!!!

I think one of the great fallacies of human nature is that everyone is capable of being liked by anybody else. All that we can hope to do, with some people, is to endure them -- it's just a personality clash -- and a blood relationship makes this hard to acknowledge, but no less true. I have friends who can't endure their mothers -- and plenty who find siblings hard to endure. (As for spouses -- or spouse's relatives -- well, we won't go there!!!!!)

In fact, I don't think your case is all that uncommon -- what's uncommon is the honesty you bring to it!!! Your sister is older than you, and there are obviously difficulties in her own life that she isn't either strong enough or mature enough to deal with. People like this comfort themselves by shifting the 'blame' on to whoever's handy -- and you're handy. The key is to make yourself -- for Isobel -- LESS handy. You're sad and miss her, but you must KNOW that, should you seek her out, the same pattern of emotional blackmail will probably get going again. Wait for HER to approach YOU -- and, when she does, make two things clear:

  1. You love and care about her, and always will.
  2. However, you're not willing to carry on the sibling relationship as it has existed. A new contract needs to be agreed to -- and stuck to.

Until these points are conceded (and she may not be willing to concede them, in which case you might consider family counselling, as she clearly has a 'victim mentality'), you are beating your head against a brick wall, and possibly even spiralling into some kind of depression.

I also don't like the 'i' you use -- especially for someone, like you, obviously intelligent and avowedly well-educated. It speaks of insecurity and running yourself down and 'I'm not even worth a capital "I"'. My advice is to lose this attitude. Your sister may indeed belittle you (and you may be undervalued at work or in other ways) but offering yourself as a whipping boy or pillow to be kicked is not the right way to set about your life.

You're worth more than that. Believe it.
Let me know how you get on,

Copyright © 2 February 2007 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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