My sister is in denial

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. My sister is a 27 year old single mom that has been living with us for seven years. At the age of 18 or eighteen we notice a change in her personality. She was leaving the house for days without telling us where she was. She was always getting into fights with people and was verbally abusive with the family especially my mom. My mom tried talking to her and tried to convince her to go to counseling but it never helped. She got married at 19 had a daughter and divorced because the man was also abusive. The seven years she has lived with us she has had trouble keeping friends and jobs because she can’t get along with people.She is always angry, moody and full of hate. We have always been very supportive and tried to get her to go to counceling. But we are just loosing hope. Another thing I can’t understand about her personalitly is how it can change from sweet and loving to manipulative, aggresive and abusive. Recently she got involved with someone that is very controlling and also verbally abusive. Although we have never seen him hit anyone we have how ever seen how angry he can get. Everyone around her knows he is bad news except her. How or what can I do to convince my sister to leave this man and get counciling for the safety of her daughter?

A. This is a difficult situation since your sister does not have insight into what her problems are. My advice is to continue to request that she attend therapy. I know that therapy has not been successful in the past but there may come a time when she finds the right therapist who really has an effect on her. There is not much else you can do since you cannot really control other people’s behavior. Try using her daughter as leverage for her getting help. By this I mean say to her what you said to me—“sis, get help for your daughter’s sake. She does not deserve to be exposed to anger and unsafe situations”, etc.

It sounds like she may even be suffering from some type of mood disorder such as bipolar disorder and may benefit from medication to control her moods. In addition to requesting that she attend therapy, ask her to see a psychiatrist for an evaluation. Medication may help her stabilize her moods. My other suspicion is that she may be using drugs or alcohol and these substances may be contributing to her mood swings. In summary, I know that you are losing hope but don’t give up trying to convince her to seek therapy. What is good is that she attended therapy in the past, albeit unsuccessfully, but the point is, is that she was willing to help herself. The fact that she was willing to accept help in the past should give you hope for the future. There is hope for your sister. The challenge now is trying to find her effective help. Just keep pressing her to go back to therapy, to keep trying therapists until she finds one she is comfortable with and suggest that she see a psychiatrist for an evaluation for medication. I hope this helps.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Aug 2006

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2006). My sister is in denial. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/08/06/my-sister-is-in-denial/