Q. Hi, My older sister of 5 years has expressed hatred and rage towards me my entire life. When we were young she was mentally and physically abusive to me, insulting me if I came near, and hitting or pushing me down if I was within reach. Our parents tried to address this themselves, but finally just told me I couldn’t change her and to stay away from her. My sister has stated that her hatred started the night I was born because she had to quit watching TV to go to the hospital, and that afterwards she was forced to share my parents attention with me. She rationalizes that it is perfectly normal for siblings to hate each other.
My parents were non-violent, respectful, and compassionate people who did not teach us hateful philosophies. My Mom and Dad believed in being a united front, never argued in front of us, and never fought physically at all. There was no violence or hatefulness taught to us in our home. I stayed away from her growing up because she would insult me if either of us had friends over. It was embarassing and annoying so I spent most of my time outside of the home.
We have communicated very little as adults. At family gatherings she insults me and tries to lead me into arguments, after which she will ultimately scream at me “I Hate your guts, and hope you die!”. She has used that exact phrase my whole life. When confronted, she always denies saying it, even if the entire family heard it. Her husband and his family have always treated me disrespectfully. I found out only last year that they believe I am a drunk and a drug addict which I am not, and never have been. Last Thanksgiving we were at her house and my sister refused to allow her husband to open wine, and told the family it was because my wife and I have drinking problems and she did not want to tempt us.
This was premeditated to instigate me, but I don’t know why. I rarely drink because of health reasons. My wife grew up with an alcoholic father and doesn’t care for it. My sister’s behavior was grossly insulting to both of us. My wife won’t ever visit with my sister or her in-laws again, and I support that decision. During that last visit my sister was almost constantly eyeballing me — staring at me morning to night, but often when she would talk to me she would avert her eyes. Sometimes she would get a tic in one eye. It was a bit unnerving, like being around the evil villain in a spy movie.
My sister is a intelligent person, highly educated, and successful in her industry, but she works long hours and is always stressed. She’s always been stressed, even as a child. Her husband has a PhD in Chemistry and has sort of a Peter Pan complex. They each have a home office, and his is filled with assorted novels, hobbies, and toys. My sister’s office has her work items, hundreds of cookbooks, and a bunch of murder mystery novels. They have been married 20 years, have no children, and no intentions to. It doesn’t seem to me like my sister has much fun at all. She looks like she is miserable (emotionally, not unkempt) and people that meet her sometimes even comment on it. I doubt that she uses drugs. I know she does drink, but I don’t know how much.
I’ve had 4 surgeries on my spine in the last 2 years and still have at least one more to go. My symptoms are painful and life threatening. I’ve never looked for sympathy, money, or special treatment. I’m not a burden to my family (well, I am somewhat to my wife, but not anyone else). During family gatherings my brother-in-law has begun addressing me rudely and telling me how he knows “real disabled people”, as if I’m somehow faking my illness. I don’t consider myself “disabled”, and I still work and support myself. Hearing my sister screaming that she hates me and hopes I die has been pretty hurtful. When we were children it was unacceptable. As a teenager I remember a short period of time that I actually got amusement from it (very short). As an adult it’s just always been depressing. Now, with my health issues it has a much deeper, and negative impact.
My Mom is 79 and had a breast cancer removed late last year. My sister treats my Mom rudely, and my Brother-in-law is very rude and disrespectful towards my Mom. It hurts my Mom emotionally that my sister is so venomous towards me. My Dad passed on from cancer about 20 years ago and we all still miss him. I know that my sister and her husband would not act so childish if my Dad was around, and I know my Dad’s loss did affect my sister. My sister always bragged that she was my Dad’s favorite, and I never argued that point. My dad died while my sister was at work one day. I happened to be home at the time. My sister has mentioned several times that she feels guilty because she wasn’t there. My Dad developed severe Edema and it was like his body just turned into a big sack of liquid. Watching my Dad die was a horrible experience and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.
Just so it’s not a question, my parents never abused or hit us, and they treated us both pretty equally. I don’t think my sister was ever sexually abused or molested in any way by anyone. I think she’s got an imbalance or some sort of problem in her brain that is exciting or limiting the area that controls rage. She’s probably had it since she was born. I was a convenient outlet for it so we spent both of our lives thinking the relationship to rage was experiential when it is actually physical. I could be wrong.
I know that sharing this on the internet is not going to solve the problem, but I thought maybe someone might recognize a pattern or something distinctive about this behavior. My sister and I live 1000 miles from each other, and she would not go to counseling or seek help if I suggested it (and I have). I’m just really looking for some closure. I don’t believe my sister will ever change for the better and I believe that at this point I just need to come to acceptance and move on. If someone reads this and sees an evident sign of a treatable disorder, and believes that there is hope for improvement, I will consider sending a message to my sister, but I highly doubt that she would consider anything I suggest. Thanks in advance even if no one has a suggestion.
A. I do not think there is a specific disorder that your sister suffers from. She might have a severe personality disorder not otherwise specified (NOS) or she may just simply be engaging in maladaptive behaviors. It is difficult to know what causes her to behave in such a manner. Was she born that way as you believe or did something tragic happen to her that brought on such behavior? At the very least, her abusive behavior towards you was overlooked by your parents and because of this your parents may have inadvertently reinforced her behavior. They instructed you also to ignore your sister. This amounts to accepting her behavior, it came with no punishment.
Your parents seemed to know that something was amiss with your sister very early on but did little to stop her from behaving inappropriately. Unfortunately for you, you had to bear the brunt of your sister’s rage and anger and your parents probably did not know how to handle this situation. Perhaps if your parents had addressed your sister’s behavior with the assistance of trained mental health professionals early on, she could have been helped. It is difficult to know.
I am wondering about how your sister treats non-family members. Is she “normal” towards friends and co-workers and only abusive towards you and your mother?
As a child, her behavior “made more sense” and by this I mean it is not unusual for siblings to be jealous of the one another. But even as a younger child, she still took her disdain for you to extremes, and got away with it. As an adult, she still carries this disdain for you and now even treats your wife with disrespect.
Your sister has abused you physically, verbally and psychologically for years. You mentioned still seeing her for family occasions, and so forth and I am wondering why? Why spend time with your sister when she still abuses you? Why does she get to spend time with you or your family or have the luxury of being in your presence? My suggestion is that you do not spend another minute in her presence until she stops abusing you. Making rude comments about you and your wife is a form of abuse. Your wife will not allow this behavior and neither should you. Her behavior is simply unacceptable.
With regard to closure, realize that the probability of your sister ever changing is extremely low. Since you cannot change her, or force her into therapy, you will need to change your behavior and feelings toward her. She abused you your entire life and this should make you angry and not sad. It is sad that you will likely never have a good relationship with your sibling but that is the reality. It is her fault, not yours. It is time that you held your sister accountable for her behavior and this can start by you feeling a healthy anger towards her instead of feeling hurt by the fact that she treats you badly. I am not saying that you should act like your sister does and begin abusing her. I am just saying that you have the right to be angry at someone who continually abuses you. She treats you badly because she can and still there are no consequences. Do not allow her to abuse you any longer. Realize that she will likely never change and this realization may assist you in closure. I hope this answers your questions. Take care.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Oct 2007
Randle, K. (2007). Lifelong hatred and rage. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/10/12/lifelong-hatred-and-rage/