Why is my sister acting this way?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

In February of this year, I moved out of my dads house. He is a crackhead and once when he was high he had physically and verbally abused me, and I left. It had happened before, but never like this. When I tried calling for help, he took my phone. I ran into my sisters room(shes a year and a half younger than me) and used her phone to call my mom, who lived about 20 minutes away. He heard me crying and talking on the phone and tried to break the door down and kept telling me to shut up. After I got off the phone, I ran into my room, locked the door and packed my stuff. He left the house.

As you can see, my sister was there for me. We were never really close, but if one of us needed the other, they were there. Its now November, and things are way different. I havent talked to my dad since that day. I did talk to my sister for about a month after that happened. During that month, I would still go out to my dads when he wasnt home, as he is a truck driver and only home every other weekend, and play the xbox, etc.

Then all of a sudden, I get a text from my sister. Shes telling me how mad she is at me. When I ask her what I did, she wont give me an answer. Still to this day I have no idea what I did. She tells me to “stop being stupid, I know what I did.” Its only gotten worse since then. She now wont even talk to our mother. My sister tells our family(my moms fiance, his ex-wife and their 2 daughters) that she hates my mom and me, but never gives a real reason. My mom tries calling her almost every night, but she never answers. My mom leaves voice mails, crying, asking her to tell my mother why she hates her. She never calls back.

A few nights ago, on my mothers birthday in fact, my mom asked me to text my sister and ask if she was going to call her for her birthday. Her answer to that? “Ill call her when I get home and have time.” I told her there was no excuse for this, and that mom should be called as soon as possible. Our whole family knows she’s up to no good when shes out, she has parties when dads not home, lets her 16 year old boyfriend(who has no permit or license) drive dads car, she stays out past curfew, and she has had the cops called on her. I continued texting her for the next 7 hours, trying to convince her to call mom. She never answered with a “ok” or an “I will”, but instead argued with me about pointless things. Needless to say, that phone call never came.

The holidays are coming, and us kids(me, my sister and my moms fiances daughters) were all invited to my mothers for thanksgiving and christmas. My sister refuses to go if me and my mother are going to be there. I think my dad has gotten into her, but I dont understand why she cant stick up for herself. He spoils her now; he bought her a puppy, he takes her out to dinner every night when hes home, etc. Shes going to be 18 next year, she should act like an adult. Thank you for your time.

A: I can tell that this situation is heartbreaking for you and your mother and that you are genuinely confused and upset by your sister’s behavior. Without knowing more about the situation, I have only one guess. Is it possible that your sister feels that everyone has abandoned her? You and your mother both got out of your father’s house. She’s been left there – with the violent crackhead that you couldn’t stand to live with!

I’ve known situations like this where the father is also abusing the daughter and threatening her not to tell. If that is possibly the case here, of course she can’t tell. She has to hope and pray that you will guess. Her various negative behaviors could be seen as signals to you that she’s needing help.

My best suggestion is that you stop blaming her for not being “an adult” and see her for the scared 16-year-old she is. She may need your help, not your negative judgments. You and your mom need to discuss a way for her to not live with your father if that’s what she needs.

Pick her up, take her to a safe and pleasant place and have a sympathetic heart-to-heart talk. Apologize to her for leaving her with your dad and ask her as kindly and calmly as you can if he is hurting her in any way. See if she would like a way out of the situation. Be prepared for her to be angry with you. She may well have a right to be. Listen. Don’t defend. Just listen and be there for her. If I’m right about the situation, it will be important for you to be as supportive as you know how to be.

I wish you both well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Feb 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Why is my sister acting this way?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/02/24/why-is-my-sister-acting-this-way/

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