Need to Break Free of Dependent Sister

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

When I was much younger my older sister would physically abuse me through punches or slaps but it stopped when I was 16. This didn’t cause me to hate her at all as she did apologize and we eventually became closer. We have a good bond but I feel like she has now become very controlling. I have started first year university in September and living on my own. She wants me to call her everyday at night and talk on the phone even though we are miles apart. I don’t mind doing it once in a while but she forces me to do it every single day for hours at a time.

She dislikes when I tell her I am plans with friends and makes me cancel them just to make sure I talk to her. I try telling her that I want to live my life but some how she guilt trips me back into talking with her. Sometimes we are not even talking when we are on the phone with each other. I would be working on my assignments and she would still want to be on the line. She gets very upset when I even mention that I don’t have time to talk to her. I nfact she wants me to call at any free moment that I have and gets angry when I don’t use that time to talk to her.

I think she is just bored with her life as she is very withdrawn socially with the society. She tells me the only person she talks to everyday is just me or her roommate.
I really don’t know what to do with this. I still talk to her every day for hours while she pours her heart out to me about the problems she has. I feel terrible because I just no longer feel like sharing anything with her. I know I love her but sometimes I even get confused with my own feelings about her.

A: I think you are right. Your sister is bored with her life and maybe jealous of yours. Instead of finding the energy to get her own life on track, it’s easier to pull you down into her rut. Being a good person, you try to help by giving her attention and time. Sadly, it just isn’t helping. In fact, it’s enabling her to stay in that rut. As long as she is talking and talking and talking to you, she isn’t getting off the phone and into life.

I hope you will find a way to feel okay about putting an end to this routine. It’s not helping either of you. In the most loving way possible, tell her that this is your time to do your studies and to explore life at university. Tell her that you are happy to talk to her once a week to catch up and maybe to check in on facebook or by email every now and then. Stress that you have confidence in her ability to find friends and to get on with her life. Suggest to her that what she needs is a professional counselor, not an amateur like yourself. Then stick to it. Set up a predictable time to talk to her for an hour each week (like, say Wednesday evening from 6 – 7) and don’t answer her calls at any other time. Send her a quick message of caring now and then on email or FB but don’t get into an additional conversations.

She will be mad. She may say terrible things to you. Please don’t take it personally. She is scared of dealing with whatever is holding her back. When you draw a boundary, she will have to look at whatever is so painful to her. It will seem easier to make you into the bad guy than to deal with the fear. All you can do is sympathize and let her know that as hard as it is, you have faith in her intelligence and sensitivity for dealing with it.

If taking charge of this situation is too hard for you, I suggest you get a counselor for yourself to give you the support you need. You deserve to have a life that isn’t centered on your sister’s problems.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Mar 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Need to Break Free of Dependent Sister. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/03/30/need-to-break-free-of-dependent-sister/