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Sister Uses Me as a Therapist and It’s Making Me Need One

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My sister-44 and mother-72 live together. Both are disabled. My mother is bi-polar/borderline personality. My sister has a chronic pain condition and, though not diagnosed with a specific mental illness, has NO self-esteem, is OCD and chronically depressed. She’s been married twice, is single, has no children and likely never will (something she can’t get over). Obviously that situation is toxic but unavoidable for financial reasons. I field hundreds of calls and texts her. Day and night. Though they both see psychiatrists for meds, neither are in therapy anymore since “it doesn’t work.”

I am 48, happily married 31 years with grown kids, but am constantly bombarded by their situation. I try to help, to be an ear when I can, but nothing I say changes anything and I have NO ANSWERS. Nothing I do is enough. I am NOT a trained therapist! There IS no answer to their issues. She cries to me that she may never get help for her pain and she’ll never have kids etc and what can I say? She tells me she’s jealous of my life! How do you respond to that! It’s sad but it is what it is.

What I can’t deal with being told that dumping your problems on your sister is normal. So I am a bad sister for not wanting to discuss the same depressing issues over and over and over with no resolution. My sister tries to guilt me all the time by complaining that we never do anything together (she rarely leaves the house) and I’m not “supporting” her since I won’t let her monopolize my time whenever she feels like it. I say “What do you want from me?” but of course, she can’t answer that. She just wants to call and dump on me until I feel panicked since there is no fixing her problems and I worry about what will happen when my mom passes away and she’s on her own and even more needy.

I have reached the end of my rope and tell her that she needs a counselor and it’s not fair to use me like one and expect us to have a healthy sisterly relationship. I just need someone to back me up, or tell me I am wrong, so I can put my foot down once and for all or figure out a way to somehow “do more”.

Sister Uses Me as a Therapist and It’s Making Me Need One

Answered by on -

A.

Thank you for your letter. It is time for a sister-ectomy. Everything you’ve tried hasn’t worked. Putting yourself in a situation where you are burdened because your sister isn’t doing what she needs to do to get better is enabling the situation. She won’t get a therapist if she keeps using you. Become a role model for your sister and set clear boundaries. Brief and fewer phone calls, less responding to texts — maybe setting up a phone conversation once a week for a half hour. Don’t respond to her so often — or for too long. She is relying on you rather than getting the help she needs.

Your sister is not going to be happy about your decision, which is not happy with you anyway, yes? Showing her that you can need to take care yourself is the best role model you can provide.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Sister Uses Me as a Therapist and It’s Making Me Need One

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Sister Uses Me as a Therapist and It’s Making Me Need One. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2015/12/23/sister-uses-me-as-a-therapist-and-its-making-me-need-one/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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