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Sister Can’t Cope with Life — And It’s Taking a Toll on Our Mom

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My sister is a married, 32 year-old woman with a college degree. When she was in high school she was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and she has never been the same since. She constantly struggles with energy issues, brain fog, depression, anxiety, etc. She holds down a job, but just barely.

A few months ago, she and her husband decided to move an expensive mobile home onto my mother’s property. They were excited about it and my mom was happy to have them nearby. She deeded them land and agreed to let them move in to her home temporarily while they got the new house set up.  When they did, they brought all of their junk (for lack of a better term) and piled it into my mom’s living room, making it resemble a hoarder’s house. They also brought their cats, who have urinated on everything making the house basically uninhabitable. Despite the fact that their house arrived months ago, they are making no efforts to move out.

My mom and sister have had a weird co-dependent relationship ever since she was sick as a teenager and the entire family walks on eggshells around my sister’s feelings to avoid sending her into a downward spiral. She does not show any consideration for other people and takes advantage of my mother constantly. My mom does not want to upset my sister, so she won’t say anything to her and encourages me not to say anything either.

It is not uncommon for my sister to have anxiety attacks that cause her to stay in bed for a week at a time. In the past this has caused her to lose jobs and completely drop off the radar for long stretches of time. Basically, my sister is unable to cope with life. It is literally affecting my mom’s well-being and I have no idea how to intervene. I love my sister and don’t want to hurt her, but I can’t help but feel that we have helped contribute to her problems by not letting her know how her actions are affecting those around her.

Any advice? (From the USA)

Sister Can’t Cope with Life — And It’s Taking a Toll on Our Mom

Answered by on -


  I would talk to your mom about what it is like for you to watch her deteriorate in the presence of your sister’s situation. Ask your mom if she is aware of the effect all of this is having on her… and on you as a result. Open the dialogue. If your mom is feeling this way with your sister, she may not see you as someone she can confide in. Let her know you want to open a dialogue. Explain to her that in her effort to help your sister she is hurting herself, diminishing her home, and upsetting you.

If you feel this is something you want to have brokered by a professional I’d invite your mom to a session with a family therapist. This will allow the presence of a professional third party present as you try to let your mother know what it is like.

The work is between you and your mom as it is her behavior that allows the problem to continue.

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

Sister Can’t Cope with Life — And It’s Taking a Toll on Our Mom

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

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: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Sister Can’t Cope with Life — And It’s Taking a Toll on Our Mom. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 23 Oct 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.