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My 60-Year-Old Sister Won’t Take Responsibility for Her Life

From the U.S.: My older sister (first child) has only worked apx 12 years in her entire life and is almost 60. We had a traumatic childhood with an alcoholic mother, father died when she was almost 4. She never worked as a teen as my brother and I did, she stole mom’s credit cards and maxed them, ran up phone bill talking to boyfriend who was deployed to Guam. In short never had any initiative to support herself.

Married and was on welfare, etc. Had a child with abusive husband. She was overweight from teens and is now morbidly obese with health problems. First husband died and she received 1 million in life insurance as well as SS and veterans benefits. Married again and lost benefits, blew through entire insurance payout within about 18 years with new husband who had emotional and sexual affairs throughout their marriage. They always bought whatever they wanted, motorcycles, boats, etc. Did not save any money even for her only son’s college. Son is doing ok but does not want to spend time with her.

She and husband are on brink of bankruptcy, he has been drinking heavily for years and has another emotional affair going with a widow woman who is also obese and who is supposed to receive a large settlement from deceased husband’s settlement. My sister spends all her time, sleeping, looking at social media, is trying to get disability from an injury and is on several meds. She is depressed but the biggest problem is that she refuses to work or take any responsibility for any of the problems in her life. She blames them on our mother and her husband.

She wants to move in with me while having no means of support. I have been compassionate and supportive but I cannot support her financially and do not want to live with her. I don’t want to enable this behavior because it is all so incredibly unhealthy, but I don’t want her to end up on the streets either. During the years she was working she accomplished a great deal but always had personality conflicts which she felt were the fault of her coworkers or superiors. She transferred or quit every job until she had an accident and went onto TDI. I feel like I am trapped in a trash TV show! How do I support her without enabling this behavior?

My 60-Year-Old Sister Won’t Take Responsibility for Her Life

A.

What a difficult situation! You are torn between your compassion and your understanding that, at 60, she is unlikely to change a lifelong pattern. It’s unclear whether she is mentally ill or if she is someone who would rather take advantage of others than take care of herself. Either way, by your account, she hasn’t been willing to seek help or to make changes on her own. It’s very, very difficult to take care of people who stubbornly won’t participate in that care.

You can certainly offer her emotional support but I think it would be unwise for you to let her move in — unless you are willing to be taken advantage of for the rest of her life. You could make a list of local resources and phone numbers for her. At this point, she may be incapable of researching that on her own. What she does with the list may give you more information about her state of mind. Will she make some calls or will she look to you to do even that?

Since the only information I have is from your letter, I can’t offer you more than that. However –You need and deserve support and practical advice for dealing with a family member who is chronically ill. I strongly suggest that you contact the local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and attend one of the support groups for family members. Members offer each other support and advice. Chances are that participants will be able to point you to some local services. In addition, consider joining a forum here at PsychCentral to hear how others in a similar position have managed to walk that fine line between being supportive without being enabling.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

My 60-Year-Old Sister Won’t Take Responsibility for Her Life

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). My 60-Year-Old Sister Won’t Take Responsibility for Her Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 16, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2018/09/06/my-60-year-old-sister-wont-take-responsibility-for-her-life/

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Sep 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Sep 2018
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