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How Do I Live with Toxic Sister in Quarantine?

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From a 17 year old girl in the U.S.: I have an older sister and I don’t know if she is toxic but everything she has done in my past is really getting on my nerves. In my entire life, she has always made everything go in her way, with no regards to what i want. She is two years older than me and when it comes to me she literally acts like a child but calls me immature whenever she gets the chance. If she does something wrong she’ll blame it on me and won’t ever blame herself and calls me “airhead” or dumb because of it.

She always puts my brother before me no matter what. He is 5 years younger than me. If we ever shared a bed together like in a hotel on holidays, if he slept in between us, she would take the blanket off of me and stuff it under him even though he’s in between us.

She always asks me to back her up in arguments and I do but when the roles reversed she goes against me. We shared a room and if she smelled anything she would assume it would be me and one time sprayed me with air freshener. She takes clothing from me all the time but when I do it too it’s like the world collapses. She retaliates by hitting me, or by ruining my clothing and organization, and I still have scars from it.

I tell my parents and they scold her but tell me that I’m the bigger person by not defending myself at all and that’s just how she is. She stunk up our bedroom after moving back and I asked her for 3 months to clean it up since quarantine started and she still denied that it even smelled at all and my mom did all of her laundry so she can stop.

One time she punched me in my eye and kept scratching and kicking me because I simply took my shirt back from her. I could’ve fought back and surely could’ve won but I didn’t because my parents said that I was the bigger person for not fighting back. She has never given me a birthday present.

Also I am residing in my brother’s room (he hasn’t slept in here since we moved in) and have been for the past 2 years, and she, while on call w some of our mutual friends, said that I took it from him, like excuse me where did that come from. She spreads these things about me and once on a call again told me to be quiet cuz she could hear me from downstairs (the rooms are barely soundproof and ours are on top of each other) and I was quiet but when I said the same she kept denying it over and over again.

My friends believe her. I threw her a graduation party and she gives credit to my friends and didn’t even show up for my virtual graduation this year. I hate her and I stay up sometimes angry at her because she would always torment and yell at me whenever she got the chance. I was always walking on eggshells around her and I still am. Another time was when it was her birthday and we were putting up balloons and she yells at me vigorously that I’m putting it on wrong when she put that set of balloons on and I hadn’t even started yet. I’m mad at myself for not speaking back because it was so rude.

Another time was when her boyfriend asked me what presents to get for her. I said to get her makeup and guessed her skin tone and the rest he came up with. When she got it she didn’t like it and her boyfriend got upset about that and she kept nagging me to come to her to show her our messages and blamed her not liking the gifts on me and he didn’t even try to back me up. I told her I did nothing wrong and she said that she was being the bigger person by not talking to me. She apologized after a week but these things kept happening. I honestly hate her and have all this pent up anger and don’t know what to do.

How Do I Live with Toxic Sister in Quarantine?

Answered by on -

A.

What a sad, sad situation. Your sister has made it impossible for the two of you to have the kind of close friendship that many sisters enjoy. I’m sorry for both of you.

Has it ever occurred to you that your sister is threatened by you? She doesn’t seem to understand that there is room for two girls in the family. She puts you down because she doesn’t feel “up” enough. Her self-esteem is so low that the only way she can see to fix it is to make your self-esteem worse. I feel sorry for her.

I don’t know how this started. With only two years in age between you, she may not have been helped to welcome a new baby sister when you were born. It may be that your parents were so overwhelmed at the time with having two kids under two that they didn’t give her the attention she needed. If that was the case, from her point of view you were an interloper who took away the attention and care she was used to having. (That is not to fault your parents. Most kids in this situation grow out of the resentment and become helpers and friends. We don’t know why she didn’t.)

Now that she is 19, your parents have limited influence on her behavior. They probably feel as helpless as you do. They can try to set some rules for living in their house, but I imagine that she will only break them. Probably, the most useful thing they can do now is to encourage her to get some treatment for her chronic anger.

In some way, your parents are right. There is no way you can change her. There is nothing you can say or do that will help raise her self-esteem from the emotional basement it seems to be in. You are a “bigger person” when you ignore her provocations. Unless and until she gets herself into some therapy, all you can do is drop your end of the argument and get ready to launch into your own adult life.

The coronavirus makes it difficult, I know. Ordinarily, I would suggest that a person in your situation find ways to stay out of the house as much as possible by doing things like getting a job, becoming involved in a community activity, or doing research in a library. But those avenues are closed for now.

The best you can do is “leave” without leaving. That means zooming with friends, getting involved in some household fixing up or reorganizing, etc. or doing volunteer work. For example: People are making meals for people who need it, staffing phone banks, and sewing masks. Get yourself busy with doing something meaningful and the meaningless taunts of your sister will have less impact . Being active will also reinforce your positive self-esteem.

Do start researching what you will do next. You are out of school. Do you want to go to college? Can you start taking some courses now that will give you a jump start? Many schools are now offering free intro courses online. If college isn’t in your thinking, research what you can do now to position yourself for a job you want.

As for when your sister attacks: Just look at her sympathetically and tell her you are sorry she feels that and you’ll think about her criticism. That’s not a lie. You already do think about it. Just don’t give her the satisfaction of getting into an argument. The best way to stop a tug of war is to drop your end of the rope. You aren’t letting her “win”. You are putting yourself above it.

The data now suggests that we will be in some kind of quarantine for quite a while yet. It’s important to your growth and health that you find a way to distance yourself from your sister’s drama. I hope you will take some of the suggestions I’ve made.

In addition, I hope you will take care of yourself as best you can. That means getting enough sleep, eating right, finding a way to get some exercise and, if at all possible, getting outside for a bit every day. It would also be helpful to do some journaling and to learn some kind of meditation practice. Put all that on your schedule and you’ll be less available for your sister’s nonsense.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

How Do I Live with Toxic Sister in Quarantine?

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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. (2020). How Do I Live with Toxic Sister in Quarantine?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2020/08/07/how-do-i-live-with-toxic-sister-in-quarantine/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Aug 2020 (Originally: 7 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 5 Aug 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.