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Dysfunctional family growing up... anyone have similar feelings?

(14 Posts)
pandarific Wed 11-Oct-17 00:34:38

Hi all, I've posted before about my sister. She's early 30s, unemployed and lives at home with my mum and has some kind of undiagnosed mental health issue - my guess is BPD because it feels the most 'right' but who knows?

I don't know what I want to get from this post except maybe some perspectives from other people who have similar stuff to deal with, so here goes. I think about my sister and feel guilty/sad/angry every day; it's all a bit of a mess. I think it's being thrown up so much more for me as I'm recently married, have a goodish job and am TTC, while I know she's unhappy - she wants a job and a partner and kids and realistically I think that's unlikely to happen.

She's very obviously 'off' when you speak to her - quite anxious and babbling, often not really making sense. Everyone notices. To the extent that at my wedding she'd been emailing the venue guys and they actually took me aside and gently asked what was up with her. As did most of our friends who hadn't met her before. As did my DH's sister who she'd taken to emailing and texting and being clingy toward.

We had an unsettled childhood, were moved at 10 (me) and 8 (she) to a place where we were bullied badly, then moved again 4 years later, more bullying, my dad staying in the previous place (95% sure screwing around) and commuting down at the weekend to ignore us, then parents splitting and my dad buggering off more permanently when I was 16 - though he came for birthdays, Christmas, visits and stayed in my mums house as if it was all normal. Weird boundaries.

My feeling as a child was that my sister was favoured over me - she was cuter, more compliant, and had allergies and asthma that my mum fawned over. My mum has always treated her as a baby. Equally, my mum is a massive martyr, but also extremely emotionally manipulative. If she doesn't want you to do something, she will control you through trying to make you feel guilty, or upsetting you, or convincing you that you're wrong, and will gaslight and lie through her teeth to get out of trouble. I love my mum dearly and she has a lot of great features, but being honest, this is what she's like. I think this is how her mum was, and I don't think she knows how to be any other way.

As she was always spoilt and pandered to (e.g. very fussy eater) and my mum never enforced any punishments, my sister was a little shit as an older child and teen. Entitled beyond belief, a real horror. I was quite horrible to her - as a grown up I now realise it was my parents complete lack of boundaries and general bad decisions / parenting that caused her behaviour, so I shouldn't have been so hard on her, but she was pretty foul - screeching, smashing stuff, getting hysterical during a row and throwing her phone at my mum's face and breaking her nose... that was a fun night. confused Suffice to say it was a bit chaotic. I remember wanting to go and live with my dad when my parents split up because of the constant screaming, swearing, bitch fighting, and wasn't allowed to. Lol, my dad would have been horrified by that anyway. (Realising in your late 20s that your dad isn't actually who you thought he was: a whole other thread. sad)

Another example of the dynamics: My mum once said to my sister that her bad behaviour was the reason my dad and her broke up. When my sister told me this when I was about 20 I didn't disagree, which with the benefit of hindsight I should have done - because we were the children, and they were the adults. For my part, I have apologised to my sister for treating her badly when I was younger, and for blaming her for things that weren't her fault and were outside her control. She's accepted.

The situation now is that she's living with my mum, and they are quite codependent. The screaming matches continue, my sister's explosive behaviour flares up quite a bit, and I'm removed from it, living in another country, feeling guilty and sad and aware that I can do absolutely nothing about it.

I just feel bad about the whole situation. About the part I played in whatever damage was done to my sister, guilt that I got into adulthood with MH issues but managed to un-knot myself and am doing okay now but she isn't, guilt at how harshly I judge my parents when I know they do love us both, guilty for feeling embarrassed when people ask me 'so, what's... up with your sister?', sad that my DH finds her difficult and awkward to be around, sad and angry that I find her difficult awkward to be around, that I'l never have a normal relationship with her. I feel so sorry for and I do love her, but I can't fix her, or my mum, or make my dad be any different than he is. So I just keep in touch mostly by texts and calls and keep my boundaries clear.

But mostly I feel alone, because I don't think most people have this kind of stuff rattling around in their heads, and what are you supposed to do with it? I feel guilty for posting this even, as I'd never want my mum or sister to know I think these things about them.

Hidingtonothing Wed 11-Oct-17 01:05:23

I don't feel experienced or knowledgable enough to say much about your family relationships other than it all sounds pretty dysfunctional and you should be really proud of yourself for managing to 'un-knot' yourself as you put it.

But I get why you feel the way you do when you look at your sister's life. The easy thing to say is that it wasn't/isn't your fault and it really isn't but it's obvious that isn't going to change the way you feel.

You have more un-knotting to do I'm afraid OP, I think I'd be looking into some therapy to help you disentangle it all and find some level of peace with and acceptance of a situation which (you're right) you can't change or fix flowers

pandarific Wed 11-Oct-17 11:54:48

Thank you, Hiding, your post means a lot. flowers

Thing is, I'm actually ok in my everyday life. I just have a lot of bad memories and guilt mixed in with good memories. I don't think it was abusive as such, just utterly dysfunctional - but yes, maybe at some point when I have funds I'll look into therapy.

AuntyElle Wed 11-Oct-17 12:07:03

I think you are really kind to try to help and to stay in contact. You also sound like you are being very fair and trying to see things from other family members' perspectives.
But try to be kind to yourself and try to let go of the guilt. As you say, you were a child, and only knew what you'd grown up with as 'normal'. You might find Kristin Neff's work on self-compassion interesting. flowers

Sweetbell Wed 11-Oct-17 12:11:18

As a survivor of a dysfunctional childhood myself boundaries as adults are blurred. We feel responsible for the emotional output of others in family. As adults we still feel and take on the emotions of toxic parents/siblings
But as adults we are actually only responsible for our own emotional wellbeing.
We also can't fix dysfunctional or codependent family.
I've had to take a huge step back and not be involved in any drama. Also pitying siblings or comparisons doesn't help. Your DSis may in some way only have the coping skills for current life she lives. Its up to her ultimately to seek treatment to disengage from manipulative mother and sort her life out.
You need to let go of any guilt about how you freed yourself, everyone copes differently and you should be proud of the life you have salvaged for yourself.
Unfortunately growing up in toxic home really is a fight for survival to exit with mental health intact.

Lissette Wed 11-Oct-17 12:21:51

I've learned that the only thing I can control is my actions and thoughts. I can't change anyone else. My family is abroad and becoming more dysfunctional as my parents age. All I can do is draw boundaries and make sure I don't get sucked it. It's very hard OP especially when you can see the dysfunctional patterns and you want something better for your loved ones. flowers

pandarific Wed 11-Oct-17 21:08:33

Thanks all. It's just a bit sad really. Especially as DH's family is so happy and normal, throws it into stark relief a bit.

CoyoteCafe Wed 11-Oct-17 21:31:16

But mostly I feel alone, because I don't think most people have this kind of stuff rattling around in their heads, and what are you supposed to do with it?

My sister is stage 4 bi-polar with psychosis. I feel bad about things I said both as a child and as a teen.

I think that the only thing we can do is to live our own lives with the families we've created to the best of our ability every day. For me, that meant a great deal of distance with my sister while my children were growing up because her behavior was so off and so unpredictable.

Plus she said a lot of very hateful things to me. (After a long labor and traumatic birth, she called me while I was in the hospital and screamed at me. She screamed that she didn't care if me or my baby lived or died).

What I'm saying is to brace yourself -- you are TTC, and having a child will complicate the situation with your sister. Ultimately, I decided to always do what was best for my children rather than doing anything for the relationships with my crazy relatives. Living far away helps. Seeking out joy in your own life helps. That can look different for different people: therapy, yoga, self help books, gratitude journal, just choosing your thoughts, etc. What ever works for you.

The Serenity Prayer

God please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

millifiori Wed 11-Oct-17 21:42:06

Why do you feel so guilty? Are you guilty at being happy, at sorting yourself out? Does some part of you feel you must have had it easier than the rest because you're the least dysfunctional?

You were a child then. You weren't responsible for her rearing or her happiness then and you aren't now. But you are sensitive to it. You've apologised for unfair behaviour in the past.

Are you super-sensitive now because in TTC you're reviewing your own childhood as an adult and realising how unsettled it was?

Would it help to devote a set amount of time to your sister each week or month? To call or skype her once a week for half an hour, or to email her twice a week, so she knows you care, but you can set boundaries around how involved you are?

Do you need to remind yourself that she is an adult too now and it's up to her to sort herself out and make changes she needs to make. Not easy with BPD, if she does have that, but you could devote every waking hour to her and it wouldn't improve her illness. Living well yourself and providing some support which doesn't drain you is the best you can do. And no need to feel guilty for it.

KevinKnowsImMiserable Wed 11-Oct-17 21:50:37

Hi Pandarific,

Sorry to hear of your upbringing.

I grew up in a very dysfunctional family and the guilt and confusion in your post are things that I recognise.

I had a lot of therapy and realised that what I thought was just me generally being awkward and not 'getting along' with my family was actually a reaction to their abusive behaviour towards me.

I also grew up with a mentally unwell sibling and suffered guilt when I was younger about him being the one with all of the problems and me never having suffered. It was only once I had therapy that I realised I had actually suffered a lot, and especially at his hands.

You talk about discovering your Dad isn't who you think he is - I also went through this.

I always thought of myself as a very level-headed person but it did all catch up with me in the end. If you can afford some therapy now it might be worth doing, because I can only say that the guilt/tension/obligation I felt about my family reached fever pitch and it resulted in a mental health crisis for me so I do wish I'd unpicked it sooner.

You do sound very level-headed but you sound as though you are carrying the burden of the guilt for things that were not your fault. You don't need to do that forever.

TalkinBoutWhat Wed 11-Oct-17 21:55:00

Can I point something out to you, you were only 2 years older than your sister. You didn't treat her any worse than a teenage sister would have. You really, really didn't.

I remember some of the bitchiness that went on between my sisters and myself as teenagers. There's a dent in a bedroom door where one of my sisters threw a shoe at another one, but the other sister managed to shut the door in time to not get hit in the face.

We had a rather dysfunctional childhood, but we ALL had it. One of my sisters can't cope with being an adult though. She's found the responsibilities of being a mother too strenuous and now has 'problems'. But much as I love her, and want the best for her, I'm not responsible for her problems, neither are our other sisters. Maybe it's easier for me because I'm younger than her. My other sisters who are older can't help but feel responsible.

But that doesn't mean I don't care.

KevinKnowsImMiserable Wed 11-Oct-17 21:59:39

I'm shocked that so many people ask what's wrong with your sister, btw.

My brother is stark raving bonkers and it's very clear to see, but only extended family make occasional shrouded comments. I'm shocked that other people think it's ok to ask you that and I'd certainly be laying down boundaries with those people that it isn't on.

pandarific Thu 12-Oct-17 00:14:08

KevinKnowsImMiserable It's a mix of ways it happens - at the wedding a lot of people were obviously meeting her for the first time. They tended to ask my DH, who then told me later. My DH's family are in this camp. They every so often ask me how my sister is, I always say fine and try to change the subject, I wish they'd stop.

Then, very old friends who've known my sister and I since we were late teens have asked, as they haven't seen her in 10 years-ish, and, well, it's noticeable. These are good friends who mean no harm, and it's not that they're asking so bluntly, but they might say 'so how's X?' and I don't know what to say, or say 'oh, fine' and then a follow up question 'is she still living with your mum..?'. I never know what to say.

Also, it's a generalisation but people in my home country are notably more, er, forthright than in the UK, or are certainly less concerned with appearing rude and love a good old unsolicited opinion!

The most painful thing is that my sister is extremely paranoid about people gossiping about her living at home, being unemployed etc, so I'm supposed to lie and say she's doing various things. I don't, I just try to change the subject, but the issue is that people DO gossip and judge. I know it is humiliating for her so I try to give no information, just bland responses.

pandarific Sun 12-Nov-17 23:05:48

Bumping my thread to moan about my mother. After spending last year at PIL's, DH and I are going to my home country for xmas. My mum can't come to us as she works retail and won't get the days off.

I called her up today to talk to her about plans, and she started on at me about our staying in a hotel this Christmas - apparently I'm 'happy to embarrass her where she works and lives' because we're staying in a hotel, and it 'looks like there's murder at home'. The last time I stayed in my family home for Christmas, this is what happened.

I'M unreasonable. I'M terrible. Because I'm embarrassing her.

In my thread above, where I posted from the car after being followed around the house being screamed abuse at by my sister, my mother followed me out, and her ONLY words to me were 'come in before the neighbours see you'. Jesus wept. angry sad

Apparently 'there was a row over three years ago' and I'm 'still hanging on to it'. Well what a cunt I am, that's me told!

I know that she is upset that:
a) my sister is most likely kicking off about us not staying in the house (apparently she has been threatening to go and stay in a hotel for Xmas too - wtf?) and
b) she's upset about my dad and her breaking up again (cheating on her), happened earlier this year, she doesn't feel she can 'turn him away' at Xmas (FFS just have the conversation and sort something out like adults)

She called me back after we rang off, boo-hooing about how she just wants sister and I to be happy with the situation with my dad at Xmas, no mention of what she'd said to me. I couldn't give a fig and told her so; we'l see him after xmas, but apparently my darling sister has been on at her again about it, and both does and doesn't want him to come. so my mum doesn't know what to do.

Please tell me you can see the gaslighting? The flights are booked and paid for, and we have a lovely 5 star hotel booked. But I am so angry with her about the utter denial, and the lack of giving even the slightest shit about my feelings.

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