#45 My sister won't talk with us / I drove my sister out of our life


DEAR ABBY: I have a sister I’ll call Lisa, who refuses to contact any of the family.

Granted, for years she was physically abused by our father, our mother was cold and emotionally abusive, and I guess the family was unsupportive. But no family is perfect. Right?

Everyone in the family thinks Lisa is being selfish, bitter and unforgiving, myself included. I stood by my family. Lisa turned her back.

The last time I talked to Lisa, she said she had suffered greatly due to the family and wants a life of her own. How can she do this? She claims she doesn’t feel "safe" with us.

I know our family isn't perfect by any means, and I know I haven’t been the greatest sister, but she can’t just leave! Right? She has a responsibility to this family. Isn’t she being neglectful to simply turn her back on us?

Abby, you know how important family is. How can I get Lisa to admit she is wrong and return to the family? FRUSTRATED SISTER IN CANADA

DEAR FRUSTRATED: Lisa isn’t being selfish, bitter or unforgiving. After a lifetime of abuse, she has somehow become healthy and refuses to tolerate being mistreated any longer.

The best advice I can offer is to accept her decision and wish her well. She has served her time and has gone on to better things. Console yourself with the fact that you and the family still have each other. —ABBY

Gabby's Response:

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Gabby’s Response:

Hi Frustrated: You ask, "How can I get Lisa to admit she is wrong?" You can’t, because she isn’t. It appears that she is the most conscious person in the family. Even now, without her around, you refuse to support her in having an abuse-free life; making her wrong even after driving her out of your life is abusive. Abusive here meaning, any communication, to include a non-verbal/psychic interaction, that doesn’t feel good to another.

Re: "I guess the family . . .  was unsupportive." Your use of the word guess is referred to as denial. It can also be said that all of you were incredibly powerfully supportive; you supported (drove) her out of your lives and inspired her to opt for an abuse-free life.

Few have the courage to decide to not engage in abusive communications with family members; most can't acknowledge and complete their addiction to abusing and being abused because they continue to interact and relate with family members who are addicted to abuse.

It can also be said that your genius is at work, driving her out into the real world in hopes that she will acquire the experience and wisdom to heal the family. On the other hand, you may have no choice other than to go to your grave blaming her for leaving you; not very powerful, but still, others will get value from reading your letter.

Re: "I stood by my family . . ." Another way of putting it is—

"I enabled (empowered) my family to treat her so abusively that she had no choice other than to get away from us all. Rather than doing what it would have taken to stop the abuse I compromised my integrity because (insert reasons).  Even now, instead of insisting our parents get therapy, I intend for them to continue to abuse her emotionally and psychically."

In truth you have not had a choice, you have not acknowledged the abuse among you. "Well, maybe a little, but, we're not as bad as some . . . " It sounds like, "Maybe I'm an alcoholic, just a little . . . but not as much as some."

If you think it’s hard on you, imagine what it's like to be in her shoes. You all force her to question her sanity daily, and the biggie—can I love someone and not want to interact with them? It verges on evil to relate with someone in such a way that they must compromise their integrity to interact with you.

Re: "She claims she doesn’t feel safe with us." Your use of the word "claims" is an invalidation of her experience. It communicates, "You’re wrong, we are safe." It's abusive to invalidate another. No matter what I think or believe, if another tells me they don't feel safe around me, then it’s me. Something about how I have communicated with them has created fear in the relationship. i.e. Sometimes I forget that my posture, my former military bearing, can intimidate another.

Re: "She has a responsibility to the family." It's never ever responsible to point out another’s irresponsibility. The only people qualified to discuss responsibility with her are a coach/counselor/therapist.  Responsibility for you would be for you to be willing to look and see what you’ve done to cause her to not want to interact with you; you, not you and your parents. No matter what you think, or what you believe, or what another tells you, it has been your intention to drive her away. We know this by the results your leadership-communication skills have produced. If you keep lying about this (pretending you're not the leader) you will keep producing more of the same, including more estrangement (read Communications in Support of Health). Your addiction to blaming doesn't bode well for you in your primary relationship. I recommend that you do The Clearing Process  —it's free and it works.

If Lisa had come to a coaching session I would have let her know that her present shunning phase ultimately won’t work for her. She’s coming from victim and blame. Her solution is a make-wrong. What would turn her shunning into service is for her to issue each of you an ultimatum,

"I won’t relate with any of you until each of you can tell me that you all have completed 25 sessions with a therapist/counselor or, a three hour consult with a communication-skills coach."

In this way she would give each of you a way back into her life. And, you would a have a choice, to surrender to her, to allow her to contribute to healing the family, or to consciously disregard her support.  She would include the following, "I intend to do the same amount of counseling."

One thing’s for certain, if you keep communicating the way you have been you have the formula for more of the same, more breakdowns in communication. You now have a choice, to do what you should have done back when you were young. Without your positive support, your family is doomed to estrangement and few moments of joyous love.

Here's a great letter that may help you see what's so from her point of view: An inconsiderate gift to give a prospective partner.

Please show this reply to your family.

Thanks for the great letter. Lots of readers will get value from it. —Gabby

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Check back occasionally for minor edits (last edited 8/6/17)

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