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(New York, NY)
Hello. I am the middle child in a family of three children, the eldest daughter, Deb, being 34 years old. Deb is a very intelligent person: She holds a PhD in Bio-medical engineering. She has also lived out of state, on her own, during college and graduate school, but since moving back to my parents' house while finishing her PhD over five years ago, she has been regressing to the point that I fear she will be unable to take care of herself or hold a job.
After graduating 2 years ago, my sister "took a break" and did not look for a job, saying she was burned out and needed some time off. She has always had a difficult time making friends, as she is often socially awkward and introverted. She had one boyfriend, who broke up with her when she moved back with my parents, and has not dated since. She often finds one person, whom she befriends and clings to until they become tired of her constant presence, and then she becomes depressed that they "leave her". This has been a pattern all of her life.
Now, she is 2 years out of post-graduate school and while she says she is looking for a job, she does not seem to be trying very hard. She spends her time playing ultimate frisbee and on her computer playing fantasy football and other sports-related games. She does not help my parents around the house, pays no rent or utility bills. In fact, she has no bills, no chores, no responsibility at all.
My parents drive her everywhere (she has a license but has not driven since the day she passed her driver's test when she was 17). Often, my retired 63-year old father picks her up from a train station at 3 AM in the morning so she does not have to take a taxi home so late. He shuttles her around--and while I realize that it is his choice to do so, she takes advantage of his offers and actually throws tantrums when he says he cannot pick her up because he is tired, until he relents and agrees to do so.
Worse still, I have noticed that she is becoming verbally and physically abusive to him. I have seen her push and punch him, and while he often laughs it off or excuses her behavior by saying he "instigates" (i.e., he teases her until she verbally or physically responds back), it is extremely disturbing to see this in an adult. Also, on a recent visit to my parents' house with my husband, my sister became angry at me and began yelling at me. When I told her I would not speak to her if she continued to yell at me, she punched me in the shoulder. I was shocked. My parents and husband were in the room, but when I brought it up to my mother, she said she did not see her hit me, and Deb had said that she only raised her hand to me! When I brought it up to my father, he admitted that he saw her hit me and he said "one of these days, I will talk to her about her behavior."
I have tried to help my sister and my parents to deal with this situation. I have tried helping my sister with job applications, found a career counselor for her (she went once and then said she didn't need her), offered advice on where she could volunteer or work while looking for a permanent job, and now am searching for a therapist for her--whom she will likely not go to because she does not think she has any problems.
The situation continues to deteriorate and my parents refuse to do anything about it. My mother said my father does not support any decision to kick her out of the house or come down on her, so she has given up trying. When I ask what will happen when my parents pass away and she is unable to care for herself--having never had a job and having mental stability problems--my mother says "it isn't your problem."
I disagree. With no one else to help (my younger brother is not capable of helping, he has problems of his own), I know it will be on me to take care of my parents if they get sick or take care of my sister when they pass. My husband and I are starting our own family and do not want the burden of an angry, unstable, emotionally and physically abusive sister on our hands.
I don't know what to do. My parents refuse to deal with this and I have gotten to the point where I do not feel comfortable visiting their home because of my sister's behavior and outbursts, especially when we have our child. I am desperate to do something while I feel there is still time: time for my sister to see a therapist, deal with her anger and other issues, and find a job, finally becoming a functioning adult. I don't believe that will ever happen if things continue the way that they have been for the past few years.
Response from Dr. DeFoore
Hello Ella, and thanks for telling your story here. You're certainly in a difficult spot. This is a problem pretty much outside your control, and yet, as you point out, it affects you. I will try to help.
As I read your story, it occurs to me that you don't trust your mother, father or sister to work this out on their own. I'm sure you have very good reasons for your doubt. The thing is, giving trust is not just something you do when the other person earns it, you give trust because that increases the chance that the other person will get a feeling from you that they are trustworthy. I hope this makes sense to you, because it's very important in your situation.
In spite of their actions, in spite of all you've seen that makes you not trust them, my recommendation is that you trust your mother, father, and sister to work out their situation without your input or involvement. It could very well be that your involvement adds to the problems, even though that is the opposite of your intentions.
They are all adults, and adults tend to resist the unsolicited efforts of others to help--right or wrong, that's the way it is.
So, in your mind's eye, every time you think of them, imagine them working things out and totally surprising you. I know this might sound absurd to you, but if you can really do it, and get the positive emotions that go with it, it might really help your situation. It will most certainly reduce your stress, at the very least.
I suggest you do the three journaling processes on this page, to address your own issues, and give a healthy expression to your anger. And be sure to follow up with the video on that page, and the positive journaling exercise.
Make up your mind that your worst fears will not come true, and begin considering all of the positive outcomes you can possibly imagine.
My very best to you,
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