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Is My Sister Delusional?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From a man in the U.S.: I have a sister who, around age 35 ( she is now 50), developed an almost indescribable amount of hatred towards me.  Most of it has been expressed by giving an ever changing list of reasons why I am cut off from my niece and nephew.  Virtually all these reasons have a theme that she is protecting her children from me. There are other extended family members, most of them in fact, who can’t see the kids because my sister feels they need to be protected.

I used to think she was simply a hateful person However, sometimes when she gets angry she appears to lose track of her thoughts to the point where she is incomprehensible.  She also makes up completely false stories about me.  However, really they don’t seem made up.  She seems to remember them actually happening in her own mind.

One example involved telling me that I had served time in prison for drug possession.  When I asked where she heard this she claimed I myself had told her, that I had called her from jail the night I was arrested. The problem here is I have never done drugs, never been in jail, and have no criminal record.

Another more subtle example involved her and her husband giving me $1000 for school tuition years ago as he was very well to do.  I told her I would pay it back over time but she said not to worry about it. Over a decade later, she sent me an email chastising me for not paying back the “loan” she had given me.  She further criticized me for leaving her without the money when she was a single mother of two children. The difficulty here is that she gave me the money when she was the married mother of my nephew. Years later she met someone and became pregnant with my niece.  They married before my niece was born.  So my sister was never a single mother of 2 children.  She was, admittedly, raising one child for a number of years ago with considerable child support from her ex husband.

More recently, she told my mother I wasn’t allowed to see my niece and nephew because I was “psychotic”.  I have received treatment for depression, but I have never had anything resembling a delusion or psychosis, and my sister has had no contact with me for years anyhow.

When I try and tell people about this, even my therapist, they just dismiss it as her being mean, but can’t explain the complete manufacturing of reality.

I have an aunt with delusional disorder, persecutory type and her and my sister sound amazingly similar in their communication patterns when they get on an angry rent.  The only thing that doesn’t fit is my sister isn’t paranoid about herself but about her children.  Can this happen with delusional disorder?

Thank you for writing. I can’t answer your question any better than your therapist can. Neither of us have enough information to do so. We would have to talk to her. But I can ask you this: What difference does it make if she is or isn’t delusional? I wish you had included some indication of why labeling her behavior matters to you. Regardless of label, you have plenty of information to make reasonable decisions about your relationship with her.

Whether or not she is delusional, you already have enough experience with her to know that you should keep your distance. You already know that it is unwise to ever get financially entangled with her again. You already know here is no point in arguing with her. She won’t be confused by facts. She won’t respond positively to any effort by you to connect with her. She is getting something out of her narrative about you and other members of the family that is in some way important to her.

If a relationship to your niece and nephew is important to you, time is on your side. Although it is sad that you are missing out on their growing up years, they will eventually be adults and will be able to make up their own minds. If they are already young adults, you can try contacting them to see if they would like to know you.

Situations like this are painful and frustrating, I know. It’s hard to accept it when someone makes an unfair and negative judgment about us; especially if they try to pull others into that assessment. All you can do is love her from a distance and be willing to connect if she eventually comes around. Meanwhile, focus on the positive family relationships you do have.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie

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