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My sister doesn’t see she has a problem

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My sister is 48 and has lived at home for the last 10 years. My mom does not require her to pay for anything. She quits all her jobs but tells us she was layed off or fired. When I visit, which is rarely because of her, I visit my mom. My sister wants to control everything we do from where we eat to what we do. When we go out it has to be the fanciest restaurant or place because she has no money but my mother will pay. At any meal my sister takes over the whole conversation and is extremely loud. She makes a point of only going to places where she knows the waiter or cook or owner so she can brag about it. She gets mad at you in a second. My brother told her his back was hurting on the bed she put him on and asked to sleep on the couch where she sleeps instead. She yelled at him and told him he lied to her about how is back was feeling. He finally snapped and told her she was a loser. My sister acts like a cat. If you tell her off or if she causes us all distress she will come back a few minutes later like nothing has ever happened. When you try to talk to her about her behavior in a kind and gentle manner, she starts talking over you loudly, insults you, and then takes off for her room or her computer. She hates my mom and where she lives, but when I tell her she can move she gets angry. When she tells me I don’t live here all the time and don’t have to put up with my mom, I tell her to move. She gets angry. She also has to throw in every conversation with friends that she is in the news business which she hasn’t been in over 2 years. She is a substitute teacher. She seems to embarrassed to tell the truth because she always has to keep an image up. She thinks her friends like her but I have been told by them she is hyper and obnoxious. She doesn’t seem to get it. My mom asked her to go to counseling with her. My mom went first and then my sister was supposed to go next but she came up with all sorts of lame excuses that she could not go. SHe has MS but a very mild case. Because I live so far away from her I distance my self from her because she is so toxic. I would just like to understand her because she won’t get help but at least I can have some idea of what is up with her.

There are at least two possibilities; First, it is not at all uncommon for a person with MS to suffer from mood swings, depression, and feelings of anxiety, anger, even rage. Sometimes it is misdirected at the people who love them the most and who they depend on for help. If I were seeing your family, I’d want to know more about how your sister is handling her diagnosis and whether she has been started on some antidepressants. Many doctors believe that the earlier one starts antidepressant medication, the better. Your sister would also probably benefit from an MS support group where people understand and support each other. People with MS can and do have productive, successful lives. Please do some research and educate yourself and your family about the usual symptoms of MS and how best to be supportive.

Then again — it does sound to me like the rest of the family is inadvertently helping your sister be a tyrant. No one is making your mom take her to a fancy restaurant. If the local diner is what she can afford, then the local diner it should be. Your sister doesn’t have to go along. If your sister hates where she lives so much, your mom can help her pack. If you don’t like the way she talks at dinner, you could just all take your plates and quietly leave the table. I have to wonder if your mom feels sorry for her or feels in some way guilty about her diagnosis. She, and the rest of you, are letting her be a bully. I suggest that instead you tell her that you love her, you wish she didn’t have MS, but that you won’t put up with her bad behavior. Then don’t.

Meanwhile, I hope your mother didn’t stop going to therapy just because your sister refused to go. I think it would be helpful for your mom, you, and your brother to see a family therapist for at least a few sessions to figure out how to be supportive of your sister, yes, but also how to work together to manage her better.

Life is short. Your mother is getting older. Your sister has an illness that isn’t going to go away. I hope you all decide to get the help you need so all family members can get to a better place with each other. You will all feel better if you do.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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