I’m about 18, and I just entered college, and I’m feeling real good about myself, after battling low self-esteem issues throughout my school years. Everything is always going great, until I ask my sister for a favor. Keep in mind that she just turned 13, but she has such a bad attitude, especially towards me. For some unknown reason, she is extremely rude to me, and denies me many things, despite the fact that I have practically provided her help with homework, her school, I taught her many things, such as reading and math from the books, so she could advance. She’s never acted this way towards our older siblings at all, in fact she has treated them with much respect. But if I ask to share something because I’m starved, or if I really need water in dire situations, she flat out says no, or gives a sarcastic remark.
About a week ago, coming back from school, I had been in a rush, and forgot to eat breakfast, and pack something. I ask for some chips she has in her hands, and despite having a full package, she says she’s almost out, and she doesn’t want to share. Just an hour ago, I was finishing up my essay paper for my English class, and my battery was going to die, and the closest one was to her, but she was using a power surge which had many empty sockets. I plugged my charger into there, and she ordered me to take it out, and go elsewhere. No matter how much I try to stand my ground, or try to be strict with her, she always disrespects me. She claims that she isn’t mean, but I’ve had to have my mother, and sister reprimand her many, many times.
She also loves to sneak through my things, and get me in trouble for her laughs. She practically takes me for granted, and for some reason, even if I am told to stop providing her gifts, I can’t. She never even shares the treats that I buy her. I know that she is only 13, but this has been going on ever since she was about 6, and puberty is on the rocks, and I fear it will get worse. Why does she disrespect me, and reject me, when I treat her with nothing but kindness? What can I do now, despite the reprimanding we all have given her? I feel like it has to do with the fact that she hadn’t known of our existence for a year, since my siblings and I went to live with our relatives, and my mother could only take herself and our younger sister. (age 18, from US)
A: I’m sorry that your younger sister is so disrespectful to you and it’s obvious that you care about her and wish that things could be different. I cannot explain her behavior without meeting her and exploring the issues. But you may be correct in your assumption that it is all rooted in the past and the family separation, but it could also be that she treats you this way because she gets a reaction out of you. Have you ever tried to act indifferent to her obvious attempts to aggravate you? Bullies typically go after the ones who react to their instigations, among other things. I’m not blaming you for her behavior, I’m just suggesting that you separate yourself from it.
I feel like you have two choices. You can ask your mother if you can all go to family therapy to work out the differences in a safe environment with the help of a trained professional. In this case it will be important to not make it about your sister specifically, but helping the overall family work through the events of the past as well as improve current relationships with each other. If your sister feels cornered she may not cooperate.
Or, you can just continue being nice, taking the “higher road” and go on with your life. Her personality may change quite a bit over the next few years and there’s a chance that you two can become close, but if you push for this she is likely to resist. Reprimanding doesn’t work either as you have discovered. Focus on college, your friends, your future and let your sister figure out her own way without much input from you. Don’t let her get to you and hopefully things will improve with time and maturity.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts