Coping with being a family "Embarrassment"

RussellSue

MyPTSD Pro
I am struggling to try to figure out how to keep my sister's perceived attitude towards me from affecting my life rather strenuously at the moment because what I do not need while trying to find a job is to feel like I am still an abnormal little freak who cannot compete in this world because she is too much of a weirdo -- which is the basic attitude I grew up with and still sometimes get whiffs of from my big sister.

I have her pushed back at the moment because I cannot afford to have this sort of debilitating garbage infiltrate my head right now and know that I am dancing with the devil pretending I can rise above the comments once they are made. She did say a few things this week that put me on a break.

For those who do not know, I was born with a severe cleft lip and palate. My lip was repaired when I was 15, so I spent most of my underage years with a very obviously severe facial deformity.

It hit me after posting about this yesterday, what it is that bothers me the most about our relationship. It is that she thinks that I was embarrassing for a multitude of reasons but every one that she will admit to and openly discuss at any given moment has to do with how I maladaptively coped with my trauma. I was a shoplifter, I didn't try to make myself pretty, etc. Bringing these things up doesn't bother her in the slightest. Even just me, the facially deformed little sister, being accused of being embarrassing doesn't apparently seem to raise any red flags of empathy or sensitivity for her. She just tells me even though she and I have gone rounds about her attitude with me even in adulthood. Even though her autistic boy lost it on her one day citing that she spent his entire upbringing being embarrassed of him and so she ought to know that the problem she has with being embarrassed of others is her problem.

However, because I know that she is not proud of the sexual behavior she adopted as a survivor of sexual abuse, I don't tell her that she embarrassed me in front of my friends with how she responded to her trauma by sleeping with many of them. And it was plenty embarrassing because I was a top student and even popular (WOW!!!) at an arts school where hard work/focus mattered and my girlfriends and I did not do things like that, not because we were homely but because we didn't want babies or STDs - which, I know, is pretty weird. But I don't tell her things like this because I know it would make her feel bad about herself.

My husband reminded me this morning that my sister has only been in therapy a short time and this might account for why I constantly feel like she acts like a spoiled asshole. He made a good point.

I did tell her this week that her regular reference of my freakdom is upsetting to me and that trying to be pretty actually only got me bullied more as a kid even though she seems to think it should have helped. She did not seem to understand how/why this would be the case and feels that I did not try hard enough and this was why I was so embarrassing. What I don't get about this is why me trying or not trying to cover my scars with a pound of make-up should have been or should be a concern she had or much worse, still has.

Sure, I was an embarrassment. And if I had done things her way, I could have avoided being an embarrassment. My trauma?? Apparently a non-issue ALL the way around.

I guarantee you that if my embarrassment got into the conversation, there'd be a war. How dare I? But yeah, I would not and I do not -- out of respect for her feelings and her trauma.

I have more that I need to say to her but seeing as how I am detoxing from a medication right now, I am stepping back and venting, rather than risking saying some really shitty things.

If anyone has any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them. I don't have a therapist right now. Just you all and my husband.

I wouldn't dare tell my mother -- she told me I should have stopped speaking to my sister decades ago.

I try to be patient with her because she really has been through hell. But it's not always easy.
 
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Survivor3

MyPTSD Pro
I understand what you mean. When there's friction and upset there can be a 'primal' need to have words and 'set the record straight' but 9 times out of ten it will just lead to more upset and anger. (Negative bad emotional states) saying things really needs to be done in a calm, concise, constructive way in my opinion.
 

RussellSue

MyPTSD Pro
I understand what you mean. When there's friction and upset there can be a 'primal' need to have words and 'set the record straight' but 9 times out of ten it will just lead to more upset and anger. (Negative bad emotional states) saying things really needs to be done in a calm, concise, constructive way in my opinion.
I can get pretty nasty. But I swear to you, I got my most infuriating tactics from her. 😆

I'm still really mad at her. I am slowly simmering down but no one on the planet can piss me off like she does.

But yeah, unless I want this relationship to stop for the 20-millionth time, I need to pick my battles and watch my words pretty carefully.
 

Sideways

Sponsor
Me and my sister endured CSA together. Our lives followed completely different projectories when we hit high school, but we've both ended up with mental illness and a fairly toxic relationship.

And we moved in together over a year ago!

Maybe it's just my family (doubt it), but IME, family narratives are extremely difficult to shift, and it's really only likely to happen when both parties are motivated to rewire the relationship and put in the hard work to do that, at the same time.

Which is rare. Me and my mum pulled off a small shift several years back. My parents had finally disowned me completely. Me and mum eventually worked through that - but only because we both made a conscious decision to do that hard work at the same time.

In my family, I'm the lazy delinquent. Makes no logical sense, and continues to cause a lot of pain for me at regular intervals. But it's just the narrative my family has for me. That's who I am to them. That's who I was as a rugrat, it's who I was as a lawyer, it's who I still am as a disabled nearly-40 year old.

It's not just me. My older sister is the "artistic, hyperactive, super-friendly but vague and unreliable" one. My nearer sister, who I now live with, is the emotionally fragile genius. My older brother was the aloof and silent hard-worker.

None of those narratives are even close to accurate. And with the benefit of hindsight? They were never accurate. I've personally done a lot of work on it. But no one else in my family has the slightest motivation to change these narratives. So...the narratives themselves aren't going to change.

The fact that I never did end up getting arrested (quite the opposite), I'll always be the "lazy delinquent". Until any one of them finds there own motivation to change the dynamic with me? That's just how I'm perceived.

It sounds like, for your sister, working on the finer dynamics of your relationship might not be her biggest priority right now. Wouldn't have been for me in the early years of my recovery, that's for sure. Because yeah, in those early years, there's so much internal work going on, and just surviving that is hard enough.

Does it mean you can't work towards shifting her perception of you, and the way she interacts with you in the future? Absolutely not. Pencil it in for some point in the future when it's a better time for both of you.

In the meantime? Accept that you can't change her perception of you, but you do still have agency in this relationship. Using assertive communication skills, you can put in boundaries around where you bow out of conversations, or change the topic, or leave the situation. The stuff you can control is where you put your energy.

We don't choose our biological family. We tend to have a lot of expectations about how things should be. But it so rarely plays out like that. So, a lot of it comes down to learning to accept them as they are today, and choosing for ourselves how we're going to manage that relationship for our own well-being moving forward.

But changing family perceptions of you? Those long-held narratives that just are, and aren't necessarily reflective of reality now (or even in the past)? They exist in most families. Although they can be painful, most often there's one for most members of the family to some degree. Your sister was the "pretty" one, yeah? Pfft - prolly hurts her as much as the narrative about you hurts you, because just like you, she's always been more than her looks.
 

RussellSue

MyPTSD Pro
As we have aged, I have realized that my sister isn’t stupid and has a big nose. She has noted that she wishes she also got my mom’s pretty eyes and that I am not always so smart. 😆
Your sister was the "pretty" one, yeah? Pfft - prolly hurts her as much as the narrative about you hurts you, because just like you, she's always been more than her looks.

My quote above is from my earlier post that more directly described the beautiful moron and the ugly genius. We have both suffered for the labels the family put on us in large part because they incited a lot of jealousy from both sides.

It sounds like, for your sister, working on the finer dynamics of your relationship might not be her biggest priority right now. Wouldn't have been for me in the early years of my recovery, that's for sure. Because yeah, in those early years, there's so much internal work going on, and just surviving that is hard enough.
Certainly. In the midst of this there have been pleas of forgiveness followed by her feelings of utter justification for treating me as she did.
Her memory is very spotty and I feel like she does a lot of dissociating and really doesn't know how she feels. She also still has a son at home that she is trying to get ready for life out of the house with Type I Diabetes.

I try and remember that she's got a lot happening when she is reminding me of my failings and sometimes I do better than others with that. This particular time I am beginning to realize that I have been afraid to communicate certain things that I really do need to, and, at this point, have begun to.

In the meantime? Accept that you can't change her perception of you, but you do still have agency in this relationship. Using assertive communication skills, you can put in boundaries around where you bow out of conversations, or change the topic, or leave the situation. The stuff you can control is where you put your energy.

Yes! This is where I have really bombed in the past and I realize after trying to process through some of this stuff that I don't need to talk to her about a certain period of time in our relationship, at all. Every time I do, I hear things that make me furious.

I spent decades having flashbacks over some of the things she did to me during this time and I have never told her because I know she was a really screwed up kid and already has enough guilt dealing with her children getting older and lashing out about her behavior.

Nevertheless, for the sake of trying to keep the peace or whatever, I have remained silent even when being taken back to that violence, nearly 30 years later. I am not having flashbacks but the emotional upheaval gets intense.

It's definitely time for me to do a better job of changing what I can change. That's why I have not reached back out to her. I made it pretty clear that things were going to need to change earlier this week but I was not clear on what. That's the next thing. Though, it may just be as simple as 1990-1992 are off-limits.

Which is rare. Me and my mum pulled off a small shift several years back.
Excellent. Maybe there is some hope.

It's odd because she is in contact with our father and I am not and I am in contact with our mother, but she is not. There's not much more family for us. That's probably good because we've got all the problems we can handle.

So, a lot of it comes down to learning to accept them as they are today, and choosing for ourselves how we're going to manage that relationship for our own well-being moving forward.
Thank you. Again, yes, I need to decide and implement. I am too old for this.

I really appreciate your response. It helps me to feel like I am headed in the right direction in my thinking. Hopefully, it will also help me to take some action now that my thoughts on the matter have been validated.

Best of luck to you and your sibling roommate. It sounds like you are far braver than I. 😆
 

Sideways

Sponsor
Though, it may just be as simple as 1990-1992 are off-limits.
This is how my sister handled it. Our relationship is conditional on me not talking to her about our childhood, period.

She set that boundary out explicitly. It was a painful period for both of us.

The boundary seems to have worked reasonably well for her. Not so much for me, since it's pretty hurtful and invalidating, but it's what she said she needed and I respect that.

Worth noting though: not everyone will respect the boundaries you set out. And, it will be up to you what you do when that occurs.
 

RussellSue

MyPTSD Pro
Worth noting though: not everyone will respect the boundaries you set out. And, it will be up to you what you do when that occurs.

Thanks.

She reminds me so much of our father and I stopped talking to him years ago due to his repeated trampling of my boundaries. This has contributed greatly to my hesitation over handing boundaries to my sister.

I still feel that I made the right decision about my father. I will fight a lot harder to not cut ties with my sister but I have a lot of fear about her choosing to ignore what I ask her to do. She has done so before.

Whatever she does, though, I know it needs to be done. I don't need to keep going through this for the sake of unproductive, casual conversation.

I am sorry that your sister's boundaries have been hurtful but it is nice to hear that you have respected them, regardless.
 

Friday

Moderator
There’s a pretty brilliant -masquerading as fluffy-as-f*ck- Ryan Reynolds movie called ‘Just Friends’ that was part of the curriculum in one of my Communications classes that deals with Scripts&Schemas... specifically how OUR perception, of OTHER people’s perception, (can) affect us. Because at the end of the day? It really doesn’t matter how accurate, or inaccurate, other people’s perceptions are of us... when we buy into whatever we believe, that they believe.

You might get a lot out of watching it. Just Friends (2005) - IMDb

Even if it’s just seeing the same sort of situation played out by someone else.

As the more he deliberately attempts to change what he believes other people believe about him, to who he really is? The more he feeds into their beliefs about him / the more he confirms them, rather than changing them. Great flick. Because that’s what really happens. Rather than what emotional-logic says “should” happen.

***

You ALSO, knowing your academic tendencies, might get a lot out of some Communications courses. It’s a quirky degree, closely allied with Psych, that is heavily invested in perceptions. As, in order to present something persuasive? One has to really understand & recognize both the underlying perceptions involved, and how to alter them. Which isn’t a magical wand, by any means. Understanding how scripts & schemas are playing into relationships, and the methods that dig them even deeper -or- work to change them... doesn’t give you mind control ;) You can’t change the perception of someone else, if they aren’t open to being changed... and the longer someone has known you? The more entrenched those beliefs are, and the less likely they’re open to being altered... by anyone, but most especially by the person themselves (although, oddly, total strangers can have startling effect... IE someone seeing people they’ve never met & know nothing about, treating you in a way that’s surprising to them will have far more effect than mountains of evidence showing you “should” be treated that way). But it CAN, very much, light those things (scripts & schemas & other relationship patterns) up like Christmas... changing your own perception of yourself to being less linked to your beliefs about other people’s perceptions.
🤪 🥴💫😵

^^^ I know I’m doing a lousy job describing this, but Communications isn’t my field. I’ve taken a few courses in it, for degree requirements & been head tilted fascinated by communications majors out in the real world & their mastery of all things spin & diplomacy (it’s NOT mind control, but it’s got some near Jedi-like appearance of such)... but for me? Taking communications courses is like looking at M.C.Escher drawings. Staircases going round in circles, & birds becoming turtles. Whilst still remaining birds. It’s a fascinating inside-out upside-down to right-side up go around in a perfect circle to end up someplace completely different sort of process.
 
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RussellSue

MyPTSD Pro
You ALSO, knowing your academic tendencies, might get a lot out of some Communications courses.
Thanks.

Good call. My undergrad concentration was in communications. I still have my Robert Cialdini books. My favorite classes were the influence/persuasion classes and I consider myself a pretty good persuasive writer - (something completely necessary for grant proposals). And if I wanted to honest, I would say that my sister is the reason I can create a pretty damned impenetrable case as an adult. I used to hear her nonstop criticism from 3,000 miles away. I was light years ahead of the other students in thinking of counter-arguments to build my case up against. That, I can genuinely appreciate about my relationship with my sister. It didn't matter how close her bangs were to the ceiling or how crunchy that Aqua Net got, she was never stupid -- that little girl could argue. 😂

I have a lot of traumatic memory surrounding my sister and how she has picked at me, attempted to condescendingly dissect me, belittled me, etc., and often, when it really comes down to go time, I freeze. Though, I am beginning to employ some tactics I learned. For instance, I often tell her what this or that specialist said, instead of me, even though it is a point I intended to make because there's that social proof thing, and being the little sister means my opinion might be dismissed. I am also learning to leave out my emotional pleas when making a request, realizing that there's always a hook for an argument where my feelings are concerned.

I sent her a text this morning with a very simple boundary framed with a friendly tone and story of the 100+ people standing in front of Trader Joe's (her favorite) this morning before they opened. -- Nothing emotional, nothing much to refute, though she'll find a way if she wants to.

She has ignored my boundaries previously, but in my lifetime, I have not done a lot of standing up to her without telling her to f*ck herself, which is absolutely no bueno where being influential is concerned. 😆

The ball is in her court.

As far as changing her perception is concerned, in all honesty, I am aware that I don't know what she thinks of me. I know she knows I have worked my ass off and I know she thinks I got a worse deal than her in most respects, both of which indicate considerate empathy on her part. I know I get triggered at times and all I know of her is the teenage girl who wanted so badly to control me that when she could no longer beat me up, she brought in weapons because she hated who I was. We have both changed a lot since then but how much is hard to figure since we have spent just as much of our lives not speaking to each other as we have speaking to each other. She left the house when I was 12. Our contact since then has been really fractured with long periods of silence.
 
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RussellSue

MyPTSD Pro
Oh... and I almost forgot! Another title from those communications classes? Book form, this time... Amazon.com: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: 30th Anniversary Edition eBook: Covey, Stephen R., Collins, Jim, Covey, Sean: Kindle Store

There’s less anything dealing with perceptions, but a helluva lot in person security / sense of self.
You know what? I have meant to read this book for like a million years. I am going to put it in my cart now, so I don't forget, again.

THANK YOU!!!

Edit: It is in the cart. Thanks again.
 
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