Thursday, 19 October 2017
When Your Sibling is Verbally Abusive
It happened again.
How did we get here again?
We were getting along so well.
I say this to myself each time a normal conversation with my sister explodes into an argument. As I write this we are not speaking to each other. It’s a familiar pattern; we fight and then go a long time without speaking. Each time I tell myself I won’t let it happen again, that I will figure out a way to get along with her this time.
Sometimes there is an apology but mostly there is just silence. Time passes and I am encouraged by family members to leave it and just move on. I acquiesce to keep the peace, because she is family, and because everyone else does. For some reason she gets a pass, every time.
When we do reconnect, I am nervous. I walk on eggshells, being very careful what I say. I keep things superficial. I offer no opinions and I reveal nothing about my feelings. I listen mostly and try to only engage with “safe” topics. I know deep down that there are no safe topics. That at some point one of the safe comments I have made will be thrown back in my face in anger. Yet each time I try.
Sometimes it blows up right away and we start over. Other times we get along for a long time. I let my guard down. I convince myself that maybe she has changed. Maybe it will be different this time. I have always been jealous of the relationships that others seem to have with their siblings. I wonder if maybe, now that we are both in our forties, that we too can be close like sisters are supposed to be.
I was so sure that we had broken through the pattern. I was moving back close to family. She was super excited. She wanted to see me as soon as I got into town. I was happy to see her too. We hugged and I had my sister back. We spoke on the phone a lot. She confided in me and I started confiding in her. It was better this time.
Until it wasn’t.
I am usually so careful with what I say and how I speak to her. Always worried about setting her off. Most of the time I am able to control my words even when I’m seething inside. This day though I couldn’t contain myself. She was questioning something I was doing in a way that made me feel like she thought I was unfit to make the decision. I made a smart-ass comment in response, I know it wasn’t a nice thing to say, but I was at my breaking point. The phone call ended shortly after that and I thought nothing of it. I thought nothing of it because we were in a different place now, things were better.
It came a few days later. A missed phone call from her and a voice mail that made my blood boil. I didn’t even listen to it all. I called her back and she immediately started yelling and calling me names. I hung up because I feared what I might say in response. What came next was a litany of abusive text messages. Tearing apart my character, questioning my parenting skills, accusing me of not taking care of our Mother who was recovering from surgery.
She even had the nerve to say that I was the abusive one and that she wasn’t going to take it anymore. She told me she was finally going to stand up for herself because I needed to reap what I sow. She took things I had told her in confidence and twisted them around to prove her point about how horrible a person I am. My efforts to calm her down or question her were met with more accusations of manipulation and sneaky abuse. I was told I need to stop acting like the victim.
It went on and on for hours with a few pauses in the middle. The next morning, I got another message saying that she was coming from a place of love and was just worried about our Mom. That perhaps she overreacted but that sometimes these conversations just need to be had. Other than a call my kids and I made singing Happy Birthday on her voice mail, we have had no further contact.
So here I am again. Back in the familiar space where I am furious that I allowed her to attack me again. Furious at myself for not fighting back, and yet proud that I didn’t allow myself to sink to her level. Knowing that once something is said, it can never be taken back.
I am also confused. If this is really the way she feels about me then I must be a truly horrible person. If that’s true then why does she continue to reach out at some point for reconciliation? If this isn’t the way she really feels about me, if she really loves me then why does she say such horrible things to me? I don’t know where this leaves our relationship either. I know my parents want me to let it go to maintain the family peace, but I’m not sure how much longer I can continue to do that.