Why does my younger sister hate our older sister?
Since my dad died two years ago, I’ve reconnected with one of two younger sisters (I’m one of five) who abandoned our family without explanation.
Our father was an alcoholic and abusive to our mother. Our older sister had to step into our mother’s shoes – a lot for her young shoulders. Through no fault of her own, she was ill-prepared to take on four sisters.
My younger sister (whom I now communicate with on a regular basis) seems to have a lot of hatred towards this older sibling. Almost every conversation we have concludes with her talking about our older sister’s faults and how she made mistakes in not acting responsibly when our mother had a breakdown 40 years ago.
I usually ignore her ramblings, but lately I find myself challenging her resentments. Could it be she is simply unhappy with how her own life turned out? Although she paints a picture that everything is wonderful and amazing, she and one other sibling refuse to talk to this older sister.
I don’t share these memories, and though life was tough in our “strapped for cash” working-class home, I channel my energies in a different way. Surely my sister should deal with this by seeing a counsellor?
If only we could get others to go to counselling, but we can’t. I think all of you could do with family counselling to help you deal with what sounds like a very traumatic upbringing.
You have some good insight into your family dynamics and seem to understand that your parents’ own upbringing had an effect on the way they parented. It’s surprising how few people think about this. You’ve also touched on something else rarely recognised, which is that each sibling has their own memories of growing up. Too often one sibling will tell the other it “wasn’t like that” – because each sibling has their own personality and birth order, and these affect our experiences. So both you and your sister are entitled to your memories.
That said, the blame aimed at this older sister is unfair; she did her best while still a child/very young herself, but I wonder if your younger sister is directing her anger at her sister in this way because she doesn’t know what else to do with it?. Maybe it feels safer and more productive (although it isn’t) than getting angry at your father.
I contacted psychotherapist Nicola McCarry, who felt the nub of this might be “feeling seen and heard. If your little sister came to me for therapy, I’d say to her, ‘No child should ever go through the abuse and neglect you endured. But your [older] sister, who was just a child herself, couldn’t protect you, nor could she ever be enough to make up for it’.”
I’m guessing you’re happy that you reconnected with your sister and want to stay in touch, so to move her out of this grumbling groove she’s got herself into, next time try saying something like: “We always end up talking about this – I wonder why that is?”
McCarry pointed out that the key now is bringing the rather circular conversation into an adult arena, and about what you are both doing now. It’s very common for siblings to talk about their childhood and shared history, but sometimes this replaceså a more grown up, authentic connection, because making that new connection seems hard. I wondered what you’d be talking about if you weren’t talking about your sister. Is there anything else to talk about?
“Your relationship [with your younger sister] does seem mired in the past,” McCarry observed. “Is there a foundation to build a new relationship now for an adult sibling relationship? Could you say something like, ‘I missed you when you left 20 years ago and I understand why you needed to leave. I’m so glad to have you back and I want us to be able to get to know each other better in our adult lives’.”
McCarry added: “When a child grows up with neglect or abuse, they can create a story of being unlovable or of no value. So attempting to create an alliance based on complaining about ‘another’ can mask that vulnerability.” Your little sister could be doing this to mask a fear of more rejection.
It’s amazing that you’ve moved on in the way you have, but your sister isn’t there yet – and she may never be.
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