fbpx How Do I Navigate a Difficult Relationship With My Sisters?
Authored by Dr. Michelle Murray on June 21, 2022
Dear Dr. Michelle: 

I am a 33-year female struggling with my relationships with my two older sisters. Ever since I was a toddler I can remember them locking me in a small closet without light for hours when our parents were away, withholding food, and physically abusing me.

Over the years I've tried to put as much distance between them as possible. Anytime my sisters contact me it's because they want something. Other than that, we see each other during family gatherings such as holiday meals, family reunions or funerals and I leave early or hang out in the background so I'm not a target. One of my sisters showed up to my wedding and tried to cause problems and spread lies about my husband, and when we asked her to leave, she trashed the Airbnb and broke windows and sprayed graffiti. 

I moved away from my family and during the time I've been away was when I met and married the love of my life. I became a homeowner and have finished my education. I feel blessed and I’ve never thrown any of my successes in their faces, spoken ill of them, or discussed them with any of our siblings, parents, or others.

To do this day my sisters continue to make up lies about me and spread them around to the family and/or on social media. They speak badly about my husband and stepchildren and disrespect me whenever the opportunity presents itself. They blame me for horrible things I did not do. Most recently my oldest sister physically punched me and threw hot soup at me in the car while I was driving. All of this was in front of my son who was in the car with us. 

How do I deal with my sisters going forward and should I have called the police after the physical event in the car

Dear Ashley: 

You have described some very difficult situations with your siblings, and I can imagine that these events were very upsetting and perhaps even frightening.

It is always best when family members can support each other and be positively connected. But there are cases when certain family relationships need repair before they can be healthy. Nothing says that just because a person is a biological relation that the relationship must be maintained, particularly when it is damaging to you and others. In such cases we can create our own “family network,” which can include our own partner and children, extended family, friends, or our community connections.

Prioritizing Your Safety

When family relationships are detrimental to your own emotional and physical safety, or that of your immediate family members (i.e. partners and your children) it is time to evaluate cutting off ties, even if on a temporary basis, meaning that you do not just “maintain a distance,” but you ensure that you have no contact. This type of drastic measure is appropriate to consider if between family members there is sexual abuse, physical abuse, threats or ongoing bullying, untreated substance abuse, and/or psychosis when the person refuses to maintain medication requirements.

It is possible that your perceptions and experiences of past events and interactions are different from your sisters. It is common for two people to have entirely different memories and accounts of the exact same event or situation.

Based on your individual account and description of past events, your relationship with your sisters is not safe due to the physical abuse. Therefore, I would encourage you to consider cutting off ties unless you are seeking professional help together, often referred to as family therapy. If you do end up doing family therapy, I would further suggest that you only have contact with your sisters when the professional therapist is present until you are sure that trust and safety is re-established.

If there is unavoidable contact and the situation turns violent again, I would encourage you to call the police, not only to restore personal safety, but to possibly seek a restraining order if your wishes for no contact are not honored.

Seeking Therapy

If family therapy cannot occur, I would recommend that you seek individual therapy to process the past and to try to understand the dynamics - why these events continue to happen, how you can defend yourself and how you can heal and move forward in the healthiest way possible. Instead of placing your attention on your sisters, I would encourage you to focus on ensuring that the other relationships in your life are healthy and positive and surround yourself with those individuals.  

Dr. Michelle K. Murray, CEO of Nexus Family Healing and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, answers questions about family relations or mental health. Submit Your Question.

Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature.  The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.

Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.

Dr. Michelle Murray