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My sister thinks I’m a servant!

A letter writer’s sister takes sibling squabbles to a whole new level.

Can our elder help him find some strategies to deal with her behavior?

Dear EWC

I am a Hong Kong city university student. And I have an abusive sister. She is rude and insufferable. For example, she moved back with my dad recently but most of her letters are still sent to my mother’s address. And because she is very busy with her final year project, I had to take a 30-minute bus to help my sister to get her letter. But she complained that I folded her letter in half and that letter contained her academic transcripts and the folding will make the transcripts look unclear. And now I have to pay her $230 to help her to get a brand new one.

She is so annoying that she will complain my eating was too loud but she plays loud music while I am preparing for my tests. I tried to talk to my dad and the counselor but she only improved a little bit and became her old self after a while. I am still a student and I can’t afford to live on my own so I can’t move out. And I tried to confront her but she always think she is smarter than me and she won’t listen and she always think that I, as her little brother, need to obey and serve her like she is a queen or something. I have a hard time dealing with my grandpa and cousin already. I don’t what to do. Please help.

Nick replies

Squabbles between siblings are nothing new or extraordinary. That being said, from what you describe, your sister is taking her sibling dynamic with you to a whole new level. Furthermore, your father doesn’t seem to want to get involved or be accused of taking sides—favoring you over her. In effect, however, he is taking sides by allowing her rudeness towards you to continue.

There’s a saying, “You can not learn what you think you already know.” No matter how often therefore you point out to her where her behavior is out of line, [“…she won’t listen [to me] and she always thinks I as her little brother need to obey and serve her like she is a queen or something”] in her head she can’t hear you precisely because, as you write, “…she always thinks she is smarter than me…” It’s not only with you either. Evidently she thinks she knows more than the counselor or your father whenever they point out to her the rudeness of her actions and her attitude towards you.

So what can you do? Since moving out is not an option (not even moving to your mother’s I guess), you have to find a more Zen way to live under the same roof with her and simultaneously become immune to her. Confronting her and becoming angry with her isn’t working. All this does is upset you, stressing you out.

So I recommend a different tact. I recommend you practice a non-responsive stance towards her, simply ignoring her demands and not responding to her at all.

For instance, when she demanded you have to pay $230 to replace her transcript, you simply needed to respond with something like, “Look. I did you a favor. It’s on you that you didn’t go get it yourself and that you had it mailed to Mom’s address. I guess if you want a replacement because of a crease in the one I picked up for you, then you will have to come up with the money and from now on you will have to find the time to retrieve your own mail. Sorry.” Then you simply walk away.

Even now, since she’s demanding you do pay for a replacement, you can still respond the same way by simply adding, “You know, I’ve given a lot of thought to your demand that I cough up $230 for doing you a favor” in place of the first sentence (“Look I did you a favor.”)

I recommend when she barks other orders at you or “…complains [your] eating was too loud” you simply either ignore her or respond with something like, “You won’t have to worry about it once you move out.” When she blasts her music while you are studying for a test, and won’t turn it down if you ask her politely, then simply get yourself some earplugs or noise canceling headphones and a make her see she can’t ‘control’ you with her passive-aggressive behavior. Once she begins to see that her rudeness if of no consequence to you, once she sees that she’s no longer rattling you, and once she sees that you will no longer be her whipping boy—and that you have turned her off—she’ll begin to see herself as you see her.

No doubt before she sees herself as you see her, however, she will ratchet up trying to get under your skin. She will insult you more, bark orders at you more, make repeated demands of you more. That’s what a bully does.

Then when she does, you need simply to point out to your father, her behavior. But you need to do so in a way where he feels he can no longer appease her in order to keep the peace. You want to frame your talk with him by saying something like, “Look Dad, this is what she’s been doing. I’m stressing out and am doing my best to stay calm. I’m asking you to do more than simply talk to her. I hope you won’t let me down.” Then simply walk away. It’s on him from that moment on.

Meanwhile, by working on your Zen mindset, you will be able to live within the chaos she’s creating, bore down on your studies and make your single focus doing well in school so that you can one day move out on your own terms and move on to a happier and productive life/career.

I realize my advice will not create the ideal situation for you at home. Given that you said you can’t afford to leave, I think my advice is realistic in your situation. I hope it helps you get through the obstacles your sister has created for you.

Letter #: 405569

Category: Family

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