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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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I have a 76 year young sister whom -- for decades -- has displayed

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I have a 76 year young sister whom -- for decades -- has displayed the behavior of constantly questioning and verbally criticizing how her children (ages 54, 50, 45) should live their lives -- not huge issues like lifestyle or career, etc -- but numerous "little things" that are perceived as negative, belittling, and demeaning by her children, and -- now -- by her grandchildren (7 of them ages 10 - 19). One married child lives near her and -- now -- only keeps in contact when he has to. One other lives 100 miles away and each visit with their mother (my sister) has been a disaster (one recently where my sister went upstairs in the house and looked through drawers, and generally meddling into their lives). He now refuses to visit with them. She has damaged all relationships with her family by her actions. I've discussed this challenge with her (regarding her behavior around me), so she is now aware of my feelings and requests. And she's been abiding by them to a fair degree. But her children have not broached this subject with her and are only coping, tolerating, and being accepting of her meddling and intrusive behavior. How should they (or I) address this challenge with her? I've sought psychiatric assistance during my life and the experiences have been very positive. I believe she requires help in her situation. Thank you. Loving Brother Russ (XXXXXX), Dewey, AZ

Hello, I'd like to help you with your question.

It sounds like their could be two possibilities here. One your sister was abused or traumatized sometime during her childhood, maybe even unknown to you. Abusers often hurt children and part of that hurt is forcing them to keep it a secret. And when a child is abused, they often develop personality issues in order to cope with what they are going through. However when they grow up, this behavior begins to create issues in their relationships with others.

Second, your sister learned her behavior from someone in her life as a child. If your parents acted in a similar way or somehow demonstrated dysfunctional type behavior, she may have learned to act in a similar way.

Either way, your sister's behavior seems to be driven by some need of hers that keeps her focused on herself and not others and their needs. That may be why she is not concerned with how other family members react to her.

Your family may want to try these ideas:

Try sitting down with her and talking about how they feel. Use "I" statements, such as "I feel bad when you...." It helps keep her from feeling defensive. And this gives everyone a chance to see if they can achieve the same results you did when you spoke to her.

Consider a family intervention. This is when all family members get together, preferably with a therapist, and gently confront the person with what they are doing. It is highly suggested that a therapist is used so the situation remains fair to everyone and no one ends up feeling hurt. And it also increases the chances that it is successful.

Learn more about personality disorders and the effects of abuse and trauma as a child. Here are some resources to help:

Unlocking Your Family Patterns: Finding Freedom From a Hurtful Past by Dave Carder M.A., Earl R. Henslin, John S. Townsend and William Henry Cloud

However, if they try all these things and nothing works, they may need to distance themselves. It is hard to do because they may want that connection, but protecting themselves from getting hurt is most important, especially for the children.

I hope this has helped you,
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