Question: Dear Luise: I am a 48 year-old married woman with a 19 year-old son in college. I am self-employed and my husband is active duty military. I have 4 sisters and I am the middle sibling (younger side.) My mother, who I love dearly and would not trade for the world…raised us to accept her controlling ways to the point that my sisters and I pass judgment on each other based on our mother’s interpretations. We struggle with our relationships because we prejudge each other by what our mother tells us. So, we live a coping-dysfunctional life that feels stagnated…year in and year out. I am the strongest out of my sisters; so, my mother generates negativity about me to keep us under her control…Please help! S.
Answer: Dear S.: I find it both amazing and refreshing to see how closely you have looked at the dynamics that are going on in your family of origin.
I would declare a moratorium on triangulation. That’s the “he said/she said thing. It’s never-ending because you often can’t chase down the origin of what was said and everything keeps changing as it is passed on. I would also include on all “opinions.” (They are still welcome to have them; you’re just no longer interested.)
Let your mom and sisters know that you just can’t keep track of it anymore and so you are going to pass. Then…stick to it. Each time anyone starts to give you any data at all involving the others, or handed-down comments about you, remind them that you really want to chat but you’re only interested in what is going on with the person you are talking to at that moment. If they respond (and they will) that what is going on with them involves one of the other family members and/or their opinions, remind them of your stand and refer them to that person to work it out. If they are passing something on about you…do the same thing. Tell them that if the person who supposedly said that wants to discuss it with you, directly, you might give it a whirl. However, you’re not as interested in other people’s opinions as you once were…truth be told.
Be very careful not to make your change in behavior their fault; that will only make things worse. It’s simply because you can’t (and won’t) do it any longer. Be strong and loving and don’t budge. Make it plain that it’s nothing personal; you’ve just hit your limit and you’re done. Blessings, Luise