Question: Dear Luise: My sister in law is a person who is a social butterfly. She has many friends, attends numerous social functions, parties and activities. I am introverted and have had problems making friends throughout my life. I admit that in the past I pushed people away, and said things that perhaps I shouldn’t have. I have made progress in my life and am trying to build friendships with people in my church group and at Toastmasters. I always feel bad about myself in my sister in law’s company. She always makes subtle remarks about how active she is socially, and how isolated I am. We are going away for the weekend with her and her husband next weekend, and part of me is dreading it. How do I deal with her subtle insinuations, and her one-upmanship. It is important to my husband to keep up relations with her, because he and I both have almost no family. I appreciate any advice you can give me. By the way, I love your website! Thank you for all the hard work, and valuable advice. R.
Answer: Dear R.: My take is that you and your husband need to be on the same page. You say it is important to your husband to keep up relations with his sister. At your expense? How important are you to him? Does he understand that you are building self-respect and that you need to act on that? Going where you don’t want to go and tolerating (subtle) abuse isn’t supportive. And yes, that’s what it is…abuse.
Why would your sister-in-law need to put you down? To build herself up, obviously. Why would a person who is so successful socially need to do that? Because she’s got some real problems of her own to face (or not face.) Her problems are hers and yours are yours.
You are doing some difficult and courageous inner work and need support. I happen to know, for instance, that Toastmasters is no walk in the park. Being her (subtle) punching bag is totally counterproductive to the path you are taking. Who says being highly social is everyone’s goal? Who set that standard? You are unique and wonderful. How you express that is your business, not hers.
I started out by saying this is about your relationship…bottom line. Your husband doesn’t have to see what his sister is up to but he needs to trust you when you say that she is abusive and you are no longer going to subject yourself to her (subtle) brutality. I have put the word subtle in parentheses over and over again to make a point. Abuse is never subtle to the person experiencing it. I see ignoring it is acceptance and standing up for your self as combative. Why would you fall into either of those traps?
You say you have “almost no family.” Look closely at that. What does “family” mean to you and to your husband? What kind of a price are you willing to pay for it? Would you seek out a person like that for a friend? Being related is sometimes purely biological. What are your values…yours and your husband’s? Are they compatible?
It may take some counseling for you (both of you) to address the deeper issues here. You matter. You deserve a lot better than you are getting. You are building confidence. The person who loves you the most needs to see that and back you simply because you come first, as in ahead of everyone else in his life. If not, how do you define “love?” Blessings, Luise