March 5, 2013
READER’S QUESTION: My only sibling is a sister. As her brother, she has a habit of extreme tardiness, especially during our visits or when sending a gift, which makes me feel like an afterthought versus a valued relative. She lives in Manhattan, has several university degrees and a high income. When I call her, she is always ailing with some physical issue or has other obligations, so our conversations are short and infrequent, especially since she does not call me. Is there any hope this will improve? MARIANN’S RESPONSE: Unless you and your sister are teenagers or young adults, it is doubtful that much will change with this situation. Since she has an “uptown existence” and you reside several states away and don’t see each other regularly, true dialogue and expressing your frustration to her is unlikely. Many years ago, I met a therapist who had the motto of: “Any situation, no matter how bad, could always be worse.” Many times, when I have encountered something that seems unbearable, I think of that wise woman and her words of gratitude for your burdens versus someone else’s. What you are encountering with your sister is one of those scenarios where it could be so much more burdensome than her seeming self-centeredness. Possibly you could be saddled with a “dead-beat” sibling who is always seeking financial assistance from you or uses money woes for ongoing enabling and sympathy. Next scenario, you could have a sister with addiction issues who has several wayward children whom you might feel obligated to seek custody and become their parent. And finally, I have sadly listened to the narrative of a friend of mine who has an only sibling battling the demons of schizophrenia, which has been ongoing for many decades, and needed highly supervised care for much of his life. As this mentally ill brother has aged, his severe diagnosis has become worse, which is not unusual for the course of this disease, along with now having the onset of dementia. The emotional and financial toll for this friend has been beyond description. Schizophrenia is truly the “mother lode” of all mental illnesses and not one I would wish upon anyone or their family. From the description offered, your sister is quite self-centered and has a few characteristics of potentially having a histrionic personality disorder. This issue is much more female-dominated versus narcissism, which is primarily male-based. A woman with histrionic traits is self-absorbed, seeks attention in any situation, wants to make an entrance by being tardy to almost every function, and seems to have more than their share of medical maladies. This person, even though they seem to have confidence, is quite the contrary. They are seeking a level of self-assurance and are approval-hounds fishing for compliments and attention to boost their ego. Hopefully, few of us will ever experience this level of immersion into the person’s psyche, which usually is empty and in turmoil attempting to “fill that emotional void” as mentioned in my column last week. The other side of the gender scale is narcissism, which is predominately male-oriented. Those who suffer from this personality trait have a sense of grandiosity, believe they are destined for greatness and “above the law.” Professional athletes and politicians who seek attention, fame and fortune are the biggest offenders and most likely to be narcissistic. Whether one is histrionic or narcissistic, either trait is the opposite of someone being introspective, selfless or having concern and empathy for others. And finally, my last words are to be thankful for your sister despite her faults and realize that everyone has limitations, with no one having that perfect sibling we all desire. Considering her obvious intellect, she lacks compassion and is far from being the sister we all wanted, portrayed in many 1970s television shows. During this Lenten season, find happiness in what you have in your life versus focusing on what you lack. Even though I am an only child, after hearing about so much sibling strife, I am fortunate to have avoided those sisterly and brotherly pitfalls, even though at times having a sibling would seem to have lessened the angst of growing-up in solitude as a solo act. Mariann Main is a Licensed Counselor and a Delaware native. Her column appears weekly on Wednesdays. To submit a question and have Mariann answer it anonymously, visit delgazette.com/life-questions-with-local-answers or send mail to the Delaware Gazette office, 40 N. Sandusky St., suite 203, Delaware, OH 43015.