DEAR AMY: I have a younger sister, “Tammy,” who was very cruel to me when we were growing up. Because of her abuse, I left home at 17, and since that time, have grown out of the self-hate that she drilled into me. I’ve built a very strong network of friends, whom I now think of as my family. I have started getting closer to my father, and I enjoy having a relationship with him. He is a kind and intelligent man who worked hard to support his family his whole life. He is retired now, and I am grateful for this opportunity to get to know him as a person. The problem is he thinks I am cruel for refusing to have a relationship with my sister. He says that she is my family, and family needs to stick together, because that’s all we have in the end. Amy, I agree wholeheartedly with his definition of family, because the family I have built for myself is so incredibly supportive and inspiring to me, but I do not think of my sister as falling into this category. I do not know this woman, nor do I wish to. From what I can surmise, she seems just as nasty as ever. My father says I am “living in the past” and says I am being juvenile. He yells at me and puts me down when I refuse to associate with her. I say I have moved on and come to respect myself enough to choose the people I want in my life. I want him in my life, but this seems to be a sticking point. What do you think?
DEAR ESTRANGED: Being related to someone often requires a level of tolerance you wouldn’t extend toward a stranger, but I disagree with the assertion that “family is all we have in the end.”
Sharing DNA with someone does not guarantee any particular kinship. For some people, “family” becomes something to escape, not embrace.
You don’t mention if your sister has ever extended a hand toward you regarding having a relationship. If she does, you should consider attempting some sort of reconciliation.
Your father’s treatment toward you — yelling at you and putting you down — speaks not only to his anxiety about this, but a sort of bullying behavior that seems to run in the family.
If you have no intention of reconciling with your sister, you should tell him, “I know this is hard for you, but you don’t have the right to bully me any more than she does.”
DEAR AMY: I would like to have someone in my life to confide in. I am married to someone who isn’t that person. Every conversation with him turns into an argument. There is no talking to him. My sister was there for me for most of my life. Now her life is taken up by her own family. I keep everything to myself, and I know it affects my health. I don’t have a best friend, only the wives of my husband’s friends, and we are not close like that. I see a counselor, but you can’t talk to them about personal things. What do you suggest?
DEAR LONELY: Your counselor’s job is to hear those personal things you hold close. Recharge your therapy by confiding in your counselor. One way to start is to initiate a discussion about your lack of intimate friendships.
You are correct that holding everything in is not good for your health. You should write down your thoughts every day.
Also look for online sources where you can discuss your concerns with other people who might be able to listen and help.
My own Facebook page seems populated by a very supportive community of helpful strangers. Writer Cheryl Strayed also hosts a lively Facebook community. You are welcome to join these or other online discussions, where you can communicate with others and feel less alone.
DEAR AMY: I was a bit offended by your response to “Grieving,” the parents who were so worried about their daughter’s sudden isolation. You could be right, and she might be caught up in the drug crisis, but there is another possibility: domestic violence. My former partner isolated me from everyone, had me quit my job and moved us around frequently, just as Grieving describes. It wasn’t until the birth of our daughter that I realized what I had wasn’t love at all.
DEAR SURVIVED: Thank goodness you got out. Thank you for writing.