I have a history of falling out with my middle sister. The pattern is: I offend her, and I apologize. She withdraws, and sometime later, she communicates her anger and I apologize again. I’m always extending the olive branch. We were very close 15 years ago. She even came out as a lesbian to me. She is in contact with our mother (a stoic who kept a roof over our heads but had no empathy when our father sexually molested us), but our mother will not confront her about this. At times I want to fire off angry e-mails to this sister. Other times I grieve the death of our relationship. It feels like she does not love me anymore. My therapist suggests that I visualize the soft, vulnerable aspects of my sister (she is a stoic, mentally focused lawyer) and send the image to her psychically every day to help myself and assist her. My sister was also close to our brother, who committed suicide but was estranged before his death. I read your column every week and find you not only insightful but spiritually focused. How do I not rage at her from my own pain and grief while working toward healing?
By releasing her from responsibility for your pain and grief. Begin by noticing how you play peacemaker. You offer the olive branch but resent that it’s always your job to do so. That means your offer silently carries the promise that you want to eventually negotiate blame for your wounds. You must cleanse yourself so that you only offer the pure expression of love.
Try to see your sister without the “stoic” lens. This may awaken you to whether you are trying to work out with your sister issues that are really about your mother. I also suggest that you stop the described visualizations. They are unhealthy because they allow you to pretend that you can control and change her. That’s a power play. Transform yourself.
Visualize your soft, vulnerable self. Fall in love. Now, visualize your stoic, mentally-focused self. Love it limitlessly. Do this daily. Finally, give yourself the luxury of being wrong. You don’t know that what happened between your brother and sister will be repeated with you. Stop trying to scare yourself.
People seem so carefree. Despite years of psychotherapy (with and without anti-depressants), I seem unable to free myself from believing that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world. I desire the happiness (and, yes, sex) that others have. I need to express the beauty I perceive, but my attitude strips it of power. Life is simply too hard.
Lighten up by releasing the beliefs that are burdening you. Perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with your belief that there is something wrong with the world. Explore that. Or perhaps thinking life is hard inspires you to expect it to be hard, so the evidence that supports your belief is the evidence you maintain. That’s exhausting. So is believing that others have more fun and sex than you. You can’t know the truth of their lives. In your letter, you also wrote that you learned about injustice and evil because your father only spoke to you to bark orders or insult you. In my short life I have experienced severe physical and emotional abuse, date rape, major illness and surgery and divorce. Years ago, I believed as you do. Psychotherapy was no help. I had to choose to love. It’s the hardest, and best, work. Care to try?