Sister on Your Mind

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Dr. Bradbury, I really need your advice on how to deal with my sister. I feel like she judges everything I do. She never says anything, but I really feel like she disapproves of everything from how I keep my house to how I raise my children. I was wondering if I should try to get someone to talk to her for me?

What you describe is a very common problem. The frequency of the problem seems to vary from culture to culture and from area to area. However, I have found it to be a very common complaint since living and practicing in this area.

Before I address how you might deal with your sister, I would like for you to take a deep look inside. You mentioned that your sister has never said anything to you, and that you “feel” like she disapproves of everything you do. You may “feel” like you are very discerning, but in truth, our feelings can be very deceptive. They are often closely related to our own sense of self-doubt.

Your question brings me back to a training film I saw when in graduate school. In the film, Fritz Perls asks the client, Gloria, what she is doing. (She’s nervously bouncing one leg on top of the other.) Gloria becomes noticeably more self-conscious and asks, “What do you mean?” Dr. Perls asks again what she is doing. Her response is a very defensive, “You don’t like me, do you, Dr. Perls?” Dr. Perls looks at her puzzled and makes a rather profound statement, “It’s not Dr. Perls that doesn’t like you, but the Dr. Perls of your mind that doesn’t like you.”

What did Dr. Perls mean by such a statement? You stated that you “feel” that your sister doesn’t approve of your housekeeping, parenting, and etc., without any hard evidence to support your feeling. It’s very possible that it is not your sister that disapproves of you, but the sister of your mind—the image you have created in your mind of your sister.

This reminds me of a social psychology research project in which individuals who had agreed to participate were brought individually into a booth and had a scar put on their faces with makeup. No mirror was available in the booth until the ugly scar was finished. Then a mirror was produced to show each his scar and the mirror was put away.

Before leaving the booth, each was told by the makeup artist that he wanted to put finishing powder on the scar so it wouldn’t smear. In truth, he removed the scar. Then the subjects were sent out into the public with a note pad to record how people treated them because of their scars.

Of course, the interesting thing is that there were no scars, except in their minds. However, overwhelmingly, the subjects returned with reports of being stared at, shunned, and treated poorly because of the ugly scars that were only in their minds. So, how you feel about yourself may impact your belief of how others think of you.

You asked if you should have someone talk with your sister. Since you are asking my opinion, I do not believe that is the best approach. In fact, that approach has the potential to lead to division and gossip. Instead, go to your sister and tell her how you are feeling, but take responsibility for your feelings. You may find that she has had no such thoughts at all. If she does have thoughts about you that are congruent with your suspicions, talk with her about it and work toward a resolution. Relationships are too important to allow “feelings” to destroy.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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