“I’ve reunited with my estranged sisters. But, all these years later, the same old feelings are back”

From unsisterly acts to other family issues, reader questions are answered by clinical psychologist Jo Lamble. 

Reader question:

After an almost 20-year hiatus in our relationship, I’ve reunited with both of my older, estranged sisters. But I’m finding that the same old feelings have come back. They’re very close and I always feel like I’m not part of their sisterhood.

They rely on humiliation and degradation at every opportunity. Why can’t I be immune to their predictable behaviour? Where’s the line in the sand?

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Jo’s answer:

Was your sisters’ reliance on humiliation and degradation the reason for the hiatus? It would be understandable if it was. Why do they do this? Did one or both of your parents communicate in the same way? Such behaviour is usually learnt. If they share this habit, it’s no wonder they’re close and that you feel on the outer.

But do you want to be a close member of this sisterhood? Wouldn’t it be better to stay on the outside and have a slightly removed relationship? It would mean you could still see them and communicate regularly, but could happily step back if and when those patterns resurface.

Be proud that you haven’t adopted those bad habits and pleased that you’re not part of the inner sanctum. Enjoy the fact that you’re no longer estranged, but realise that won’t necessarily mean you’ll be the three musketeers. Having realistic expectations should help develop your immunity. Wishing things were different will only make you more sensitive and disappointed.

Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself because they’re fun, affirming and supportive. And keep people who put you down at arm’s length – they’re there, but not close enough to hurt.

Got an issue for Jo to tackle? Send your question to [email protected]

Jo Lamble is an Australian clinical psychologist who has been practising for 25 years and specialises in relationship issues. You can find her online here.