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ASK AMY: Opposite sisters don’t attract, but repel

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Dear Amy: My sister and I grew up in an abusive home and have had issues to work through.

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We’ve had to cope with anxiety, learn to forgive, and learn what is healthy in relationships.

We have very different ways of handling conflict.

She attacks verbally, using put-downs and a barrage of lectures on why she thinks I deserve whatever wrath she is dishing out.

When she does this, I tend to shut down.

Because I tend to avoid arguing and work through my issues with others in a calm way (sometimes choosing to distance myself from drama), my sister and I are like oil and water.

We have forgiven one another and moved forward several times, but her recent group text, attacking family members while our father was hospitalized, showed me that she hasn’t changed.

I’ve pulled away and now she has confronted me for my reaction.

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She says I’m judging her and that I’m a liar for not telling her immediately why I pulled away.

I don’t want to fight, so I don’t confront her.

She goes between saying: “I don’t need you,” “You do you,” to sending me gifts and sweet texts, which I don’t enjoy receiving. I want space from this unstable relationship.

How do I convey this without causing her to blow up again?

– Walking on Eggshells

Dear Walking: When it comes to the “fight-or-flight” response, your sister is “fight” and you are “flight.” (I am, too.)

Meeting your sister’s wrath with some of your own might change the dynamic (it might not), but because you are sensitive while your sister is volatile, you should put your thoughts down on paper. That way, you can say exactly what you want to say, review what you’ve written, and then decide whether to send it.

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You might say, “My goal has always been to have a calm and peaceful life, as well as a consistent and caring relationship with you. After the challenges of our childhood, I believe this is what we both deserve! I’m letting you know that in the future, when you behave in a way that I believe is mean or hurtful to me or other family members, I’m going to back away. The reason I don’t confront you at those times is because – I don’t want to. Maintaining some distance is just me trying to take good care of myself.”

On receipt, your sister will blow up. And you will back away. And you two might continue this dance – in various forms – for the rest of your lives, unless she changes, or you decide to exit completely.

Your duty is to protect yourself. Protecting yourself does not mean that you are unforgiving or unloving it just means that you are removing yourself from the dramatic maelstrom and living your life the way you want to.

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You might try reading, The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Dealing with Toxic People: How to Reclaim Your Power from Narcissists and Other Manipulators , by Shahida Arabi (2020, New Harbinger).

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Dear Amy: I recently saw one of my friends’ wife with another man. They walked hand-in-hand acting like nothing was wrong with that.

I really wanted to tell him about this, but it would destroy him.

He totally loves his wife and does everything for her.

I feel so bad for him. If I act any differently toward her, he will ask me what’s up.

What should I do?

– Unsure

Dear Unsure: There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with walking hand-in-hand, and because you don’t have any idea of the context behind what you witnessed, you should make a choice to avoid leaping to conclusions.

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If you choose to discuss this episode with anyone, it should be with the wife. She may be able to provide some helpful or illuminating context.

Dear Amy: I was so surprised to see the question from “Desperate for Change,” outlining a problem I thought I alone had: Terrible anxiety about talking on the phone!

This aversion has been weirdly crippling. During the pandemic, this anxiety has really gotten in the way of my genuine desire to communicate.

I appreciated your commonsense suggestion to communicate via text and writing, but you also suggested “practising” making calls by calling a business and asking one simple question: “What hours are you open today?”

Well, I tried this, and then I did it again, and my confidence is growing.

Thank you for the tip.

– Talking

Dear Talking: Well done! (By the way, I’m open 24/7.)

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