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Question
Posted by: TracyB | 2003/03/15

What makes me tick

While I was growing up my sister picked on me excessively. As a teenager she always put me down by telling me that I was a loser. I was also one of those kids whose mother always said "Why can't you be like your sister?" Although my mother loved us both, my sister was clearly her special child. I have never had a problem with this, but recent circumstances have made me try and remember my mother's reaction to my sister's put downs. I cannot think of one incidence where she repremanded my sister and clearly remember her being amused at some. I am now almost 40 years old and have realised that I am in a cycle that is quite self destructive. Whenever I am near my sister I feel quite anxious and many of my actions seem to be governed by a need for her approval or support. I never the support which drives me to try even harder. She is actually quite shy and when strangers are around she struggles with conversation. In order to say something she often puts me down in an affectionate kind of way, eg. I'm useless at something, don't let me do something because I will screw it up, etc. I have tried to not react as in the moment I don't think she means it, but is trying to fit in somehow. I need help with breaking the cycle of my need for approval from her. Even though I have identified it and am conscience of it as it happens, it still has the same affect on me. Worse is that I feel a strange sense of comfort while I am doing the action that I am hoping that she will approve of. I feel that this might be the root of my always blaming myself and feeling that I am always at fault. Many of my past relationships have been with controlling men. What can I do to strengthen myself from this debilitating behaviour?

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Dear TracyB,
You seem to be describing a set of habits you developed as a child, and which you haven't yet shaken off. Maybe you can do it on your own, or maybe it'd be easier for you with the assistance of a counsellor. What you need to do is to declare your independence of her, and decide that the only approaval that really matters is your own --- that her opinion is in no way special or significant. From the sound of it, she may also have become locked into these self-defeating patterns, being, as you say, clumsy in social settings, and using put-downs of you as a way of making herself look a bit better. Maybe sometime she needs you to say : " Well, maybe I'm useless at X --- but at least I can make social conversations without always having to put someone else down !"
Practise putting on the brakes whenever you feel the need to modify anything you might do, out of consideration of her approval or disapproval --- pause, and say loudly to yourself ( internally, so as not to startle passers-by ! ) "I am an independent adult, and I don't care a fig what she might think --- I am going to do whatever is best for me." Entering counselling with therapist / shrink trained in Cognitive-behavior Therapy (CBT) would probably be the best option of all.
As you wisely notice, the habits have generalized from her, to a general expectation that leads you to expect the men and other figures in your life to be dominating and controlling. Actually, you're perfectly capable of taking contol fully f your own life, and you'll surely be more sucessful at being in charge of it, than when allowing the amateur and uncaring opinions of others, to determine what you do.

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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Our users say:
Posted by: TracyB | 2003/03/16

Dear Prof. Simpson

Thanks so much for taking the time out to reply to my email. I have an appointment with a psychologist next week. For the time being I have also removed myself from my sister. Thanks again and regards, TracyB

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