Ask.NeLLXO #1: Crazy, Lazy & Rude–Oh My!

Dear NeLLXO,

I am jumping at the chance to have some assistance with my “crazy” sister. She is a 50 year old who has never had to work. She manipulates everyone and lives on a scale of 8-10 out of 10 of self-invented drama ALL THE TIME. She gets a high out of enraging her sisters and husband and then ends the conversation to go back to “minding her own business”, which is her default response whenever there is trouble (that she’s caused).

She will get one of us sisters on the phone and proceed to talk our ear off about every little single thing going on in her life. She often repeats it twice and with some of her stories, she even repeats it a third time! When we try to interrupt to get off the phone, she gabs even LOUDER so we can’t interrupt.

I’m at my wits end with her need to chain all of her sisters to the phone just because SHE DOESN’T WORK and is bored out of her mind. One sister is so sick of this that she will never answer the phone anymore. I’m losing out on any kind of relationship with my other sisters because THIS sister has sickened all of us of talking on the phone for any period of time.

Even though my sister and her husband truly needs the income, she REFUSES to work even though she is fully capable. She gets all bent out of shape if ANYONE suggests she get a job. How do I get her to stop this insanity?????

Dear Fed-Up Sister,

Don’t you just love pot-stirring drama queens? No? Ahem…guess it’s just me then. Where to start? I suppose I should disclose that I’m probably going to have a very different point of view on this situation due to having zero siblings. Only children are very special people even in adulthood; we often can’t imagine having to deal with many of the things people with siblings have to go through. However, the good news is that I actually know people like your sister and have insight on how to handle them. Wait. That’s not good at all! Hmm. Sounds like we’re both in some trouble, ey?

I’m going to come at this from two different angles: 1.) The “nice”, empathetic, mollycoddling angle and 2.) The “hard-nosed”, straight-forward, tough love angle. Let’s start with the fuzzy wuzzy version, shall we?

Perspective 1: The High Road

Let’s just try to look at this from your sister’s point of view. There could be many things going on here that are worthy of cutting her a bit of a break.

First thing first, she’s 50 and hasn’t had the strongest work history. I’m not sure about her, but I know that I would feel quite sad and unfulfilled if I were in her shoes. Having a career (or at least a productive role in society) can be an excellent source of pride as well as a demonstration of one’s contributions to the world. I’m unsure if your sister has a legitimate reason for not working all these years, but let’s just pretend that she isn’t as happy being unemployed as she seems to be. Just based off of the experiences I have had in life and the situations of people I know, not everyone who has a long history of unemployment is lazy. In most of the cases I have seen, people who have shaky unemployment histories suffer from something the general public can’t readily identify: mental illness, physical ailments, lack of confidence, uncertainty of what to do, fear, etc. The list truly goes on. If your sister is suffering from something like this, she may be ashamed and not want anyone to know the real reason for her prolonged unemployment, which would explain the backlash when people try to encourage her to find a job. If her family truly can use the extra income  and she’s secretly dealing with something that enables her from finding employment, the added pressure to find a job simply won’t help her. It will actually compound the problem.

Secondly, it’s actually sort of a blessing that she wants to share details of her life with her sisters. After all, not everyone is fortunate enough to have siblings to go through life with. True, she doesn’t need to share every. single. thing. she. does. every. single. day, but to her, everything that occurs truly may be a crisis–in her mind. Despite having more free time than the average person, some people simply need more social interaction than others. It’s quite obvious that she needs an outlet. The unfortunate part is that she can’t continue to dump her problems (real or imagined) upon the same handful of people all of the time. She needs to either find more people to socialize with so she can spread her stories less thickly; develop a more productive means of talking out her feelings (i.e., blogging or journaling); or find herself a therapist. No shade intended by suggesting she needs a therapist. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to; there’s no shame in that.

If you, your sisters or her husband have a shred of patience left, there are a few things you could do.

  • You could sit her down one day and calmly explain your position. She may not consciously realize how she is behaving or how she is impacting others. Illuminating her may help.
  • Introduce her to new people or new hobbies. Perhaps having a way to better use her time will shift focus away from her problems and onto something more productive. It might also keep her off of the phone with you guys.
  • Offer to help her find a job (providing she’ll let you bring it up) or ask if there is something someone can do to assist her in becoming job-ready.
  • If she is suffering from a situation you are unaware of, you could try to gently ask her about it to see if you can help. There is definitely something going on. I’d like to think that perfectly happy people find no enjoyment in kicking up trouble. As I always say, “Hurting people hurt people.” If she’s got a penchant for drama 24/7, something is causing it. Find the root, find the solution.


Perspective 2: Cut & Dry

OR perhaps your sister is just downright crazy, lazy and rude. Some people genuinely don’t believe it is important to hold down a job, contribute to society, maintain their household or respect the time and energy of others. That’s fine. Whatever floats their boat, you know? I’m all for letting people march to the beat of their own drum…even if it leads them straight into a ditch. A lot of people say, “People are who they are” or “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Even though I know from experience that people can indeed change their stripes, it’s unfortunately the exception instead of the rule–especially later in life. I once knew two people I tried to help to the point of nearly making myself severely ill. I cared for them and wanted the very best for them, so I bent over backwards to encourage, motivate and inspire them. In the end, nothing worked. I spent a total of four years talking to the wind. It’s great to help people, but not to the detriment of your health and/or sanity.

Sometimes you simply have to draw the line. If you and your sisters are truly exhausted by the sister in question (and it sounds as though you are), it may be time to either draw a line in the sand or step away from her completely. At the end of the day, every individual knows their own limits. If you can tolerate continuing to speak with her, screen your phone calls. If you are busy or uninterested in talking when she calls, do not answer. You already know how she is, so it may be best to wait until you have the stamina to deal with her.

Though I have always believed in the importance of family, there have unfortunately been many family members I have had to cease all contact with due to their dysfunctional, toxic behavior/personalities. It’s drastic, very difficult and hardly ideal, but you sometimes have to take drastic measures in order to preserve your own well being. However, I would never, ever encourage a person to cut someone off without telling them why first. Being shut out and not knowing why really hurts, even if the action was deserved. If you don’t think you can talk to her as much anymore, let her know why and then stand by your decision. I would never write her off indefinitely (because people truly can change without notice), but you may want to keep your distance until she gets her act together. Maybe she’ll give up the dramatics and clinginess once she realizes her behavior has left her lonely.

The Bottom Line

Overall, this is more an issue of needing to set, announce and maintain healthy boundaries. You and your sisters need to determine what kind of relationship you want to have with the “problem sister” from this point forward and commit to whatever that happens to be. If one sister can tolerate sitting through her chat fests, let them. If one sister decides she’s simply got to keep that particular door closed, let them. Each individual needs to do what works for them. The same goes for you.

As for your sister’s unemployment and bad behavior, that’s kind of her own little red wagon. She’s a grown woman with a household and a husband. At this point, no one can change her circumstances, but her. Try your best not to get caught up in her personal issues, but focus more on how to preserve the relationship you have left. As frustrating as it can be sometimes, you just can’t change people. All you can do is manage your own behavior and hope to be a better example to others. Oh, and love people. That usually helps.

And in relation to your other sibling relationships suffering, I would simply have a talk (even if it’s a brief one!) with the remaining sisters. I would express my concern that our relationship is taking a hit and suggest alternative means of keeping those ties strong. If it’s possible to meet up once a week or a few times a month for lunch, do that. Maybe you can send each other a quick text message here and there if talking on the phone is too much. I would simply allow the exhausted sisters to re-cooperate from the phone and ensure I’m available for them if and when they do want to socialize.

I hope this insight can help you out. I know I can’t wave a magic wand and turn your sister into a quiet, sweet little ray of sunshine (wouldn’t that be awesome??), but it may provide some fresh perspective to help you make the right decision.

Best of luck! -XO


*Need advice? Just want to pick my brain or get to know me better?*

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