The help desk: 'My sister is a perfectionist and being with her makes me feel inadequate'

 

Q. Recently, I've been seeing a lot more of my older sister – we have small children the same age, and we are also involved together in organising a ruby wedding party for our parents. We usually get on quite well, and I do love her, but she's driving me mad. She's always been a high-achiever, and she's quite competitive.

I'm doing my best to pull my weight with the party, but she checks everything I do, and often overrides my decisions, which I find hurtful and undermining. She gets very stressed, saying there's so much to do, but won't let me take parts of it over for her, even though I have more time than she does. She won't let me look after her children (aged 13 months and three years), who have a strict routine – only home-made food, no sugar, no screens etc.

She admits she's a perfectionist and being with her makes me feel inadequate – about parenting and everything else I do – though I'm usually confident. What can I do?

A. People often mistake the meaning of perfectionism. It can be more of an affliction than an asset, despite the boasts of candidates on The Apprentice. Satisfaction perpetually eludes perfectionists, as they constantly fall short of the impossibly high standards they set for themselves. For all the practical benefits of efficiency and order, their lives are blighted by a Sisyphean futility. So the first thing you need to remember is that being your sister is probably more painful than being with her.

Yet their zealous ways, however unhinged, are often enabled or applauded by others. My first boyfriend had a much older sister, whose cleanliness and exemplary housekeeping made her the apple of her mother's eye. When I finally went to visit her gleaming home, everything around her was indeed spotless and organised. But privately, she confessed to me that her obsession with keeping everything perfect made her life hell. She changed her underwear several times a day and was terrified that visitors would bring germs into her house on their shoes. Most of us hadn't heard of obsessive compulsive disorder back then (though now the term OCD is slapped on anyone who's a little uptight, or even tidy), but I do hope that poor woman got some help.

That's the extreme end of the spectrum. But the problem is that perfectionists do somehow get to occupy the moral high ground. Their way is the right way, because it is thorough and, invariably, done by the book. In comparison, you feel scatty. Yet that is to overlook all the other elements that make for creative work – and good parenting: instinct, messy emotion, risk-taking and imagination. These qualities are less quantifiable, but they matter too. You need to have the confidence to value your own talents and attributes.

Your sister is a bit of a control freak, and you will probably never care about the flower arrangements and RSVPs as much as she does. Perhaps there's not much point in both of you losing sleep over it. You've done your best to pull your weight. If she's unwilling to concede any of her burden to you, leave her to indulge in the perverse pleasures of martyrdom.

Your problem shared

Have a dilemma? Email your predicament no matter how big or small, to Louisa at thehelpdesk@independent.co.uk

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released the first teaser trailer a week early after it leaked online

Extras
indybest
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Front end web developer - URGENT CONTRACT

    £250 - £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT** Our...

    Health & Social CareTeacher - Full time and Part time

    £90 - £140 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Sixth for...

    History Teacher

    £95 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Plymouth i...

    SQL Developer - Cardiff - £40,000

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits and bonus: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer -...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?