Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

 

Before she died I promised my mother I'd look after my younger sister. She is now 40 and I'm 45. The problem is that she rings me sometimes four times a day, always complaining about her life, her husband, what a neighbour said to her... I feel I'm being used as a kind of free therapist! Her husband has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, so she does have problems, but he has a good job and is perfectly nice to meet. Is there a syndrome that my sister's suffering from – unhealthy wallowing in impossible situations? She just seems hard-wired to be anxious. Yours sincerely, Jemima

Virginia says... It's quite clear that this promise you made to your mother lies heavily upon you. I could, of course, argue that were your mother able to witness what's going on now, she'd be horrified how much damage your interpretation of her advice is doing you, a daughter I'm sure she was equally as concerned about as her sister. She would want you to stop.

But another way of looking at it would be that, in fact, by listening to her moans, you're not actually carrying out your mother's wishes at all. Instead of helping your sister by listening to her four-times-a-day whining, you're actually feeding her misery. Just by saying, "Oh poor you," again and again and again, you're reinforcing her view of herself as the most wretched person alive. Without you to endorse her sad view of herself, offering endless advice and support, where would she and her misery be?

I'm not suggesting that from the off you should have been more brusque. But I think a year of offering kindness, advice and support is quite enough, and this has clearly been going on for much longer. Okay, her husband's schizophrenic. If he's able to hold down a job and be nice to talk to, his illness is obviously mild, and to be honest most of us are completely barmy in some way or another, though we don't have a diagnosis. But it sounds as if your sister is has more troubles than you can deal with. You say you're her "free therapist" but actually you're not a therapist. You're a complete amateur and your relationship is full of baggage and history that I'm sure gets in the way of your being able to give objective advice, anyway.

The kindest thing you can do is, next time she rings, say: "Look, I'm really worried about you. I've done my best, but your anxieties are getting beyond my ability to help. I think you should see a cognitive behavioural therapist, who you can talk to about all this. I wish you'd go, because I often feel your problems are getting in the way of us having the lovely relationship that we used to have..." or something on those lines.

If you repeat this often enough, and, instead of being sympathetic and helpful when she moans, endlessly advise her to see a professional, she may well stop. If a stray cat comes begging at your door for scraps and you give it food, it'll return again and again. If you refuse to feed it, and, even better, guide to a better source of food, it'll stop pestering you.

 

Readers say...

Swap places

Some people only tell you the bad stuff. When you two talk it is probably an instinct with you to tell the good stuff and conceal the unhappy, the annoying, the disappointing things that happen in your life. Your sister has the opposite instinct.

Try asking her to tell you about something that is brighter, more cheerful. And tell her some of your bad stuff. Whinge a little. Explode the myth of your serenely happy life, which I think she envies anyway.

Helen Bobuk By email

 

Be less available

Tell her you sympathise with her problems, but that you think she would benefit from professional help. If she claims she simply calls to chat, tell her you can't continue as her sounding-board. Make yourself less available, and take control of the conversation when you do talk with her. Suggest it would be more fun to get together with her for "face time", to do something you both enjoy, because family relationships, like friendships, are a two-way street.

Elinor Forbes By email

 

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, I'm 18 and after a few drinks with my mates, I ended up in bed with a girl whose name I didn't know. We were both pretty drunk. We exchanged numbers in the morning, but never got in touch. Now she's rung to say she's pregnant. I don't remember much about the night, but do distinctly remember her telling me she was on the Pill. I feel my life's ruined because of one night. I haven't told my parents as I'm sure they'd be furious. I suggested I pay for an abortion – I'd find the money somehow – and she put the phone down on me. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Jack

What would you advise Jack to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent. co.uk, or go to independent. co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewinesellers.co.uk)

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
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
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
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

    Senior Asset Manager

    £70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

    KS1 Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: KS1 Teaching Specialist Leic...

    Y3 Teacher - Loughborough

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Key Stage 2 specia...

    KS2 Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day + tax deductable expenses: Randstad Education Leicester: At...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor