Q: Dear Susie, I really appreciated your column last week on not imposing our opinions on others, or taking responsibility for others’ lives. You also wrote about practicing detachment from those situations that we can’t change.
Here’s my problem: I watch a relative of mine be extremely controlling with my sibling, almost to the point where she is living the life for my sibling. I understand that my sibling is allowing this, but my question is… how do I practice detachment? Good lord!! I can keep my mouth shut, but I can’t seem to stop how infuriated I feel with this situation. I know I need to detach, but please tell or show me how. Thank you.
A: There’s a lot of energy in your question - I can feel it emanating off the page. I can see you’ve got some feelings around this relationship with your relative and your sibling.
My first questions back to you are these:
How is their relationship affecting you?
Do you have some control issues (say it isn’t so!) around how others should treat others, or how a parent/child relationship should look?
Do either of them come to you and complain about the other, or do you somehow get in the middle of things?
It really doesn’t matter how you answered any of the above questions - it all still comes down to you.
Let’s just assume that this relative is your mother. How are you like your mother? C’mon, be honest: do you think people should act a certain way? Your mother does—you think she should, so I’m thinking there are some similarities there.
Can you think of any possible payoffs for your sibling with this relationship?
Is your controlling mother diverting attention away from the fact that your sibling doesn’t have a job, or a spouse?
That is to say, by constantly engaging in this “You should do this…” kind of conversation, there isn’t any time for your sibling to go off and live a life, is there?
So maybe they’re scared to be independent, and this is one way that they can stay tied to the apron strings, all the while “protesting” that Mom’s controlling. That certainly isn’t their fault, is it?
Well, yes, probably. It takes two to tango—one to offer the apron strings, and the other to grab them.
So far as being detached and keeping your mouth shut, it’s interesting to note how loudly your emotions shouted at me.
I’m guessing they shout at your mom and sibling, as well, so even though you might not actually say anything, they probably both know full well how you feel.
How is their relationship sidetracking you from your life? How is it preventing you from doing what you want and need to do?
Could you be using their relationship as an excuse to run away from something in your own life?
I think it’s interesting to note that in really dysfunctional families (I’m not calling yours that, by the way), it’s usually one child that acts out, but the problems are really all around—with the parents’ relationship, or the relationships with all the other siblings, but usually just one sibling acts out enough so that everyone can concentrate on that one child, sort of pile all of the problems on him or her. No one else has to look at anything else, or deal with it. It’s just something to keep in mind.
Any time you feel real heat around a situation or person or relationship, there’s most likely some unresolved issues with you, and that person or situation is just bringing it up for you. Great! Now you have a chance to heal yourself—thanks.
You might not feel grateful now, or see any of this as a learning experience, but I’ve found that nearly every situation I encounter is a learning opportunity, if I choose to see it that way.
Sure, it’s nice just to stick your head in the sand and try to be unconscious about things, but you once you know better, you really can’t. There’s something going on, you know it, but you don’t know what to do about it.
You might try a nifty little thing I do sometimes, which is pretending you are each of the other people you’re having trouble with.
First be your mom. Totally channel Mom into you—how are you feeling, why are you acting the way you’re acting, what do you want?
Then channel your sibling—ask yourself the same questions. This might give you some really valuable insight that you didn’t have before.
I’m actually seeing that both your mom and sibling are kind of insecure—they’re worried that they don’t know how to do the “right” thing (whatever that means), so they’re sensitive to criticism.
They both look at you and see a confident, mature person, and they actually envy you—they don’t think you have anything to worry about, so they kind of leave you out of that dysfunctional loop, so to speak.
In a way, it’s all a compliment—they’re trying to help each other heal, and probably can’t even understand why you get upset with them.
Try some of these different angles—examine yourself and your possible motives, examine your mom and sibling for empathy and understand ing (and possible motives), then try to laugh at it all.
It is kind of funny, when you stop to think about it. How old are you all? In your 30’s? 40’s? Kind of old to be told to brush your teeth and eat all of your vegetables, aren’t you?
Why do we do the things we do? Hard to say—it’s different for every person.
You can only try to figure out what it all means for you, then work it around to bring peace to your life.
Will they change? Your mom? It doesn’t look like it, but your sibling?
Sure, they really want to grow out of their current habit, so maybe you can keep encouraging him or her by focusing on the positive, and telling them they can do it!
Because they can—we all can live a responsible, mature, fulfilling and perfectly marvelous life. The trick is to actually do it.
- Members only features
- Members can email articles, add articles as favorites, add tags to articles and more. Register now to unlock additional features.