Dear Therapist:

My younger sister (20 years old) got married last year...I am struggling with my own emotions about it. My sister was in seminary and already decided she was going to date when she came home. She “asked me” permission to date when I came to visit her that year—but only because my father told her she should. Then, when she came home she began dating immediately. My parents did not bother discussing this with me first, assuming that my sister had already done so. When she got engaged to the second boy she dated, everyone tiptoed around me. I tried to explain to my parents and sister that this was terribly hard for me and that I needed their support. However, although they involved me in the process of her engagement and marriage, they didn’t acknowledge the shame or pain of what was happening. It was as if that was taboo and no one wanted to deal with the elephant in the room...I am struggling with forgiving them and letting this go.

 

Response:

You are very open with regard to the feelings that were caused by your sister’s marriage. It can be very hurtful when a younger sibling (and sometimes even an older one) achieves something for which we have been striving. Such is often the case when a sibling gets married, especially so in a community where so much of one’s identity is based around marriage and family. When a large amount of emphasis is placed on dating and marriage, a sibling seemingly leapfrogging over you can feel almost like part of your identity is being taken from you. This is in addition to other feelings that you may have, like embarrassment, shame, and sadness, all of which can be exacerbated by the excitement surrounding the wedding and the attention paid to your sister.

Although you refer to the pain that you feel due to your sister’s engagement and marriage, your main point seems to relate to the way that your family dealt with your feelings. Your question is about the feelings of resentment that you have toward your parents and your sister. Though it can hurt to have a constant reminder of our perceived failures, the sense that no one cares can be overwhelming.

Separately identifying and dealing with different types of feelings and various causes can help you to better resolve them. For instance, focusing on feelings of failure separately from those of shame allows you to deal with each one individually. Similarly, assigning specific feelings to their sources can help you to understand the underlying emotions, leading to better resolution.

If your feelings of pain, embarrassment, sadness, and failure are currently being directed toward your parents, it can be difficult to challenge and mitigate these feelings. Recognizing, as an example, that feelings of failure relate only to your dating experience—and that feelings of hurt and resentment result from your sense that your parents abandoned you—can help you to focus on each emotion, trigger, and association separately.

In addition to aiding in introspective recognition, challenging, and resolution of your feelings, clearly identifying emotions and their sources can give you a better grasp on ways of approaching others. I don’t know what caused your parents to ignore the elephant in the room, but succinctly delineating each feeling and its specific cause may help them to better understand your pain. This may give them a better sense of how to approach the issue, and how to be there for you.

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317