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Complete and Unabridged Definitions of Borderline, Narcissistic, Antisocial, and Oppositional Defiant Personality Disorder. The only unabridged DSM 5 definitions published on the Internet.
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Author Topic: Younger sister feeling paralyzed by older sister's BPD symptoms  (Read 234 times)

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« on: January 09, 2017, 11:03:57 PM »

I am 21 years old and the youngest of three young women. My middle sister, who is almost 29, exhibits many symptoms of BPD, and for about the last year and a half the situation has drastically deteriorated.

I have known about BPD for a long time now, as I have struggled with major anxiety and depression and I exhibited some tendencies of the disorder myself when I was younger. I was never diagnosed, and neither has my sister, but the more I watch her the more I am convinced that she struggles with BPD.

My sister has never been violent or directly insulting (to me, anyway) but she is very emotionally manipulative and has a hard time empathizing with other people. She has no concept of other people's boundaries, but she also has no trouble setting them. When she needs space, the conversation needs to immediately end, but if you need space she tells you that you are "shutting her out" and that it is "wrong" because she "needs help." She veils her want to control you in compromise: "If you can't do X for me just let me know." "Okay, I can't do X for you." "I need help! Can you actually take me seriously? Or can you at least do Y for me?" She needs so much and yet almost always says no when requests are made of her. Every step of an interaction is a negotiation. If you decide to lend something to her, you have to accept that you may never get it back or you will probably not get it back within the timeframe you set, and that she will most likely become annoyed or angry when you ask about it. She feels entitled to people's time, energy, and love, and yet is very stingy with her own. She uses your relation to her (as a sister, a parent, a friend, etc.) as justification for why you should do something for her that you have already told her you don't want to do. In short, she cannot take no for an answer but at the same time it is her favorite word.

My sister is in extremely dire straits right now. About a month ago my parents kicked her out of the house after an aforementioned year-and-a-half of living with them and demanding their time, attention, and money, yet seemingly no plan for her own future. She is essentially homeless right now, living between my aunt's house and god knows where else. She has no job, she hasn't been paying off any of her various loans (car, student) so she is in big financial trouble. She claims that she cannot "digest" the food here, so she is barely eating. She also says that she is having extreme trouble sleeping, and has been for a long time now--probably about a year. Now, picture this literally starving, sleep-deprived person coming to you and saying "I have no money, I have no gas in my car, and I need to buy food. Will you please bring me to the grocery store?" You agree to do that, but on the way there (if you can even manage to get out of the driveway) she changes her mind about five to seven times about where she wants to go or what she wants to do--"actually, I need to go to the bank. No, I need to go to [oldest sister]'s house and ask her for help on my resume. No, I need to eat immediately before I go in the grocery store. Wait, can you actually just pull over? And can we just sit for a minute?" This minute turns into way longer than that: depending on the day, it could be twenty minutes, it could be an hour. She is completely incapable of making a decision, but also doesn't seem to hear me when I try to make suggestions--"Why don't we just get you something to eat, and then we can think about what to do next." "Why don't we just stick with the original plan, and then worry about the rest later." No, everything has to be worried about right now and yet she has no capacity to actually hold it all together in her head; she becomes overwhelmed and paralyzed by panic. This results in about three or four hours of us either driving back and forth between different locations while never actually getting anywhere, or wandering around a downtown somewhere without ever actually accomplishing anything, or just sitting in my idling car by the side of the road and watching the minutes creep by.

It used to be that I was just slightly annoyed or frustrated that we weren't getting anywhere, and that we were wasting time, and that I really didn't feel like I was doing anything for her at all. Now it is getting to the point where I am genuinely concerned for my sister's physical health as well as mental health, and I am having a harder time self-soothing in these situations. It is exhausting, panic-inducing, and on top of that she becomes angry with me when I then decide to take space to calm down: again, it is "shutting her out" in her time of need, and she emphasizes how faint she is feeling and how she hasn't eaten anything all day, etc. etc. Well, I've been trying to help you get something to eat all day, but you aren't letting me and nothing I seem to do or say, or NOT do or NOT say, is helping, so what other choice do I have but to remove myself?

It has gotten to the point where I dread any sort of interaction with her for fear of being sucked in for hours of either senseless dithering or a diatribe about how awful I behaved the other day when I did X, how alone she is, how tired, how hungry. Any attempt to defend myself is deflected with a scrutinization of how I am talking and "could you instead say it like this" or "do you think you could ask me that." It is impossible to have a conversation with her and impossible to get out of one.

I want to help my sister, but I am sick of being abused, and of watching the rest of my family be abused. I am desperate for a community of people to talk to who have dealt with similar issues in their own life. I feel trapped and at a complete loss for what to do.

Thanks for reading.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

--Mary Oliver, "Wild Geese"
Naughty Nibbler
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Posts: 1464

« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2017, 11:17:57 PM »

Welcome Milospiral  
I'm sorry about the situation with your sister.  I'm wondering if perhaps she might be narcissistic?  Check out the link below and let us know if you think the description fits your sister.


Are you getting help with your anxiety and depression?  Are you doing anything to take care of yourself and help manage your stress?

There is a lot of helpful information here. A good place to start is to check out some of the links at the upper right of this post.  You can't make your sister get treatment or change her, but you can change the way you interact with your sister and how you react to her.

« Last Edit: January 10, 2017, 11:24:57 PM by Naughty Nibbler » Logged

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Posts: 20

« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2017, 01:06:26 PM »

Hi Naughty Nibbler, thanks for your reply!

To answer your question about my own health, I have been on two types of antidepressants for several years now and have been to several different types of therapy (including DBT), so I feel pretty equipped to handle my own anxiety and depression. I have been in "remission" from any sort of major depressive episode for about a year and a half now, so I've been doing pretty well. However, I am very much a "caretaker"--it has always been a large part of my personality to try and help others, and I am a sponge to other people's emotions. It's triggered major depressive episodes in the past. Making sure I am responding to my own needs and emotions first and not being so affected by other people's has always been a struggle for me. That is the main pitfall I would like to avoid in my interactions with my sister, which can be very difficult when someone makes you feel bad for putting your needs first and setting healthy boundaries. I recognize what is happening, which is what therapy has taught me what to do, and I do have healthy ways to cope with it, but obviously the stress and guilt that comes with emotional manipulation is hard to stave off.

Since I am a college student, I have only been home and in close contact with my sister for about three weeks. Next week I will be moving back to school, so there is a way for me to physically remove myself from the situation. However, I worry about the rest of my family and I even feel guilty about leaving for school because I recognize it as an escape, and yet my sister is struggling and my family has no out of their own. I know there is nothing I can do about her struggling if she won't allow me to help her or she won't take steps to better her own life, but it still feels like I'm not doing enough.

As to whether or not my sister is narcissistic--she is certainly self-centered and self-absorbed. She has been that way her whole life, even in her healthiest times. When she is healthy, she is better about recognizing if she is putting her own needs unfairly before others', but it is still a struggle for her. Recently she has told me that no one is able to understand her, but it seems to be coming from a place of extreme isolation and hurt rather than an inflated sense of her own brilliance. I would describe her "interaction style" as more "needy" and less "grandiose" (to use the words of the article you linked me to). Instead of putting others down and thinking them inferior to her, she draws on their feelings of allegiance to her and explains how much it hurts that they are unwilling to help her. That's why I am suspicious of BPD, although she definitely exhibits some characteristics of NPD as well. I think she may be a "high-functioning" BP (even though she is certainly nowhere close to functioning right now).

I have read a few resources on this site, especially about self-care and setting limits, and I've found them to be exceedingly helpful. I did a writing exercise about boundaries that I found on BPDCentral, and I found that I was much clearheaded afterwards and had a good idea of what my boundary looked like, when to enforce it, and why it was important to me. It helps to read some other threads too, especially started by people with siblings who exhibit BPD symptoms.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

--Mary Oliver, "Wild Geese"
Naughty Nibbler
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Posts: 1464

« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2017, 03:04:31 PM »

Hey MiloSpiral:
I'm glad you have been doing a good job of taking care of yourself, with therapy and then meds as needed. It great that you have had a remission from major depression.  Doing the right thing  You are very self-aware.

Your sister may have traits of both BPD and NPD.  Labels aren't important.  Best to deal with the behaviors/symptoms.

Quote from: MiloSpiral
Next week I will be moving back to school, so there is a way for me to physically remove myself from the situation. However, I worry about the rest of my family and I even feel guilty about leaving for school because I recognize it as an escape, and yet my sister is struggling and my family has no out of their own.   

Many people say that their time in College was the best time in their life.  You deserve to have a good experience, without worrying about your sister and feeling guilty. You can't take on the burden of being your sister's caretaker.  Sometimes, it is best to radically accept a situation that you don't have the power to change.

Your sister has to be responsible for her own behavior and the consequences of her own actions.  She can make a choice to seek treatment and make her life better.  If you sister made the choice to seek treatment, would more members of your family be supportive of her?

You might find the articles at the links below helpful:




Quote from: MiloSpiral
I did a writing exercise about boundaries. . . I found that I had a good idea of what my boundary looked like, when to enforce it, and why it was important to me.   

Boundaries are very important to have and enforce, when dealing with a person with a personality disorder or traits of a personality disorder.  It can take a lot of effort, and there will likely be a need to adjust certain boundaries and add some from time to time.

Are there any new boundaries or boundary changes that might help you reduce your stress and guilt right now (and to reduce your stress while in College)?


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Posts: 20

« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2017, 12:17:03 AM »

Hello again Naughty Nibbler 

I have been thinking a lot about your post in the past few days, and I read the articles you linked me to. They helped me to realize that "refusing to help" actually might just be "refusing to enable," and although that is difficult in the situation, it gave me some comfort.

In fact, in the past few days my family and I have drawn some hard lines with my sister. My parents have told her that they will no longer engage in conversation with her until she is enacting a plan to becoming healthy again (i.e., getting into a program, going to the hospital, etc.). My other sister and I have also decided to tell her this, as any other type of interaction we've had with her has been unproductive, to be euphemistic. My oldest sister and I are planning to talk to my BPD sister and tell her that we love her and care about her but that we can no longer help her engage in unhealthy behavior. I was also able to get some of this language from a trusted therapist, which helped.

I must admit, though, in the past few days I have been avoiding any sort of communication with my sister recently. On the night that you responded to me, she came into my room and said some really FOGgy things about how she was "giving" and if I could just "give a little bit," not being any more specific than that, even after asking for clarification. She also mentioned how she had always been supportive of me, I think invoking my depressive episodes as a way to make me feel bad. So, as you can imagine, I've avoided her at almost all costs. I texted her the next day telling her I was available to meet between two and four to talk, as she said she'd like to talk to me and I had decided to draw this hard line with her about no longer enabling her unhealthy behavior, but she never responded. Today she took herself to the emergency room, ostensibly for an IV to get her some fluids and nutrients seeing as she hasn't been eating, and she called us multiple times from there trying to get us to pick her up. My parents stuck to their boundary. She was kind of just lingering around the waiting room and when the staff tried to ask her things she wasn't making much sense; they believed she was delusional, so they Section 12-ed her (said she couldn't leave until a crisis team had cleared her). As far as we know she's still there. She tried to call me a couple times from there but I didn't pick up. I am too scared. And I feel bad about that. That I'm not confronting it and just saying "enough is enough; this is the line I'm drawing." I'm just choosing not to communicate, and that feels kind of bad.

But, I have thought about what you asked me, about boundaries I could draw while at school. At first I had no idea what to do, but after thinking about it for a bit I came up with some ideas. First and foremost, I am not giving her my address (I'll be living off-campus this semester). I've also decided that if I respond to a call, then somehow disengage from the conversation, I will not pick up the phone for the rest of the day. (She has a habit of calling back two to ten minutes after one call as a way to keep you engaged.) I'm trying to decide whether or not I should answer calls at all, though. The therapist I went to, who I trust very much, told me, "you don't have to respond to her calls or her texts. you don't even have to read them" seeing as they were usually just guilt-tripping and ways to engage me, but it's very very hard to actually feel like I deserve that. This is what emotional abuse, whether intentional or not, does to you. The person makes you feel guilty for not wanting to interact with them even though every time they interact with you it's a minefield you can't escape. But no, it's my fault for not being "open" or for being "emotionally distant." I'm sick of it.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

--Mary Oliver, "Wild Geese"
Naughty Nibbler
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Person in your life: Sibling
Posts: 1464

« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2017, 12:25:31 AM »

Hi MiloSpiral:   

Good to see you working with some boundaries. Setting boundaries in regard to phone calls and texting, can really help you maintain your sanity.  Your therapist gave you some good advice. 

I'm sorry your sister is having a hard time.  I hope she decides to get the help she needs.  Might she be close to the point of being incompetent to make decisions? If she qualifies for that determination, perhaps she could be forced to get help.

Check out some of the links at the large green banner at the very top of the page.  There is a "Tools" menu. I think you will find the lesson on validation helpful.  Validation isn't about agreeing with someone, but about acknowledging their feelings.  Check it out.  Perhaps it is something you might want to try?


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