"My sister physically abused me and tried to stop my marriage"
There’s sibling rivalry, and then there’s a toxic relationship with your sibling as the instigator
When we were little girls, I used to love watching my older sister do her homework. I’ve seen photographs — me sitting with a toy horse (I still love horses), surrounded by papers she’d given me to scribble on. We played a lot, spending enough time together to have a sisterly bond. These are the only memories that I can say are happy ones.
In the beginning, my parents believed sibling rivalry was normal. For Kriti* to feel like the forgotten child. Experts say early and middle childhood is the most challenging when it comes to aggression between siblings. But as we went from kids to teenagers, the anger just grew with every passing year, even though she was socially popular and thriving academically. It bummed me out, but I still looked up to my elder sister. I just couldn’t figure out why she didn’t like me. Now, at age 37, I still don’t know when sibling rivalry turned into such animosity.
My sister is very short-tempered. My mother is also scared of her. It’s very much Kriti’s way or the highway. If something is not being done the way she wants, then we are all headed for something explosive.
Many theories have swirled around in my head, but I’ve never gotten any clear answer from her. Sibling rivalry gone wrong? Jealousy over something I had or did? Perhaps it was about having power over other people.
After school, she went to the US to study, and that’s when I realised she needed to be free of me. I never received any calls or emails from her. She would only speak to my mother and father; I wasn’t in any part of her life.
I tried visiting, hoping that I, too, would get into school there, optimistic that this could be the chance for us to connect as sisters. It was the opposite – a traumatic experience where two days before I left, she physically assaulted me. I had wounds on my head and back. All because dinner wasn’t ready on time.
Years later, when I went through a rocky divorce, I hoped she’d reach out with some kind of support. There was radio silence.
When I started dating again, right off the bat, she tried to create problems with my boyfriend (now husband). He travelled to the USA to meet her and my parents, letting them know that he was serious about the relationship.
Kriti shut it down pretty fast. Her logic? Her dog didn’t like him, so she didn’t like him. I have to say, her dog is very paranoid, anxious, and cautious of anyone who comes to the house. I tried to reason with her saying that the dog growls at everyone. If she’s going to judge people based on that, then there won’t be anyone left in her life. It was fruitless.
She didn’t come to the wedding and tried to use the past fears of COVID-19 to prevent my parents from attending too, but thankfully, it didn’t work.
When you grow up with a sibling who is constantly attacking, belittling and berating you, there’s no surprise that there’s therapy in your future. Though, I have told my parents that it is my sister who needs mental health intervention. They’ve tried to talk to her in their parental way. “This is the only sibling you have. If there’s an issue, why don’t you sort it out? How can you be upset about something when your sister is not even here? You can’t blame her for nonexistent things.” But trying to get through to someone so angry, irrational and narcissistic is like trying to teach trigonometry to a screaming goose.
What I think my parents, friends and family members should have done more of was call her out on her bullying. Childhood play fighting and sibling rivalry are fine, but her behaviour could have been nipped in the bud a long time ago. Seeing how my older sister treated me, other younger cousins in the family also started to ape her. I couldn’t understand why my own sister would treat me like this.
I don’t have any expectations anymore. I’m not a saint. I may have wronged her in some way, but I wouldn’t know because she still fails to tell me what the problem is.
Somewhere, I know my sister cares, but multiple layers of anger perhaps submerge her way of showing affection. I spoke to my therapist about it, and they said that I couldn’t help her heal. Perhaps, that is what I had been trying to do all this time. For me to help her, she has to open a door and let me in. Which isn’t happening. So, I thought, I will heal myself first.
Over the years, I’ve tried to show my sister affection and care in different ways. For instance, she has a very bad back problem, so I offered to massage her, and that made her feel better. My therapist said that as an exercise, every time you do that, tell her in your mind that you love her, care for her and are always there for her. It might sound silly to some.
There are all theories about people having different energies, and that’s how you can read someone or assess how they’re doing. With my sister, I felt blocked. If her mind’s made up, then that’s that.
While I still seek answers to so many questions, I don’t harbour animosity toward my sister.
Realistically speaking, after the verbal, physical and emotional attacks, if she does apologise and take accountability, the most I can do is be civil. I’m too scared to share any part of my life with her after she’s used my vulnerabilities against me in fights.
I opened up to her about having ADHD and taking medication. I explained that sometimes I may take longer to complete a task or understand something. Later that was turned around and used as a taana in an argument. “Maybe you should take more of your ADHD medication. It’s clearly not working,” she said. That’s not how you treat someone who has opened up to you about their struggles. That’s not how you treat ‘family’.
Therapy has helped me and changed my outlook on our relationship. I’m more aware of my triggers and how to control them. Earlier, if she said the smallest thing that was painful, I would drown in a whirlpool of thoughts and be unable to come out of it. Now I think, if that’s what she feels about me, then that’s her problem. My new mantra is that not everyone will like you, and that’s alright.
This deep desire to please people was instilled in me because of my relationship with my sister. ‘Why doesn’t she like me?’ turned into ‘Why don’t X, Y and Z like me? What did I do wrong?’
I’ve learnt to say no and not respond to instigating remarks that seek an emotional reaction from me. I don’t give her that power. I’m focused on my life, my work, exercise, eating well and going to Zumba classes. The fact that I’m not seeking out validation from her is probably angering her even more now. But that is someone else’s problem now. Not mine.
This is a first-person account, as told to Sara Hussain.