I am creating this thread in the hope that someone, somewhere, has some advice for me on this matter. Thank you in advance to any thoughtful responses that you may be able to offer.
I am writing this on behalf of my mother, who is 62 and a widow of 4 years. I am my mother's son, 25. My sister is 23, almost 24. My sister and her inability to get her life together is the subject of this post. My parents had my sister and I in their late 30's. My parents were married until they day they died. They were loving, nurturing parents who did anything and everything they could for us. We grew up not wanting really anything, a middle-class family. My father had a college education and provided well for us until his death 4 years ago. My mother was a homemaker who home-schooled my sister and I until high school age. My sister and I both went to a private school for high school, where we both graduated. We both worked in high school at a fast-food restaurant to gain work experience. My parents wanted us to get a feel for the value of money and the value of an honest days work.
I consider myself lucky to have had the upbringing that I have had. I know I am fortunate to have had the childhood that I referenced to above. I have provided the above information to give a sense of background of what my sister and I came from. Hopefully this can help eliminate or point out any factors contributing to her problem.
My sister barely can make her ends meet and is consistently asking for money from my mother and I. She also borrows money from her friends, but never pays it back. She works at a part-time retail job, not really interested in moving up or taking on a second job. She does not enjoy working, in her own words, and tries to work just enough to make ends meet. She has the best cable/internet package, a smart phone, video game systems, and music production equipment. Yet, she refuses to sell any of her possessions in order to pay for emergency bills or situations (IE: car battery died, overdraft fees, etc...). She has gained 100 LBS since high school and food is her comfort. She struggles with depression and self inflicted pain. She is introverted, but loves the attention she receives when recognized for anything. Her dream is to become a musician, but she doesn't put in the necessary work needed to make that dream a reality. She does not want to go to school, she does not want to better herself it seems in any way.
My mom loves her and somehow feels responsible for the way she is (she obviously isn't). She does enable her by helping her with money in situations like I referenced above. My mother wants to help my sister and has tried to set up counseling/mentoring sessions to get her going. My sister will go to these sessions but no change ever comes out of these arrangements. My sister has never had a boyfriend or even been out on a date, though she used to be beautiful and funny. She is extremely shy, but many people are that way. She plays RPG video games (World of Warcraft) religiously and I think she may be addicted to those type of games.
I have tried to help by being tough, being supportive, trying to find resources that could possibly grab her attention, etc... I want to help her help herself, but whatever I try to do, it does not seem to get through. I want to see her find some purpose, find something to grab onto. She is wasting the best years of her life. I do not know what to do. Any help or solutions you could give me would be much appreciated. I will try and check this thread often to answer any questions that you may have. Thank you again.
I dont think you can change someone who doesnt want to change. It doesnt sound like your sister wants to change, and in fact seems that she has created the life she wants to live. And if there are any negative consequences to her lifestyle (such as not having enough money for emergency situations) she has people who will bail her out.
So IMO all YOU can do is decide how much YOU want to contribute to it. Dont loan her money, dont be TOO emotionally invested in what she is doing. if you can, try to help your mom see that she isnt doing her any favors by constantly bailing her out, but if it gives your mother pleasure to help her and it doesnt negatively affect your mom (that is, she isnt putting HERSELF in financial ruin to help her) then i'd just leave it alone. Live your life and try to not let the rest bother you. Beyond that, im not sure what you can do.
Chris, your sister sounds like my soon to be ex-husband. Nothing worked in the 18 years we were together, and I needed to keep "putting out the financial fires" and borrowing money just to pay household bills while he, like your sister, treated himself to the best of everything at the expense of his family. He also gained almost 200 lb during our marriage. The weight, however, was just a symptom of the greater addictions problem, because DH ended up having gastric bypass surgery, losing all the excess weight, and started drinking alcohol instead of eating! It was horrible living with someone like this. But frankly I could deal with alcohol use much more than I could deal with the constant threat of having utilities disconnected, bill collectors calling, etc. That was completely unfair to the kids and to me.
Since DH started the drinking, I finally found my way into Al-Anon. Although their literature and steps revolve around living with an alcohol abuser, the principles they promote can really be modified to include addicts/abusers of any kind. Your sister is most likely self-medicating with her food and the spending sounds like an addiction as well. That 'ol "addict mentality" is constantly seeking the easy way out, and you and your mom are indeed enabling her. I think you personally need to establish what boundaries you would like to set up and stick to those. You and your mom, although extremely well-intentioned, will accomplish nothing by helping her out. This will just go on and on and on. When she has utilities disconnected or truly no way to get somewhere in a working car, then perhaps she will have a "light bulb" moment (or perhaps not, who knows what her individual "bottom" is?)
I know you are posting this out of love and concern, and you sound like a wonderful brother to me. So like queenjane posted above, until she feels the natural consequences of her actions, there is no incentive to change. Hope this helped.
As someone who has suffered from social anxiety for many years this really caught my attention:
"My sister has never had a boyfriend or even been out on a date, though she used to be beautiful and funny. She is extremely shy, but many people are that way."
Shyness and social anxiety disorder may look alike to outsiders but there is a world of difference so my only suggestion is to make sure she isn't suffering in silence with a disorder that she may not know help is available for. I didn't even know it had a name or that there were others like me out there for many years.
Its possible its just shyness, but I wanted to throw that out there as a possibility as I too suffered from depression over it, which resulting in overeating and being overweight for some years. Naturally the ability to hold down an outside job is compromised as well.
Help is available for depression and addiction also, but those things are generally more well known and recognized. Could she still be depressed about the loss of dad?
Sounds like she has 1 or more mental health issues that need addressed and until they are, there is not a lot anyone else can do to turn her life around, beyond being supportive of her during this time (which doesn't include bailing her out or enabling her toxic lifestyle) unfortunately mental health problems are still shameful for many people to admit or seek help for. Take the money you & mom are using to bail her out and instead get her some counseling to find out what is really going on inside her that help might be available for.
One big difference between your sister and the ex-husband mentioned up-thread is that your sister doesn't have anyone depending on her. I was actually someone who had a hard time taking personal responsibility and standing on my own two feet as a young, single person, but now that I have my own children, meeting their needs is my priority.
I agree with those who said that you can't help her unless she wants to be helped, and I also agree with newmum35 that the root cause of all the overeating and other issues may be depression. Learning to find comfort through truly feeling loved just as I am is helping me to form healthier habits. For someone who doesn't feel loved, only eating one dish of ice cream or only getting to pursue one's hobbies for a short time each day because of the need to pour so much energy into working (if one doesn't enjoy one's work) can feel very punitive and make a person feel like there's nothing to look forward to in life.
Of course, the key is to find work we enjoy, and figure out how much we need to work to have the life that we personally feel like we need. It sounds like your sister is having a hard time working out the math on this, and you're right that it doesn't help if your mom or others are bailing her out when she runs short.
You may not be able to get your mom to stop bailing her out, though. I honestly wouldn't put too much energy into that, or into being at your wits end, either. Just try to be a friend to your sister, maybe by finding something you both enjoy doing and spending a little time each week or so enjoying that activity together. Being her friend as well as just her brother can go a long way in helping her feel loved, although I'm not saying you should feel guilty if you can't be there for her as much as she would like. You can't meet all her needs for love, but if she senses that you genuinely like her and not just because she's your sister, this may give her the boost of confidence she needs to get out a bit and connect with others who share some of her interests.
It sounds, though, like she does have at least a few friends, because you mentioned that she borrows from them and never pays it back. Of course, friends aren't likely to stick around if they feel used. Maybe you can even be the one who tells her that you'd like to just hang out with her without discussing money at all, and let her in on the secret that most people feel uncomfortable with a friend who wants financial support. If she's bringing up her financial concerns to all and sundry, this could definitely lead to her feeling lonely and abandoned by her friends -- simply because they feel like she isn't really a friend to them, but just wants what they can give her.
Susan -- married WAHMomma to two lovely girls (born 2000 and 2005), who started out unschooling and have now embarked on the public school adventure.
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