Letter to my sister about the ways that I harm her

Now that we are learning a way of relating to people that differs from our parents’, let me be honest with you and learn from the ways I instinctively relate to you.

A couple of days ago I caught myself before telling you “it’s not that bad” when you found something disgusting. Yesterday you accidentally bit into a hot pepper. My instinct was to not take your reaction seriously and make a joke out of it. In the evening you had a panic attack, and while I could tell you all the right things and give you all the tools I had to give, I couldn’t get down on your level and feel with you. I was too afraid of that vulnerability, so I kept myself at a numb distance. A distance that I maintained even when I dared to start talking about my own grief.

This morning you left some dishes and my response was that you were shying away from taking your part of the responsibility, rather than thinking that you simply have a different relationship to mess and time, and that your ability might be different from my own. I caught myself and decided to focus on my own limitations – saying that it is important that I don’t have to do all of the dishes, rather than assuming that I knew your thinking and blaming you for it.

Please know that when you feel like your reaction is belittled, that is real. When you feel like I am not able to feel with you, that is real. When you feel I blame you rather than focusing on my own limitations, that is real. The harmful ways that I have treated you are real.

Please also know that these behaviours are based on my own limitations at this moment, not based on who you are. And I am working on changing them. Because I know that your reactions are not overreactions, I know that you deserve to have your pain recognized, I know that you are not asking for too much simply because our limitations are clashing.

Our parents, as amazing as they were in many ways, could not meet us where we were. Could not validate us. Their inability to see and validate their own needs caused them to be unable to validate ours. And we grew up believing, on some level, that there was something wrong with us for having the needs we had.

In many ways, though I understood the nature of your pain better than they did, I carried forth the legacy of our parents in how I treated not just myself, but you as well. I am sorry.

We have a chance to do things differently now. Starting by recognizing the harmful attitudes that we adopted from childhood, so that we can see what we are lacking. Here are a few things I thought I knew, that I am now trying to learn:

The expression of my needs is not “too much”. It is teaching me and others something important about me. My needs have intrinsic worth, irrespective of how they impact on other people. The world does not have a limited amount of resources so that listening to one person’s needs takes away from another person. Other people can respect and care for my needs, and I for theirs. Properly listening to people’s needs does not take us further from the truth, it takes us closer.

I hope that we can build on lists like these and be open about our journeys so that we can move forward together.

I love you,

Your sister