My sister keeps manipulating my family by saying she wants to die

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a woman in my 20s. I want to know how I can save my family from my younger sister, who manipulates us by repeating the phrase “I want to die.” And how can I face my negative feelings regarding her two-faced nature?

My sister has used the phrase “ I want to die” since her high school years to get attention from our parents, and she has acted selfishly about everything. The outside world sees her as a “gentle beauty,” but at home, she is like a demon.

My sister’s abusive words and violent acts have made me mentally ill, and I once tried to take my own life.

Despite this, our parents’ attention has focused on my sister, who says “I want to die” almost every day, and not on me, as I have never been able to say those words.

My sister, now a university student, has recently started saying “I want to die” more often than before, and so our mother quit her job to live together with my sister in her boardinghouse.

I worry about both my mother’s health and our family’s finances. I feel I’ll have to support my family.

If this continues, my entire family will be unhappy. My sister is a very kind and good-natured person at heart. She’s my only little sister, and I want to love her.

— M, Okayama Prefecture

Dear Ms. M:

It is extremely hard to be unable to openly say “I want to die” even though one is in enough pain to wish to die. Despite that, you love your younger sister and hope to save her, and from this I see how kindhearted you are.

In addition, you now believe you may have to support your parents, who pay attention only to your sister.

While reading about your situation, I began to feel that kindness toward others can become a blade that injures one’s own mind. Though I fully understand how seriously you worry about your family, the more you worry yourself about them, the more pain it brings you.

However strongly you wish for it, your sister’s complicated personality will never change. I think your parents’ way of thinking will not change either. You all have your own personalities.

It is natural that you feel negatively about your sister and discontent about your parents’ attitudes.

If you continue associating with them while bearing such feelings, you will hurt one another and your relationships will worsen.

I recommend you take the jump to building your own world outside your family home.

I think many people will understand your feelings, given how kind you are. If you keep a certain distance from your family, there should come an opportunity, sometime in the future, when you can help your sister and your parents.

— Yutaka Ono, psychiatrist