Question: My niece stopped all communication with my sister – her mother – last year. She told me that my sister had not supported her emotionally over the years and that she was manipulative and overly critical.
I don’t approve of family members cutting ties but I can see where my niece is from. My sister has always had issues and I’ve seen some of the behaviors my niece talks about myself.
The problem now is that my sister knows I still speak to her daughter regularly. At first she liked me as an intermediary, but now she says I have to choose between her or my niece.
I feel like my niece needs a steady female influence in her life. At the same time, I do not want to quarrel with my sister and cause another division in the family. What should I do?
Answers: As I read your letter, it strikes me that you come from a family that thinks in absolute terms. It’s all or nothing, black or white and either/or. You do not consent to family members disconnecting. Her niece never wants to speak to her mother again. Her sister says it’s either her or her daughter…
But as clinical psychologist and author Dr. Malie Coyne explained when I told her about her dilemma, sometimes things can be both.
“Often times family rifts are caused by not allowing the ‘and’,” she says. “But it’s actually possible that both the daughter are right and the mother is right. The two opinions can coexist at the same time, but people struggle with that because we have so-called cognitive biases and it’s just easier to classify people that way.”
Coyne says this crack still sounds “very raw,” and she advises you to “proceed with caution.” As a starting point, she suggests that you tell your sister that it’s possible that both she and her daughter are hurt, and that it’s also possible that both viewpoints are valid. After that, she recommends staying compassionate, understanding, and open to listening.
“It is important that this lady responds gently as it is likely that in an angry moment her sister said ‘It’s me or my daughter’. It might not be like she’s sure about that.”
You don’t have to comment on her wear, adds Coyne, but you can still offer support to both your sister and niece.
“The most important thing is that she talks to her sister and says, ‘I really don’t want to get involved in your situation … I just want to let you know that she is my niece and you are my sister and I really want to be there for both of you .
She also advises you to be open about how you want to navigate your relationship with your niece. “You could say something like, ‘I think so [your daughter] could probably use someone else there for support, what do you think?’”
Karl Melvin, a psychotherapist who specializes in family alienation, says that deep family rifts “are rarely confined to just the key family members involved and can extend to almost anyone caught in the crossfire.” Those in your situation must find a way to “manage the delicate social landscape and complex domestic politics that accompany family struggles,” he adds.
“This particular scenario described is widespread, and I have heard from many people trying to maintain an independent relationship with various alienation sites and remain neutral about the core issues.
“They could also keep this a secret from alienated parties so as not to upset anyone. However, conflicts over privacy and loyalty, as well as ongoing power struggles, can lead someone to force themselves and widen the divide within the family.”
Melvin acknowledges that the behavior the niece experienced can result in “repressed expression of unhealthy emotions, depression, and feelings of low self-esteem and isolation.”
At the same time, he recognizes that there are two sides to every story. “This means that while some readers of this article may empathize with the niece, others may feel more attracted to the mother, especially if they are themselves parents who have become estranged from a grown son or daughter.”
Ultimately, he says it’s very difficult to offer advice with so little information, but he encourages you to “trust your own intuition and knowledge of the family.”
It is also important to remember that “feelings of rejection are at the heart of alienation. So making your sister clear about your position and your desire to be there for both of you might convey to her that she’s still valued and mitigated a defensive reaction.”
Of course, your sister might continue to issue an ultimatum even after you’ve done your best to defuse tension.
Dublin-based psychotherapist Amy Plant, with whom I also shared your dilemma, says there are echoes of the behavior your niece allegedly experienced in the demands being placed on you now.
Similarly, she notes that people do not take the decision to separate a family member lightly. “You have to assume it was for good reason and for your own good.”
According to Plant, if your sister flatly refuses to find a middle ground, you may have to make a difficult decision: “Do I want to have a relationship with my niece who doesn’t place any demands on me, or with my sister who likes to do emotional blackmail.” to use and put me in a very difficult position?”
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https://www.independent.ie/life/modern-morals-do-i-have-to-choose-between-my-sister-and-her-estranged-daughter-42027749.html Modern Morality: Must I Choose Between My Sister and Her Estranged Daughter?