Mother-daughter, little sister

I never gave the idea how my position in the family might influence my life much thought. It sounded too deterministic; esoteric even. Then recently, though, somebody who barely knew me listened to my life story and, having been informed of my other family members´occupations, said: “How come you always copy your sister?” And that made me think.

Because, quite frankly, I do copy my sister. I was at the same school, I graduated with the same grade point average (I worked extra hard to do so!), I study the same subject. If it can get worse, well, here it is: I always inherited her old clothes, was even proud of it (and then disappointed when I realized that somehow me wearing them wasn´t the same thing). I even inherited her old furniture, and, when she left home, her old room. When I was 10 her (in the end mostly our) pet hamster died and I got one that looked just the same. I even considered giving it the same name. And when I was 11, my sister (who was 6 years older than me) was all into anarchy. Therefore, so was I. At age 11. Seems I even entered puberty prematurely just to keep up with her. (My family was somewhat politically engaged, so when we went to protest marches against some war, or nuclear power plants, or whatever, my sister even took me along to her punk friends who were also there protesting. I might actually have been younger than 11.)

Next thing I realized is that I enter all my relationships with girls as a little sister. For as long as I can remember, I was almost always in the weaker position with any female friend. I let them decide what to do, what was cool, what was a no-go, what I could and what I couldn´t wear. If they had a hobby or an interest, I dutifully adopted that interest. This, however, always came at the cost of dropping my own interests, or never developing any in the first place. In some of my relationships, my own interests were actively discouraged. Also my own clothing style. And sometimes I even dropped my own opinions on things. I never fully realized how much of a follower I was, however, because those friends were typically somewhat “alternative”, that is goths, metalheads. Well, look at me, now I´m hanging out with nerds. Which is cool, I like nerds. But I´m not interested in computers. Which automatically makes me the pretty-but-somewhat-dumb-female-friend-who-will-hang-out-but-never-sleep-with-me a.k.a. Penny.

The lack of identity is not the only annoying thing about this. Also, I tend to let friends and partners exploit or even abuse me without protest. Even my earliest best friend (the neighbors´ daughter) was always the one who decided what to do. If we role played a fairy tale, she was Cinderella. I was the evil step sister. Always. It sounds funny, but it really isn´t when you´re little. Evil step sister became my role in life.

Lola, my best friend in early and middle high school, might have been one of the worst. At times she actively bullied me, and still I considered her my best friend. She criticized everything I said, did and wore. She told me I looked childish; when I bought new clothes she scornfully asked: “Well, do you think you´re cool now?” Next, she would say: “Well, too bad your face is so chubby, otherwise you might look really good.” And when I talked about a subject that interested me, she told me not to get on her nerves. When it suited her, she dropped me for someone cooler; when it suited her, she returned to me without a word of apology. Somehow I always waited for some godlike entity (even though I´m an atheist) to intervene and say to Lola: “Now is enough, she isn´t that bad and stupid and evil. You should treat her with some respect, she has been your most loyal friend over the years!” And then everything would be alright and I would finally be treated like a decent human being. Just that it never happened. How? Who would have intervened?

A mother.

Not between me and Lola, no. But between me and my sister. She never did, though. When I was six or so, my sister was fed up with me “never saying thank you or please”. Which is funny considering that my family sees itself as liberal and unconventional, and that manner policing is frowned upon. My sister therefore told me that I wouldn´t get the butter unless I said “please”. I angrily refused, trying to snatch it away from her, but, of course, without success. Did my mother intervene, tell my sister that child-rearing was not her job? Nope. Which left me at the wrong end of a power struggle.

At another point, she told me that each time I said a word I´d have to drink a sip of grape juice (which I hated). Did my mother say anything about that? Nope.

Or when my sister decided that my hair looked to messy and started to brush it aggressively. It was obvious to my mother that it hurt, but she didn´t stop her. If anything she asked, or more like pleaded with my sister to go a little softer. It gives you a good idea of the power dynamics in this family if you think of it…

Indeed, now that I look at it, is seems to me like my sister took up the role of the mother, and my mother contented herself with the role of the older sister. When my sister was mean to me, I could later go to my mother and complain, and my mother would comfort me – but then she´d explain to me why my sister might be behaving the way she did (typically something along the lines of: “She means well.”) and give me advice on how to respond in an appeasing fashion. As if there was fuck all she could do about my sister´s behavior. It´s not like she was her own daughter or anything. It´s crazy when you think of it.

My mother really showed the type of behavior you´d expect from an older sister. Someone who takes the parents as a force of nature that can at best be dodged or carefully manipulated. It was the same with difficulties between me and my father. My father was prone to anger and impressive temper tantrums. I was scared of him as a kid. I usually didn´t want to talk to him without my mother present, at least not about important stuff. When I wanted to get a pet, however, my mother told me I´d have to ask him. I asked her to accompany me to his room, and she said that she was sick and tired of mediating between the two of us. I was 9 or 10. Also, when he yelled at me or dragged me away from the dinner table to send me to the fore room, she never intervened. She didn´t even intervene when he slapped me left and right and pulled me away from her at my hair. It was my sister who told him off. It is something she could be proud of, but unfortunately she decided to deny this ever took place. It´s not like she (or my parents, for that matter) don´t remember it happened. They explicitly remember that it didn´t happen. I wonder how you do that.

If I wanted to interpret this in a psychoanalytical fashion, I could say that my sister resolved the oedipal conflict by winning. She successfully killed my mother and took up her role in the family. (Not to make this sound like she had incestuous relations with my father, I´m very sure they didn´t.) Between me and my mother, though, there developed a very strange and uncomfortable intimacy.

At night I often went over to my parents bedroom to sleep in their bed. They never send me back, even when I was…I don´t know, six? Sometimes when I was ill or when something bad had happened I still slept in my mother´s bed when I was 12 or 14. When we were on holiday together (the two of us), we would share a room, sometimes even a bed. I was as old as 14. We were staying at a huge hotel, going to the pool together, and dressing up for dinner at night. We were behaving like a couple, in a way. We spend all or most of the time together, I rarely ever made any friends. Even now, when she comes home from her new flat, she sometimes tells me “I missed you!” in such a weird fashion that makes me shudder with disgust. When I was younger (8? maybe older?) she would tell me stuff like “you were soo warm last night, it was really cozy, like sleeping next to an oven” or she would comment on how cute my snoring was. I think much of my disgust and my alienation towards my body is down to behaviors like this. Not just disgust towards my body. Towards my entire self. She had a certain tone that created an intimacy that should be left to couples. There was nothing motherly about it. Like when I was little and had a nightmare and came to my parents´ bedroom. I´d tell my mother “I had a bad dream!” and she would say: “Oh dear, come here!”, but in a tone that didn´t sound pitiful at all. There was something greedy about it, also something slightly disdainful. I always felt that jolt of disgust when I cuddled into her bed (and arms). I knew beforehand I was going to feel it. I knew it was the prize of being comforted. I somehow attached it to myself, made it part of my self-image as if I was something disgusting. Or not so much my self-image. Rather my feeling about myself, my sense of self. Down there, at the core of me, is something extremely gross.

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4 Responses to “Mother-daughter, little sister”

  1. vicariousrising Says:

    There’s a lot of really important stuff here. It’s remarkable that Stonefave chose to focus on his diagnosis of your alleged narcissism and failed to take note of any of this. Even if you were unable to articulate this well at the time you saw him, this should have clued him in to a different diagnoses. He had some sort of agenda that was not helpful. He seems more of a narcissist than you.

  2. I`m sorry I respond only now, I was away for a few days. I´m not sure if I ever told Dr. Stoneface any of this. I was indeed unable to articulate what was going on. There are a lot of things he clearly missed. I´d say he´s not at fault for missing THIS, but then again, the person who told me I copy my sister saw me for 2 days, while he saw me for 2 years. I´m not sure if he had a personal agenda, or if it is more of an intellectual agenda. I should probably try to get a look at his notes on me, but I can only view them in his office, and that would imply I ´d have to see him again.

    • vicariousrising Says:

      Yah, definitely don’t ever ever bother seeing that jackass again.

      I’m just sort of indignant on your behalf. Hope you don’t mind.

  3. I don´t mind at all! 🙂

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