Ask E. Jean - Tormented? Driven Witless? Whipsawed by confusion?

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My family growing up was pretty dysfunctional. Dad was abusive, mom spent all her time trying to gain his approval even if it meant throwing us under the bus, etc. They divorced after I was out of college, but still had 3 of my younger siblings at home. They dealt with less physical abuse after that since my mom had primary custody, but she resorted to spending as much time as possible at various church meetings and with church friends in an effort to feel good about herself, and neglected my younger sisters. She would be out several evenings a week while my sisters were home underage drinking, doing drugs, etc. Obviously this did not do my sisters any favors. Looking back I should have reported her to CPS but I was afraid my abusive dad would get custody so I didn't.

Now, everyone is all grown up so that's all over with. However, I bring it up because it's definitely a factor in my current dilemma.

My 2nd to youngest sister (23) has mental/emotional health issues and has made a series of bad life and financial decisions. She has needed help periodically and frequently over the past several years, either financially or by needing to live with someone. She barely finished high school so usually has jobs that don't pay well and don't offer benefits. So when she has a mental health crisis and has to go through the 72 hour psych hold for suicidal threats, she comes out with thousands of dollars in medical bills. She always makes too much to qualify for Medicare.

I let her move in with me almost 1 year ago with the understanding that it would be temporary while she got back on her feet. She was making progress on catching up with her past due bills, but had two separate psych hospitalizations plus an ER visit for alcohol poisoning and at that time she fell too far behind to catch up on her car payment. She now has a low paying job but at least it offers health insurance so she finally has health insurance as of this month. But her car was just repo'd. So now I'm not only continuing to provide her with free rent & utilities, I also had to adjust my work schedule so I can driver her to and from work. She is saving for a car that she can buy out of pocket, so I am hoping she will be able to do that within the next month so at least I don't have to drive her to work and can go back to my normal schedule.

My question is this. I want her to move out within 1 year (so that's 2 years of free rent and utilities). I really just need my space and privacy back. She has a cat which only adds to my annoyance because no matter how often she cleans the litterbox it always smells, and sometimes smells really bad.

I think I should bring this up to her as soon as possible so she can start planning, because it's obviously going to take her a LONG time to be able to afford rent on her own or find roommates. However, with her not currently having a car I'm afraid of adding too much stress to her and pushing her over the edge to another depressive episode and psych hospitalization.

Is 1 year notice a good plan? And should I wait until she gets a car to tell her this?

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    In my opinion, a year is more than generous. Tell her ASAP so she can start planning. And make it clear that this timeline is non-negotiable, regardless of where she is at. Because she needs this as much as you do.

    Your sister's base state is chaos. When someone spends their formative years in a dysfunctional environment, they create drama in their own lives unconsciously. Because if their life isn't chaotic and full of drama, it feels wrong, so they continuously self-sabotage in an attempt to create an environment that feels "normal" to them. And unless things get to a point where their lives are so uncomfortable that they are forced to actually do something about this, they will continue to sow chaos, not only for themselves, but for anyone close to them.

    As long as you are her crutch, she will never do anything to truly help herself, whether that's getting her financial house in order or getting the mental health assistance that she needs and sticking with the program. In fact, she will very likely come up with several ways to sabotage her life within the year you give her and will not be in a better position to move out at that point than if you were to toss her stuff out and change your locks tomorrow. So be prepared to make a very tough decision in a year. I've been through this or have seen it at close range many times, so perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. I can only tell you what has worked for me and for others I've observed. The both of you have a very difficult road ahead of you, but it's not insurmountable. Good luck and please check in and tell us how you are doing.

    reply to Jill
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    In addition to Jill's excellent analysis, something to consider is this: she will not be ready to move out in a year (or two, or five, or twenty) without the help of a professional therapist. She needs to be able to recognize her dysfunctional mindset, and develop tools to overcome her self-sabotaging habits. Without a results-oriented therapist to give her these tools, she will keep repeating the same behaviour patterns over and over again, ad infinitum.

    So if she's not already seeing a therapist, encourage her to start doing so. And if her health insurance will cover the costs, *demand* that she does so as part of her living arrangement with you....

    It's going to be a difficult road ahead for you and for her, no matter what. But if your sister can actually start to recover from her upbringing with a therapist's help, and begin to make responsible, reasoned decisions, things will be comparatively easier for both of you. Good luck!

    reply to Kal
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    My advice is that you listen to Jill and to Kal.

    Set a firm deadline and see that your sister finds a good psychiatrist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

    What happens in some people who are abused, neglected or both is that they are trying so hard to survive emotionally that they don't develop a full range of adult skills.

    Some people, like you, figure out how to fill in those gaps on their own. Other people, like your sister and me, do not.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy identifies which skills are lacking and offers ways to develop them. I highly recommend it.

    I hope that helps, and good luck to you both!

    reply to Robynne
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    Thank you all SO much! This is very helpful information. Fortunately after her last hospitalization she was set up with a therapist (not sure exactly if they specialize in CBT or not, but I know that she works on substance abuse issues so that's been helpful for my sister to help stop drinking). So on the one hand, things are looking promising towards the future (now she has health insurance and a therapist) even though other things are a setback (no car). But I think overall she's starting to get the tools she needs to improve her life.

    I kind of snapped at her later on Friday because she started making fun of a Democratic political figure (she's a Trump supporter and frequently talks disparagingly about people "taking handouts from the government") and basically said that the only reason she's not on food stamps is because I've been giving her free rent & utilities for a year and am driving her to and from work, so she should probably not antagonize me by mocking the political views that I associate with. Since then she's been a lot more appreciative and stopped asking me for rides to non-essential/social activities. And she was talking yesterday about her plans to get an apartment with one of her friends when she has more money saved up. So I think she realized she was starting to push her luck with the handouts. I'll follow up with a firm deadline discussion but I'll probably wait a week or so to do that.

    Again thanks so much! I'll definitely post an update when I have one!

    reply to anonymous
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    Thank you so much for the update! I am so happy that the advice helped, and especially that your sister took you seriously and is being more grateful and respectful. I wish you both all the best and can't wait to hear how this all plays out.

    reply to Robynne
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