Dear Amy: I recently decided to move back in with my mom and younger sister for the remainder of the pandemic.
The problem is that I find myself thinking extremely unkind things about them, because both of them are overweight.
I find myself thinking almost obsessively about how gross I find their bodies and feeling angry about how they eat and their unhealthy lifestyle.
Maybe some of this comes from the fact that I’ve been nervous about my own weight — more so during the pandemic.
Do you have advice on how to be kinder and less judgmental?
How to get space from mean, prejudiced thought patterns? I don’t want to be this way.
I have a therapist, but I actually think I’ve been too embarrassed to be honest about how ugly my internal monologue is, because I’m disgusted by it.
— Secret Mean Girl
Secret Mean Girl: I give you credit for admitting how your harsh judgment of others affects your own self-esteem.
If you come from a family where people compulsively eat their feelings (been there, eaten that), being back home triggers your own fears of disordered eating.
Sometimes, our harshest judgments of others will reveal our own vulnerabilities.
This may seem a little out there, but I believe that you and your family members are all struggling with a concept widely defined as “self-love.” They both soothe and punish themselves by overeating. You punish yourself by hating your own attitude.
Look into the concept of “radical acceptance.” Learning to truly accept a situation or person while exposed to their faults and frailties will liberate you.
I think of this as learning to love people “ … anyway.”
Tell your therapist! Exposing the thing you hate about yourself is how you will begin to heal. (c) Ask Amy
God bless her. I know how it feels to have thoughts that others would think of as “bad”. Maybe we can all relate, but I’m not sure.
I’d guess that it’s all about her fear of gaining weight. She sees how it’s happened to her mom and sister, and she’s terrified it’ll happen to her. And she feels hostile toward their lackadaisical attitude toward food, because that’s the beginning of the end (of maintaining a healthy weight). I think it’s hard for her to be in this situation.
I suspect she needs some cognitive therapy to train her brain to not project her own fears onto her family members. And yeah, she absolutely needs to talk to her therapist about this. I’ll hope that the therapist is worth talking to and doesn’t have some sort of moralistic freak-out. Therapy should be a safe space to share whatever’s going wrong with your thoughts.
The letter writer’s doing herself a disservice by not bringing it up. If she’s that self-conscious about her hostile inner thoughts, she could bring it up in a nonjudgmental (toward herself) way. “I keep having these awful thoughts about how overweight my mom and sister are. The thoughts are upsetting me, and they won’t shut up.”
That should distance herself from the thoughts, because let’s face it, she doesn’t stand by the thoughts. She’s opposed to them, so she shouldn’t have to take ownership of them, if that makes any sense. She just needs to figure out how to tackle them.
In general, I’m in favor of not taking ownership of intrusive thoughts (or other thoughts that you don’t approve of). Whenever I have such thoughts, I never share them. (I’m not criticizing the letter writer for sharing. She needs help with her thoughts.) The point is that we should stand by our actions, but not by our thoughts of which we disapprove.
The other thing I’d suggest to the letter writer would be for her to focus on her own weight loss (or weight maintenance) efforts. As long as she’s eating healthy and exercising, her anxiety should be better managed. If she’s feeling trigger-hungry by witnessing her mom and sister eat unhealthy foods, then I’d urge her to move out despite the pandemic, if at all possible.
Dear Amy: About five years ago, my mom gave each of her four daughters something from her house, in preparation for a move.
I received the family silver because my last name matches the engraving. My two younger sisters received little trinkets and family heirlooms.
The issue is with our older sister, who received all of the photo albums.
There are about eight of them, one devoted to each of the daughters, of extended family members, our parents, and ancestors.
Amy, this is my past!
Our sister won’t share these photos. She won’t bring them to family functions. She won’t scan them and make us copies.
She doesn’t want to even acknowledge the fact that they exist.
The rest of us have asked her over and over again. We’ve offered to buy new photo albums to replace when the pictures fall out of the original albums. She says they were given to her and there is nothing we can do about it.
My mom has tried reasoning with her, but she won’t budge.
My dad tried reasoning with her before he passed away. Well, now my children don’t know any of their grandparents, great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents because of my older sister.
How can I make her see what she’s done to my family?
— Hurt in Ohio
Hurt in Ohio: Your question is fairly common: When distributing heirlooms, one sibling ends up with the entire collection of family photos; if they don’t share them, this can create a generation — or more — of hard feelings.
This could be avoided if elders didn’t treat family photos as one item, like a passed-down chifforobe — to be left to one child. Photos should be distributed among descendants, who can then share — or trade — them with each other. That way, even if one sibling refused to show or share their stash of photos, other photos would still be out in the family.
I think it’s possible — or likely — that your sister deliberately wants to wound you and your other sisters. Could this be about you getting all the silver?
You and your sisters might offer to “trade” various items you were given for access to photos.
Otherwise, these pictures were given to her, and I don’t think you have much recourse in terms of forcing her to share them.
I’ve got bad news for the letter writer, so I’m just going to give it to her straight: her sister threw away the photo albums upon receipt, and she doesn’t want to admit it. Think about it: as it stands, the letter writer and her kin have hope that eventually her sister will return the photo albums, right? But if the sister admits to what she did, then hope flies right out the window.
Why on earth she threw them away is beyond me. Maybe she was upset about not getting the silver. Maybe she was uninterested in the albums and wrongly (but rather blithely) assumed that no one else really cared about them, either. Like, these are junk. Whatever. Maybe the albums got tossed out on accident. I wouldn’t assume any ill intent (beyond not thinking it through very well), because if the sister stood by such horrid behavior, she’d be shoving it in the letter writer’s face. “I threw them away! Ha!” But she’s not doing that. She’s keeping hope alive, which is all she can do in the face of her horrible decision making.
Okay, confession time. I accidentally threw away my evil sister’s high school yearbooks. It was an accident. As much as I hate my sister, I’d give anything to go back in time and undo the mistake. (They were in a bin in the basement, and my dad and I hired junk removers to clear out a huge load of old stuff, and… mistakes were made.)
For years after, my sister has searched high and low for her yearbooks and prayed to have them returned to her. Now, despite how much I hate my sister and how hurtful she’s been to me over the years (sometimes violently hurtful), I have NO DESIRE to tell her that her yearbooks got tossed. I want her to keep hoping they’ll turn up. I can’t bring myself to take that hope away from her.
So when I read this letter, I just knew what was going on. I’d recommend that the letter writer should contact her sister and say, “If I ask you one question, will you answer it honestly? Whatever the answer is, it’s okay.” (But she should only do it if she can handle the truth.)
She doesn’t want to even acknowledge the fact that they exist.
Uhh… yeah, about that! (I rest my case.)