My sister and I have a long and complicated history of being frustrated with one another. I love her and I think she’s a talented, beautiful person, but our personalities have always clashed. Growing up I was the active sporty one and she was the quiet artsy one. I was loud and she was quiet. I think maybe I was too abrasive for her, and she was too judgmental for me. As young women, we dealt with these differences by getting on each others nerves and then exploding in different directions. We always dealt with one another same way, and it amounted to the same thing.
I began to tell people that my sister and I are really great friends for short periods of time. We can go out for dinner and have fun, but we have to separate before we get too ‘into’ things. Sometimes she stays with my overnight and by the time she goes home I’m relieved and exhausted. This weekend I finally had a wake-up call and realized I have to call myself a hypocrite when it comes to dealing with her. Let me explain…
My sister is living with my mom right now. It’s just the two of them and they have a great bond. They’ve been together for a year now. Recently our Aunt Sharon moved in with them and will be there for at least two months while she waits for her son to finish her new home. It was an unexpected gap between places to live and my mother offered her a temporary room. If we’re going to talk about negative people, my aunt Sharon will always come up in conversation. It’s just the way she says things. You’ll make a beautiful meal for her, and she’ll say ‘did you run out of salt?’ or pull a face and say ‘it’s sour’ in that tone that says ‘yuck!’. She doesn’t mean it, I know she doesn’t, but after awhile you just roll your eyes and say ‘that’s just Sharon.’ Well my sister has been ranting about her for weeks and I finally told her I’m tired of it! All you do is spew negativity about her and it’s starting to bring me down1 I don’t like being around people that couldn’t say anything positive if their life depended on it. Sharon is like that and always has been. I pointed out to my sister that she’s doing the same thing to me that Sharon is doing to her. She’s sitting with me saying negative things about another person constantly. Nothing Sharon does is redeeming in any way. My sister goes on and on until I’ve had enough. Not only are you allowing her negative energy to infect you, but you’re carrying it around with you and spreading it to others.
I started to try and get my sister to think more positively about her. Yes, she pulls a face, but what does she do that’s positive during the same sitting? She eats every last bite and doesn’t complain it wasn’t enough, not ever. She laughs about how she never has to cook as if she’s in a hotel or something. My sister takes that as an insult, but she’s complimenting how well you’re taking care of her! She keeps the conversation going and always comes up with new topics when things start to lapse. She tries to give you health tips and be helpful about cooking, even if you find it a little annoying. In short, you’re choosing to focus on the one negative thing she did and let it really cloud over your entire mood for days.
I told my sister that of course Sharon is going to be frustrating because you’re expecting it. Every time you sit down with Sharon you expect her to say something negative, so when she does, you immediately jump all over it and think how right you are about her. I’ve been trying to get my sister to approach our aunt in a more positive way and think ‘she might pull a face, but in her heart she’s trying to be helpful’, or ‘she bought extra plums because they’re her favourite and she wanted to share them with us.’ A few weeks ago we all went to Victoria and Sharon gave my sister $100 to spend on herself. She said it didn’t matter what she bought as long as it was something for her. Sharon has nothing. She lives off a tiny pension and hasn’t ever really had a good job. My mother says ‘the aunt who has nothing gives you $100 because she loves you.’ It’s so true. My sister is financially strapped right now because of student loan debt, and my aunt who has even less gives up an amount that is a lot to her so my sister can by something nice and be a little bit happier. Let’s focus on that from now on!! She loves us, unconditionally, and would give up the tiny bit she has to make us happy.
Now here’s the part where I’m a hypocrite. My sister is a negative person and I always expect her to be negative. When she says something negative I’m not surprised. I tell people she and I can’t get along as I expect us not too. I’m doing the same thing to her as she’s doing to our aunt. I’m creating energy around us that sets us up for feelings we expect, not the feelings we want. She thinks I’m always annoyed with her because that’s the energy I give off to her. Until now, I didn’t realize I was doing it!
I’ve been trying to coach my sister in dealing with my aunt and in doing so, I’m seeing clearly that I’m doing the ‘do what I say, not what I do’ lesson we used to scoff at as kids. I know the theory but in this instance I’m not putting it into practice. My sister has so much to offer. She has so much knowledge of history and the city that she always knows cool places to go and discover. She’s really into fashion so she always knows how to help me put together an outfit I haven’t quite figure out. She’s an incredible cook and whenever she stays with me she makes the most incredible meals! She’s willing to try just about anything once. When she stays at anyones house, she says thank you by cleaning their kitchen, doing the dishes, taking out the garbage… anything she can do to help! Once she stayed with me for a few days during the week and she even pulled out my oven and cleaned underneath it!! No one else has ever done that! She took my car in for me to get the breaks down, which was already a major help, and while she had it she cleaned out the trunk and vacuumed the carpets. This is a person who goes out of her way to say ‘thank you’. She’s a person who will never, ever be a guest who outstays her welcome or takes advantage of your hospitality. She bought an expensive face mask and let me try some. She’s so willing to share the things in her life. All of this and I still set up my energy to be annoyed when I see her!!
Energy is a funny thing. I find that lots of people are willing to admit that other peoples energy affects them, but they’re less willing to believe that their own energy can affect others. Why? Is your energy not as strong or important as theirs?
A few weeks ago I was hiking with my best friend and she was a little cloud of negative energy. I could tell the moment she got in my car. Instead of dwelling in it with her like I normally would have, I kept my own energy as positive as possible. I ask her about the great things in her life, picked the parts of her story that were bright and got her to expand on them, and ask her what she loved about hiking. It took a lot of time, but by midway through the hike she finally brightened. By the end, she was as positive as I was. I didn’t try to convince her she was being negative, I focused on my own positivity and let it ‘infect’ her.
Most people find their energy from what’s happening around them instead of making their own. It’s hard to make your own! It took me at least six months to really be able to focus it and naturally think in a more positive way. I had to put deliberate time aside to change my energy when it was negative. If I was fuming at work, I would got for a ten minute walk and take 10 pictures of things I found really beautiful. If it was raining and I was miserable about it, I would make a list of ten things I love about my neighbourhood that need rain to exist, like the flowers or green grass. I made a list of the things in my life that truly made me angry and I changed them. Sometimes it cost money, but sometimes it was about talking to the people around me. My neighbour smokes first thing in the morning and I hate the smell when i first wake up. I finally knocked on his door and very politely introduced myself and told him what was happening. He was horrified to know he was bothering me so much and agreed to stand on the other side of his balcony. His other neighbour also smokes, so they weren’t bothered by this change. Some things you can’t change, but I made a list that had seven items on it that frustrated me throughout the day, and I was able to immediately fix six of them.
Months. I want to reiterate this. It took months to get my mind to naturally look towards the positive instead of the negative, and I’m nowhere near done! I just discovered that my old bad habits are still alive in how I approach my sister. It’s going to be another project for me, changing my expectations of her. If she feels that I’m positive about seeing her, it will affect her energy to be positive about seeing me. I’m never going to change her, and why would I want to! But I can change me in a way that will affect the people around me.