Doll (Photo credit: @Doug88888)


I never had a Barbie doll.

That sounds like a trivial thing to be upset about, but it was never about the doll. It was about forgiveness. Specifically my mother’s lack of.

When I was little I accidentally broke my sister’s Barbie doll. I didn’t know the doll couldn’t bend in a certain way. I tried to make her straddle a model horse, and her legs broke.

My mother was very upset, and vowed that I would never get a Barbie doll until I learned how to take care of my toys. Never mind the fact that I wasn’t in the habit of breaking my toys. (Unless you count my trying to bathe my cloth baby doll, which had a device inside that made it cry. Poor thing never cried again.  That was treated as a joke in the family.)

For years I waited for that Barbie doll, even when I would normally be considered too old for one. On my eleventh or twelfth  birthday my mother got me a cheap knock-off version of a Barbie doll. The doll didn’t last long because it was (literally) held together with rubber bands. The bands broke and I was left again without a doll.

Now I don’t think that my mother knew that it was held together by rubber bands when she bought it, but she was not apologetic when she found out. She never suggested that we could go get a better doll. Although I do not remember her going into a rage about it, it was understood that that was my one and only chance to prove I was worthy of a Barbie doll.

Even as an adult I have struggled at times with a profound sense of guilt when I have accidentally broken something. One time I broke the chain of a necklace that a boyfriend had given me. I had set up a camera on a tripod and as I bent down to take the picture the chain got caught on one of the parts of the tripod. When I stood up the chain broke. I felt so guilty that I never got a new chain and never wore that necklace again.

The reason why this is coming up for me now is that my sister is behaving in the same way. Getting upset and banishing me for little things, such as my not having enough money to pay for my nephew’s birthday meal even though I gave him a gift.  And I happen to think it goes a lot deeper than just these things. It doesn’t make sense to go into a rage over things that can be easily worked out.

In a sense I feel set up. Just as I was set-up by my mother so many years ago. Nothing I do will ever please my sister. She has claimed that if I had talked to her before we got together that we could have worked something out. I don’t believe her because she would have probably found something else to be angry about. In fact, she did. She was already mad at me for something that I had no control over, transportation to her place. She decided that I had purposely neglected to schedule the Dial-a-Ride service (for the disabled). She knew full well that the services have been cut and that there was no guarantee that I could get a ride.

I believe that at least some of her behavior is due to the fact that she simply will not forgive me for the past, the things I said and did when I was ill with bipolar disorder. Strangely enough, she seems to be furious that I have moved on from that kind of behavior and that I have learned to treat her and others well.  For her, things were better when she had a reason to be mad at me. Now she doesn’t know what to do because she is faced with the prospect of forgiving me.

I am certainly not a mind reader but I am putting this theory together based on things that she has said over the past year:

1. She acknowledges that I don’t yell at her (or her family) anymore but insists at the same time that I haven’t changed and that I am “disrespectful” towards her and her family. She won’t give me an example of this so-called “disrespectful” behavior.

2. She has told me that I do not want to deal with my “abusive” behavior in the past. That is not true. I have offered to go into therapy with her before and she has declined. I think the problem as she sees it that I won’t admit to having the motives that she has decided that I must have had during my bipolar episodes. I have tried to tell her that my actions during my illness had very little to do with her. She apparently thinks I am lying.

3. At the same time she has also engaged in abusive behavior against me when I was ill and, although I cannot hold her responsible for my behavior, she didn’t make things easier for me. For instance, when I needed a shoulder to cry on she would get angry and say sarcastic things to me. This was part of a pattern of her trying to control me when I was sick and of course I would get upset at her interference in my life. Another example was her deciding that my taking medications was a moral issue and accusing me of lying about my symptoms and  “making excuses” when I tried to explain why I needed them. (Of course she and her husband thought that I was the one being abusive when I got angry!)

It is for all these reasons that I don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with her. She wants me to admit to things that I have not done. Yes, did some wrong things when I was ill. But I never intended to hurt anybody. For example, my suicide attempts were about punishing myself, not others. That ought to make my sister feel better about what happened, not worse!

One of the reasons my dad and I get along so well is that he figured out a long time ago that my behavior in the past was not about him. He actually forgave me before I even asked him to!

Why can’t my sister do the same thing? I am not engaging in any of that behavior now.

It doesn’t matter to her. In her mind I deserve to be punished forever. Just like my mother did. So if my sister can’t find anything to punish me about, she will make up one. Or several. It doesn’t matter. Just as long as she delivers her self-righteous punishment and banishes me from her presence like the Queen she seems to believe herself to be.

This is why I feel like that there is no way that I can fix what is going on with my sister. Because she doesn’t want to put any work into this relationship. She is letting me know that I am not “good enough” just like our Mom did. For me, that is a losing game.