Stonewalled Sister

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Dear Hoopers,
My sister has stonewalled me for decades. Doesn’t visit, write or call. There have been a few small occasions when we’ve been together including her daughter’s graduation and when we moved our dad into assisted living. But otherwise, I’ve tried inviting her to my house, inviting her to come to Hawaii, go skiing, go hiking over the years. Nothing.

After not speaking in about 5 years (despite my writing letters, sending holiday gifts over the years), I decided to call her to tell her about a medical problem that I have. This problem runs in families and she should be aware of it and get checked. She thanked me for telling her, then told me she didn’t want to have any contact with me. She said she doesn’t want to be my friend, my sister, doesn’t want to do anything for me, wants no part of me. I really am puzzled, and all this stonewalling makes me feel like the crazy one. Why do people stonewall someone close to them? Honestly, I haven’t done anything bad to her. What gives? Btw, she tends to be reclusive, underemployed, overweight, and she has a bad temper. People consider me functional, normal, successful and happy.
-Stonewalled Sister

Dear Stonewalled Sister,
My guess is that your sister has some bigger problems that she is facing. The behavior that you’ve described from your sister including reclusivity, unhealthy living and a bad temper may fall into a bigger mental health issue. I would also guess that you are not the only one receiving her stonewalling. To stonewall a family member without any kind of fall out, or incident seems erratic and certainly confusing. I know you indicated you haven’t done anything bad to her, but can you think of anything that may have caused this resentment?

You have obviously been on the giving end of this relationship spectrum. You’ve given even when there was no return call, visit or thank you note. You took another chance and gave her a call to explain something that might medically impact her, an opportunity to reconnect, and she tells you that she wants nothing to do with you. Not the response you were hoping for I can imagine.

Moving on and accepting that you may never understand your sister’s stonewalling behavior may be the only way to find real peace.


So what are you to do now? Family doesn’t always mean unconditional love. It doesn’t always mean connection. This is really tough to digest especially when much of the idea that we create around family is strong kinship through blood. You can continue holding on to hopes that she will give you love in return, but it seems highly unlikely given the decades of history.

Saying goodbye does not mean that you are failing the relationship. It simply means that you are moving on to allow your heart and mind more energy to spend on fulfilling relationships. Moving on and accepting that you may never understand your sister’s stonewalling behavior may be the only way to find real peace.

Dear Stonewalled Sister,
You sound exasperated, confused, and hurt. You have made a lot of efforts to connect with your sister over the years and it has led to nothing. After another long pause from your sister, you reach out again. Perhaps this was somewhat motivated by your recent medical news, but likely more about of an effort to connect with her again. The coup d’etat from this years long buildup of disconnection, was her setting the ultimate boundary with you – rejection.

What gives? I’m not sure and unfortunately you may never find out. The reality for you now is that you should respect her request. Your sister has the right to determine who she wants in her life and she has made it loud and clear that she doesn’t want this to include you right now. I know that hurts and it seems unfair. You are very right to feel that way and if there is ever a chance to reconnect with your sister, you would be very right to share your experience of this rejection with her.

This could have everything to do with her, a mix of her combined with you, or mostly about you.

-Dr. Ryan

There are a few possibilities to explain her distance over the years. This could have everything to do with her, a mix of her combined with you, or mostly about you. It is truly difficult to know what is going on in someone’s heart and mind unless they tell us.

Your sister could be experiencing different struggles including mental health that may cause interpersonal distance. I have worked with many clients, who were disconnected from their family because of their mental health struggles. They may have wanted to be closer but because of paranoia, fear, or distrust they just simply couldn’t do so. It is also important for you to consider if you played a role in this disconnection too. Sometimes this can be difficult to pinpoint but may be vital to understanding yourself.
-Dr. Ryan