DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: My sister heard a sermon that advised “bouncing” one’s attention away from unpleasant thoughts, and I think that’s a great premise. The problem for me, however, is that she now “bounces” conversations away from topics she deems stressful or unpleasant. Even more of an issue, she makes no transition, just “bounces” to a new topic without warning.
We recently spent two weeks together, and I found her strategy maddening. She’s a caretaker who spins a hundred plates to keep everyone happy (which is at the root of her “bouncing” topics, I think), so it’s hard to oppose her without looking like the bad guy. Still, every time she “bounced” from something I was talking about that she didn’t like, I ended up feeling unheard and rejected. I’m sure she doesn’t intend this effect, but that didn’t mitigate my response.
We’re together as a family fairly often, so I’d love some words to use, either privately or as it happens, the next time she “bounces.” --- FLAT-FOOTED SISTER
DEAR FLAT-FOOTED SISTER: I agree that in theory, “bouncing” from unpleasant or unwanted realities sounds like a potentially useful coping strategy, but it also opens the door to never resolving anything that needs resolution. There are times when the only way to overcome or put an issue solidly behind you is by facing it directly, and from what you wrote, it sounds like your sister is in full evasion mode, especially since she doesn’t stay with any topic that disturbs her.
You might try getting her alone and explaining that not only do you find conversations with her difficult and frustrating, but you’re concerned she isn’t facing up to some situations that could be improved, rather than denied. Let her know you’re worried that she may be harming herself or those for whom she cares by not confronting issues that could benefit from direct action.