DEAR ABBY: I really need your help. The problem is my older sister "Myrtle." She's 60, and our mother is 80. Myrtle has become so negative she's pushing away the people who love her. I don't think she means to alienate everyone, but even our mother says, "I can't stand it anymore!"
I don't think Myrtle realizes she has a choice when it comes to her behavior. She chooses to expect the worst. When we go out to lunch she expects to be unhappy with the quality of the food or the service. And she expects to be upset by anything anyone has to say to her. She never has anything nice to say, but always has a mean remark to make or a negative observation. Mother doesn't want to confront her, and has resorted to silence when it comes to dealing with her. She doesn't talk much when Myrtle is around. When I asked her why, she said, "She doesn't like what I have to say, so I'm not going to say anything." Other members of our extended family have begun noticing Myrtle's negativity and are becoming concerned.
My sister realizes she's a difficult person. More than once she's been heard to say, "I'm just a nasty person." Inside, I say to myself, "Is that what you WANT?" I know Myrtle would be very hurt if our mother said she no longer wanted to go out with her. But I think that's what will happen if her behavior doesn't change. Mom is very upset when she returns after spending time with Myrtle, and the stress isn't good for her blood pressure. I love them both, but I don't know how to help. Can you suggest anything? –- CONCERNED IN THE MIDWEST
DEAR CONCERNED: Your sister must be a very unhappy woman to be taking her frustration out on everyone around her. Since you have mentioned that other relatives have BEGUN noticing a change in her, I'm assuming that this isn't a lifelong trait of hers.
Your mother has reacted to Myrtle's negativity by refusing to acknowledge or confront it, and you have done the same. Much could be gained if you and your mother had a frank talk with your sister about the effect her attitude is having on those who love her. She could be suffering from mental illness or depression. A medical and psychiatric evaluation could help her greatly, but first she must admit that she needs help, and accept it. Otherwise nothing will change.