What Would You Do If You Were Barbara?

One of my oldest FOF friends (we’ll call her Barbara) recently called me for advice about how to handle her sister-in-law (we’ll call her Paula), and I decided to share her predicament to get your input.  After you’ve read about Barbara’s problem, let me know what you’d do in the comments section.

Barbara has never liked her sister-in-law, Paula, but suffered her the handful of times she’d see her during the year. “She’s one of the most sarcastic people I’ve ever met. Sarcastic and nasty! Never has a nice thing to say to anyone,” Barbara told me.”I think she’s become an increasingly unhappy person because she hasn’t succeeded like she thought she would when she was young. She always thought she was better than everyone else, but everyone else moved ahead while her (photography) career became derailed. My brother is very successful and has supported Paula for decades, but she would have liked to be a success, too. The only problem is, with her personality, it’s no wonder she didn’t succeed. It’s really impossible to like her.”

To make matters worse, my friend Barbara is a successful entrepreneur, which seems to make her sister-in-law even nastier to her, Barbara said. “When I started my business, Paula put down everything I was doing, and told me it would never work. Imagine her telling me this. She’s failed at one business after another,” Barbara related. “Now my business is doing well. I honestly believe she would have preferred if it had failed.”

paulaBarbara recently went to a family get-together and Paula was as unpleasant as ever to her. “What are YOU doing here?” Paula said to Barbara the second she saw her. “Even though I know she’s unhappy and can’t help herself, it’s still disturbing to be anywhere near her. I don’t know how my brother has put up with her all these years, but maybe she isn’t sarcastic to him because he’s given her a life she knows she couldn’t afford to live on her own.” Barbara said. “I guess I should feel sad about her unhappiness and rotten personality, but I don’t. “It’s all too bad, because Paula is a smart woman who had so much potential. Smart, unfortunately, doesn’t always translate to niceness or happiness. Such a waste.”

If you were in Barbara’s shoes, what would you do? Confront Paula? Ignore her? Try never to be anywhere you know she’ll be? Recommend a therapist?

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14 Responses to “What Would You Do If You Were Barbara?”

  1. disqus_1cTVU3dkZo says:

    Paula’s made it clear that she’s not going to change. If Barb wants a relationship with her brother then her only choice is to be cordial to Paula the few times a year she’s socially forced to see her and not waste a thought on her the rest of the time.

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  2. Corinne Garrett says:

    Barbara and/or her brother need to “[wo]man up” and intervene with this unacceptable behavior. No one would tolerate bad manners from a child or an animal and it is simply more egregious as Paula is an adult. If it takes excluding Paula from family events (not really practical, but could be done) or succinctly outlining the proper etiquette for Paula (keep your mouth shut), it needs addressing. Hoping and praying works in fairytales, but from the tone of the problem statement, that’s already been done with zero results. If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get the same results. Put on those big girl panties and deal with it.

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  3. Naoma Peterson says:

    Pray for her and hope for the best. If she continues the way she acts, either ignore her or suggest she gets some kind if counselling for her behavior. Either she probably was brought up this way and doesn’t know any better and or acting out some sort of aggression she has pented up in her system, and lashing out is the only way she gets some sort of satisfaction. Pray for her that she heads the help she needs to be a better person for you and especially for herself.

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  4. B. Lerner says:

    You don’t say if her brother knows what’s been going on. If he doesn’t, I would first try to talk to him: “I’m very uncomfortable because it feels as if Paula is very nasty to me.” Something like that. If he knows, then I would say someithg like, “It’s difficult for me to spend time with you because of how I feel treated by Paula.”

    At some point, if nothing changes, she has to decide if it is so bad that she doesn’t want a relationship with her brother. If he’s unwilling or unable to help, then the choices are to try to confront Paula herself (as many others have suggested) or just avoid her as much as possible. She can make plans to see her brother when Paula’s not around.

    Families are really hard sometimes……………..

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    • geribrin says:

      Hi B. Lerner, From what Barbara has told me, her brother knows what his wife is like, but he closes his eyes and ears to “criticism” about her.

      Geri

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  5. Becky Beer says:

    I recently had the same experience, but with a stepsister.
    I wasn’t going to cause a scene, as it was at a wedding, but her nastiness would not end. I told her how I felt about her to her face;” still a B–ch after all these years, I guess you will always be one.” Then walked away.
    That will be the last I will ever speak to her again.
    PS, None of her sisters and brothers, (5 other blood siblings) came to the wedding because she was going to be there, except for the grooms father, her brother. I told him what I told her.

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  6. Godsdancer523 says:

    Regrettably, I understand because I have a sister whom is just like Paula. I agree, it is hard to deal with mean spirited people, But save yourself. The one thing I refuse to do, is let anyone change who I am. I have learned to love from a distance when it comes to unlovable people. Paula’s job is to make everyone around her miserable and she excels in doing so. Barbara’s spirit takes a huge hit when she is around her, so I would limit myself and excuse myself when I am in her presence and wish her well. Life is too short to deal with Paula’s nonsense. Done deal!

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  7. Denise says:

    None of these suggestions are actually helpful to Paula – all are aimed at protecting Barbara from her own reactions to Paula’s behavior. Barbara can choose to help or hinder the well-being of her sister-in-law – clearly she is not in a good place. But I’ll bet there’s also some growing that Barbara needs to do to. Best approach is almost always a direct, sincere approach. Barbara first needs to decide whether or not she wants a relationship with her sister-in-law and then act accordingly.

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    • Godsdancer523 says:

      I love your response Barbara, I also think her husband has decided to love her regardless of who she is, which is awesome. However, no one should have to be hurt continuously because of what another person is feeling. It appears from reading, that this is constant behavior. And Barbara is being affected emotionally, which is not fair to her nor healthy for her well being. Sometimes moving on without malice, is the only solution. I can feel Barbara’s pain, because I also, have a relative like that. After years of extending myself constant times, her behavior had started to affect my health. What I learned is that we can’t change people, but we can change how we react to them. I wish all parties involved peace.

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  8. Corinne Garrett says:

    I like the kill-her-with-a-carefully-crafted-comeuppance solution. Deliver a pointed incredulous stare in the face of rudeness while maintaining an uncomfortably prolonged silence. Think of the comment you wish to deploy. Practice in advance – you can count on this happening again, as remaining silent facilitates the behavior. Then deliver the coup de gras. Those of us raised in the South tack on a “blessing” with our behavior modification comments. “You are so nasty and resentful; bless your heart…” or “You WILL excuse me, I have other guests to talk with.” should do the trick. More to the point, ” Bless your heart, when you can’t say something pleasant, you should go sit by yourself.” Turn and immediately walk away from the offender without affording them the opportunity of reply.
    Glinda in the Wizard of Oz also puts it quite succinctly; “Be gone, before someone drops a house on you too!”

    In all seriousness, if Paula is never confronted, she will continue to be rude to those who tolerate it. I would mention it to my brother as well: he may be totally unaware of her targeted nastiness. I have a friend who endured insults from her mother-in-law in silence for years before her husband actually overheard it happen. He packed his mother up immediately and took her home with a sharp warning about never repeating the behavior again or not being welcome in his home.

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  9. Jane Andrews says:

    Ignore her as much as possible, be Jackie Kennedy gracious otherwise, if all else fails, give her a pitying look and say, “I’m praying for you.”

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  10. Kim Smith says:

    Maybe the best choice would be to ignore her. Paula is in control of her life and the choices that she has made..

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  11. Emom says:

    It’s so difficult to come up with a snappy response on the spot so either Barbara should have a pat response like “so nice to see you too” or just simply say “excuse me” and walk away from this offensive, insecure person.

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    • geribrin says:

      When I was younger and insecure, I had nasty-Geri episodes. It’s sad that many insecure people resort to nastiness to release their frustrations with themselves. It becomes even more offensive when the person is older. Geri, FabOverFifty

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