Q: I am slightly nervous to send in my question because I fear that someone will identify me, therefore, I have changed some minor details, which I don’t believe will alter the greater message. I’m a 35-year-old, single, orthodox female living in Brooklyn. All of my siblings got married over a decade ago, so I’m the only one currently living with my aging parents. I’ve been dating for almost 18 years, but still struggle with finding my bashert. Thanks to genetics, I’m very tall and a little too thin. I know this has been getting in my way, but these details are not particularly relevant to my question. Over the years, I have dealt quite well with rejection. However, my siblings’ lack of approval has been affecting my mental health. They often criticize me for being too thin, although they know that I eat healthfully and that my weight is not in my control. They also ask me when I’ll stop taking advantage of my parents and move out of the house. This hurts me deeply because I work full-time as an accountant and contribute to household expenses. I guess I have two questions. First, how do I get less affected by my siblings’ criticism and second, how do I respond to them in an appropriate manner?
A: I am humbled by your question and your resilience. I also feel inspired by the fact that you have been dating for close to 18 years and have been accepting of rejection. Before I answer your question, I’d like to state that lucky is the man who marries a woman who is hopeful in the face of adversity. I believe that this attribute will get you far in marriage.
As far as your question is concerned, I cannot imagine how painful it must be to cope with your unsupportive siblings. You mentioned that your struggle with being underweight is genetic, so one would expect your siblings to show more support. I’m assuming they have interchangeable struggles and take similar steps to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. It must be incredibly difficult to be criticized for taking advantage of your parents when you clearly contribute to household expenses. Your siblings are married for over a decade and are in no position to judge your decisions.
In her book Coping with Loss published in 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross discusses multiple losses associated with a single loss. Ross sheds light by stressing that every loss is accompanied by smaller losses as well as vicarious pain. She states that at times these losses can be just as painful as the main, triggering loss. I believe this concept is very apropos since it seems you are experiencing multiple losses that transpired during your almost 18 years of dating. Your siblings’ lack of understanding related to your weight and your living situation at home are the multiple transpiring losses that can be just as painful as the main loss.
It is incredibly challenging to get less affected by your siblings’ criticism. However, it is possible to not allow anyone’s negative behavior to change your sense of self. Regardless of their criticism, it’s essential not to allow anyone to diminish the best of you. Second, remember that when others try to break you, sometimes it has nothing to even do with you. It could be that their negative behavior is a defense mechanism against the world that harmed them multiple times. Third, remember that if you are making healthy choices in your life, you do not need to win your siblings’ approval.
As far as reacting to them in an appropriate manner, it is essential to create strong boundaries and protect them with every fiber of your being. Always remember that we teach others how to engage with us. In order to do this, visualize a physical boundary surrounding your body. Notice when a sibling violates your boundary. When this happens, let your sibling know, despite his or her lack of understanding. If your sibling does not appreciate your boundary, feel free to walk away until your boundary is accepted. Let your sibling know what you will not tolerate and how you will react to ensure that your boundary is not crossed. Lastly, take your siblings’ negative behaviors and utilize them as learning experiences. Ask yourself what you can take away from this difficult situation and utilize it as an opportunity for growth. Ditch the rest. You deserve it. I wish you lots of luck as you continue to find your better half.