My sister was so toxic that I had to cut her out of my life

Talking to Ellie felt like playing Russian roulette (Picture: Getty Images)

My relationship with my sister reached boiling point last year.

I’d been looking forward to seeing my mum, who was visiting from Leeds, but she insisted on bringing my younger sister, Ellie*, too. 

After a nice afternoon, I was hoping for some quality time alone with Mum. Instead, a conversation about the price of a taxi spiralled into Ellie screaming at me about how arrogant and selfish I was, how I’d never cared about her as a sister or taken an interest in her life – part of the reason she made bad life decisions over drink, drugs and relationships, she claimed. 

I had been struggling to grieve the loss of two very close friends, and I couldn’t take any more emotional stress.

I snapped, shouting: ‘I f**king hate you’. The words that had been unspoken for years were finally bubbling to the surface.

For Ellie, this was the validation she was looking for that I was as nasty as she thought. She continued to shout at me while my mum tried to keep things calm.

It was the final straw.

I knew that I needed to make a change, and that meant cutting Ellie out of my life for good. It’s been better ever since.

When we were younger, my family and I had always accepted Ellie’s disruptive behaviour as a phase that would hopefully pass when she grew up.

Talking to Ellie felt like playing Russian roulette. An innocent question about her boyfriend or a new job could trigger anything from a pleasant conversation to a tirade of abuse, or accusations that I was making her life traumatic.

The real hot button, though, was daring to tell Ellie that she was being rude. Any criticism of her behaviour, real or perceived, was like a red rag to a bull. 

I absorbed all of Ellie’s accusations that I was an ‘awful sister’ and truly felt like I was responsible for her pain.

I wasn’t the only target, either – my parents faced similar outbursts, despite supporting Ellie financially and emotionally. 

After years of taking a battering, I never wanted to strike up a direct conversation over text with her for fear of what would come next.

I felt like I had to tread on eggshells whenever Ellie was around.

I moved to London in my early 20s to pursue a career as a journalist, and was soon avoiding visiting or calling my family back home. Whenever I did ring, I could hear Ellie in the background making comments about how I didn’t care about my family or what a terrible sister I was. I resorted to only speaking to my parents when I knew my sister was out.

It had the unintended consequence of damaging my relationship with my mum and dad.

Mum was desperate to repair the connection between her only daughters, but this pushed me further away as I retreated to protect my mental health.

I felt like I had to tread on eggshells whenever Ellie was around

Not long after, in 2018, after years of GP and counselling appointments, and escalating self-destructive behaviour, a doctor finally diagnosed Ellie with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), also known as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – a condition characterised by emotional instability, distorted patterns of thinking, impulsive behaviour and intense but unstable relationships with others.

The diagnosis made sense and it went some way in explaining why she felt, thought and acted the way she did.

Despite everything, Ellie is my sister and I never wanted her to be in pain, so I couldn’t bring myself to cut off communication with her. It wasn’t her fault, so I felt like I should make an effort to be there for her.

And it’s not like Ellie is an awful person; she can be caring, considerate and funny. I tried to remember the good times, like when we used to share hotel rooms on holiday and plan midnight feasts, or after I broke up with my first boyfriend and she made me a care package.

I was upset to know what she’d been dealing with for almost her whole life, but when I expressed this to her, she told me I was ‘brainwashed’ and gaslighting her, saying that she was ‘stable’ and that I wasn’t able to see how my ‘abusive’ parents had turned me against her and caused her EUPD through childhood trauma, which Ellie believed to be the cause of her condition.

I soon learned that knowing Ellie had EUPD didn’t mean having a relationship with her was any easier – or healthier.

The condition makes it nearly impossible to distinguish personality traits from the symptoms of mental illness and when Ellie is rude, argumentative and entitled, I’m never able to pinpoint which of her behaviours are a result of her disorder.

Ellie was still toxic to be around.

Initially, I limited my chats with her to birthdays and Christmas. But in the months leading up to that final shouting match in the car, I felt myself growing increasingly anxious, struggling with insomnia and breaking down every day in the work toilets. 

I saw my GP, who put me on anti-depressants and referred me for counselling. I finally spoke about my relationship with Ellie with a therapist, and my decision to end our relationship once and for all. I allowed myself to work through the guilt I felt at choosing that and learned how to cope with my grief.

I reassessed what was important in my life, eased off my career stress, prioritised meaningful relationships with my friends and, above all, looked after myself more. Hearing what an awful person I was and spending time on a relationship that gave me nothing back was not part of that plan. 

While my decision has allowed me to concentrate on getting my mental health back on track, I don’t feel good about deciding not to be there for Ellie. 

With the likes of the Kardashians showing their picture-perfect image of what sisterhood should look like, I feel like I’ve failed. When I see my friends share selfies with their sisters on Instagram, I feel shame.

After all, as someone who is adamant about supporting those with mental health issues, am I throwing away our relationship because of a condition that isn’t her fault? 

I’m still working on knowing that I did what was best for me. I’ve spent endless hours talking about Ellie’s behaviour to friends, family and counsellors, and while a lot of her actions are fuelled by her mental illness, I’ve come to the conclusion that some of them are just a bad attitude, and that’s what I can’t handle.

I’m someone who tends to think of others before themselves, but through counselling, I’ve learned that it’s important to put myself first a lot more. Boundaries are key to show myself some self-respect and to stop my mental health from taking a back seat.

Today, my relationship with my family is uneasy. When and how I see or speak to my parents is hindered by Ellie living at home.  

My mum is desperate for me to show willing, but I have to stay strong for my own sake.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over my guilt, but I’ve been able to get through the past year without Ellie, and I feel so much better for it.

Blood might be thicker than water, but it’s easier to drown in. 

*Names and identifying details have been changed

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