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Carolyn Hax: Sister nags her way into baby shower in person, then tests positive for covid

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: Instead of a traditional baby shower, loved ones threw me a five-person gathering in my backyard, and others were invited to drive by. One friend who has been quarantining offered to stay afterward to help me with gifts.

My sister begged me for weeks to join in the intimate gift-opening “after-party.” I didn't want her to. I love her, but she has not really been careful about covid. I just didn't feel comfortable, but gave in.

And now, six days later, she has just announced she tested positive. I am furious. She knows I have a major guilt complex and probably knew she would be able to wear me down. And now she has put me and my family at risk. (I'm getting tested today and my anxiety is through the roof.)

I’m not sure how to approach this in the aftermath: call her up and yell at her, saying this is exactly what I wanted to avoid, or just let it go and never ever let this happen again?

— Asserting Myself After the Fact

Asserting Myself After the Fact: Damn. I’m sorry, and hope you’re okay.

The answer lies between “yell at her” and “just let it go.” This calamity had two parts: your vulnerability to guilt, and her brazen exploitation of it.

So, you tried to please her, and she tried to please her, making her role worse due to its selfishness. But your role was bigger because it was your territory that you failed to protect.

That means you can’t reasonably go after your sister with a blame-first attitude. She could respond with, “You could have said no” — which would be idiotic and self-serving and, alas, true.

So frame it accordingly:

“Obviously I need to get better at standing up for myself. That's on me. But I hope this experience is an 'aha' moment for you not to pressure people into things they're not comfortable doing.”

You can also shelve the conversation until you aren't both preoccupied by health concerns.

Regardless, you have longer work to do on disabling your guilt switches, and more immediate work on your well-being. If you don’t like or have the energy for the “We’re both to blame” path with your sister, then it’s okay not to say anything — to focus on the bigger work of standing up for, and taking care of, yourself.

Readers' thoughts:

· Also, get ready now for your sister pushing to see your baby and start practicing your scripts. “No, we have decided it’s not safe. And it’s not up for discussion.” Your child needs you to stand up to pushy people on their behalf.

· Offering explanations or changing your response will cue boundary challenged people that something they said got a change in response, and that if they just keep going, they’ll get what they want. Using the same response over and over again, like, “That won’t work for me,” doesn’t expose your vulnerability.

· Trauma like this pandemic can affect people’s ability to think rationally, especially when it comes to being with people they love. Years ago, I wanted my dying father to be at my bridal shower despite his treatment. My friend very kindly explained why it was not a good idea (duh!) but my mind was not processing correctly.

· Consider sleeping on it for a day or two. It’s easier to choose wisely when we’re less upset.

· One thing that helps me is to stop and think before answering. Even saying, “I will think about it and get back to you.” The impulse not to upset anyone can override our good sense if we respond immediately.

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