By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

I recently read an article about Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), and I finally understand what’s wrong with my younger sister. For so much of my life, she has been so annoying, and it bothered me that I felt that way. Growing up, if she heard I was doing something with a friend, she’d want to come along. Who wants a younger sibling tagging along wherever you’re going with your friends? Sometimes, my mother would force me to take her, which I resented. But that was all part of our family dynamic. I’m sure many families have similar situations.

But now that we’re adults, living in the same neighborhood, I watch her in action and I feel so embarrassed for her — and embarrassed for myself. She behaves badly and I’ve even heard comments made about her.

For instance, let’s say someone’s child got engaged, and it’s someone who would never think to invite my sister to the vort, let alone the wedding. My sister will immediately run over with an expensive gift so that they feel compelled to include her, even though they aren’t friends in the least. If there’s a shalom zachor at someone’s home, whether or not she’s been invited, she’ll drop off a cake. On the surface, these generous acts seem nice, but most people see through it and realize it’s a ploy to be invited. It makes her look desperate and also not in touch with her standing with others.

I’ve learned long ago never to tell her when I’ve been invited anywhere — whether it’s for a Shabbos lunch or just out for coffee with a friend — because I know she’ll figure out a way to get invited and be part of it. And then it gets uncomfortable for me and I become resentful.

Though I understand now that there’s a name for my sister’s behavior, I don’t understand why she has this issue. She has so much going for her. She’s got a good personality, she’s pretty, and she can be fun. Interestingly, though she knows everyone and is superficially friendly with the world, she doesn’t have any super-close friends with whom she is honest and shares her personal feelings.

I, on other hand, don’t have a lot of superficial friends, don’t get invited to lots of events (which is perfect for me), but I have a handful of dear friends, with whom I’ve been friendly for years. So we’re different socially, and it’s hard for me to understand what motivates her.

I realize I don’t have to understand her. She probably doesn’t understand me. But I get embarrassed when I hear stories about how she’s acting, which comes across as inappropriate and even desperate. I want to somehow explain to her that it’s not necessary to be everywhere, and that having a few close but meaningful friendships is all a person needs in that regard.

I haven’t figured out how to broach this subject with her. I wonder if you might have some insight about this situation and whether there is a way I might be able to show her the light.

Concerned Sister

Dear Concerned Sister,

First off, though this is not your question, I think it’s important that you realize you don’t have to take responsibility for your sister’s behaviors. It sounds like you are two different individuals, with different styles and relationships, and you will each be known, and (sadly) judged, on your own merits and lifestyles. So try to disengage emotionally from that burden you’ve been carrying around. It’s not yours to hold.

But I understand your concern that your sister is acting in ways that are not becoming, and that you’d like to protect her to some degree. Let’s first drill down a little to understand what exactly is going on with her.

Most people who suffer from FOMO exhibit two personality traits that motivate their behavior. One is insecurity, a nagging feeling that they are not enough — they are not loved enough, good enough, thought about enough, desired enough. Being seen at all the right places is a temporary assurance that they matter, and also an opportunity to show others that they are included and therefore worthy.

The other typical trait is a lack of self-awareness. There’s an inability to gauge what a satisfying life can look like and, therefore, the need to look toward others, assuming they are probably having more fun, in order to define for themselves what a satisfying life should look like.

Social media hasn’t helped people with FOMO in the least. If anything, it fans the flames. Minute by minute, second by second, we’re able to see what we are missing out on, as we note the big smiles on everyone’s faces and all the fun everyone else seems to be having. For an insecure person like your sister, this will only cause additional anxiety, stress, and, in the worst possible situations, depression.

So you want to know what you can do to fix her. As with so many questions that come my way relating to how we can fix others, the answer remains the same. We can only, with much vigorous work and fortitude, fix ourselves. We can help others if and when they want to be helped and ask for our help. But we’re rarely successful at foisting our opinions onto others if they are not welcome.

The only thing you might consider is your own relationship with your sister and whether it is as meaningful as it could be. You sound different, but you share DNA and history. I wonder whether that might be enough to bring the two of you closer together. Is it worth investing time and effort to get to know her better and to let her get to know you in a fuller way, so that she can observe firsthand a different approach toward friendships and what it means to live a meaningful life? Though you would not be “fixing” her, you could certainly model for her a more secure attitude and provide an opportunity for her to observe what it means to be self-aware and comfortable with oneself.

Your acceptance of your sister and your ability to embrace her are the tools you’ve got in this regard. If you choose to use them without resentment or judgment, you may stir things up enough to give her reason to pause and examine her own behaviors. And that would be a wonderful thing.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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