Adapted from a recent online discussion

Question: My sister has basically transformed into a different person since marrying into this kind of New York, semi-socialite family. I think she works hard to conceal where she comes from, which means cutting ties with me and our father. What's worse, I see signs her marriage will not last, and I don't want to resent her if/when she shows up looking for support. Any suggestions?

Answer: I know it's asking a lot, but at least know intellectually that this is not personal. You described someone who doesn't like herself, is trying to outrun who she is, and who may well fail publicly and painfully in this effort.

This is a loved one in pain. Know that, and you'll be well positioned to help her regroup and, I hope, make some peace with her family.

Now, whether she accepts your help will be up to her. Should her marriage implode, she might be ready to do some hard work on learning to like and accept herself. She might also tee up the next person who offers her a chance to become someone else.

Either way, though, it's still not about you.

The part that's about you is how you react to her social climbing. Whether you're insulted by it, amused, bemused, jealous, indifferent, worried - it's imperative that you recognize how you're feeling and deal with that honestly, instead of bringing ulterior motives to your relationship.

It's when you feel one way and purport to be another - e.g., feel jealous, but act concerned about her well-being, or feel insulted, but feign indifference - that you'll be punitive or judgmental when being supportive without judging would better serve all involved.

Question: What exactly is social climbing? People don't seem to mind when people achieve material success through hard work . . . so how is social climbing different from moving up the economic ladder?

Answer: Social climbing involves choosing people for the status they convey instead of the company they provide. The details can vary, but that's the nut.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.