Sibling to sibling psychological abuse – oh so prevalent

Time and time again I hear about yet another broken down adult sibling relationship.  The story goes something like this -one of the sibling’s is a serial bully, who continues to verbally, and psychologically abuse the other sibling. The bullied siblings doesn’t, and has never felt supported by their parents’ in relation to the bullying problem. Some adult siblings’ ride it out, and put up with the snide comments, goading, bullying, disparaging remarks, and bouts of rage from their troubled sibling, to keep the family in tact; while others just jump ship, and forgo the relationship because of the obvious power imbalance.

Endings vary. Adult bullied siblings’ often go out with a bang, and finally give in to what has been years of abuse, with a huge emotional reaction. Some siblings’ will assertively tell their sibling that they won’t be bullied anymore – while others simply emotionally and physically distance themselves without really saying anything. All in all, the cord has been cut, a line has been drawn in the sand, and the less troubled sibling has thrown in the towel. Enough is enough.

Either way, the ending of the sisterhood, brotherhood, or sister and brotherhood can be devastating. Sibling to sibling psychological abuse is not limited to gender, and is far more prevalent than what we realise.

So, why did it come to this?

  • A bullying parent: In these circumstances the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Sibling abuse is often a intergenerational, and the bullying sibling is simply just doing the family thing.
  • The narcissistic family: In the narcissistic set up there will always be a scapegoated child. The golden child, whom is often the oldest, is encouraged by the parent to bully the non- narcissistic child, alongside the narcissistic parent. Any attempt by the scapegoated child to draw to the narcissistic parent’s attention the reality that the golden child is turning into a serial bully results in the scapegoated child being shut down.
  • Unintentionally uninvolved parenting: Busy parents’ often feel overwhelmed by the constant fighting between their children. Arguing between children is often dismissed, not taken seriously, seen as good old sibling rivalry, and is often not dealt with properly. In this situation, parents are often too busy to discipline their children and hold them accountable. Unintentionally uninvolved parents often miss the signs of a serial bully, or psycho bully child.
  • Poor distinction between sibling rivalry and a bullying problem: Sibling rivalry is seen as a normal part of the sibling dynamic. This is one of the reasons why a bullying child is not seen by the parent for who they really are. In circumstances such as these the child simply isn’t pulled up enough, and often turns into a bully.
    • A lack of accountability: In some families, the children are not taught, or encouraged to be accountable for their actions. They have not been encouraged to own their wrong doings, have never encouraged to apologise, and do not know how to look deeply within at their own behaviour.
    • Parents’ in this situation often fail to act as a buffer between the children to resolve the problem, and may even claim that the problem lies with both of the children, instead of one child, more so than the other.
  • The ADHD sibling: ADHD without intervention, can lead to troublemaking behaviours and antisocial tendencies in children. The ADHD child can be provoking, difficult, exhibit challenging behaviour towards their siblings, and even become physically aggressive without intervention.

What do adult children with a bullying sibling say?

Adult children with a bully for a sibling often claim that their parents’ were not present people acting with their best interests at heart. They instead were lazy in their parenting, and allowed one child to get away with murder.

Bullied siblings’ with a narcissistic parent often claim that the parent or parents’ of their fully fledged bullying golden child adult sibling, were in denial about the red flags, and are still in denial about the problem well into adulthood. In this child’s eyes, the golden child was given a position of power over the bullied sibling, which should not have been handed over to the child. A lot of bullied children feel invalidated, and as though their voice was stolen by their parents’ and their siblings’. Bullied children are often told by uninvolved parents’ that they need to grow a tougher skin, and these parent’s constantly claim that both children are at fault for the constant conflict.

How does a personality disordered parent fuel the fire? ‘You target, are just as much to blame.’

Sometimes parents’ with serious mental health issues, who have a tendency to victim blame, will shame a bullied child by blaming them for the abuse hurled upon them by an often older, more aggressive sibling.

It becomes a case of ‘well your both fighting, so it must be both of you.’

This just makes a bullied child furious because they aren’t being listened to or validated.

This parent doesn’t want to deal with the problem, and refuses to discipline their serial bullying child. Blame and deflection onto the bullied child (who is often being constantly provoked, controlled and manipulated by a psycho bully sibling) is extremely painful to deal with for this child.

There is an obvious power imbalance between the siblings’ in these circumstances. Not only are the deeds of the bully often overlooked – but, the bullied sibling is manipulated into believing that they need to change something about themselves in order for the problem to be fixed.

Bullied siblings’ whose voices are being invalidated, feel as though they are drowning in emotion because nobody is listening to them. This child is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they don’t stand up for themselves, they are bullied more, and if they do stand up for themselves, they are told by their parent to let it go, ignore it, and that they are part of the problem because of their obvious sensitivity and retaliative behaviour.

This is victim shaming and blaming. It is never ok, and it is how monster’s are created. The bullied child is being told by their parent in a round about way that they are responsible for their own pain, and that their pain is not important to them.

A highly reactive child is often a continually bullied child who feels powerless to help themselves. In this family system, the reaction to the bullying is seen by the parent as just as much of a failure on the part of the victim, instead of a normal reaction to what is could sometimes be described as psychopathic abuse.

What happens when a parent doesn’t intervene? Talking to a brick wall – oh the toxicity

A lack of parental intervention creates a toxic situation between the bullied child, and the bully.

The bullied child comes to accept that their mental health, and physical well-being does not matter to the parent. Well into adult- hood bullied siblings often feel hurt, dismissed by the parent, and emotionally rejected. This parent does not have their back, and they know it. They haven’t been validated, and the bullied sibling often ends up hating and resenting their psycho bully sibling as a result.

The consequences of the parent’s inability

The consequences of the parent’s inability to appropriately promote healthy sibling relationships affects both children in this unhealthy dynamic. The parent refusing to hold the perpetrator accountable, can often lead to the creation of a very entitled cruel sibling, who thinks that their behaviour is ok, acceptable, and should be tolerated. If a bully for a sibling is not corrected on their vile behaviour by their parent’s, then the bully will always believe their behaviour is ok. This adult child cannot understand why other people feel alienated by them, and probably never will, unless of course they enter therapy sessions.

The bullied child feels unloved, unappreciated, and devalued on every level. This can lead to feelings of deep seated anger towards the parent and the sibling. This is where the situation becomes toxic.

A lazy approach to parenting

This is lazy parenting, and self – consumed parenting at its best. Some parents’ either don’t want to take the time to get to the bottom of the problem, or they simply can’t due to being consumed by their own problems. Mental health problems can play a big part in uninvolved parenting.

The fall out with the bullying child in return for accountability is often too much to handle for this parent. So, the invalidation of the bullied child is a much easier, less exhausting approach for the uninvolved parent.

Whats normal and whats not?

Sibling rivalry as normal: Sibling rivalry is the jealousy, competition and fighting between brothers’ and sisters’. It is a concern for almost all parents with two or more children. Sibling rivalry usually begins after the birth of the second child, and is existent right throughout childhood. It is common for brothers’ and sisters’ to fight, and it is also very common for all siblings’ to swing back and forth between either loving or completely detesting one another.

Unique personalities play a huge role in how siblings’ get along.

Abnormal sibling behaviour: It is not normal for any child to just hate their sibling, and never rotate between love, and annoyance. It is not normal when a sibling has a problem with everyone they have intimate relationships with. A parent knows they have a problem between both siblings when one child openly shows complete disdain for a more challenging sibling with different opinions from the bullying child, yet seems to like a less opinionated sibling. These issues could present a big psychological problem.

The psychological effect of sibling to sibling bullying on the targeted child

Sibling to sibling psychological abuse leaves permanent scarring. Sometimes, sibling to sibling physical and psychological abuse can be so intense, that this perceived hatred from one sibling to the next can cause life lasting damage to the bullied child or children; some of it irreparable.

Abuse not dealt with can manifest as anxiety, fear, depression, C-PTSD, and self- hatred.

The parent’s job is to delve deeper into perceived problems between siblings’, to come up with strategies to enable both children to get a long, and to intervene. Failure to do this can lead to poor self esteem in the bullied child, and a strained relationship with the parent who didn’t have their back.

Another child’s hatred of their sibling will inevitably leave everlasting affects.




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