- 7 Signs You Have A Toxic Sibling
- 1. They Don’t Respect Your Boundaries
- 2. They Give You Anxiety
- 3. Your Interactions are draining
- 4. The Rivalry Is No Longer Cute
- 5. They Only Bring Negativity inTo your Life
- 6. They’ve Damaged Your Life In Some Way
- 7. You Family Encourages Their Behavior
- Coping Tips for Siblings and Adult Children of Persons with Mental Illness
- Supporting Someone with Bipolar – For Family and Friends
- Pooja Parikh Traveled Across The World For The HS Diagnosis That Changed Her Life Forever
7 Signs You Have A Toxic Sibling
When people talk about toxic family members, they’re usually speaking about a dad they don’t get along with, or a mom who is seemingly trying to ruin their life. But toxic family members can include siblings, too. And it can lead to a lot of stress, as you try to figure out how to deal with them.
Getting along with siblings can be tricky even under the best circumstances, usually due to the well-known “sibling rivalry.” Maybe you guys competed in school growing up, or fought for attention from your parents. But even if that was the case, there’s a good chance you grew up to appreciate each other — and may even be good friends today.
But others aren’t so lucky. For folks with toxic siblings, it can take a lot of work to keep a relationship going. And you find that you don’t even really want to try. “Ultimately, if you feel that you must sacrifice your needs in order to have the relationship as it stands, you may consider at least stepping away until you can navigate boundaries,” Deanna Fernandez, MHC, NYC-based therapist, tells Bustle
If that rings true, then there’s a chance your relationship with your sibling may require a closer look. Here are some typical signs of a toxic sibling, according to experts, as well as what to do about them.
1. They Don’t Respect Your Boundaries
Speaking of boundaries, a toxic sibling — much like a toxic parent — isn’t going to have much respect for your boundaries. So even if you attempt to establish them as a way of maintaining your relationship, you may notice it doesn’t help.
“Boundaries essentially say ‘this is how I love you and myself at the same time,'” Fernandez says. “It’s actually a requirement in all relationships. If you’re fearful of setting and maintaining boundaries, that’s a good indication the relationship is toxic. If your sibling continues to violate your boundaries, that’s also a good indication the relationship is toxic and you should prioritize your health/safety over the relationship.”
In this situation, they might not take “no” for an answer, Fernandez says, or make unreasonable demands, leaving you wondering if it’s even worth interacting with them.
2. They Give You Anxiety
It’s normal to feel a touch of shyness around some family members, especially those you don’t see very often. But if true anxiety flares up whenever you’re around a certain sibling, or you sweat at the thought of having to interact with them, take note.
When a sibling is toxic, you might feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them, feel apprehensive to answer their calls, or be unsure about “how they’ll take it” if you’re honest with them, Fernandez says. And that’s not fair to you.
So trust your gut. If you don’t feel good around someone, do what you need to do in order to create some space, so you don’t have to be stressed out.
3. Your Interactions are draining
You may have an eccentric sibling who you love, but can’t see very often because they’re just so darn quirky. And that’s OK. It’s only when every interaction you have leaves you feeling drained, that you may be crossing over into toxic territory.
“As an example you may want to hangout with your brother, but in order to do so you have to do the thing they want, be available during the time their available, and make other sacrifices as they arise,” Stevon Lewis, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. “You’re left feeling as though you’ve attended to all their needs and barely had any of your needs met.”
When this is the case it may be time to cut ties, seek therapy, or at least back off for a while. Figure out what would work best for you, in order to maintain the relationship. And then make that clear.
4. The Rivalry Is No Longer Cute
While you may have a history of sibling rivalry, there should come a time when you’re both officially mature enough to joke around about it, and not take it so seriously. And yet, if you have a toxic sibling on your hands, it’s only likely to get worse.
You might find that, even though you’re both well out of college and into your careers, your sibling still competes with you and turns everything into an argument. Should it start to feel toxic, don’t be afraid to speak up.
“It’s important for us to advocate for ourselves and express our needs, so that people are clear about what we tolerate and what we don’t,” Fernandez says. “And it’s not until we do that can we determine if the relationship is truly harmful — and if so, you should be working on your exit strategy now.”
5. They Only Bring Negativity inTo your Life
If you’re questioning your relationship with your sibling, think back over your history and try to remember any good they brought to your life. If it’s just kind of neutral then you have nothing to worry about, because not everyone has an amazing relationship with their sibling. But if it’s all doom and gloom, fights and arguments, then take some time to consider how important the relationship is to you.
Toxic siblings tend to take, and take, and take, sometimes to the point it’s no longer a mutually beneficial relationship, Fernandez says. Yours might be unreliable, dismissive of your feelings and needs, unwilling to spend time with you, or unwilling to meet you halfway on anything, she says. It’s all about them, all the time. And that’s not fair.
6. They’ve Damaged Your Life In Some Way
While everyone makes mistakes, a toxic sibling may bring all sorts of drama into your life due to the way they act, and the poor choices they make. For example, it’s possible they’ll be financially abusive, Fernandez says, meaning they borrow money and don’t pay you back, or take advantage of you in some way.
If you try to talk to them about it, she says, a toxic sibling will likely play the victim or manipulate you, instead of apologizing or trying to find a way to make amends. If behavior like this has become the norm, consider your options in terms of stepping back or cutting ties.
Keep in mind, though, that many people reject change, so it won’t necessarily be easy to set up boundaries. “You may reasonably expect and prepare for other family members (siblings, parents) to give an solid eyebrow raise for setting boundaries,” Fernandez says. “But, don’t fret, this provides you with many opportunities to practice communicating your needs!”
You can also call in outside help if your family isn’t helping with this change. “Should you have difficulty navigating sibling and other toxic family relationships,” she says, “consider meeting with a therapist for education, tools, and support.”
7. You Family Encourages Their Behavior
Speaking of family, a toxic sibling can become even more toxic if they’re being egged on by your parents. And you may find that, if you all grew up in a toxic environment, that no one makes an attempt at creating healthy relationships.
In fact, you may worry that your parents will react negatively to any boundaries you try to establish with your sibling, worry your parents may side with your them, or even feel fearful of “going against family norms,” she says. If toxicity has become a pattern, it can be tough to break.
That said, there is always hope. “With the exception of extremely abusive/traumatic relationships, it’s usually possible to improve sibling relationships,” Fernandez says. And establishing boundaries is the best place to start. From there, you may be able to create a more stable relationship, or at least a situation that’s easier to manage.
If not, though, don’t hesitate to back away. A relationship should never feel draining or damaging, so if the connection you have with your sibling is toxic, it may be time cut ties and focus on what you need.
With effective long-term clinical management of her illness, nearly 20 years after her overdose my sister is doing well.
The below is a very touching and educational piece on what it’s like for the loved ones of those with bi-polar disorder to deal with it and what they go through. Thank you for your story, which was sent in anonymously through our website.
I was 13 when my sister tried to kill herself. I don’t remember much about that year, but the details of that night are crystal clear. She was 19 and a 2nd year university student. She overdosed on a combination of prescription anti-depressants and Paracetamol, and I remember being in the back of the car as we brought her to hospital, trying to keep her awake, not sure if it would make any difference. I remember being sent home while she got her stomach pumped, and lying awake all night bargaining with God that if she were okay I would start believing in him again and go to mass every week. (I must confess I failed to keep my half of this bargain – to this day it’s only weddings and funerals).
Thankfully, the next morning the news was good – she would spend a few weeks in the psychiatric ward, but physically would fully recover. Her diagnosis and subsequent treatment for bipolar disorder, however, defined the dynamic of our family for many years to come.
Bipolar disorder is a severe and complex mental disorder, usually diagnosed during adolescence or early adulthood. At the core of the disease are dramatic and unpredictable mood swings between mania (extreme highs) and depression. I’m no expert on bipolar disorder, but I know it has a huge impact on the lives of those who suffer from it, and studies suggest that around half of bipolar sufferers will attempt suicide at one point in their lifetime.
When dealing with a sibling’s illness, it can be difficult to cope with the complicated and often contradictory mix of emotions you face – anxiety, sorrow, fear, guilt, resentment and anger – often at the same time. With mental illness, each individual’s circumstances are unique, and I can only reflect here on my own experiences. For me, fear was a defining characteristic of some of the worst periods of her illness.
A few years after the overdose, I came home from school one day to find my mother distraught because she didn’t know where my sister was. I cried for hours and hours, utterly convinced that this time she had gone through with it. She returned later that night perfectly fine, and apologetic for worrying us all. But that twisted knot of dread in my stomach, the feeling of complete panic and of fearing the worst, would be repeated many times over the years.
Another emotion I often associate with my sister’s illness is anger. One of hardest things I’ve found is being able to distinguish between where the illness ends and the person begins. Dramatic mood swings are often directed at those closest to the person, and sometimes it’s hard to remember that the person has a debilitating chronic illness, and is not just being an asshole. I continue to struggle with this today. The temptation to tell them to just ‘snap out of it’ is strong, and it can be a challenge to understand and accept the fact that they cannot.
Resentment for the effect the illness has on your family can also grow over time; in my case particularly for the effect it had on our parents. I watched their hearts break over and over again with helplessness and worry for her future.
So what have I learned from living with a sibling with a mental illness? For what it’s worth, and for those who might find themselves in a similar situation, here are my thoughts:
Firstly, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Find trusted people outside of your immediate family to confide in – you may feel like you can’t burden your parents or other siblings further; I certainly did. It’s important to have a break – living with someone with depression can be all-consuming. My friends provided a sanctuary to which I could escape from the stress at home. You’ll be amazed how many have a similar story to tell.
Secondly, learn about it. Educate yourself about the specific condition and what the sufferer is going through. A greater understanding helped me to recognise certain behaviours as symptoms of the illness – and knowing what you’re dealing with can help you to support your loved one in the most appropriate and effective way.
Lastly, take care of yourself and your own health. It’s ok to be upset, stressed and anxious, and it’s natural to feel under pressure to hold it together, because falling apart isn’t an option for you. Yes, your strength is needed to support your family, but your wellbeing is important too. Seek professional support if you are struggling.
Thankfully, our story has a happy ending. With effective long-term clinical management of her illness, nearly 20 years after her overdose my sister is doing well, and is a high-functioning member of society with a great career and a family of her own. Her illness no longer casts a daily shadow over our lives, and while we know it could always rear its ugly head again in the future, we’re grateful to be amongst the lucky ones.
If you need help please talk to friends, family, a GP, therapist or one of the free confidential helpline services. For a full list of national mental health services see yourmentalhealth.ie.
- Samaritans 116 123 or email [email protected]
- Pieta House National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 or email [email protected] – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement) or text HELP to 51444 (standard message rates apply)
- Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
If living in Ireland you can find accredited therapists in your area here:
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Coping Tips for Siblings and Adult Children of Persons with Mental Illness
Excellent suggestions for coping with a sibling or parent with a mental illness.
Supporting Someone with Bipolar – For Family and Friends
If you find it difficult to come to terms with your sibling’s or parent’s mental illness, there are many others who share your difficulty. Most siblings and adult children of people with psychiatric disorders find that mental illness in a brother, sister, or parent is a tragic event that changes everyone’s life in many basic ways. Strange, unpredictable behaviors in a loved one can be devastating, and your anxiety can be high as you struggle with each episode of illness and worry about the future. It seems impossible at first, but most siblings and adult children find that over time they do gain the knowledge and skills to cope with mental illness effectively. They do have strengths they never knew they had, and they can meet situations they never even anticipated.
A good start in learning to cope is to find out as much as possible about mental illness, both by reading and talking with other families. NAMI has books, pamphlets, fact sheets, and tapes available about different illnesses, treatments, and issues you may have to deal with, and you can join one of the 1,200 NAMI affiliate groups throughout the nation. (For other resources and contact information about your state and local NAMI affiliates, call the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800/950-6264.)
The following are some things to remember that should help you as you learn to live with mental illness in your family:
- You cannot cure a mental disorder for a parent or sibling.
- No one is to blame for the illness.
- Mental disorders affect more than the person who is ill.
- Despite your best efforts, your loved one’s symptoms may get worse, or they may improve.
- If you feel extreme resentment, you are giving too much.
- It is as hard for the parent or sibling to accept the disorder as it is for other family members.
- Acceptance of the disorder by all concerned may be helpful, but it is not necessary.
- A delusion has little or nothing to do with reality, so it needs no discussion.
- Separate the person from the disorder.
- It is not OK for you to be neglected. You have emotional needs and wants, too.
- The illness of a family member is nothing to be ashamed of. The reality is that you will likely encounter stigma from an apprehensive public.
- You may have to revise your expectations of the ill person.
- You may have to renegotiate your emotional relationship with the ill person.
- Acknowledge the remarkable courage your sibling or parents may show when dealing with a mental disorder.
- Generally, those closest in sibling order and gender become emotionally enmeshed while those further out become estranged.
- Grief issues for siblings are about what you had and lost. For adult children, they are about what you never had.
- After denial, sadness, and anger comes acceptance. The addition of understanding yields compassion.
- It is absurd to believe you may correct a biological illness such as diabetes, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder with talk, although addressing social complications may be helpful.
- Symptoms may change over time while the underlying disorder remains.
- You should request the diagnosis and its explanation from professionals.
- Mental health professionals have varied degrees of competence.
- You have a right to ensure your personal safety.
- Strange behavior is a symptom of the disorder. Don’t take it personally.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your sibling or parent if he or she is thinking about hurting him- or herself. Suicide is real.
- Don’t shoulder the whole responsibility for your mentally disordered relative yourself.
- You are not a paid professional caseworker. Your role is to be a sibling or child, not a parent or caseworker.
- The needs of the ill person do not necessarily always come first.
- If you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for another.
- It is important to have boundaries and to set clear limits.
- Just because a person has limited capabilities doesn’t mean that you expect nothing of him or her.
- It is natural to experience many and confusing emotions such as grief, guilt, fear, anger, sadness, hurt, confusion, and more. You, not the ill person, are responsible for your own feelings.
- Inability to talk about your feelings may leave you stuck or “frozen.”
- You are not alone. Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a support group has been helpful and enlightening for many.
- Eventually you may see the silver lining in the storm clouds: your own increased awareness, sensitivity, receptivity, compassion, and maturity. You may become less judgmental and self-centered, a better person.
next: Empathetic Guidelines
~ bipolar disorder library
~ all bipolar disorder articles
Pooja Parikh Traveled Across The World For The HS Diagnosis That Changed Her Life Forever
My brother and I growing up had a different bond than most other siblings in our neighborhood. I always knew when something wasn’t right with my brother and always knew how to handle it in the most comforting way for him. My brother’s heart was always in the right place regardless of what age, mental state, or friends he was surrounded by. However, there were always slip-ups, ‘under the influence’ nights, and mental breakdowns. Like the professionals say “it’s part of the mental illness,” but never did I ever feel that his actions were malicious or that he even had a centimeter of hate in his heart. That is a very bias statement coming from his younger sister, but I am positive that his close friends and family could vouch for me.
Bipolar Disorder I is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a manic-depressive illness “that lasts at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.”
My brother was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I when he was 18-years-old. My over-worrisome mother was immediately in denial. “There is no way he has bipolar disorder,” she would whisper in my 15-year-old ears, “He is just depressed and upset about what is going on with Dad.” He was “just” depressed in my mother’s eyes for a long period of time. She couldn’t bear thinking that he had an illness that she couldn’t help with. That is just one thing that parents with children with mental illness feel, along with a thousand other helpless feelings.
My father was positively the strongest one, both mentally and physically, in our family. My father would do overtime at work and still show up to my brother’s baseball games with gleaming eyes, a 5 o’clock shadow, and a smile from ear to ear. It was in my father’s genetic makeup to be the strong one for my brother and my family. My brother’s hero from the day he was born, was my father. When my father’s hands were callused and limp, my brother had faith that he could still put a mitt on his right hand to have a quick catch with him on our dead-end block. Sickness after sickness, my father’s mental and physical state weakened right in front of my family’s eyes. My father lost his battle, this past March, with each of our hands in his.
My brother had many mental breakdowns throughout his life, but I would have to say the ones after my father’s death were the worst. There were no words that could make it better and there was nothing that could be done to bring clarity to his very clouded mind. My brother was on medication (on and off since the age of 18) but has been steadily on medication for several years. Therapy sessions increased almost immediately after my father’s death and the manic episodes seemed to be more frequent. He would recount to me “I just keep having flashbacks when I would get frustrated with Dad when he wouldn’t understand me and I just don’t know how to deal with it.” I would reply with “Me too,” not confessing that I just try to block it out because I knowingly realize that my brother is unable to block things in his mind.
After years and years of my brother seeking mental help, continuously reaching in the medicine cabinet for his Respiradol and mood stabilizers, and pouring out his emotions and thoughts that trouble his mind to me and others; I finally have come to an epiphany on what to say that may (or may not) clear at least some of the clouds that suffocate his mind.
Every day I could find something in my mind to run to the closest bathroom and cry my eye sockets out to. I’ve done it frequently and there are some days that I just can’t get it together and sit back down at my desk again. There are some days that I feel that I am going around in circles over and over again and there is no purpose to my existence. But I have realized, that is the characteristics of what makes me human and alive. Even though I have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder, doesn’t mean that there are days that I have very very poor mental health. Everyone has an Achilles heel, everyone has something that makes them breakdown in ways outside of the norm. Society has implemented an idea into our brain, at a very young age nonetheless, that there’s something called standard deviations and norms. And if you don’t lie within those ranges, you are an outlier. From BMIs, to mental states, to intelligence, there is an emphasis on trying to make humans as close to the social norm as possible. God forbid you are the outlier, you get labeled with a diagnosis and stereotypes and gruesome judgments tag along with that label. It is just the way that this absurd world works.
You are not defined by your mental illness, brother. You do not owe anyone an explanation or what your reasoning was when you impulsively said something or did something. You are not Bipolar Disorder I, you are human. You are so very human that you wouldn’t even believe. The best you can do in any situation that you may have harmed someone else’s mental state, purely in result of your mental state, is to apologize for the actions or the words that you said that may have hurt them.
However, you never apologize for your disorder or the feelings that you feel. There are days that you will feel more down in the dumps than others and that is okay! It is 100%, no doubt in my mind, okay to NOT be okay sometimes. Sometimes you will get so deep in your own head that you will feel that it is all too much for you. You will try smoking and drinking and realize that some days it helps with the demons and some days it makes them scream louder in your head. Then, you will try exercising at the gym, yoga, or meditation and you will find how beneficial it is to your mental health. But, there will be some days that not even running 15 miles will lift that weight off your shoulders. But, guess what, that is okay.
It’s okay because life is hard. It is okay because even though there is always something that triggers you, there is always daybreak when you wake up in the morning. When people just don’t get it and when you feel like you are a burden to people that is when you rise above. That is when you work on finding self worth for yourself in other places and pity those that aren’t as human as you are. You always work in a forward direction, never backwards and that is something that you should be proud of.
You have to realize that you came into this world to be different. You came into this world to help those that are different too and to try to advocate and make a safe place for them. It is important to identify why you are feeling a certain way and it is also essential to express what you are feeling, but what is most important is that you always find a solution. It is imperative that you always seek to clear out some of the black clouds that sometimes fogs your day up. Because you are much more than you could even imagine.