Toxic siblings can put a damper on a lot of things. Depending upon the level of toxicity it can be hard to engage with the rest of your family, or even friends that have been there for some time. It can also put stress on you while you try to suppress your feelings for the sake of keeping things civil between the two of you. There is a myriad of reasons why we keep toxic siblings at arms length, but what can we do once we’ve identified the issue? Psych2Go shares with you 10 ways to deal with a toxic sibling.
1. Speak Up
In all reality, your sibling might not even know that they are hurting you. In this case it is imperative that you speak up and let them know how you are feeling. This could invite some issue if the sibling is aware of their behavior and doesn’t care, but for your mental wellbeing it is something that you should highly consider. Going into these conversations can be difficult so it is best to have a list of talking points, usually dealing with the things your sibling does that are toxic to you, and a plan on how to handle the confrontation if it were to get to that point.
Remembering what your sibling does, perhaps they guilt trip you or try to intimidate you, will help you to avoid those buttons as you lay out your feelings. It is important to keep in mind that your sibling might feel attacked or just be unwilling to discuss things with you. If that is the case it is best to take a break and revisit the conversation after your sibling has had some time to digest what you’d already told them.
2. Set Boundaries
It is often hard to avoid your sibling, there are holidays and birthdays all year round, but that doesn’t mean that you have to let them have unfettered contact. Set boundaries that let them know what you will and won’t tolerate. If you have a sibling that enjoys making you the butt of the joke you can remind them that jokes and funny stories are always welcome but ones that are harmful to you are not acceptable. If your sibling likes to belittle you this is the prime opportunity to stand up for yourself.
You’ll need to take baby steps with this one so as not to come off as confrontational, but asserting yourself just might give you the confidence you need to speak with them about how they make you feel. If you can’t make it to that point yet that’s fine! Knowing that you have taken some control over the situation should make you feel better, if only until the next time you see them.
3. Change the Opportunities
If setting boundaries doesn’t work and you are still getting nowhere with your sibling, you can cut the contact. If they have continued to target you it might be time to tailor your actions around them. You might have a sibling that likes to make biting comments towards you when you’re alone so you may need to stick with a small group while they are around. If they like to single you out at the dinner table perhaps sitting with other family and engaging in conversation with them is what’s needed. Minimizing the opportunities your sibling has to get under your skin will make it much easier for you to be around them. It will also allow you to be around the rest of your family and to be happy while there.
4. Don’t Normalize Their Behavior
Do not let them think that what they do or say that is toxic is in any way alright. Make sure that they know that what they did or said was wrong and why. In most cases your sibling will try to diminish your feelings or brush the entire thing under the rug, don’t let them. Make it a point to address these issues regardless of what they have to say about what they’ve done. Let’s be honest, they probably won’t listen to what you have to say because abusive people rarely do, but it is important for you to assert yourself in this situation. It may have taken you years to get to this point, but making sure that your sibling knows you will no longer stand for their behavior might be the log that breaks the dam for you. It may open up a line of communication that you’ve been needing for a very long time and if it does you should seize it and tell them exactly how they have been making you feel.
5. Walk Away
This doesn’t mean that you are walking away from them or your family, this just means that you are walking away from them and the situation at hand. If you aren’t there, then they can’t target you. They might talk about you a bit but it stops being fun when you aren’t there to give them visual or verbal feedback and chances are they will get bored and move onto something else. This will also give you the time you need to gather your thoughts and prepare for what you might need to do next, whatever you decide that to be. It will also stop you from reacting emotionally which might give that sibling another dose of ammunition against you.
This doesn’t have to apply solely to those siblings that are snarky and mean. It can also help you to deal with that sibling who is a user or who lies about random things regardless of the fact that others might know they are lies. If you don’t need to be there at that moment relocating yourself can be a big help to you on a mental and emotional level.
6. Take the High Road
Don’t get upset, no matter how hard it might be to accomplish, so not do it. If your sibling is cutting you down for something just let it roll of your back and be the bigger man. There is no reason for you to stoop to their level and causing a scene may turn the tides against you when it comes to others. Not showing that you are upset will also take some of the fun out of what your sibling is doing, just like walking away will. If you aren’t taking the bait, then they won’t put as much of it out there. This might buy you a little extra time to decide how you want to move forward with this sibling, or if you even want to move forward at all.
Counseling can be a great way for you to get your feelings off your chest in a safe and secure environment. If you aren’t sure of how you want to confront your sibling, you can ask for advice and role play some scenarios to better plan for upcoming conversations that you might be having with them. If you’ve already spoken to your sibling and they are receptive to what you’ve said to them then family counseling could be the next step in mending your relationship. Having an unbiased mediator there will boost your confidence as well as add protection in case your sibling starts to become angry or frustrated with the direction of the conversation.
8. Trust Yourself
Do not rationalize the toxic sibling’s behavior, it will only perpetuate the harmful cycle you are more than likely already trapped in. When someone treats you badly or say something hurtful they are doing it on purpose and there is no amount of internal monologue that will change that fact. If it feels like they are intentionally hurting you, and it sits within their pattern of behavior, then chances are it was done in a calculated way to get at you. Your feelings and intuitions are there for a reason, use them.
Take hold of an opportunity and ask for clarity. If they brush you off, then it may very well have been intentional and you will need to address that with them when you are ready. If they give you an offhanded comment or attempt to push it back on you then again, it is something that you need to take note of for a conversation later on down the line. Remember, no one has the right to tell you how you feel. If you feel that something is wrong then trust that and look into it, just to be sure.
9. Try to Trust Them
If you have spoken to your sibling and they appear genuinely remorseful, then you should at least try to trust them. Trust might be something that you have a hard time with given the track record of your relationship, but it is something that you should attempt. Don’t fall for an apology that lacks feeling, go with your gut on that one, but giving them the benefit of the doubt may be a much needed olive branch. You should continue to have boundaries and guard yourself when you feel most vulnerable around them but in the long run they may surprise you and change their ways. If they say they will try to change yet continue to do the exact things they apologized for then trusting them probably isn’t something that you need to visit at that time.
10. Say Goodbye
It is always hard to cut family out of your life but if all of your other efforts at reconciliation have failed then cutting ties completely might be your only option. Don’t do this lightheartedly, it is important that you put effort into the situations as well, but we all know that there are some things that can’t be savaged no matter how hard we try. If you do decide that saying goodbye is what needs to happen you’ll want to get your reasoning out in the open.
Use this as an opportunity to speak your peace, let your sibling know what they have done and why you have come to this decision. You don’t want to leave yourself with stones unturned so make sure that you get all of your feelings out there before you stop taking their calls. In the end, wishing them the best of luck and closing that door may be your key to freedom and better mental health.
Have you had to deal with a toxic sibling in your life? Psych2Go would like to hear from you! Please leave a comment below with anything you found helpful in your own toxic sibling situation.
If you liked this then you may also like these other articles from Psych2Go:
Hardy, Chrissa. “How To Deal With A Toxic Sibling Who Is Getting Under Your Skin.” Bustle, Bustle, 25 Feb. 2016, www.bustle.com/articles/141848-how-to-deal-with-a-toxic-sibling-who-is-getting-under-your-skin. Retrieved October 27, 2017
Streep, Peg. “8 Strategies for Dealing With the Toxic People in Your Life.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 14 Dec. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tech-support/201612/8-strategies-dealing-the-toxic-people-in-your-life. Retrieved October 27, 2017
Weiss, Suzannah. “How to Deal With a Toxic Sibling.” Glamour, Glamour Magazine, 11 Aug. 2016, www.glamour.com/story/toxic-sibling. Retrieved October 27, 2017