Estrangement is fairly common among adult siblings and recent study conducted by Cornell University discovered that 1 in 10 adult individuals have alienated themselves from at least one family member, especially siblings. For victims of sibling abuse and bullying, estrangement is a last but necessary resort as avoiding contact with the aggressive sibling is their only way to free themselves from their sibling’s abusive grasps. Although estrangement may not be easy, it provides the victims a much needed sense of relief and an opportunity to rebuild their self-esteem and sense of self worth.
Effects of bullying among siblings
Sibling bullying can leave lasting mental and emotional scars on the victim that can even adversely affect their adult lives. According to a study conducted as a part of The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, being bullied by a sister or brother, whether severe or mild, can lead to serious mental health issues in children.
Another study by Dieter Wolke & Alexandra Skew, psychologists from the UK, found that almost 50% of children experience sibling bullying on a monthly basis and it can result in
“worse mental health” and higher chances of being bullied by peers. A research paper authored by Professor Lucy Bowes PhD, Department of Experimental Psychology at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, found that 12 year old children who were repeatedly bullied had twice as more chances of suffering from depression & self-harm by the age of 18. Although this doesn’t suggest that bullying necessarily leads to depression, sibling bullying can significantly affect the victims mental health.
Moreover, Dr. William Copeland, associate professor at Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, has claimed:
“We’ve looked at mental health, inflammation, education, work, social relationships in adulthood and physical health, and across the board, we tend to see that victims have long-term effects of this early experience.”
How the bullied child is affected in adulthood
The effects of sibling bullying are long term and the victim can feel traumatized for years to come. Not only does the survivor lack self-confidence, assertiveness and self-esteem, they also experience long term emotional health problems which affect the victim’s life even during their adulthood. Apart from struggling with depression, anxiety, stress, lack of confidence and identity issues, the victimized sibling may also feel hopeless, isolated and lonely.
A major British study revealed that sibling abuse and bullying can affect the victim almost 40 to 50 years later. Being bullied during childhood can affect an individual’s mental and physical health well into their middle age. They can experience anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts along with physical health problems.
Professor Louise Arseneault, senior researcher from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said:
“Some children will be set on a pathway towards problems for the rest of their lives. We need to take bullying seriously and do all we can to prevent it and help those children when it does happen.”
The survivors develop an inability to stand up for themselves which creates issues at work and relationships as adults. They mostly have skewed notions about personal boundaries and may be confused about what a healthy relationship feels like.
The abused child may grow up to be aggressive and a bully themselves or become codependent and play a submissive, pleasing, accommodating and victim role in romantic relationships and friendships by developing learned helplessness. As they were not protected by their sibling and parents, they can become distrustful, emotionally unavailable & hypervigilant. A person who is bullied by a sibling during childhood may also be afraid of vulnerability & dependence. It may also lead to alcohol addiction, substance abuse and eating disorders.