These are factors that make sibling abuse more likely:
1. Spousal/intimate partner or child abuse (physical or emotional, including criticism and shaming)
2. Cultural norms that condone the abuse of power
3. A hierarchical family structure, where one spouse controls the other, and older siblings mimic that authoritarian behavior and attitude toward younger siblings
4. Gender and birth order matter. First-born children are more likely to be offenders and younger females victims. Siblings close in age or an older brother-younger sister pair are risk factors.
5. The father has anger issues.
6. An older child overseeing a younger sibling breed to resentment, boundary confusion, and abuse of power.
7. Parental neglect or lack of supervision
8. Parental normalization of abuse by ignoring or minimizing it. Silence is taken as assent.
9. Parental inability to resolve sibling conflict or respond appropriately
10. Parental favoritism toward one child or comparing siblings
12. A parent taking sides, blaming the victim, or shifting responsibility to the victim, e.g., “Don’t play with him, then.”
13. Substance abuse by a parent or the abuser
14. Children with a conduct or mood disorder or ADHD are more predisposed to violence.
15. The offender has experienced abuse, has an aggressive temperament, lacks empathy for victims, has lower or higher self-esteem than peers, or has unmet needs for physical contact.
Signs and Effects of Sibling Abuse
The effects of sibling bullying and abuse mirror parent-child abuse and have a long-term negative impact on survivors’ sense of safety, well-being, and interpersonal relationships. Victims of all ages experience internalized shame, which heightens anger, fear, anxiety, and guilt. Both victims and perpetrators often have low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Children may complain of headaches, stomachaches, and bowel, eating, and sleep disorders. Some have developmental delays or social and academic difficulties in school. They may run away or stay for periods at friends’ homes. Victims may engage in substance abuse, self-harm, or delinquent behavior. Abuse causes fear of the perpetrator that may lead to PTSD and produce nightmares or phobias.
Survivors continue to struggle into adulthood with shame, depression, boundaries, low self-esteem, PTSD, loneliness, hopelessness, and drug abuse. They may have somatic complaints, fear the dark, and sleep and eating disorders. Survivor trauma accumulates “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” which are linked to codependency and negative health as adults.
Survivors’ low self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, and inability to protect themselves lead to difficulties resolving conflict at work and in intimate relationships. They’re confused about boundaries and what constitutes a healthy relationship.
They may become aggressive or develop codependent, pleasing behaviors and repeat their accommodating, submissive, victim role in adult relationships. Having been betrayed by a sibling and parent (through lack of protection), they’re distrustful and fear dependence and vulnerability.
They may be hypervigilant and emotionally unavailable or attract someone who is. Consequentially, they seek self-sufficiency and independence because they perceive depending on someone as dangerous. This leads to intimacy problems, loneliness, and isolation.
Long-term effects of sexual abuse include excessive self-loathing, guilt, anxiety, confusion, difficulty with sustaining long-term intimate relationships, vulnerability to sexual re-victimization, suicide, delinquency or criminality, and promiscuity or fear of sex.
Therapy is recommended to work through trauma. Clients should present the issue because most healthcare providers underestimate the impact of sibling abuse and don’t ask about it. Therapy should focus on healing the trauma and overcoming shame. See Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.
Written by Darlene Lancer
Originally appeared in What Is Codependency