Signs You Have A Toxic Sibling

 September 04, 2016

When people talk about toxic family members, they usually speak about a dad they don’t get along with, or a mom who tries to ruin their life. But toxic family members can include siblings, too. And it can be incredibly upsetting.

Getting along with siblings is difficult as it is, usually due to the well-known “sibling rivalry.” My brother and I had this growing up — and occasionally fought like cats and dogs — but this doesn’t qualify as toxic. Today I love him to death (Hi, Scott!), and I’m lucky to have him.

But other people aren’t so lucky, and they wind up stuck with a truly hateful sister, or a nasty brother. It’s incredibly sad, and it can take a lot of work to keep the relationship going, and may even require a big decision to end it all together. An anonymous poster on had enough of their toxic sister and finally initiated a “break up.”

“We were having our most recent ‘episode’, an innocuous conversation that deteriorated into a war. Once again, I didn’t see it coming and was shocked at where it went. I’d had enough,” they said.

Another anonymous poster on, said,

“I had spent many years trying to be the calm, sensible one. The one who would try to rationalize my sister’s behavior just to keep the peace … The day finally came when the weight of accepting the burden was too much to bear. No amount of talking would convince my sister that I was being reasonable. It had to be her way.”

If these words are ringing true, then your relationship with your sibling may require a closer look, and perhaps it may even need to come to an end. Here are some typical signs of a toxic sibling.

1. The Relationship Is Based On Abuse

Abuse comes in all types and forms — mental, physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional. It can really get to you and leave you feeling like you’re unable to handle your own life. This was the case for the anonymous poster on, whose sister made them feel like a total screw up for almost forty years. “Nobody can upset me like her. Nobody can leave me feeling like such a loser,” they wrote. Even though you can simply chalk this up to mean words from a sister, it’s still abuse. The poster put up with it for decades, saw no change, and finally decided to cut ties. That’s not always the required course of action, but it’s important to respect how you feel and what’s best for you.

2. They Give You Anxiety

It’s normal to feel a bit of anxiety around family members, especially ones you don’t see very often. Maybe you’ve struck a nice balance between having a sibling in your life, just not too often. And that’s OK. It’s when the anxiety gets out of control, or becomes pervasive, that problems can ensue. As Genevieve Shaw Brown notes on, “When you are living in constant anxiety never knowing or being able to predict how any engagement is going to turn out, it is time to love yourself enough to let go.”


3. Your Sibling Is Too Crazy To Talk To

You may have an eccentric sister, or a weirdo brother, and that can be quite charming. But when every interaction with a sibling leaves your head spinning, and you find yourself in cyclical nonsense arguments, then you may be crossing over into toxic territory. According to Shaw Brown, “When crazy-making, no-win games dominate the relationship such as the silent treatment, blame-games, no-win arguments that spin around on you, there is no point in continuing in this battle.” When this is the case it may be time to cut ties, seek therapy, or at least to back off for a while.


4. The Rivalry Is No Longer Cute

My brother and I have totally different career paths, and it used to be a point of rivalry (at least for me). However, now that we’re older, I feel so much pride when I hear of his accomplishments, and he’s always happy for me, too. But some siblings never grow out of that competitive phase, and it can cause some real problems as adults. According to Jane Mersky Leder for Psychology Today, “While few adult siblings have severed their ties completely, approximately one-third of them describe their relationship as rivalrous or distant. They don’t get along with their sibling or have little in common, spend limited time together, and use words like ‘competitive,’ ‘humiliating,’ and ‘hurtful’ to depict their childhoods.” If your sibling reverts right back to their childish ways the second they interact with you, that might be sign of some toxicity you don’t want to be a part of.


5. They Only Bring Bad Things To 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 all 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.


6. They Try To Ruin Your Relationship With Other Family Members

It’s not uncommon for family members to stir the pot in order to get people to turn on each other. Call it a love of drama, or call it down right crazy — it’s bad any way you look at it. So consider cutting ties with a sister who tries to turn your mom against you, or a brother who doesn’t want you visiting his kids. It’s not healthy for anyone.


7. They Are Selfish

In a perfect world, family members would be there to help one another no matter what. Moving? Got it. Setting up a wedding? No problem. And yet some family members, including siblings, can peace out at the most inopportune moments. Think about how it makes you feel if you have a sibling who has never stepped up to help when they were needed. The answer is, “probably not very good.”

Some toxic relationships can be repaired, so don’t lose hope of patching things up with your brother or sister. But also don’t be afraid to move on without them in your life if you decide that’s the right thing to do.

7 comments on “Signs You Have A Toxic Sibling

  1. From the age of 3, I was bullied, terrorised, frightened by my older sister who is 3 years older than me. I was teased to the point of absolute frustration that I put my fist through the glass window at age 6! When my folks were around, it was less noticeable and if we had an argument, older sister blamed me and would actively seek to get me into trouble. All of this culminated in sexual abuse at her hands from when I was 11 until the age of 13. I managed to stop the sexual abuse by physically restraining her one day and threatening to kill her. The verbal abuse and torment carried on right until she got married and moved out. I only finally told my parents when I was 44 years old (10 years ago) and only because my older sister had an affair with my younger sister’s husband! Needless to say this has caused terrible trouble in my family. My parents have as little to do with their older daughter; my younger sister and I have nothing to do with her at all. The terrible consequences for me is that I have had to deal with very serious depression in my life. As a child, I did not have the language to tell my parents. As an adult, my older sister has tried to gaslight me. I attempted suicide in 2013, basically my entire life just collapsed, I was carrying way too much baggage, most of which started in childhood.
    I did get the help I needed, for which I am grateful. Most people though do not understand what trauma I suffered and survived. As I explain to people, I have looked evil in the eye and survived.
    Thank you for this article.

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