How to Know If You Have a Toxic Relationship With Your Sibling

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In a perfect world, a sibling is a best friend and ally. In the real world, sibling relationships can be incredibly complicated — and while there will always be fewer and fewer perfect parts, there may come a point when the flaws become so great that they’re considered toxic.

One sign that a sibling relationship is toxic is when “every time you walk away from an interaction with them, you end up feeling disempowered,” she said Imi Loa psychotherapist, mental health consultant and author of the book Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity: How to deal with intense emotions as a highly sensitive person. “It’s not always obvious.”

Toxic sibling relationships are often very polarized

As Lo wrote in a psychology today article As of last year, toxic sibling relationships often fall into one of three dynamics: the golden child and the black sheep, the mature adult and the eternal child, or the bully and the silenced child. NNo matter what role you are in, the bottom line is not healthy.

Being a golden child comes with the constant fear of failure or rejection, and Being the black sheep comes with the burden of never being quite good enough. Always being mature means growing up far too early, while always being seen as a child means missing the chance to grow. “Often, what underlies a toxic relationship is polarization,” Lo said.

This dynamic often begins in childhood, usually as a result of what is going on at home. “This [relationships] are not necessarily the child’s fault, however [are because of] the way the parent built the relationship,” Lo said. These types of relationships aren’t necessarily problematic, but if they continue into adulthood, at a level that causes undue stress, they can become toxic. “Be aware [these dynamics] and the roots of that are important,” Lo said. “The work is for the children who are now adults to be aware of how this is constructed.”

Signs a relationship is toxic

Relationships are complicated and there will always be some level of misunderstanding, especially when it comes to family. However, some signs that a sibling relationship is toxic include a general pattern of feeling stressed or uncomfortable around a sibling. This could include a pattern of constantly undermining or questioning your decisions, badmouthing you, or a general refusal to move away from the relationship dynamic that developed during childhood.

“A certain level of challenge can keep you sane,” Lo said. However, when this happens to the extent that you constantly feel dismissed or put down, this is an indicator of a toxic sibling relationship. Another red flag is if you don’t feel safe about being vulnerable with them.

Boundaries are essential in a sibling relationship

When it comes to dealing with a sibling relationship, that’s less as ideal, it is important to set healthy boundaries. What that looks like depends on your particular situation. When a sibling is ready and willing to work on what happened in the past and shows a willingness to detach from a toxic dynamic created in childhood, There is an opportunity to form a new, healthier relationship. “It can be very healing,” Lo said.

If not, growth requires a different kind of journey, one that involves evaluating whether or not the relationship is fixable and what kind of boundaries are required. In these situations, therapy can be helpful, preferably with a therapist experienced in dealing with toxic family situations. It can also be helpful to write about what you’re feeling or practice speaking out loud about what you’re feeling. “Sometimes reality doesn’t change, but you can face your feelings,” Lo said.

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