What Can You Do If You Have Toxic Siblings?

Toxic relationships can occur in any area of the social plane, including the family. In this article, we're going to talk about toxic siblings, how to identify these harmful dynamics, and what you can do to escape them.
What Can You Do If You Have Toxic Siblings?
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Written and verified by the psychologist Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 26 October, 2022

What are toxic siblings like? Do you feel that the relationship with your sibling(s) has become toxic? How can you find out? Furthermore, if you do have a toxic relationship with them, how should you deal with it?

Over time sibling dynamics tend to change. The reasons for this are diverse. For instance, the passage of time, the change in stages, the difference in ages, the change in family roles, and the maturation of each individual sibling can all be contributory factors. In this article, we’ll talk about sibling relationships and how to improve them.

“I think family is key, and if you have love for family, then you have love for others – and you have unity as a people.”

-Marlon Wayans-

Toxic relationships

Instead of toxic people, it’s preferable to speak about toxic relationships or dynamics. These types of relationships can manifest themselves in any area of your life, with friends, at work, with your partner, or with your family.

In this last area, before we talk about toxic siblings, we’re going to try and define a toxic relationship. It’s a relationship that generates discomfort and suffering, but that you’re unable to distance yourself from or are incapable of abandoning. They’re the kinds of relationships that:

  • Sap your energy.
  • Bring you more discomfort than well-being.
  • Prevent you from being yourself.
  • Don’t nourish you.
  • Make you obsess over them and ultimately lead you nowhere.

Risk factors for the consolidation of a toxic relationship

Risk factors, unlike causes, are conditions that make the appearance of a problem situation more likely, but don’t cause it. Let’s look at some risk factors for the consolidation of a toxic relationship.

  • A deficit in communication skills and assertive behavior. An individual with this deficit will find it difficult to jointly build solutions to conflicts. That’s because being unassertive means others impose their opinions on them.
  • Low empathy. An individual with low empathy probably won’t understand the ideas and behavior of the other person. They also won’t take into account the other’s position when resolving a conflict.
  • Little respect for the ideas of others. This can be problematic because the individual understands that only their opinion is valid. Therefore, they underestimate the ideas of others.
  • Difficulties in resolving conflicts. An individual with this difficulty may persist in less assertive strategies such as arguing or simply resigning themselves or running away from the situation. Not resolving conflicts can result in the configuration of a toxic relationship.

Logically, it isn’t the same to have a toxic relationship with your partner (who’s someone you can choose to be a part of your life) as with a family member (you can’t choose your family). In fact, in this second case, more difficulties may appear when it comes to setting boundaries or keeping your distance. More specifically, we’re referring to toxic siblings. What are they like?

brothers arguing

Toxic siblings

Toxic sibling relationships, just like toxic relationships in general, are self-damaging. They’re relationships based on envy and jealousy, victimhood, manipulation, the feeling of loss of control (learned helplessness), etc.

Naturally, we don’t all get on well with our siblings, it’s nothing particularly unusual. However, when conflicts are recurrent, you feel unable to set boundaries with your sibling, or you feel that they’re treating you badly, you’ll probably have to accept that you may have a toxic relationship.

Do you think that you have toxic siblings or that you’ve been building a toxic family dynamic together? How can you find out if this is the case and, if it is how can you deal with the situation? First of all, we’ll talk about some of the warning signs of this kind of harmful relationship.

The warning signs of a toxic sibling relationship

We’ve already talked about some general signs that may be warning you of a possible toxic relationship. However, what about in the specific case of toxic relationships with your siblings? Here are some possible warning signs. (They don’t need to occur all at once).

  • Your sibling treats you badly.
  • You argue on a recurring basis and rarely solve the problem.
  • You can hardly ever speak calmly to each other.
  • You’ve lost respect for them.
  • If you live with them, you feel uncomfortable. You’re neither calm nor happy. In fact, your coexistence may even be unbearable.
  • There’s family hostility when they appear.
  • You feel unable to distance yourself from them, even if your relationship with them is painful.
  • You continually compare yourself with them. Alternatively, your parents did so and this has generated frustration or low self-esteem.
  • You’ve already stopped seeing them as a sibling or companion and see them as your enemy.
  • They ignore your opinions.
  • They’ll try to change your relationships with other family members.
  • They take advantage of your weaknesses.
  • They never show remorse for their failings towards you.
  • They’re constantly criticizing you for everything you do.
  • They manipulate you.
  • They’re hypocritical.

Do you identify with any of these signs? If so, perhaps it’s time to find out if you have a toxic relationship with your sibling, and what you can do to get out of this harmful spiral for both of you. Here are some ideas to get you started.

How to act

1. Identify if your relationship is toxic

The first step will be to recognize how you relate to and communicate with them and to identify your type of relationship (whether it’s healthy or harmful).

Reflect on the warning signs and ask yourself specific questions. Does my relationship with them add or subtract from me? Does it take away my energy? Does it make me suffer? Answer these questions and you’ll be able to figure out if you have a toxic sibling relationship. Becoming aware of the situation is the first step.

2. Don’t expect them to change

People don’t change ‘just because’. Nor do they change because you want them to. It doesn’t work that way. However, sometimes toxic relationships hold you ‘captive’ because you think that they might change. This is harmful because it’s a paralyzing hope.

You must accept that they’re the way they are, with all their strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t mean that you have to accept that they stay in your life or that you have to put up with their behavior. Once you become aware of this, you can move on to the next stage.

3. Identify what space or role you want to give them in your life

We know it’s not easy to distance yourself from family members but you can identify what space or what role you want to give them in your life. Maybe you simply can no longer be the best friends or confidants you were in adolescence.

Be flexible and open to change. Perhaps the relationship now has to go the other way or be placed on another level.

Woman thinking

4. Set boundaries and distance: take care of yourself

One more thing that’ll help you is to set boundaries and distance (physical and emotional) with your sibling. It doesn’t mean breaking up the relationship but giving each other a bit of space and time to think or escape.

Identify what they do to hurt you and make it clear to them. You have the right to take care of yourself and protect yourself. This also means taking care of your family.

When we talk about distance or protecting yourself, we’re not talking about ending your relationship or not recognizing your own mistakes, but about being able to give yourself the opportunity to heal and rebuild your family relationships.

“My family is my strength and my weakness.”

-Aishwarya Rai Bachchan-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.