Being abused by a sibling is painful and can cause intense stress. Whether physical abuse, such as hitting, or verbal abuse, such as name-calling, it is critical to find ways to protect yourself. By talking to your sibling, setting up boundaries, taking time away and getting help, you can deal with an abusive sibling and move on to more fulfilling relationships.
Know It's Not Your Fault
Abuse is never the fault of the one being abused, and this is critical to remember. In some cases, an abusive sibling will respond to conversation, particularly if the issue is verbal abuse. Tell your sibling how their insults make you feel, and ask if there is a particular reason that these hurtful verbal attacks are occurring. In some cases, jealousy is an issue as children compete for their parents' attention (and these competitive patterns can persist into adulthood). But at the root, you may find that your sibling feels inadequate or disconnected. They may also have other stressors at school or work that they are "taking out" on you. Let your sibling know that you empathize and still care about them, but that it isn’t okay for them to treat you that way. If all else fails, bring a parent into the conversation or seek professional help to work through the abuse safely.
If you live in the same home with the abusive sibling, and the abuse is physical, having locks on your doors may help, though it is a short-term solution. In this case, speak to a parent or another trusted adult who can assist in keeping you safe from your abusive sibling. Don’t be afraid to contact authorities if your safety is at stake.
Whether the abuse is physical or emotional, setting boundaries is helpful. If you have moved out of your family-of-origin's home, physical boundaries are easier to set, such as not allowing the abusive sibling to come to your home, or passing on family get-togethers. If the abuse is emotional, refusing to answer phone calls can be of help. You may find that the sibling will attempt to upset you in other ways or through other family members, but you are well within your rights to say, “The things you say and do are hurtful. If you continue these behaviors, I will neither see nor speak to you.”
Take Time Away to Complete Projects
Those with abusive siblings are more likely to have a hard time in school, reports 2007 research published in the Economics of Education Review. From difficulty completing homework assignments to trouble concentrating on exams, due to stress, those with abusive siblings end up with lower GPAs. For this reason it is critical to get assistance, if you are currently taking classes, either from a guidance counselor or your teachers.
In adulthood, these behavioral patterns — if not dealt with previously — can manifest as difficulty completing work assignments if your abusive sibling is overbearing or pushing boundaries. Avoid your sibling if you know you have work to complete, whether in school or at work. Refuse to answer phone calls when you’re working on a project, or complete it at the library or somewhere else where your sibling cannot harass you. Being able to move forward and setting yourself up for a brighter future is a great start in dealing with sibling abuse.
Understand Your Abuser's Situation
In households where one child is abused, there is significant risk to the others who live there, most notably a higher risk of fractures and hospitalizations from abuse, according to 2012 research published in the journal Pediatrics. Children who see violence are more likely to act out these scenarios later. And while all children who live in a home may not be abused, individuals who are being hurt may act out towards siblings. Even in later adulthood, mental health problems are common in those who have been abused at younger ages, notes research published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.
If you suspect that your abusive sibling was a victim before they became an abuser, discussing this with them via phone may be a positive thing. Opening up a dialogue with understanding, hope and help may go a long way in reducing these behaviors. However, if you currently live with your abusive sibling or are under eighteen, speak to someone else about this issue, such as a school guidance counselor, in order to get assistance and avoid injury. Getting professional assistance for both of you can help you to deal effectively with an abusive sibling.
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- Economics of Education Review: The Influence of Childhood Maltreatment on Adolescents’ Academic Performance
- Pediatrics: Prevalence of Abusive Injuries in Siblings and Household Contacts of Physically Abused Children
- Child Abuse and Neglect: Long-term Physical and Mental Health Consequences of Childhood Physical Abuse: Results from a Large Population-based Sample of Men and Women
Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.
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