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Bullying by one's own sister/brother can have long lasting psychological impact!

26 Dec 2015

A mother happily brings a second child to life thinking that the siblings together would be happy. Thinking ahead into the future she assumes that a sibling will create a feeling of relatedness and belongingness in the child when she or they (parents) are not alive.

To nurture and develop strong bond between her children, she brings them up with ideas of sharing and developing in them an attitude of caring, compassion, protection, and togetherness.

Hardly, is she aware that there can also lay a possibility wherein one of her children may hold an attitude of hate and hostility towards his/her sibling. Consequently, this may have an everlasting and damaging impact on their relationship even when they have grown older and mature in their thinking. Yes, this may sound shocking, but it stands true as well.

Here is the story of Manavi who shares an array of horrific and traumatic experiences at the hands of her older sister Tarani. Manavi, was a 10 year old girl, studied in grade 5th. Often times she would complain to her mother about her sister (who is 5 years older to her) behaviour’s that she had hit her, destroyed her favourite toys, and her stuff on a daily basis. Her mother didn’t believe as she thought that her elder daughter was very responsible and acted in a caring manner toward her young one. She further brushed aside the issue saying that “siblings sometimes fight like this, soon both of you will outgrow it, and fighting means there is more love between you two, it is good to forgive and forget since you have one older sister only”. When the complaining would increase, she scolded Manavi, and warned her to not complain about her elder again otherwise she would complain about this to her father.

Manavi was scared of her father. Her mother’s responses gave her the feeling of being ignored, unheard, neglected and feelings of helplessness. Her elder sister was the favourite in the family and her parents perceived that Manavi was making stories and she was the one who was responsible behind what she was complaining.

Moreover, on questioning by his mother, Tarani denied it and cried thus making her mother’s beliefs even firmer. For Manavi, living each day was like living in a hell, Tarani would bash her, threaten, harass, call her names, hid and destroyed her stuff, she did it after making sure that both were alone. Manavi became scared, sad, upset, tensed, stressed, anxious, cried a lot, believed it was all her fault at being mistreated, couldn’t sleep, had nightmares, refused to eat, couldn’t concentrate on studies, her grades started falling down, she remained aloof and at distant. Such kind of experiences unquestionably affected her psyche and confidence deeply.

Now Manavi is a grown up. But she still carries the hurt of being bullied by her own older sister. She is still not comfortable with her sister, she still has pain and low confidence issues especially in presence of older woman like her boss/ mother in law and sister in law.

Manavi’s story clearly stated that it is important to not ignore or dismiss such bullying behaviour of a sibling by, thinking that it is a normal behaviour. It is a serious issue and deserves much attention and help.

Research states that siblings who are bullied by their own siblings are twice more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and self-harm than the ones who hadn’t.

 In addition, sibling bullying is more likely to create mental distress as well as emotional health issues in future both short term as well as in long term. It is a very common form of family violence which often goes unrecognised and under reported. It occurs as frequently as spousal abuse or parental child abuse.

Research also confirmed that sibling aggression creates more mental distress than peer aggression

Being bullied by a sibling may have profound and everlasting impact on a child’s mental health and later can lead to adult mental health problems.

Let us understand here how it affects the psyche of the young mind

 Psychological Impact

·         Not able to trust people in relationships e.g. difficulties in maintaining relationships

·         Thoughts of being insecure and unsafe with other people

·         Thoughts of being mistreated/unfair, suspiciousness

·         Thoughts of being helpless

·         Distorted perception of self, people and relationships

·         Poor self image

·         Suicidal ideation

·         Self blaming

·         Self critical

·         Nightmares


Emotional Impact

·         Feeling anxious

·         Feeling tensed

·         Feeling scared and fearful

·         Feeling angry

·         Feeling of hatred

·         Extreme terror and fear

·         Crying spells

·         Stressed

·         Insomnia

Behavioral Impact

·         Showing decreased social interaction

·         Staying aloof

·         Avoiding people

·         Shy and introvert

·         Passive

·         Nervousness

·         Self harm

·         Aggression

·         Becoming a bully himself/herself

·         Low confidence and self esteem

Causes of Sibling Bullying

·         Parents who ignore the conflicting issues between their children and who often fail to intervene when physical fights starts. Their children may sort out their conflicts in unhealthy ways.

·         Parents take one child to be their favourite than other

·         Parents often label one child in better terms than other “he/she is a good player”, “he/she is smarter”. This may make the child feel jealous and unwanted by his parents

·         Elder sibling perceives that the younger sibling has taken all the positive attention, recognition, resources from his parents. He feels powerless and not in charge of this situation. This may lead to frustration and aggression in elder child expressed in the form of bullying the younger child

·         Sometimes older children are asked to play the role of a parent. They may imitate the behaviour of either of their parent to control their younger sibling

Warning signs of Sibling bullying

·         Does your older child lash out insult/use foul/swear words at his/her sibling?

·         Does your child hits/scratches/bites/kicks/pulls hair of his/her sibling on frequent basis?

·         Does your older child damages the favourite items of his/her sibling so as to hurt him/her?

·         Does your younger child appear scared, tensed, sad in the presence of his older sibling or vice versa?

Tips to cope with sibling bullying

·         Prepare your responses in advance so that you not loose confidence, and show nervousness when the bully comments on you. Practice them till the point that they flow without any deliberate effort.

·         Use more of “I”statement than “You” statements. Communicate in clear words about your needs and your feelings. “You” statement sound more like you are blaming and accusing other person and that may exacerbate the situation.

·         Be assertive. Maintain an appropriate eye contact. Say “excuse me” clearly and firmly. Saying this word clearly gives a message to the perpetrator that you wouldn’t tolerate indecent words/comment. It wouldn’t make the situation hostile and aggressive.

·         Don’t ignore your needs and acknowledge your needs, give them priority and act on them, and if you feel the tension is mounting in you, separate yourself from the situation, think of ways to relax yourself so that continuous tension doesn’t incapacitate your mental state.

·         Be clear in your mind what your needs are, and they are equally important to you. Set clear limits and clearly state them.

·         Respect yourself. People who are bullied or given comments on become critical of their own selves. Learn to treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Value and regard yourself. Doing this will make you feel empowered and you will feel more in control of the situation than helpless and powerless.



Tips for parents to help their children who have been suffering from sibling bullying

·         Understand the seriousness of the situation, and the pain which the bullied child/victim undergoes. Not to say that punishing the child who bullies is a solution. The solution is to also address untouched, hidden feelings of child who bullies so that he copes with his emotional issues.

·          Addressing the feelings of both the perpetrator and victim is important to resolve the hurt arising bullying experiences.

·         Empathize with or validate the negative feelings of your older child when a new born arrives in your family. The older child may feel uncomfortable and ignored at seeing the attention is drawn towards taking care of the younger sibling. Hence, feelings of jealousy or hatred may develop in older child. Later these negative feelings may get expressed in competing against him/her for affection from parents. It is important to acknowledge these negative feelings than to brush them aside and address them in an empathic and non-judgemental manner so that older child feels that he/she too is an important part and loved by his parents.

·         Parents need to be careful not to make their older children feel hurt, embarrassed, guilty, ashamed at saying or thinking hostile, and unfriendly thoughts  about their younger sibling. Often at such situations parent disapprovingly say that they are suppose to love their sibling and they would not be accepted if they say such words. Feeling of resentment in older child from this situation may transform into bullying of the younger sibling later.

·          When conflicts arise between siblings in any form. It is important to address their needs as well as creating a win win solution to resolve their conflict so that neither child feels that other sibling is favoured more by the parent.

·         Parents need to remember that their children need their individual time as well. Therefore, they need to allocate some special time wherein only they and their child is with them.

·         Keep the children safe from the harm caused by the child who bullies.

·         Parents unknowingly compare their siblings’ talents and weaknesses. They label them by saying who is smarter, intelligent, better, good and responsible etc. Such comparison may contribute to more hurt feelings and may continue the bullying behaviour. It may also develop into unhealthy competition as well as feeling of inferiority, inadequacy, powerlessness, craving for affection from the parent may develop.

·         Refrain from handling the bullying situation by punishing, scolding, avoiding/dismissing the child who bullies/perpetrator and saying that resolve the situation yourself.

·         Once the perpetrator feels understood, listened to, empathised he would be able to form a new, alternate and healthy perspective about this situation and the need to harm the younger sibling may also subside.

·         Seek professional help from a mental health therapist/psychologist if you feel the situation is unbearable and you cannot help either of your children. The therapist/psychologist will help them to cope with their distressing, painful and hurt feelings as well as the difficult situation.

If you were bullied by your sibling as a child and still the pain lies within you or if your child is being bullied by their sibling or any other child and and you perceive the situation has become incontrollable, consult & get complete help from’s psychologists specialised in the area of children and adolescent. We are here to assure better relationship between your children and you.

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Tags: #sadness #bullied #sister