14 Signs You Might Have A Toxic Sibling (2023)

Being tight with a sibling can be a huge blessing — they’re like a built-in friend for life. But if you have a toxic relationship with your siblings, you might feel like you’re stuck with a frenemy. Just because someone is related to you doesn't automatically make them a positive part of your life. Everyone wants a good relationship with their family, but if you feel like crap after every interaction, you might want to look out for some signs you have toxic siblings. Chances are, if your browser history includes a toxic sibling quiz, or you’re often asking yourself, “Are these signs my sister is jealous of me?” or “Is my brother disappointed in me?” the relationship you have with your sibs needs some attention.

"The things that make a sibling toxic are the same things that make a friend toxic — only with a sibling, it's even harder to separate yourself from the drama," says therapist Jill Whitney, LMFT. "Toxic people consistently make you feel worse about yourself in an unhealthy way. Some siblings might give honest, kind feedback that kind of stings or might make you feel bad in comparison because they've made different choices that have worked well​ for them. Those are not toxic situations. They're just uncomfortable information that you might learn from."

According to Liz Higgins, LMFT-S, founder of Millennial Life Counseling, there are three things that puts a behavior in the realm of toxic: It’s consistent, ongoing, and intrusive. “Identifying toxicity in sibling relationships may feel difficult, especially if there is a historical nature to the unhealthy or abusive dynamics,” she tells Bustle. “People can sometimes grow up in abusive or less than ideal family dynamics but go their whole life feeling it was ‘normal’ and living in acceptance of it because, as children, you don't know any differently.” It’s worth noting that toxic behavior isn’t necessarily abusive, but it is manipulative and can be draining to be around.

Brothers and sisters can cause as much strife in your life as friends or coworkers, and sometimes it can be hard to take a step back because of your familial obligations. Everyone has to find the right way to deal with their unhealthy family relationships, but the first step is identifying that your sibling is causing harm to your life. Here are 14 signs that your sibling is toxic.

1

They're Manipulative

It’s not always easy to see the signs someone might be manipulating you. According to Whitney, you can look at the kinds of positions your sibling puts you in and how they make you feel. "A toxic sibling might borrow money to resolve crisis after crisis and make you feel bad if you say no,” she says. "Sometimes, these people have an addiction. They may constantly need money for food or rent because they've spent their money on something else, and you wouldn't be so mean and selfish that you won't help them out in their time of need, would you? It's hard not to help, even when your gut is telling you that more help is really enabling."

2

They're Overly Critical

Constructive criticism coming from a place of love is one thing, but a sign your sister is jealous of you could be that she intentionally makes you feel bad about yourself, instead of dealing with her own feelings. "[It’s toxic] when your sibling is highly judgmental and overly critical of you," says family counselor Christene Lozano, LMFT. "You may often feel as though you can't do anything right because your sibling will nitpick and find 'flaws' in you."

It’s important to let your sibling know when their words start to sting, and create boundaries for yourself when necessary. If you didn’t ask for advice, you don’t have to take it just because it’s coming from a family member.

(Video) 8 Signs You Have A Toxic Sibling

3

They Blame Others

With toxic siblings, your brother or sister is never wrong. If you notice your sibling blames others for their own mistakes or faults, is constantly deflecting, and lacks the self-awareness necessary to take responsibility for their own actions, Lozano says there are major red flags. "They often have the mentality that nothing is their fault, and everyone else is wrong," she adds.

4

They Never Show Remorse

A toxic sibling never apologizes, no matter what they did or how much it hurt you. "When your sibling doesn't express remorse, it ties into the previous sign of blaming others," says Lozano, adding that they genuinely don’t feel “at fault,” and so “there is nothing to apologize for."

A healthy relationship with a sibling, according to family therapist Dawn Friedman, LCSW, comes with an “open line of communication,” meaning that if you tell your sibling that they hurt your feelings, “they should be receptive to that, and be willing to meet your needs [for an apology].”

5

You're Always Exhausted Around Them

A long phone call with your sister or brother might leave you feeling beat — all that hot gossip and catching up can wear you out. But if every time you talk to your sibling, you’re left feeling like they took something away from you, be it your energy, your good mood, or your confidence, that’s a pretty good indicator that they’re toxic.

Lozano says to watch out for signs of exhaustion after interacting with your siblings. "Due to their unhealthy behaviors, it is natural to feel depleted of energy when engaging with your sibling."

6

They Betray Your Confidence

(Video) 10 Ways to Deal With a Toxic Sibling

Your siblings likely know a lot more about you than the average person, but that doesn't mean they have the right to share it. In a healthy sibling relationship, secrets are not for sale. With toxic siblings, “secrets are weaponized” and used to “keep you on your toes,” Friedman says.

"If your sibling often tells other people private things about you, you can't trust them," says Whitney. And while you might be inclined to dole out second and third chances, this behavior is evidence that the relationship is lacking loyalty. If this is the case, Whitney says to "give them as little personal information as possible."

7

They Actively Undermine Your Relationships

If your relationships are often tarnished once you bring your sibling around, this likely isn't a coincidence. "Out of jealousy or competitiveness, some siblings go out of their way to damage your connections," says Whitney. "They might tell your new boyfriend about the time you cheated on your boyfriend back in middle school. They might tell your mom the mean thing you said about her when you were frustrated. Or they might tell your old friend how much time you've been spending with another friend. This kind of interference is destructive and mean-spirited."

8

They Ignore Or Ostracize You

Sometimes, the toxicity of your sibling is a bit more subtle. So subtle, they might not be paying much attention to you at all. "[Toxic siblings] don't deign to consider your opinions, or they treat you as if you have nothing of value to offer," says therapist Holly Brown, MFT. "In some ways, this can be even more painful than being criticized directly, because it's about a refusal to recognize your worth. That can contribute to low self-esteem and self-hatred.”

They might go as far as never addressing anything directly with you. “If there’s an issue or a conflict, they talk to another sibling, your mutual friends, or your parents about what’s bothering them, but they won’t talk with you directly,” says family therapist Anita Chlipala, LMFT. “Involving others prevents your relationship from growing and can keep people stuck in the same patterns.”

9

They Don’t Allow You To Grow Up

It might seem innocent to be “babied” by your siblings as an adult — especially if you’re the baby of the family — but according to Friedman, healthy sibling dynamics need to evolve. “As we reach adulthood and meet new milestones like partnering up, having kids, changing jobs, non-toxic siblings will adjust and compromise — even if it isn’t easy.”

In toxic relationships, Friedman says, “siblings don’t allow each other to grow; you’re always the spoiled baby of the family or the know-it-all eldest.” This behavior can be hurtful and also limiting, as it doesn’t allow siblings to “be friends” in the way they can be as they age.

10

They Tease You Just A Little Too Hard

Just because you’re siblings doesn’t mean you have to weather each other’s worst insults in the name of “comedy,” Friedman says. “If a sibling is constantly telling you that you’re too sensitive, or that you can’t take a joke, they’re not validating your feelings, and that’s an issue.” While a little bit of silliness can be healthy between siblings, if you’re feeling hurt by the “jokes,” it’s a sign your sibling is undervaluing your emotions. “It’s not OK for people to treat us lousy just because we’re related to them,” Friedman adds.

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11

You Change The Way You Act Around Them

Unless you’re super close with your sibling, you probably only show them a certain tailored side of you. Who you are with them might not be the exact person you are with your BFF or when you’re alone, and that’s OK. But that’s completely different than if you’re constantly adjusting every decision, behavior, and emotion around them. “This is a form of learned relational defense,” Higgins explains. “Often to protect you by seeking control over outcome. When we learn to adjust ourselves around someone else's intrusive ways, it begins a pattern of needing external validation to be OK. You begin to need others' approval and feel more responsible for others' feelings and choices because you're overworking to avoid conflict or a negative response.”

If you feel like you lose yourself to cater to them or protect yourself from them, you might be dealing with a toxic sister or brother.

12

They Prey On Your Weaknesses

Toxic siblings will do anything they can to take advantage of you. “For instance,” offers Chlipala, “if they know you’re a people pleaser who has a hard time saying no, they will keep badgering you until you finally cave. They might even tell other family members about your weaknesses so that they can take advantage of you, too.” They know you won’t stick up for yourself and will guilt-trip you into getting what they want.

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13

They Demand You Act A Certain Way

“I've had clients who have had intrusive and abusive parents and whose siblings have learned to ‘carry the torch forward,’ so to speak, in demanding that the client continue to do certain things,” says Higgins. The whole toxic dynamic is continued on, and the sibling will try to enforce certain “rules” or expectations of you. “For example,” offers Higgins, “feeling obligation to pay for things for your sibling because they're younger or feeling that you're supposed to minimize your success in life so as to not hurt your siblings feelings about themselves.”

14

They’re Hypocritical

You can do no right, while they can do no wrong. “Rules don’t apply to them,” says Chlipala. “Where they hold you accountable, they give themselves a free pass.” There’s always an excuse or a reason why your situations are different or why they’re not in the wrong — even if you both took the same action or made the same mistake. “They minimize your feelings but give themselves the space to process theirs, or expect you to show empathy for what they’re going through but don’t acknowledge your feelings,” Chlipala tells Bustle.

Whether you want to address the relationship together in family therapy or alone with a personal therapist, there are ways to heal and move forward.

Studies:

Rogers, C. R., Lee, T. H., Fry, C. M., & Telzer, E. H. (2021). Where You Lead, I Will Follow: Exploring Sibling Similarity in Brain and Behavior During Risky Decision Making. Journal of research on adolescence : the official journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence, 31(1), 34–51. https://doi.org/10.1111/jora.12581

Rogers, C. R., McCormick, E. M., van Hoorn, J., Ivory, S. L., & Telzer, E. H. (2018). Neural correlates of sibling closeness and association with externalizing behavior in adolescence. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 13(9), 977–988. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsy063

Iturralde, E., Margolin, G., & Spies Shapiro, L. A. (2013). Positive and Negative Interactions Observed Between Siblings: Moderating Effects for Children Exposed to Parents' Conflict. Journal of research on adolescence : the official journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence, 23(4), 10.1111/jora.12020. https://doi.org/10.1111/jora.12020

Song, J. H., Volling, B. L., Lane, J. D., & Wellman, H. M. (2016). Aggression, Sibling Antagonism, and Theory of Mind During the First Year of Siblinghood: A Developmental Cascade Model. Child development, 87(4), 1250–1263. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12530

Morgan, J. K., Shaw, D. S., & Olino, T. M. (2012). Differential susceptibility effects: the interaction of negative emotionality and sibling relationship quality on childhood internalizing problems and social skills. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 40(6), 885–899. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-012-9618-7

Jensen, A. C., Whiteman, S. D., & Fingerman, K. L. (2018). "Can't live with or without them:" Transitions and young adults' perceptions of sibling relationships. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 32(3), 385–395. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000361

Kramer, K. L., Veile, A., & Otárola-Castillo, E. (2016). Sibling Competition & Growth Tradeoffs. Biological vs. Statistical Significance. PloS one, 11(3), e0150126. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150126

Tucker, C. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2015). The state of interventions for sibling conflict and aggression: A systematic review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 18(4), 396–406. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838015622438

Stocker, C. M., Gilligan, M., Klopack, E. T., Conger, K. J., Lanthier, R. P., Neppl, T. K., O'Neal, C. W., & Wickrama, K. (2020). Sibling relationships in older adulthood: Links with loneliness and well-being. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 34(2), 175–185. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000586

Buist, K. L., Deković, M., & Prinzie, P. (2013). Sibling relationship quality and psychopathology of children and adolescents: a meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 33(1), 97–106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2012.10.007

Experts:

Jill Whitney, LMFT

Christene Lozano, LMFT

Dawn Friedman, LCSW

Liz Higgins, LMFT-S and founder of Millennial Life Counseling

Anita Chlipala, LMFT, author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love

(Video) 7 Hidden Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder

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FAQs

What does a toxic sister look like? ›

She Doesn't Respect Boundaries

You love your little sister, but she's always had a hard time knowing her place. She's made a habit of showing up at your house, unannounced, expecting to be able to stay for dinner.

How do you tell if a sibling is jealous of you? ›

Humans tend to put emotional or physical distance between themselves and the people who cause bad feelings. If your sister is jealous, she might withdraw or shut down when you are around. She might refuse to make plans with you, avoid serious conversations or even walk out of a room when you walk in.

What is a toxic brother? ›

“It is characterized by criticism, control, manipulation and guilt.” From turning everything into a competition to refusing to take responsibility for their actions, find ten signs of a toxic brother below.

What is a toxic sister? ›

A toxic sibling relationship is a relationship that is unbalanced in its power dynamic and may involve sibling abuse and dysfunctional sibling rivalry. Sibling estrangement can be caused by parental favouritism, having immature parents, parental or sibling abuse and psychopathy.

What is a gaslighting sibling? ›

By definition, a gaslighter is someone who's trying to make you feel crazy. They will do and say outrageous things in order to make you feel confused, doubt your memory, your decisions, and your very sanity. And because it's a family member, you don't see it coming.

What is a trauma bond in siblings? ›

Siblings who share a trauma history can sometimes form a trauma bond. A sibling trauma bond is an emotionally complex interpersonal relationship and can be very challenging to break.

How do you know when to cut off a family member? ›

25 signs you should cut off from your family
  1. 1) When they repeatedly offend and insult you.
  2. 2) When they trash talk you on social media.
  3. 3) When they consistently disrespect your values and beliefs.
  4. 4) When they're negatively impacting your mental health.
  5. 5) When they disempower and humiliate you.
30 Dec 2021

Why do siblings fight as adults? ›

Reasons for Adult Sibling Rivalry

Parental favoritism is often cited as a source of adult sibling rivalry. It's also common for people to feel that a sibling is or 'has always been' favored by a parent, even if this may not be recognized or acknowledged by the rest of the family.

When your sister is a narcissistic? ›

A narcissistic sibling can have profound and lasting impacts on your mental health, especially if you were raised with one. It can potentially cause you to be more conflict-averse, distrustful, and tolerant of abuse in other relationships.

Why do siblings stop talking to each other? ›

Sibling estrangement is an outgrowth of "drifting apart and taking different paths. The more painful (break-up) is when it comes out of a conflict or many conflicts," Kennedy-Moore said. Often cutting off the relationship arises when one sibling "finds it toxic to have that person in their life," Kennedy-Moore said.

Do you tell a toxic person they are toxic? ›

As soon as you notice toxic behaviors, confront the person. Call them out on any lies or inconsistencies. Tell them you don't appreciate how they behave. This shows them that you're paying attention — and you're giving them a chance to explain themselves or apologize.

Can a sibling Gaslight you? ›

While it's most common in romantic settings, gaslighting can happen in any kind of relationship where one person is so important to the other that they don't want to take the chance of upsetting or losing them, such as a boss, friend, sibling, or parent.

How do you know if your family is toxic? ›

9 signs of a toxic family member or household:
  1. They're abusive.
  2. You feel depressed or anxious around them.
  3. They're always criticizing or blaming you.
  4. They're manipulative.
  5. Punishment is unwarrantedly harsh.
  6. The household or family member can be unpredictable.
  7. They're dismissive of your needs.
14 Aug 2022

Why are older siblings jealous? ›

Older siblings often feel displaced within the family as a result, which sets up the new child as a rival for the parents' attention. This is the foundation of sibling jealousy and rivalry, and it's common. Fortunately, the challenge passes fairly quickly in most cases.

How do you deal with a difficult sister? ›

How to Deal with Annoying, Difficult, and Disrespectful Siblings, According to 7 Experts
  1. Serenity now and peace be mine. ...
  2. Take time to respond, rather than react.
  3. Stay calm in volatile situations.
  4. Suspend your disbelief.
  5. Know your triggers.
  6. See their behavior as an opportunity for self-growth.
  7. Common ground.
13 Mar 2021

How do you deal with a manipulative sister? ›

A good first step is to acknowledge that you're aware of the manipulation. It's normal to feel upset or pressured, but remember: That's how they want you to feel. Try grounding yourself or using breathing exercises to cool down and relax. Use respectful language and “I” statements to avoid sounding confrontational.

Are you a toxic person? ›

A toxic person is someone who regularly displays actions and behaviors that hurt others or otherwise negatively impact the lives of the people around them, and they're usually the main instigating factor of a toxic relationship.

How do you deal with a disrespectful sibling? ›

How to Deal with Annoying, Difficult, and Disrespectful Siblings, According to 7 Experts
  1. Know your bill of rights.
  2. Set personal boundaries with your siblings.
  3. Prepare yourself mentally.
  4. Use positive self-talk.
  5. Be grateful that you don't have to live with your siblings.
13 Mar 2021

Can a sibling Gaslight you? ›

While it's most common in romantic settings, gaslighting can happen in any kind of relationship where one person is so important to the other that they don't want to take the chance of upsetting or losing them, such as a boss, friend, sibling, or parent.

Do you tell a toxic person they are toxic? ›

As soon as you notice toxic behaviors, confront the person. Call them out on any lies or inconsistencies. Tell them you don't appreciate how they behave. This shows them that you're paying attention — and you're giving them a chance to explain themselves or apologize.

What is a narcissistic sister? ›

Narcissistic siblings are excessively preoccupied with their self-worth and view themselves as superior to others. This can be a very difficult relationship, as narcissistic sibling will often put their own needs above those of their siblings.

Why do siblings stop talking to each other? ›

Sibling estrangement is an outgrowth of "drifting apart and taking different paths. The more painful (break-up) is when it comes out of a conflict or many conflicts," Kennedy-Moore said. Often cutting off the relationship arises when one sibling "finds it toxic to have that person in their life," Kennedy-Moore said.

What does God say about siblings? ›

"Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!"

Why is my brother so annoying and rude? ›

A common cause of annoying sibling behavior is simple boredom. Perhaps your brother is bored or feels like he's not getting enough attention. Instead of giving him negative attention by fighting back or engaging in your annoying behavior, try doing something fun and productive together.

How do I get my siblings to respect me? ›

  1. Follow the following!
  2. Be responsible.
  3. Take decision by going yourself to that age and state.
  4. Give and respect privacy.
  5. Protect and make them feel that they are protected.
  6. Respect their feelings.
  7. Understand their wish and show them what is realistic and what not.
  8. Try to get it done, the realistic dreams.

What does God say about toxic family members? ›

The Bible does not tell us to continue in relationships with people who have damaged us or are still damaging us, family or not. In fact, the Scriptures are full of teachings instructing us to leave relationships with wicked or evil people, to be separate from them, to shun, outcast, and purge them from our midst.

How do you tell a toxic family member goodbye? ›

Waxman suggests saying something like, "I'm sorry you feel I'm ruining the family. I love this family! I'm doing what I think is best to take care of myself." Setting those boundaries will be difficult at first, but stick to your guns and remind yourself that you're doing this for your self-care. Keep it cordial.

Did I grew up in a toxic household? ›

Kids raised in a toxic environment might constantly feel like they are always not good enough or even worthless. Their parents might have always made excessive demands on them and blamed them if they didn't meet their expectations. Basically, they have developed low self-esteem and have a lack of self-care.

How do you protect yourself from a family member? ›

Here are five ways to cope with toxic family members.
  1. Create boundaries. OK, easier said than done, but very essential to do. ...
  2. Limit your contact. This may be hard to do, especially because family members often get together on various occasions. ...
  3. Don't engage. ...
  4. Create a solid support system. ...
  5. Cut off all contact.
28 Apr 2022

How do you know if your family is toxic? ›

9 signs of a toxic family member or household:
  1. They're abusive.
  2. You feel depressed or anxious around them.
  3. They're always criticizing or blaming you.
  4. They're manipulative.
  5. Punishment is unwarrantedly harsh.
  6. The household or family member can be unpredictable.
  7. They're dismissive of your needs.
14 Aug 2022

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