Every time I’m on Facebook, I’m always struck by how many “You’re the best sister in the world” memes I see. And I think, “Does everyone have such a superstar sibling?” Because… I don’t think so. I’m lucky that I really love my big sis, but sadly not everyone has a first-rate rapport with their family members. In fact, I’m willing to bet money that a lot of you out there will recognize these signs of having a toxic sibling — despite what social media would lead you to believe.
So what exactly constitutes a toxic sibling, from, say, a pain in the butt brother or sister? “Anyone with siblings has personal experience with sibling rivalry,” says Laura Ann Elpers, MS, LMFT, RPT, a marriage and family therapist and author of Little Worm: A Story About Worry. Siblings can frequently disagree and fight with each other. Which is why your kids might seem to spar many times over the course of the day — or even the hour.
But where sibling rivalry ends and a toxic relationship begins comes down to how it’s handled. “Traditional sibling rivalry is generally countered by periods of making up, cooperation, and affection for one another,” says Elpers. Difficult sibs, on the other hand, don’t follow that pattern. They will continually prod and poke at you until you crack. “Having a toxic brother or sister presents unique challenges because these people are piece of the family system and likely a significant part of one’s life story,” says Elpers. And since you might not be able to completely cut ties with them, it’s important to know the signs so you can protect yourself, both emotionally and physically.