When people talk about toxic family members, they're usually speaking about a dad they don't get along with, or a mom who is seemingly trying to ruin their life. But toxic family members can include siblings, too. And it can lead to a lot of stress, as you try to figure out how to deal with them.
Getting along with siblings can be tricky even under the best circumstances, usually due to the well-known "sibling rivalry." Maybe you guys competed in school growing up, or fought for attention from your parents. But even if that was the case, there's a good chance you grew up to appreciate each other — and may even be good friends today.
But others aren't so lucky. For folks with toxic siblings, it can take a lot of work to keep a relationship going. And you find that you don't even really want to try. "Ultimately, if you feel that you must sacrifice your needs in order to have the relationship as it stands, you may consider at least stepping away until you can navigate boundaries," Deanna Fernandez, MHC, NYC-based therapist, tells Bustle
If that rings true, then there's a chance your relationship with your sibling may require a closer look. Here are some typical signs of a toxic sibling, according to experts, as well as what to do about them.
1. They Don't Respect Your Boundaries
Speaking of boundaries, a toxic sibling — much like a toxic parent — isn't going to have much respect for your boundaries. So even if you attempt to establish them as a way of maintaining your relationship, you may notice it doesn't help.
"Boundaries essentially say 'this is how I love you and myself at the same time,'" Fernandez says. "It’s actually a requirement in all relationships. If you’re fearful of setting and maintaining boundaries, that’s a good indication the relationship is toxic. If your sibling continues to violate your boundaries, that’s also a good indication the relationship is toxic and you should prioritize your health/safety over the relationship."
In this situation, they might not take "no" for an answer, Fernandez says, or make unreasonable demands, leaving you wondering if it's even worth interacting with them.
2. They Give You Anxiety
It's normal to feel a touch of shyness around some family members, especially those you don't see very often. But if true anxiety flares up whenever you're around a certain sibling, or you sweat at the thought of having to interact with them, take note.
When a sibling is toxic, you might feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them, feel apprehensive to answer their calls, or be unsure about "how they’ll take it" if you’re honest with them, Fernandez says. And that's not fair to you.
So trust your gut. If you don't feel good around someone, do what you need to do in order to create some space, so you don't have to be stressed out.
3. Your Interactions are draining
You may have an eccentric sibling who you love, but can't see very often because they're just so darn quirky. And that's OK. It's only when every interaction you have leaves you feeling drained, that you may be crossing over into toxic territory.
"As an example you may want to hangout with your brother, but in order to do so you have to do the thing they want, be available during the time their available, and make other sacrifices as they arise," Stevon Lewis, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "You're left feeling as though you've attended to all their needs and barely had any of your needs met."
When this is the case it may be time to cut ties, seek therapy, or at least back off for a while. Figure out what would work best for you, in order to maintain the relationship. And then make that clear.
4. The Rivalry Is No Longer Cute
While you may have a history of sibling rivalry, there should come a time when you're both officially mature enough to joke around about it, and not take it so seriously. And yet, if you have a toxic sibling on your hands, it's only likely to get worse.
You might find that, even though you're both well out of college and into your careers, your sibling still competes with you and turns everything into an argument. Should it start to feel toxic, don't be afraid to speak up.
"It’s important for us to advocate for ourselves and express our needs, so that people are clear about what we tolerate and what we don’t," Fernandez says. "And it’s not until we do that can we determine if the relationship is truly harmful — and if so, you should be working on your exit strategy now."
5. They Only Bring Negativity inTo your Life
If you're questioning your relationship with your sibling, think back over your history and try to remember any good they brought to your life. If it's just kind of neutral then you have nothing to worry about, because not everyone has an amazing relationship with their sibling. But if it's all doom and gloom, fights and arguments, then take some time to consider how important the relationship is to you.
Toxic siblings tend to take, and take, and take, sometimes to the point it's no longer a mutually beneficial relationship, Fernandez says. Yours might be unreliable, dismissive of your feelings and needs, unwilling to spend time with you, or unwilling to meet you halfway on anything, she says. It's all about them, all the time. And that's not fair.
6. They've Damaged Your Life In Some Way
While everyone makes mistakes, a toxic sibling may bring all sorts of drama into your life due to the way they act, and the poor choices they make. For example, it's possible they'll be financially abusive, Fernandez says, meaning they borrow money and don't pay you back, or take advantage of you in some way.
If you try to talk to them about it, she says, a toxic sibling will likely play the victim or manipulate you, instead of apologizing or trying to find a way to make amends. If behavior like this has become the norm, consider your options in terms of stepping back or cutting ties.
Keep in mind, though, that many people reject change, so it won't necessarily be easy to set up boundaries. "You may reasonably expect and prepare for other family members (siblings, parents) to give an solid eyebrow raise for setting boundaries," Fernandez says. "But, don’t fret, [as] this provides you with many opportunities to practice communicating your needs!"
You can also call in outside help if your family isn't helping with this change. "Should you have difficulty navigating sibling and other toxic family relationships," she says, "consider meeting with a therapist for education, tools, and support."
7. You Family Encourages Their Behavior
Speaking of family, a toxic sibling can become even more toxic if they're being egged on by your parents. And you may find that, if you all grew up in a toxic environment, that no one makes an attempt at creating healthy relationships.
In fact, you may worry that your parents will react negatively to any boundaries you try to establish with your sibling, worry your parents may side with your them, or even feel fearful of "going against family norms," she says. If toxicity has become a pattern, it can be tough to break.
That said, there is always hope. "With the exception of extremely abusive/traumatic relationships, it’s usually possible to improve sibling relationships," Fernandez says. And establishing boundaries is the best place to start. From there, you may be able to create a more stable relationship, or at least a situation that's easier to manage.
If not, though, don't hesitate to back away. A relationship should never feel draining or damaging, so if the connection you have with your sibling is toxic, it may be time cut ties and focus on what you need.