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I'm a Therapist and These Are 6 Signs Your Sibling Is Toxic

Brother and sister relationships can be dysfunctional—and downright abusive, too.

A brother or sister can be a blessing—someone to make fun memories with, lean on for support during tough times in your family, and share things in common with. However, as with all other types of relationships, they require mutual respect, trust, and healthy communication. Sometimes, those foundational elements just aren't there, because your sibling is downright toxic—and no matter how hard you try to build a strong bond with them, their behavior makes that impossible.

According to Rachel Goldberg, LMFT, the founder of Rachel Goldberg Therapy, a "toxic" sibling is someone whose words and actions consistently have a negative impact on your mental, emotional, and sometimes physical well-being. Very often, Goldberg says their behavior can negatively affect the entire family dynamic.

Once you're aware of the indicators, you can take steps to take care of yourself—whether that means letting your sibling know how their behavior is affecting you, creating distance from them by limiting communication, or working with an individual or family therapist. Here, therapists share some tell-tale signs your sibling might be toxic.

RELATED: I'm a Psychologist and These Are the 5 Telling Signs Someone Is a Narcissist.

They constantly criticize you.

Three men or brothers arguing on a couch
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Does your brother or sister often make disparaging comments about your physical appearance, your career, your financial situation, or your life choices? If your sibling always seems to find things to disapprove of in your life, experts say that's a huge red flag.

For example, Natalie Rosado, LMHC, owner/founder of Tampa Counseling Place, says your sibling might make fun of your weight or mock your professional achievements.

"This behavior is toxic because it degrades your self-worth over time," explains Goldberg.

Everything is a competition.

Woman Rolling Eyes at People arguing next to her at the kitchen table

Sure, a small dose of sibling rivalry is normal. But if your sibling is overly competitive with you about everything, that can become exhausting and frustrating.

For instance, let's say you get a promotion—and instead of congratulating you, your sibling uses the opportunity to boast about how well they're doing at work. Or maybe during a family dinner, they make it a point to highlight all of their recent achievements while also bringing attention to negative events in your life.

A more extreme example, says Rosado, is when a sibling spreads rumors about you to damage your reputation and make themselves look better.

"A sibling who constantly compares themselves to you can make you feel like you always have to prove your worth," says Goldberg.

Eventually, this kind of dynamic can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

RELATED: 5 Signs Someone Is Majorly Jealous of You, Therapists Say.

They frequently resort to manipulation.

Woman and man sit at a restaurant having an argument.
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Manipulation can come in many forms. Your sibling may constantly guilt-trip you into doing things for them, gaslight you into believing that they never did or said something upsetting, constantly play the victim to get what they want, or give you the silent treatment during an argument to maintain a position of power.

All of this behavior is toxic, according to Rosado and Goldberg, because it manipulates your behavior in a way that you're no longer acting according to your goals, needs, desires, and values.

You have to walk on eggshells around them.

Mid adult woman sitting home alone, worried

If you have to watch every little thing you do or say around your sibling, Goldberg says that's another red flag to pay attention to.

You may feel that you need to be extra careful because their anger can be explosive, or you're never quite sure what will cause an intense emotional reaction. Either way, you can't have a healthy relationship with a brother or sister who you can't be honest with. You should be able to tell them what you're thinking and feeling without fear of the backlash.

RELATED: 4 Signs Your Parent Is Gaslighting You, Therapist Says.

They repeatedly violate your boundaries.

Cropped shot of a young couple having an argument at home

Let's say you tell your sibling that they can't call you after 10 p.m. unless it's an emergency, or that they can't drop by your house unannounced. How do they respond when you set boundaries like these? Are they able to respect them? Do they become angry or ignore them?

"Violating boundaries is toxic because it sends the message that you don't matter," says Goldberg. "If your sibling constantly invades your privacy or takes your things without asking, for example, it can lead you to believe that you can't trust people to respect your autonomy or choices."

They don't show you any empathy.

two females disagreeing on a couch
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Compassion is a two-way street in relationships, including between siblings. Just as you show your sibling some empathy when they're having a hard time, you deserve to receive the same in return.

"Toxic siblings may lack empathy and fail to acknowledge or validate their sibling's feelings," says Rosado.

When they fail to acknowledge or outright dismiss your emotions, refusing to offer much-needed support during tough times, that can make your relationship feel one-sided.

This behavior may be rooted in narcissistic tendencies—meaning your sibling expects their needs to come first. Either way, it's obviously hurtful when your sibling shows no regard for what you're going through.

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more
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