My Thoughts on Sibling Bullying
I recently saw a post questioning whether sibling bullying is often overlooked by parents because they are so focused on what goes on outside the home, or whether it is considered to be “OK” because it toughens the bullied sibling up for the “real” world.
I don’t think bullying is OK anywhere, especially not in the home.
I grew up with two older siblings, and we were approximately 2 years apart in age. My brother Brian is the oldest, my sister Lynne the middle child, and me the youngest. I was never bullied at home, and that was of critical importance. Since I have a facial deformity, I was susceptible to stares and taunts. Home was my safe haven, and I staunchly defended it as such. On rare occasions, Brian would bring up that I got extra attention because of my face. I would howl to our mother, protesting his very mention of my face, and he would be reprimanded. In truth, he was right. I did get extra attention because of it, especially from Mom. I had additional medical needs, extra emotional needs because I had to deal with looking different, plus I was the baby of family. The cards were definitely stacked in my favor.
On the other hand, Brian was the first to defend me if he heard other kids picking on me. He only ever got into one school fight, and it was because of me. On another occasion, when I was the victim of an especially merciless and ongoing verbal assault by a fellow middle schooler, the assailant was lucky school officials put a stop to it when they did. Brian had gotten wind of it and he and his best friend were planning to come down from the high school and pound on the kid.
Even though I was not bullied by my siblings, I understand how it could happen.
Perhaps the victim is perceived as getting preferential treatment. Maybe he or she seems smarter or more creative, or possesses a trait the bullying sibling wishes they had. Maybe the bullying sibling is trying to impress someone else. Or maybe they are desperate to be in control of some aspect of their life.
Some sibling rivalry is normal, as are disagreements and even some physical contact. Just because it is normal, however, doesn’t mean it should be tolerated or encouraged. Bullying, however, is actions or words with the intent to cause physical or emotional harm, against which the victim has little means of defense.
It’s about control.
It may have nothing to do with size, age or physical strength. If one sibling feels inferior to another because the other keeps reminding him of his or her alleged inferiority, physically or verbally, that is a problem and it needs to be addressed. The bullying sibling needs to understand the impact of his or her behavior, and the motivation for it should be rooted out.
It’s not about “toughening up.” Home and family should be about “building up.” Families should stick together and support each other, not tear each other down. Increased self-esteem and confidence are two factors that enable people to cope more effectively with bullying behavior, and even help deflect bullying attempts. The only way I see sibling bullying as productive is if it done in a deliberate role-playing session, in which the assaults aren’t real. This way, responses can be experimented with to see what sort of reaction they elicit in the pretend bully.
It was bad enough being stared at nearly everywhere I went, though I did eventually learn not to notice. However, I can’t imagine the hell my life would have been if I’d had to deal with the constant reminders about my physical appearance while at home.
I may not have been bullied by my siblings, and for that I am grateful. Because of that, I can only imagine what it would be like. I’d love to hear your stories, including how you and your parents dealt with it, if it was dealt with at all.
[Disclaimer: I am not a medical, sociological, or psychological professional. The content of this post is based on personal experience, conjecture and opinion.]