Earlier this week, The Irish Times published a series of articles about sibling bullying.
It included the personal experiences of victims of sibling bullying –'I hate him but I'll still answer the phone to him . . . ' and'It continued until at age 30 . . . I walked away'.The articles provoked a strong reaction from readers – some of whom were keen to share their own experiences of sibling bullying.
Here we publish (anonymously) 10 submissions from our readers.
He accused me of lying and faking my sadness when our dad died
1) "My brother hated me from my birth. He's 16 years older than me and didn't even live with us. He was visiting once and tried to drown me in the toilet. He's pulled two knives on me, once when I was 12 and once three years ago.
“He accused me of lying and faking my sadness when our dad died, then called me repeatedly from our dad’s cellphone so it would ring with my dad’s ring tone and show up as “Daddy” on my phone after our dad died.
“He’s a monster.”
I'm afraid I'll never trust a man
2) "My brother bullied me to such an extent as a child, that as an adult I find it difficult to trust men. Professionally, I'm defensive with male colleagues, and I'm sometimes described as 'hard work' or 'difficult'.
“Romantically, I expect men to be very charming and ‘trick’ me into trusting them, before they show their true colours . . . just like my brother.
“I’m afraid I’ll never trust a man enough to form a loving and lasting relationship.”
There is no real love there for me, only emotional abuse
3) "I'm the youngest in a family of three sisters and there's 12 years between me and the next sister and only a year between her and my oldest sister, so they operate like twins. It's taken me years to learn the painful lesson that there is no real love there for me, only emotional abuse.
“They comment on my appearance, call me stupid for the slightest mistake like leaving a door open and want to know every detail of my life and I know nothing about their private business as it’s not my business and they are very private about their own lives. Whenever I try to point out their behaviour and language is abusive they tell me I’m crazy – it’s classic gaslighting.
“I did therapy and I remember sitting there listing off things they did and said to me and I was completely emotionless until the therapist said I’m sorry this happened. Then I just buckled and told him my earliest memory of them was as a young child wetting the bed, they made fun of me about it constantly and one day brought wet bed sheets from the laundry basket to show their teenage friends in the garden outside. It was such a shaming thing to do and indicative of how they work. I think when I came into the family I obviously upset their world and they’ve never forgiven me for it.
“A friend really helped a while back when she said we keep going back to these hurtful family situations cause we are looking for the love we expect to find there. If its not there, we are like people who keep going to the hardware store to buy oranges – they don’t have them, they never will, we need to look elsewhere.”
My sister has consistently made snide comments about my weight and appearance
4) We (my two siblings and I) grew up in a volatile and unpredictable environment. My mother was physically abusive towards mainly me, and emotionally and verbally abusive towards us all. My father enabled my mother. He doted on my sister who is still the apple of his eye.
“In my 20s, I was sad about my childhood and unhappy that I had no relationship with my sister. When I was a teenager, my sister made negative comments about my weight, she is naturally thin and I don’t think she understands people with different metabolisms can find it hard to stay slim. She never wanted to talk to me much either. Knowing that I grew up with dysfunctional parents, I am sure that I too was unkind to my sister during our childhood.
“Over the past 10 years I tried to build a relationship with my sister, visiting her when she lived abroad, buying her gifts and spending time with her. I included my sister in my family events, asking her to be my bridesmaid and godmother to my son. Unfortunately, this has not been reciprocated, my sister has consistently made snide comments about my weight and appearance, and made very unreasonable demands on my time. When I asserted myself she reacted in a very hostile and angry fashion and refused to accept responsibility for her 50 per cent of our relationship.
“My sister is always the victim of any situation, not matter what she has said or done. My sister’s behaviour is becoming like my mother’s behaviour. I am now an adult, although I am saddened by our lack of closeness, distance is preferable to dealing with my sister’s unreasonable behaviour. It is better for my sanity, to now spend time with people who are kind and loving towards me.”
I am consistently given the impression that he can barely tolerate my presence
5) "The bullying I have experienced from my sibling is unusual (I think), in that it did not begin until I reached adulthood and has been totally non-aggressive and non-confrontational, and was not preceded by any disagreement or 'falling out'. Rather, it has taken the form of exclusion – I am given the cold-shoulder and treated like I literally do not exist to him, even though we enjoyed an amiable and close relationship while growing up together.
“Despite the absence of any communication, I am consistently given the impression that he can barely tolerate my presence. I have never been given a clear reason why I began to be treated like this. The behaviour has continued for many years and has been the main source of distress and anxiety throughout my adult life.”
Exclusion was and is still the weapon of choice
6) The bullying is and was relentless, and was never stopped by my mother as she is a bully too. The older she got, and the more successful she got in her career, the more the bullying continued, only it changed into a different type. She became a highly respected professional, I became a lone parent, marriage ended, unable to hold down a job, no self confidence.
“She was treated like a queen in our mothers’ home, I was treated like some kind of lower class object, exclusion was and is still the weapon of choice. With incredible slyness it never exposed itself to extended family, the put downs were carried out always when nobody was around, or coated in fake concern to other family members when I wasn’t present to defend myself. This was devastating as a teenager as this particular sister was somewhat older, and found it incredibly difficult to deal with two grown women whose behaviour was so vitriolic towards me.
“I made an attempt at suicide at age 19 and was found unconscious by this sister and brought to A&E. Afterwards, when I was discharged, she brought me with her when getting results of her exams and told me it was my fault she didn’t do better as she was distracted by my suicide attempt. To this day, I cannot understand her hatred of me, but thanks to my grown-up children , who have seen for themselves over the years what her behaviour is like, as I have never bad mouthed her, I feel redeemed and worthy.
“I forgive her, by blessing her and letting her go. We all know she is the one who is truly suffering for all her wealth and possessions.”
She could almost bully you without you knowing it
7) "We had a somewhat dysfunctional family growing up; barring orders, separation, and, eventually, divorce. My mother, older sister and I all suffered in our own ways, but my older sister developed into a bully somewhere along the way. When we were young, her bullying would be mainly low key and psychological, chipping away at those around her and undermining with almost imperceptible slights and digs. She has a wicked sense of humour and is fiercely intelligent so she could almost bully you without you knowing it. How cunning is that?
“Obviously, there were physical altercations as well over the years, but I’m glad she was not born a man as things on the physical side would undoubtedly have been much worse. Maybe we are lucky that her bullying was more mental/psychological than physical. Sometimes, I’m not sure.
“Over the years her bullying has developed and her main strategy nowadays is to isolate you and withhold contact or withdraw from relationships. She uses her daughter as a tool in her bullying. I feel sorry for her because she isn’t happy. Her bullying has always been born out of a lack of self-love and self-worth. She can hear no dissent or criticism, no matter how lovingly it is expressed.
“She and I have disconnected entirely so she’s no longer my problem, but I hope she sorts herself out, for the sake of our mother and her daughter.”
Without my brother, I would have grown up in a loving, safe, joyful home
8) "I haven't spoken to my brother in 10 years. The last time I saw him was at my mother's funeral – that was the worst part of the day. Without my brother, I would have grown up in a loving, safe, joyful home. But, with him in the house, my siblings and I were subjected to relentless mental and physical abuse.
“Our parents did their best to protect us and tried every intervention. We had peace at the times my brother was in residential treatment for his behaviour. We would have been happy if he had been out of the house permanently, but our parents were torn. He was their son too. I do also believe they were suffering from his abuse.
“I’ve lived with depression for most of my life. I can’t say for sure if it stems from my brother’s treatment of me – my other siblings don’t have mental health issues – but I do feel it’s had a profound effect and still has a hold on me. Once, looking out the window as I sat on the bus, I spotted my brother on the street. Even though I knew he couldn’t harm me, the feeling of panic that washed over me was crippling. Nobody would expect a person who experiences abuse at the hands of their partner to return to them; indeed, victims who stay with their partners are often vilified. So why are so many people shocked when they learn I have no contact with my abuser?
“I’ve heard, ‘but he’s your brother!’ as if that somehow means I should put up with it all. It baffles me. No one in my family has any contact or relationship with my brother any more. We now have the safe and happy home life we always wanted.”
His bullying was persistent, sly and humiliating
9) "While it would be an exaggeration to say that my older brother made my life hell, it would not be an overstatement to say that the best day of my childhood was when he left for college when I was 15. It was like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders (which from then on would no longer bear the bruises from the regular thumpings he would give me).
“The house seemed to expand without his menacing presence. Light streamed in. The air was more breathable. His bullying was persistent, sly and humiliating. Living with him was like living in a police state. Punishments were cruel, ‘justice’ arbitrary, torture an ever-present menace. I could enjoy no pleasure or happiness while he was in the house. So, I spent a lot of time cycling in the country or visiting cousins, or playing sports on the green. Or just out. Anywhere but at home with him.
“He was three years older than me, and I was slight. Physically, there was no way I could resist him. But I was a faster runner. I often fled from the house like a bat out of a cave and would slink back later using my mother or father as human shields. I remember one night my parents came back from the pub to find my brother in the front lawn in a state of rage and me hiding in the undergrowth across the road.
“I could list off things that seem incredible now, that make my brother’s boyhood and adolescent self seem like a monster: he used to play his clarinet into my ear while I did my homework. He was not a good player – a squawker. I cannot abide the instrument now. He would fill my shoes with honey, or jam, or worse things. He would steal my Star Wars figurines. Let the air out of my bicycle’s tyres. Vandalise my treasured possessions. A thousand petty things day in, day out, that all added up to making my life a misery.
“His tormenting of me was relentless. Driven. You couldn’t tell on him, though. Otherwise, it would be worse when my mother’s back was turned: deeper, twistier pinches, rougher ear-rubbing, deader dead legs. I have a story that I tell people to get across the extent of the reign of terror under which I lived. I got a small snooker table for Christmas one year. Within a week my brother had broken one of the cues over my head. (I was a better player than him and he didn’t take well to losing.) The other cue lasted until after my confirmation, when, in trying to defend myself from this particular blow, he also broke the Swatch watch I had been given to mark that special occasion.
“My brother and I are not particularly close these days. In our forties now, we only see each other a handful of times a year. Each time I see him, I catch glimpses of the bully that marred my childhood. It’s still there under the veneer of adulthood and reasonableness, bubbling up in his dealings with his kids and my elderly mother. He has a fragile ego. Doesn’t like being corrected or criticised. My mother says she never knew about the bullying. Which amounts to my childhood consisting of a secret police state withing a police state!
“The truth is, she enabled the bullying. My brother was pathologically jealous after I was born. She and my father indulged this jealously, fed the flames with attention and lavish presents. My brother must have thought he was a little god, and because his first stuttering attempts at bullying were never punished (he used to piss into my cot when I was a baby!) he ploughed ahead with gusto and what he thought was a green light from Mammy and Daddy.
“Do I forgive my brother? I have no idea! Maybe if one day he asked for it I might. All I know is that I got over the bullying and lived as free as bird when he left us, and I haven’t looked back since.”
A bully will often seek out people who have been predisposed to bullying
10) "I never realised that I was bullied until I was in my mid 30s. I knew that how my siblings treated me wasn't normal, when I looked around at other how other families functioned and wonder why ours was different, I used to excuse it away by concluding that my brother and sister had very different personalities to me and they just didn't seem to know that there should be some level of loyalty towards each other.
“When I was 37, I was pregnant and having a bad time in work. My boss was bullying me. The HR person asked me if I would attend counselling on how to deal with bullies to help me learn how to protect myself. When I went to see the counsellor she kept reverting back to my childhood and identified that my older brother was a bully.
“Initially, I denied it thinking that this was just a tactic that counselling uses, to always blame a family member, but then I realised she was right, it all clicked into place and just made sense. She told me that, in a workplace, a bully will often seek out people who have been predisposed to bullying and likewise employees (who have been bullied in the past) will seek out bosses who are bullies. This happens because subconsciously we are comfortable (with the discomfort) by repeating a familiar pattern.
“I don’t want to recount all my past experiences, they are so many and so varied, when I go there my stomach sinks and I feel a resentment building and what good does it do you, the past is in the past and cannot be changed. My parents were separated when I was 16 and my mother always described my father as an ‘Absentee Father’. He left all the parenting to her. She had a very hands off approach which didn’t help.
“My siblings had such strong personalities, I don’t think she was able for them. She does recognise that she didn’t do enough to protect me and has apologised for that but also proclaims that she didn’t see any of the bullying. They are very dominant over her, even today and part of me thinks that she’s actually afraid of them. In a horrible twist of faith, my niece, my older brother’s daughter has now started to bully my daughter. She was a catalyst for my new approach of zero tolerance. I refused to let history repeat itself.
“I manage the situation with my siblings now by limiting our time and exposure to my siblings and their offspring and always ensuring I am comfortable with the situation (if not, removing myself and/or my daughter from it) and most of the time it’s working.
“It’s a shame that I can’t or won’t be having a close relationship with my family in the future but it is what it is and right now it’s bearable.”
Sibling bullying series
- Humiliated and scorned by a family member . . . this is not just 'sibling rivalry'
- 'I hate him but I'll still answer the phone to him . . . '
- 'It continued until at age 30 . . . I walked away'
- 10 readers on sibling bullying: 'My brother hated me from my birth – he's a monster'
- 'I am 75 and it still hasn't stopped'
- 'My tormentor was there every day . . . waiting'
- John Sharry advice: what can a parent do?