Readers on sibling bullying: My tormentor was there every day . . . waiting

21 readers tell their experiences of sibling bullying - past and present

Recently, The Irish Times published a series of articles about sibling bullying. The articles provoked a strong reaction from readers – many of whom were keen to share their own experiences of sibling bullying. Unfortunately, we cannot publish all the submissions, but here are a sample from our readers.

I prayed for my brother to disappear off the face of the earth

1) As horrible as it sounds, there have been many times that I prayed for my brother to disappear off the face of the earth; die in some horrific accident, or even take his own life. My brother, who is four years my senior, made my life a living hell. There was just something inside him that he truly despised about me. It became a nagging obsession of my brother to compare his life with mine, demanding I receive no special treatment or attention from my parents. Even on my birthday, if my mum didn't buy a present for him too he would explode into a fit of jealously and anger – this continued until he was about 20.

There have been plenty of times when he would barricade me inside my bedroom for the entire day, warning me if I came out he would beat me up. During my early teenage years he kept referring to a small mole on my face, saying things like how ugly I was and how no girl would ever go near me. I was so hurt by his insults that I actually scratched the mole off my face, which resulted in it becoming infected.

What I could never understand was how differently my brother acted outside my home. He was gifted academically, receiving one of the best Leaving Cert results in his year. His teachers always referred to him as an excellent, well-behaved student and never once got into trouble. At times, I wonder if I would have been better off being bullied at school instead of at home. That way, at least I could have told someone about it and received support from my friends and teachers. But in my home, there was no escape. My tormentor was there every day waiting for me until I finally had the means to move out.

I’m now in my mid-twenties and have a very happy life with my girlfriend. Through years of self-reflection, I no longer feel resentment for my brother, but pity. He can harbour as much hatred and jealously for me as he wants, but at least now he can’t affect me physically or mentally. For the first time in my life I feel free.

My only memories of my older sister by two years are of her constantly excluding me

2) Still today, the power she wields is strong. I am in my 40s. I grew up in an emotionally dysfunctional family in the west of Ireland. A bully for a father, whose obsession with money took precedence over everything. A timid mother, who was so consumed with remaining sane for herself had nothing left to give her children emotionally. My childhood was completely devoid of affection.

My only memories of my older sister by two years are of her constantly excluding me. This continues today in the form of me being completely ignored at family events in front of everyone. Fiercely intelligent and sharp, she is a highly skilled manipulator and extremely cunning. She compliments everyone else and makes them feel great about themselves. She has always gained something from seeing me upset and being left out.

As a child, my mother colluded with my sister. My mother laughed at the insults my sister so readily hurled at me. I had no self esteem and felt completely isolated. Their behaviour had a devastating impact on me. I went on to become very well educated, well travelled with many friends and a good job. My sister didn’t.

Yet, the dynamic continues whenever the family gets together. I am deliberately never alone with my mother and sister. It’s horrendously uncomfortable and frightening to be alone with the two of them. I’m married now with a daughter. For most of my adult life I kept going back to my sister trying to “fix” the relationship to make it better. I’ve given up now.

I’m happy most of the time now but the scars and pain of my childhood never leave me.

My older sister hated me from the day I was born

3) The snide comments were always the worst. My older sister hated me from the day I was born. Always jealous of everything I did. She is now in her 40s and will be nice to me now if she wants something. She has ended up a very lonely person and I almost feel sorry for her. She is a constantly angry person.

I suffered with anxiety for many reasons but one of my earliest memories is her calling me stupid when I was just four years old. The insults got worse through my teenage years and the ones about my weight were constant. Even when I was very thin I was constantly called fat. Snide comments at every family gathering and always trying to make out she is better than me. It was physical sometimes as well, but I became bigger than her and that stopped pretty quickly.

She tried to ruin my wedding day. I could probably write a book on that, she did so much. Now, if she is lonely I will get lots of texts and phone calls, but if she is in good form you won’t hear from her.

The only time I get involved now is if she upsets my parents and then I find I can really stand up to her. It has affected me as I sometimes don’t realise that I am being bullied by work colleagues or friends as it has been the norm for a lot of my life. I now stand up for myself ,as if you don’t stand up to a bully things will never change.

I could never understand how my friends genuinely liked their own brothers

4) My twin brother bullied me persistently from late primary school age until I left home at 18. It was never violent – it took the form of constant belittlement. Starting with silly name-calling when we were younger, it progressed to levelling more pernicious epithets (slag, whore, etc) and daily put-downs regarding my appearance, my body, my friends. Of course, most siblings engage in teasing and bickering, but this was an unrelenting and nasty effort obviously designed to undermine my confidence over many years.

It worked. It took me until near adulthood to realise that this wasn’t normal brotherly behaviour – in fact, I could never understand how my friends genuinely liked their own brothers.

As I’ve grown older, it seems like I’m the only one who isn’t friends with my sibling. I don’t really trust men my own age. Deep down, I feel a lot of resentment towards my parents for letting it go on. They never really saw it for what it was, and still don’t.

My mother’s response can be summed up as: “It wasn’t really bullying, get over it.”

I haven't spoken to my brother in 10 years

5) 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. 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.

She has never let go of abusing me

6) My younger sister by 21 months has bullied me almost all her life. It started when she was about 10 years old. She would lie to our mother about me, saying that I was following boys and watching them play ball in a venue in the town. It turned out years later she was the one who frequented that venue as a young girl.

She would call me names, saying that I was ugly with a pug nose, buck teeth and that my bones stuck out through my face. I believed her.

She continued on into old age. If I looked good or was feeling good, she would make sure by saying something nasty that I would be demoralised, upset and struggling not to cry. If I sat down beside her at a function, she would immediately get up and move to the other side of the table. She would try to rubbish my husband too. She has never let go of abusing me.

I had to walk away at the age of 50, as I could not cope with the trauma of her bullying abuse anymore. As a result, I have lost my family but I had no other choice.

My mum resented having me due to my deafness

7) I am Deaf and a first-born in my family. My younger brother often got me in countless troubles with my parents because I was unable to express to them about what happened. They always listened to my brother first.

Eventually, I found out my mum was the one who enabled him (and still does) because she resented having me due to my deafness. She will never admit to it. My Dad is a good man but is not good at fixing relationships. Nowadays, I am struggling to get out of this bad pattern as I kept attracting people who like to put me down. I am trying to break this cycle.

She has always been jealous of my thinner figure

8) My sister is not quite a year older than me. All our lives she has passively bullied me. She has always regarded me with disapproval and every comment has always been laced with ridicule or disbelief. Her reactions to every accomplishment I achieved have been hostile. When I got one particular job, rather than congratulating me, she paused on the phone and said "how could you? You know that job was always my dream".

She has always been jealous of my thinner figure and successful relationship with my long -term partner. She cannot bear to talk to me on the phone and has not called me in years. The last time I phoned her, she took a long call from her then-boyfriend while I waited on the line. It was a boy I had dated when I was younger – not that I cared about him but I found it so rude.

She is secretive, argumentative, accuses me of lying, lies herself, constantly threatens to ruin my happiness with her embarrassing behaviour (I could never introduce her to my partner’s family). I always thought it was something I was doing wrong. It’s not. It’s bullying with passive aggressive jealousy and resentment and I am so glad we live far enough away from each other so that I can distance myself from her negativity. She’s still my only sister though and I get sad when I think of how much I would have loved a really close relationship where she could be happy for me and love me as much as I would have loved her.

I brushed the toilet with your toothbrush

9) I got on okay with my sister growing up. We fought at times but made things up. But it went south when we became adults. It began with a row. I called her out on her negativity and her snubbing of a family member. It led into three years of pure hell on earth which is still ongoing.

She made it clear to me she wanted nothing more to do with me and I was dead to her (if only). She has taunted me with abuse and harassment over the past few years – 1,000s of private number calls, 1,000s of abusive messages, 100s of threats to sabotage my life.

Many messages left me sick to my stomach like for instance one message read: “I brushed the toilet with your toothbrush.”

It’s still ongoing and I’m at my wits end.

I really believe they are sociopaths

10) I am the youngest of three, with a gap to the youngest of my two elder siblings of nine years (there is also less than 12 months between them). I've been bullied by them all my life. It can be a formidable force to deal with. Individually, they are bullies, but together they are too much and in the past have overwhelmed me, causing a lot of hurt. Both possess very bad, instantly eruptive tempers. The eldest is just out and out jealous, I really believe they are sociopaths.

The bullying is emotional, mental, financial, with a few incidences of the physical mixed. It is done openly in private, and covertly and with subtly in public. It’s a toxic ever-present pall leaving you waiting for the next instalment.

My parents are deceased but they would be ashamed. I’ve walked away. I’m alone, but happier. I wish more was done about sibling rivalry. I’m glad that someone has spoken up and spoken out, I hope this momentum continues and this is a watershed moment like the #metoo campaign.

Cruelty and hurt are generational

11) I was bullied, psychologically, and physically beaten, by an older brother every day of my life until, at 19, I packed a bag and left.

I wish that I could say that I never looked back after I left home but my mother’s alcoholism and parents’ dysfunction made it harder to extract myself from the family dynamic. My parents were always going to the law. Indeed, the legal professions have done very well from my family’ pain, in most cases by exacerbating it. I know enough about my parents lives to believe that parental dysfunction is always at the core of sibling abuse. Cruelty and hurt are generational.

When I was 11 years old a local shop owner rang the house where I lived and ask me what I was going to do about the fact my mother was slumped over the wheel of her car drunk outside her store. I felt helpless and ashamed that I didn’t know how to drive a car and solve the problem for her. Most days and nights were a variation on this.

People looked the other way. You can see how a little sibling bullying could get lost in all of this. I wonder how many children have been driven to suicide by their siblings?

He was a bully then and he still is a bully in adulthood

12) I am three years younger than my brother, and the "baby" of a family of six children. My brother and I were a few years younger than the older siblings and so we spent most of our childhood together. He had a very difficult relationship with my father growing up. My father drank and was physically abusive towards my brother. I remember playing upstairs and I'd suddenly hear raised voices. My stomach would fill with dread. I used to sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the crying and screaming. The anguish and torment in the voices. Usually, my mother would become involved and do her best to break up them apart.

I was the youngest and I was the apple of my father’s eye. I was intelligent and cheeky and a bit of a show-off. I would entertain the family with my stories and antics, much to my older brother’s disdain. And this I believe was my brother’s motivation to bully me. Jealousy. When we argued together, over the usual trivial childish squabbles (a missing My Little Pony or a broken toy car), inevitably his temper would flash and I knew I was in for it. He was much bigger and stronger than I. That did not stop him from putting his full force behind his punches. At the time, I could not understand why he would pummel me; someone he supposedly loved and whom he should want to protect, not hurt. In hindsight I believe he wanted someone to take all of his hurt out on and that person was me, his younger sister.

I dared not tell my father for fear it would cause another row to break out. My mother was weak, and turned a blind eye to all the abuse I suffered at the hands of my brother growing up. He was a bully then and he still is a bully in adulthood. The years have passed and we are adults now. But the abuse has continued. During a heated argument a few years ago, he grabbed me by the throat and shoved me against the wall. I was so shocked. It was like we were 12 and nine again.

Since that incident, I keep my distance and we only see each other a handful of times a year. When we do cross paths nowadays, he ignores me. That is his new form of bullying. I believe it has affected me considerably. I avoided relationships for many years because of my mistrust of men.

She was so jealous of the relationship I had with my mother

13) Where do I start? My sister is 13 years older than me. I can vaguely remember the physical abuse as a child. I was only 4 but I remembered she tormented me mentally and physically. We never had a relationship. There were older brothers between us but she never bothered them. She married young and had a dysfunctional marriage and I seen very little of her. Then I married and had children and she came back with a vengeance. The bullying started again and the control. She was so jealous of the relationship I had with my mother but my mother was so scared of her.

She became very vindictive and as I was friendly with her daughters she set out to destroy that. She succeeded and she said she would make sure her family would have nothing to do with me. People are so scared of her and she bullies and controls them and they let her. She even destroyed my relationship with one of my brothers. There has been no contact for over 20 years. Why? All because I was a girl and my mother loved me.

Her power over my siblings and parents is astounding and toxic

14) My eldest sister is not happy unless she has the full attention of my parents and other siblings. With her manipulation over the years she has actively undermined, mocked, intimidated, turned my parents and siblings away from me, and actively excluded me from family occasions. I recognised this over the years and friends have warned me to be careful – her power over my siblings and parents is astounding and toxic.

My strategy has always been to give her a wide birth – but I “stupidly” still love my family and want my kids to know them – but not who they are when she is around. After an awful six weeks where my kids have witnessed her at her best and me feeling trapped in a circle of an abusive relationship, I was utterly relieved to read these articles and they have given me courage and strength.

It's the exclusion that hurt

15) Sadly, I too can relate. It started as low-grade comments on my size – I'm the shorter, non greyhound of the family – and developed on from there into constant reminders of my "plainness" and "ordinariness". I could deal with the comments, I am the height and shape I am (not overweight at all), and I like ordinary life. It's the exclusion that hurt – in the middle of three sisters but not acceptable to the clique. I was completely torn when I told them excitedly that I was expecting my first child – first grandchild in our family.

I thought it would unite us – very, very wrong. Neither of my two children have ever been acknowledged and there has been no contact for seven years now. They do not help in the care of our mother. I’ve come to accept this is how it is.

He has successfully managed to blacken the names of his victims

16) Nowadays I tell my children and friends that no educated or emotionally integrated person would ever bully. That's the truth of it, bullies always have something seriously wrong with them. But that doesn't help me. My bully was my older brother. Our parent's marriage broke down in horrible technicolour when I was eight and then the real trouble began. My emotionally vulnerable mother regarded my very unsuited brother as some kind of replacement. He was a brute. Every opportunity to belittle, intimidate and assault my brother and sister and I was relished by him. The details are too depressing to relay.

Today, he is like many survivors of perpetrated abuse; he is in constant denial mode. More than that, he seeks always to attack his victims if he suspects we might be critical of him. He has a cover story and he forces it on anyone that might listen to it.

He has successfully managed to blacken the names of his victims in the eyes off his immediate circle. If you like, the circle of abuse, complete.

You're bigger than him, hit him back!

17) What strikes me now, thinking back on the, almost, two decades of physical and psychological abuse I suffered at the hands of my older brother is how utterly defenceless I was, and, how much I have come to blame my parents for permitting this abuse. "You're bigger than him, hit him back!", this generally sums up my parents' attitude and shows just how little they understood the power that a dedicated and motivated bully has over their victim.

Lacking any kind of support or defender I was psychologically crushed and incredibly vulnerable to the point that I have internalised many of his insults and taunts and, for the longest time, believed them to be absolutely and undeniably true (that, for instance, I was obese, actually clinically obese, when, in fact, I was, and am, underweight) well into adulthood.

Today, he’s all grown up, has a nice job and family, one of the happiest and contented people I know of, whereas I’m 34 and still afraid of the dark (from once being locked in a hot press for six hours while he screamed horrifying things, with an all pervasive dysmorphic view of myself as a grotesque figure constantly in need of the validation of others to disprove it.

It is so incredibly unjust that it infuriates me sitting here. And there’s nothing I can do about it, nobody in my family cared then and I sincerely doubt that bringing it up now would illicit any other kind of response.

She is jealous, spiteful and toxic and the sad thing is she has no reason to be

18) My sister bullied me physically, psychologically and socially throughout my entire childhood and it continues today into our 50s. Through lies, she ostracised me from immediate and extended family. She has done similar to my other siblings and parents (though nowhere to the same degree). Despite this, they fear her reprisal and they have stood back watching her wreck my life.

From physical beatings to telling me how stupid and ugly I am, to telling me how I am wasting my life working away when I should be home minding her kids to telling people vicious and hurtful lies about me. I have always felt if people know me and still believe her lies then they are not worth knowing and have chosen to distance myself from them all, including family. She is jealous, spiteful and toxic and the sad thing is she has no reason to be. Breaking away from her grip has made my life worth living – I just regret that 30 years of that life were dictated by her.

He has effected every fibre of my being

19) I can safely say my brother's constant bullying, lies and greed have determined my life and relationships – and only since becoming a mother myself have I found the strength to bar him from my life. Growing up in an agricultural family, when succession and longevity of the family farm outweighed happiness or even morals, what my bother wanted he got and as the irrelevant little sister, I was ignored. But, eventually, I grew into a carer role for ailing grandparents.

Forty years of his greed and countless lies have seen my parents communicate through their solicitor to offer me a nominal pay-off from their estate rather than a property worth double the value that had been agreed at a time when my husband and I were investing in property to secure our future. It’s been over two years since my parents have seen myself or my children. He has effected every fibre of my being and I won’t have my children or my new family exposed to his toxic behaviour and am so grateful for meeting a husband who supports me. My advice: don’t let a past life determine future happiness.

I'm now 40 and still utterly terrified of my older brother

20) I'm now 40 and still utterly terrified of my older brother. Before I see him I feel sick and anxious. When I was a child his jealousy of me was pathological. He hates and resents me but is unable to articulate why. My mother was on her own, as my dad died, and did little to protect me. He has spat at me on numerous occasions and used to leave me home alone when I was six years old. As a child I thought that's just what older brothers did.

I have done fairly extensive therapy and he has been the focus of much of it. Luckily I’m in a good relationship and have little to do with him now.

I have forgiven my parents but their actions played a huge part

21) I had an awful relationship with my brother growing up, he bullied me constantly and did things like spit in my breakfast cereal when my mother's back was turned (which I would then be told I had to eat). As soon as he grew bigger than me (he's a year younger and I'm a girl) he started to hit me. It culminated in a serious beating when I was 21. He was kicked out of the house briefly but let back in and the bullying continued until I moved out myself.

Afterwards, any time I was home I was constantly on edge and it got to the point that my parents said I had to have therapy to deal with it, because I was so angry. I was very resistant (why should I have to be the bigger person and try to repair the relationship?) but eventually went on a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. It really helped. I was able to build a new relationship with my brother and we are on very good terms now.

I have forgiven my parents but their actions played a huge part in allowing the bullying to escalate into physical violence, and I want to make sure I’m a strong enough parent myself to stamp out the first sign of any bullying.

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?

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen is Health & Family Editor of The Irish Times