Letting go of toxic siblings

You can choose your friends – but you can’t choose your family. With all the shared life experiences and upbringing, siblings have the potential to be the closest of friends, however often times that is not always so. Those with toxic sibling relationships are all too familiar with this. According to Psychology Today, total sibling estrangement is relatively rare, with estrangement happening less than 5 percent. That rarity can make it difficult for those suffering with a toxic sibling relationship to talk with someone or know what to do. No one wants to sever ties with a family member, but sometimes it is necessary for your own well-being. How do you know if you should sever ties with a toxic sibling?

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Why do Toxic Sibling Relationships Happen?

Toxic sibling relationships can happen for many reasons. It can also be one sided – where one sibling wants to have a close relationship, but the other sibling does not. One reason siblings have toxic relationships stems from childhood. In an environment where children grow up in a toxic family environment, those children grow up to feel toxic about their siblings. This is because the child is often hurt and frustrated toward the parent, but cannot express that feeling toward the parent and instead expresses the frustration toward the sibling. Children often mimic their parents, and if the parents model a toxic relationship with others, that behavior passes onto the children. Other strained sibling relationships happen because one sibling is jealous of the other, perceiving the sibling was given more by the parents. Another reason children grow up to have toxic relationships is because parents withhold love from the children. That causes the children to compete for the love and affection of the parent, causing children to be rivals.

Evaluate the Relationship

If you are considering severing the relationship, the first step is to evaluate the relationship. Look toward the past to determine what type of behavior is most likely to occur in the future with the toxic sibling. History repeats itself, and the past behavior is the best indicator of the future behavior. Is every interaction negative? Another point to evaluate is to ask what the person brings into your life, besides sharing your DNA. If the toxic sibling only brings negativity into your life, it may be worth considering ties. Finally, ask yourself how does your sibling feel about you? Are they upset with you? A relationship is two-sided. Your sibling may be just as hurt with you as you with are with them. The answer may not be obvious, and you may need to explore the source of conflict before deciding to sever ties.

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Does the Relationship Impact Others?

As a parent, you always think about what is best for your kids. This applies to all your relationships, both friendships and familial. If every interaction with your sibling upsets you, does this impact your children? Does the toxic sibling relationship carry over into a toxic relationship with your child? If the toxic sibling relationship is constantly making you upset and impacting well-being, it cannot be tolerated. You are responsible for your well-being.

Establish Boundaries

Establishing boundaries is one way to set up limits with the toxic sibling. Although most familial relationships are characterized by a lack of boundaries, the establishment of boundary is one way to salvage the relationship before deciding to sever ties. If the toxic sibling lives far away, it may be quite easy to establish boundaries. However, if the toxic sibling lives nearby, establishing boundaries may require persistence on your end.

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A Meeting of the Minds

An important question to ask yourself is whether the toxic relationship is salvageable. Was there one conflict that someone may need to apologize for? If there has been repeated episodes of conflict and past attempts at resolution that failed, the answer may be no. If a meeting of the minds is impossible, it may be best to end the relationship.

Just because someone shares your DNA does not mean you are destined to be best friends. Severing ties is not an easy decision. But, if you make the decision to sever the toxic sibling relationship, be confident that you are doing the right thing for you. Severing ties does not have to be forever. You can always open the lines of communication later.

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To improve the sibling relationship for your kids, check out Nurturing the Bond Between Siblings.

Sources:The Real Reason For Troubled Sibling Relationships, When and How to Cut the Ties of Bad Family Relationships



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Appellate attorney, writer, and mom with a weakness for compulsive planning, Britney Spears' comeback, and reality TV. In my 30-something pre-baby life, I thought I had life somewhat figured out. Now, I realize how much I didn't know. It's a whole new world rediscovering life through my children. In my free time, you can find me lounging with family or on the tennis court.


  1. Hi Jerry,
    I’m currently going through this now. I really think it’s time to go my separate way. I really appreciate this article. It gave me a lot of perspective.

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