What Do I Do Cause I Hate My Sister!
Updated December 13, 2018
Reviewer Stephanie Chupein
"Why don't you just go run to your room and cry little girl or better yet kill yourself?" Cora spat out ferociously.
"Oh honey, if I were going to kill myself I'd do it right here out of spite just to see you get down on your knees and wash the blood off the tiles and haunt your ass til kingdom come." Sienna spat back with even more ferocity." (Ali Harper, Breaking Bedlam)
Harsh, right? Well, sibling rivalry can be harsh, and often is. This particular relationship conflict is as old as humankind, one of the best-known examples being the epic tale of Cain and Abel in the Christian bible. So, you're not alone or aberrant for experiencing strong negative feelings towards your sister or brother. To best deal with these feelings, though, it would be beneficial first to understand more about this type of conflict.
What Is Sibling Rivalry?
When the following applies, sibling rivalry disorder (SRD) might be diagnosed. It occurs in families where there is a conflict between siblings which is so severe that it:
- leads to marital problems between parents;
- poses a real danger of physical harm to one or more family members;
- is damaging to the self-esteem or psychological well-being of one or more family members, and
- needs the intervention of a mental health professional.
Sometimes siblings never outgrow this rivalry, and the conflict perpetuates into adulthood.
How Does Sibling Rivalry Manifest?
According to Canadian Professors and child specialists Alexander K.D. Leung and Lane M. Robson, rivalry occurs between most, if not all siblings to varying degrees. This often manifests as early as the age of 2 - 3 years in the family. The doctors say: "Rivalry may be manifested as a verbal or physical attack, frustration, persistent demands for attention, or as regressive phenomena." Regressive phenomena include thumb-sucking, bed wetting, temper tantrums, baby talk, etc. Another symptom in children may be tattling or lying to the parents about a sibling's transgressions.
The rivalry between adult siblings reflects many of the issues that cause most relationships to go wrong and may include behavior like stonewalling, open aggression and fights, cruelly manipulative behavior, as well as avoiding each other and other similarly unpleasant exchanges.
What Causes Sibling Rivalry?
Simply put - sibling rivalry is caused by the sense that children are competing for their parents' love and attention. This perception of parental favoritism can manifest very early in a child's life, with dire effects if severe and left unaddressed. It can cause mental health and behavioral issues in children and teens, but also continue to have negative effects into adulthood, according to one studyfrom researchers at Cornell University, NY. The study, which controlled for family size, race, and other factors, drew on multiple interviews with mothers and their adult children. Mothers and children were asked questions about:
- their emotional closeness;
- excessive conflict with a specific child;
- the mother's expectations regarding which child will care for her if she becomes disabled or ill.
Results demonstrated that only 15% of children felt they were treated equally by their parents. Also, where the mother designated a specific child the task of taking care of her (possibly demonstrating favoritism), all the children in the family showed greater symptoms of depression. However, the children didn't link their mental health directly to the perceived unequal treatment.
Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development and associate dean for extension and outreach in the College of Human Ecology, said about his paper in the Journal of Marriage and Family (2010): "It doesn't matter whether you are the chosen child or not, the perception of unequal treatment has damaging effects for all siblings. The less favored kids may have ill will toward their mother or preferred sibling, and being the favored child brings resentment from one's siblings, as well as the added weight of greater parental expectations."
Parental favoritism, therefore, doesn't only burden the 'black sheep,' but also the favored child.
But What If I'm an Adult and I Still Hate My Sister/Brother?!
It's all well and good to understand that your hatred can stem from rivalry when you were children, and fight for your parents' favor, but what if the hatred towards one or more of your siblings is overwhelming even in adulthood?
Consider Your Relationship Realistically
If you're an adult and feel resentment towards your sister or brother because he or she still seems to be favored by one or both of your parents, it could be wise to contemplate the source of your ill feelings. Perhaps start by considering all factors of this favoritism realistically.
- Maybe your parents and siblings are drawn to each other for geographical reasons and therefore get to see each other more often simply because it's easy.
- Or, they share personality features that make it easier for them to relate. Since they probably think alike, they are more likely to share opinions, views, etc - it's a natural tendency in relationships to gravitate towards those we agree with effortlessly.
- Also, you may be very different from the rest of your family in your view of the world or your beliefs. This could cause conscious or subconscious resentment in your parents and siblings. Research has shown that parents feel more ambivalence towards a child who doesn't share their values, is less educated or is unmarried. This is a great pity, but not an error on your part. It is important to accept that, just because you were raised together doesn't mean you'll automatically get on with your siblings as adults. This is true also for your parents. Life shapes all people differently, and often we change drastically over time. It's a painful truth that the people we were close to as children, sometimes grow up to be adults we don't get on with and might even resent.
- Your parents and siblings are human and fallible. Also, as children, we tend to unconsciously put especially our parents on pedestals that they don't deserve, and often don't want. This is another natural tendency, but one that could severely hamper your emotional growth and development in adulthood.
These considerations are all rational and reasonable - people are who they are, and for one's own peace of mind, it is important to consider the above seriously and to be accepting simply.
Sometimes, however, the divide can hurt badly - the longing to be unconditionally accepted and loved by our parents and siblings is a primal, natural and very strong one. Feeling like the black sheep of the family could be debilitating and very isolating for an adult. Also, relationship conflict can cause a lot of stress in any person's life. For this reason, it could be beneficial to make an effort and work through your difficult emotions.
Six Steps To Deal With Difficult Emotions On Your Own
According to relationship specialists Drs John and Julie Gottman, the key to overcoming the difficult emotions in relationships, is mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness enables you to calm and soothe yourself, they say, and, in this state, you will have space to reflect and thoughtfully respond, rather than react. They offer six steps to remain mindful while dealing with difficult emotions about almost any relationship:
- Become aware of your emotions and identify where in your body you feel them. This could manifest as a pounding heart, clenched jaws or a sick feeling in the stomach. If this step is very difficult, stop and take a break with a cup of tea. 'Listening' this way to difficult emotions gives them the gentle space they deserve - they just want to be felt, nothing more. Bottling up will only result in them popping up elsewhere. According to the Gottmans, these emotions are trying to help you wake up to what is going on before a major crisis occurs.
- Mentally identify the emotion and give it a label or name, i.e., say out loud to yourself: "This is hatred" or "This is sadness." Don't say: "I am hateful" or even "I feel hate towards my sister." This way, you distance yourself a bit from the emotion; you should then feel better able to deal with it. This can be very empowering and can take some of the pain out of difficult feelings.
- Accept your emotions. Don't resist, deny or try to change them. It may even be helpful to say this out loud to yourself: "I accept this feeling of hatred." The Gottmans suggest that you call to mind a best friend going through a difficult time, and imagine what you would say to him/her. Such as: "You're OK. You're not to blame. You did the best you could". Then, also say the same to yourself. This way, you treat yourself the way you would a best friend - with compassion, understanding, and gentleness. Taking this step will soothe you greatly. It may even open you to viewing your sister or brother differently. Eventually, you will find that the difficult emotions pass more fleetingly.
- Realize that the emotion will pass, i.e., that it is impermanent. This is an important step even when the emotion feels overwhelming. Nothing in life is permanent, and this includes the most powerful, gripping emotion or circumstance. You will gain an important skill of mindfulness if you can internalize this truth. Eventually, emotions will evaporate by themselves.
- Inquire and investigate the trigger for the emotion. Ask yourself: "What triggered this feeling of hatred? What set me off and why do I feel this way? Was it a result of my critical mind or because of the way my sister acted?" Another good question to ask would be: "What is happening here?" This step is important once you have calmed down. It introduces realism and objectivity to the situation if you're able, to be honest with yourself and let your deep, authentic self-answer. It will create a space for you to see things differently.
- Then, let go of the need to control this emotion. The Gottmans recommend that you simply remain open to the outcome of your emotions and what unfolds. If you can, step out of yourself for a moment, and listen to what your sister or brother is trying to communicate to you. This is the first step to more compassionate, balanced and kind relationships.
However, if you feel that your dislike or hatred of your sister, or even your sister in law or another extended family, severely affect your peace of mind or ability to function, it might be time to consider therapy or counseling. You don't have to do this alone. BetterHelp could be the perfect online platform to find psychological assistance, as our therapists are trained to deal specifically with sibling rivalry, and all other types of relationship conflict.