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November 26: How to Gray Rock Narcissistic Family Members at Thanksgiving: post here and updated with a video by Dr. Ramani Durvasula (more about dealing with holidays here)
November 20: the first petition I have seen of its kind: Protection for Victims of Narcissistic Sociopath Abuse (such as the laws the UK has, and is being proposed for the USA): story here and here or sign the actual petition here
November 10: Psychologists are discussing whether Narcissism is an autism spectrum disorder. Link to one article here about it, with my comments afterwards
September 22: After seeing my images on social media unattributed, I find it necessary to post some rules about sharing my images
September 1: my newest movie review on Mommie Dearest, the quintessential child abuse movie

Monday, February 16, 2015

sibling abuse and sibling bullying

name of art: "Stop Sibling Abuse"
image is © Lise Winne
watercolor, ink and graphics
(for questions regarding use of images or to contract an image for your next article
contact: LilacGroveGraphics (att) yahoo.com)

According to researchers Vernon Wiehe & John Caffaro, sibling abuse is the number one cause of domestic violence and bullying.

Additionally, in a 1980 study by the sociologist, Murray Straus, of the University of New Hampshire, and writer of the book Behind Closed Doors, stated that the sibling relationship was the most violent of all human relationships.

So how do sibling relationships get to the point of outright abuse? According to Dr. Caffaro, clinical psychologist, sibling abuse happens most often in homes where parents are disengaged, absent, alcoholic or for any other reason where supervision is minimal. It becomes an even more chronic problem when parents play favorites, scapegoat one child or ignore the victimization of one child. According Dr. Caffaro:

When one child is always the loser, the aggression keeps escalating and parents do not intervene effectively, the safety of the victimized child should become a therapist's primary concern ...
You don't spend your time teaching parenting skills in that case .... 
If the family is not going to take it seriously, it might mean getting law enforcement or social service agencies involved.

This PsychCentral article states that bullying and fights between siblings should be taken as seriously as school bullying:

According to clinical psychologist Dr. John Caffaro, sibling violence is the most common form of family violence, occurring far more frequently than parental or spousal abuse.
Some studies have estimated that nearly half of all children with siblings have suffered physical violence such as bites, kicks, and punches, while nearly 15 percent of those have been attacked repeatedly.

Even severe incidents are rarely reported because families dismiss them as horseplay.
The Effects of Sibling Rivalry
Unfortunately, this type of sibling aggression has a similar effect on the victim’s mental health as bullying.
Researchers hope that the number of public service programs and announcements that have been aimed at stopping bullying in schools could be used to shift the focus to violence in sibling relationships as well.
It’s important that parents also intervene and avoid giving their children divisive labels.
Parents may feel like it’s okay for kids to fight things out, but the effects of sibling abuse can persist into adulthood, causing emotional issues and even self-sabotage later in life. Dr. Caffro stated that it could even erode a child’s sense of self-identity and self-esteem.
When siblings are found fighting physically or humiliating each other, parents need to intervene and teach proper conflict resolution skills.
According to Dr. Caffro, it isn’t only the rough activity that parents need to look out for; the findings of the study suggest that the threshold for the effects of victimization is very low.

All types of sibling aggression, whether mild or severe have been shown to have an impact on mental health if it is allowed to persist over time. -- Mike Bundrant 

Moreover, if sibling abuse is allowed to go on in the childhood home, it often manifests long afterwards, even for a lifetime. How do you tell if there is sibling bullying going on in the home? I found an excerpt from this article on Psychology Today by Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, MS, LPC

Is sibling bullying occurring in your home? Do your children fit into one or more of these scenarios? 

1. I know you are, but what am I?
Are your children repeatedly tearing each other apart with their words? Are more negative things flying out of their mouths than positives?

2. Sticks and stones…
Do your children lash out at one another physically? Is one usually crying because of what another child has done? Do they leave physical marks after an altercation?

3. What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine too!
Do the other child's things mysteriously go missing or do you find them broken yet no one takes the blame?

4. Two is company and three is a crowd…
Do two or more of your children try to exclude the other? Do they work together to make the third child feel like an outcast? Do they play unkind pranks and tricks on the other sibling, such as locking him in the bathroom or running off without him? -- 
Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, MS, LPC

Another article from PsychCentral makes it clear that bullying should not be seen as a rite of passage. Research has unveiled that self harming and suicide rates drastically go up. It has been well established in many psychology articles that alcohol and drug addiction go up for both the bullied and bully siblings.

According to this NPR article, sibling harmony or lack thereof can effect immunity, health issues and happiness.  

In a Psychology Today article, school psychologist Izzy Kalman states that bullying between siblings isn't healthy:

They are not playing fairly by any predetermined rules, and they don’t respect each other. They are angry, jealous and vengeful, and use underhanded tactics to torment each other and get each other punished by their parents. They may even hate each other and wish the other were never born. Sometimes their hatred and resentment last a lifetime, as it is common to find adults who have completely cut off contact with their sibling, to the great anguish of their parents.

No, there is nothing healthy about the “normal” sibling rivalry. It is a dysfunctional relationship that causes unnecessary pain not only to the kids involved but to the parents as well. The fact that most parents, even those who are mental health professionals, don't know how to make it stop, does not make it healthy. There is little that grieves parents like seeing their own children–the people they love the most in the world–in a constant state of war.

Personally, if I had a choice, I would rather have my children be best of friends while having a classmate bully them in school than the other way around. Schoolmates come and go, but siblings are forever.

So please, lets stop the hypocritical double standard. We have no business condemning bullying among kids in school as abnormal while simultaneously accepting sibling rivalry at home as normal. -- 
Izzy Kalman

There is very little support for victims of serious sibling abuse except in secret sessions with a therapist. From my readings, talking about it within the family can be very traumatic because of the inter-flow of information between family members. Family members want to believe the best, so victims can seem to be having an agenda. It can also bring about ostracism of the victim. The reason why? Bullies, by nature, lie. Remember Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver? He was sickeningly sweet to adults, but with children his own age, swindling, insulting, a cheat and a liar. In the show, the Cleavers are up on Eddie Haskell's manipulations, and see him for what he really is, despite his manners with adults, but in real life, this is rare, especially with narcissistic parents where having a good image as a parent means more than solving bullying issues in the family (narcissistic parents take the approach that it is simply easier to get rid of the children who are bullied, and slander their reputations, than to challenge the offending offspring). It doesn't matter how traumatic and severe the abuse is, or how far in the past it occurred, or if the sibling is abusive because of an alcohol problem: ostracism can be the price for speaking out.

Nancy Kilgore, MS, who counsels many survivors of sibling abuse and is a leader in wanting more discussion and research about sibling abuse has this to say:

Many victims of sibling abuse are berated, rejected, and shunned by their families. Many families do not deal with their underlying fears and scapegoat the victim. Shunning may be utilized to influence compliance of designated behaviors from a victim of sibling abuse. Implicit or explicit shame towards a victim can be damaging and destructive. Shunning is utilized by a family as a deliberate avoiding of association with an individual(s). Victims of sibling abuse are often targets of shunning because they fail to to comply with the standards of behavior established by the hierarchy of a family. Punishment can be utilized towards the victim as intended deterrent or warning to other family members. The intention of shunning is to isolate and discredit the victim. Once the castigation begins, family members can view the victim as lacking the fundamental qualities of being a human being.
On her website she explains her reluctance about accepting the fact that further victimizing the victim is too common in households with sibling abuse

The fear surrounding disclosure is often terrifying. I have come to a point of acceptance about this resistance. The survivor can be shunned by their family or retaliation can be put in place. The secrecy, however, of the crime of sibling abuse is further perpetuated ... Therapists don’t often broach or know how to attempt this unique trauma. I am deeply saddened that sibling abuse touches not only the partners of victims, but their children ... Sibling abuse is the #1 cause of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

According to Nancy Kilgore, sibling homicide is also a much more common practice and more widespread than school shootings. These homicides generally come from homes where there is abuse, neglect, poor conflict resolution skills and where bullying is allowed to run rampant.

In the latest sibling murder case, a fifteen year old girl had been scapegoated by her family. Her brother, who had been beating and sexually abusing her was put in charge of the family while the parents were absent. The fifteen year old girl was also locked in a bedroom, by her parents, for talking about being abused, as a disciplinary measure for long periods time, sometimes up to 20 days, with only a blanket and a bucket to urinate in. There was also a case of childhood sexual abuse by the victim's uncle. Her 11 year old sister was also being sexually abused by the brother. The 15 year old killed her sixteen year old brother with her 11 year old sister serving as an accomplice. There was no parental supervision at the time of the murder. The parents were charged with neglect and their children were taken from them.

In these kinds of families the victim of sibling abuse is punished for complaining about the abuse to her parents. She is expected to stifle her feelings, and she is reprimanded and isolated for talking about her experiences. It is probably likely that she raged about the injustice when locked up for such long periods of time, which is why there were incidences beforehand where police were called about her damaging property. This is probably why she was denied furniture and only had a blanket and a bucket. Victims tend to act out violence in more inward ways (suicide) than outward (property destruction and murder), but the point is that feelings are acted out in families like this rather than talked out. Presenting an upstanding image of the family by scapegoating the one who is complaining, is more important to the parents than solving the problems in the family, even though the ultimate result, as in most cases like it, is that the image they were trying to uphold, is shattered in the end. The family they were trying to keep together fell apart by the scapegoating.     

When one sibling is favored, or there is a narcissistic parent (favored golden child versus scapegoat where bullying is ignored or condoned), the abuse of one sibling towards another can be severe and traumatic. Siblings of narcissistic parents most often go separate ways eventually.

From reading forums on sibling abuse, the sad thing is that elderly parents often are abused as well by the very sibling they favored and condoned. Once the parent has realized their mistake and given over power of attorney to the tyrannical offspring, the ostracized unfavored scapegoat of the parent has very little legal recourse to save the disabled parent from the abuse.

Sometimes siblings can make up when the narcissistic or bi-polar parent becomes ill or dies.

School psychologist Izzy Kalman states that anti-bullying policies on school grounds rarely work in this Psychology Today article. Most therapists aren't trained to solve bullying issues other than the usual compassionate responses, building children's self esteem, talking to those in charge of the child's well being through training and therapy sessions, and medication (which, conversely, often has side effects of aggression, whether suicide or violent revenge).

This may be true ... however, he also takes a wide leap and tells his readers that if victims practice the golden rule as taught by Christ ("love your enemies"), than all will be well. However, most bullying isn't just about name-calling and isolating the victim, escalation is usually always present in abuse. That escalation most often leads to physical aggression and assault. In his article, he minimizes being pushed up against school lockers, for instance. If you read the comments, it is obvious that his solution to bullying isn't popular.

Most studies on bullying, reveal that bullies do, in fact, escalate. Most children sense this is the case as well. Perhaps it is instinctual: once seen as prey, always seen as prey. Also, people who enjoy hurting other people do not stop wanting to hurt other people. People who want to continue destroying other people bit by bit, most often continue it, whether their victim wants them to stop or not.

It takes a great deal of courage, enlightenment about diversity in human beings and self reflection to stop bullying. Most bullies aren't up to the task, and furthermore, they enjoy the grand-standing even if their elevation isn't real and causes ostracism outside of the co-bully organization the bullies have built. Perpetrators of aggression and violence often feel deflated when their victims aren't feeling enough pain. In order to get the same satisfaction, the perpetrators escalate. It is like an addiction: the same dose of drug fails to create the high, so the dose is increased to get the same results of satisfaction. What the drug gets them is a false sense of aggrandizement. This means that most bullies are usually not satisfied with their victims level of pain after one session of bullying, especially if they see their victims in a survive and thrive mode. So, to try to get their victims back into a state of lowered status (which pain, panic, reacting to smear campaigns and hyper vigilance will do), they feel they have to escalate to get the same result. It gives bullies a continual high and sense of power: "my victim is thinking about me all of the time, because he is afraid of me; the only way I can stay important is for my victim to continually be thinking about me and that means doing things to continually upset him". 

Also, almost all bullying is a power and control issue where the bullies want servitude or docility in exchange for protecting their victims. They are not interested in being team players working towards a common goal and in playing fair. Thus, loving bullies, as Izzy Kalman would have us do, becomes about NOT loving yourself, because in one way or another, loving bullies means capitulating to their demands and self-inflated sense of rank. Have you ever seen a school bully without lackeys? Have you ever seen a school bully who didn't escalate and expect his lovers/lackeys to lie for him? Think of bully world leaders: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Sadam Huissein. Didn't they all escalate? Didn't they all demand from their followers? Didn't the lackeys agree to dishonest policies to stay safe and favored, doing the dirty work of escalating and carrying out atrocities? How much loving of bullies can we realistically do, since loving bullies equates, even unconsciously, to loving bullying?

Most bullies reach tragic ends, because someone who values the victim, will go to bat for the victim against the bullies (or a least consider themselves enemies of the bullies). Usually when a family member goes no contact with a bully, the bully must find another outlet and victim (there can be no high without a victim, and having a victim, any victim at all, is more important than who a victim is). Eventually the members who have gone no contact with the bully increase in numbers and grow in popularity in the family. They form an alliance and undermine the influence of the family bullies. By this time, the bullies are in the minority. If it happens with alliances between nations, it will happen inside families as well.

Bullies usually don't win in the long run because they are known to have poor sense of self control, leaving them exposed to ridicule. Their fantasies of entitlement, of always getting what they want if they just intimidate enough people, make them stupid about covering their misdeeds. They are not convincing liars because their scapegoats are usually more intelligent than they are and can expose the lies over time. It takes emotional intelligence to maneuver an offensive against bullies: bullies are too predictable, uncreative, and so inebriated with their self importance that they can be cornered, and ostracized.

Again, think of bully world leaders.

Here are some of the comments I noted from Izzy Kalman's article in which he suggested the fix to the bully problem was to befriend the bullies:

From an anonymous mother:

My son is LGBT and has experienced bullying (both verbal and physical assault i.e. hard punches to the stomach multiple times) and it in no way shape or form was like what this video portrayed.
People like this guy with a buy my seminar cure are dangerous in that they are taking away from the reality of what many victims of bullies experience.
AND FYI Mr IZZY Our HS had 52 official HIB violations (Harassment intimidation and bullying) of which 42 were physical assaults to say that most victim don't get hit is just wrong!

From another anonymous commentator:

Lets be clear. A proportion of "bullying" actually constitutes repeated, systematic, violent physical assault. In this case your advice is not merely disingenous but dangerous."When we’re being bullied—meaning picked on repeatedly by the same people–we believe that we’re getting upset because we are being bullied." Hey, that's right! When I was bullied as a kid, I didn't actually feel upset until people starting punching and kicking the shit out of me. THEN I felt upset ...

... If you are being physically attacked, not getting upset (or concealing the pain and the blood) is really pretty difficult. I doubt you would manage it. And, of course, there's the possibility that the "extinction burst" leads to YOUR extinction, as the physical effort expended by your attackers to get a reaction out of you grows in intensity. Maybe if the bullies get to the point where they fracture your skull you stop reacting. Of course at that point, maybe the brain damage blocks it out. Or rather than fists and boots go over to pieces of wood, chains or knives.

Your suggestion is to carry on being a silent, accepting victim of physical abuse until they stop. Great advice. I just hope some people don't die trying. But then, at that point I'm sure you'll find some way of saying they should have been less upset about it.

From Sheila (comment ID name):

I had verbal and emotional abuse from the beginning. It got worse when I was at school, and even worse when I was a teenager. And, sadly, I did feel inferior by then, yes. Not because I had "given permission" but because I was getting those messages every day. On a deep level, you get to feel "If my own parents think I'm rubbish, what hope do I have that other people will feel any different"? I know now, in my 40s, that my parents were both deeply and chronically disordered but a child can't rationalise that, and it is in childhood that our most profound wiring takes place.

Emotional abuse, regardless of the social class or income-bracket of the parents, creates a very shaky sense of self. Emotional warmth and nurturing, on the other hand, helps someone grow up confident in themselves and in the world they inhabit.

From anonymous:

... some bullies will persist in trying to break down a stoic, unresponsive person with greater escalation. As long as authority figures do not respond and a person is stuck in the same situation, the bully, if bored, can continue and eventually find a person's breaking point. You didn't describe it as such, but with a lack of further explanation, your statement of being unresponsive comes across as almost being dissociated from the situation when you point out that one can't be upset on the inside because that will show and be preyed upon. Frankly, people should be upset on the inside 1) that something as hideous as bullying occurs (regardless of the victim), 2) that it is tolerated, and 3) that it's almost backhandedly attributed to the one being bullied ...

Unpopular individuals are more likely to be targets (and their popularity often has little to do with hygiene, personal merits, or social effort. Despite assertiveness training, many unpopular recipients of bullying will remain unpopular throughout their entire lives, which increases opportunities and instances for them to be bullied. When one is young, dealing with bullies may affect lifelong ability to trust, which can then further alienate and perpetuate bullying as bullies often target isolated, low status, and/or unpopular people ...

further reading:

The Effects of Parental Narcissism on Sibling Relationships -- by Scott Thompson

Why Are Some Siblings So Hateful Towards Each Other? -- by Marcia Serota, MD for Huffington Post

Childhood Bullying is a Form of Narcissistic Abuse -- by Shahida Arabi for Psych Central

From Shannon Thomas:


  1. For your information, Izzy secretly wants bullied victims to be mindless sycophants to bullies. I should know as I can see through is lies. Why, I read that he has a Stockholm Syndrome.

    1. I am replying similarly to your other post (as I assume you are the same anonymous poster:
      I personally don't think it adds to the discussion to personally attack Izzy Kalman (to state that he has Stockholm Syndrome).
      I actually think he has the best of intentions of trying to keep kids safe from bullying, but I think it is extremely misguided considering that all studies point to the fact that abusers escalate unless they have a total epiphany or life-changing experience.
      I think that perpetrators of bullying should be treated the same as they are in the rest of our public spaces and society: they should be arrested. Whether they should serve time, or serve their communities, or get counseling, or all three, is something I'm less certain of, but expecting the victims, especially child victims, to carry the burden of how to handle bullying is just WRONG.

  2. I'm glad that you finally see how wrong Izzy is. If I didn't know better, I'd that he seems to brainwash victims into allowing bullies to walk all over them.

    1. Anonymous, I did get your other comment and will post it following my reply, but I personally don't think it adds to the discussion to personally attack Izzy Kalman (to state that he has Stockholm Syndrome).
      I actually think he has the best of intentions of trying to keep kids safe from bullying, but I think it is extremely misguided considering that all studies point to the fact that abusers escalate unless they have a total epiphany or life-changing experience.
      I think that perpetrators of bullying should be treated the same as they are in the rest of our public spaces and society: they should be arrested. Whether they should serve time, or serve their communities, or get counseling, or all three, is something I'm less certain of, but expecting the victims, especially child victims, to carry the burden of how to handle bullying is just WRONG.

  3. Giving one's opinion based on readily apparent observations (of an obvious Narcissistic/Bully's Advocate LOOSLEY disguised as a victim's advocate) is not "attacking" anyone. Why does this Izzy character get to blatantly blather on with his nonsensical written "advice" for victims to continue being prey for wolves, while Anonymous above merely gave his/her opinion based on what should be obvious to anyone with basic common sense? Keep speaking your truth Anonymous and don't allow anyone to "bully" you about your right to your own opinion. How hypocritical!

    1. Hi Free Spirit! Thanks for joining in on the discussion.
      I see your point: "an obvious Narcissistic/Bully's Advocate LOOSLEY disguised as a victim's advocate" ... I hadn't contemplated that possibility, I just thought that if he was a school psychologist working with bullied kids every day that he would have compassion, however misguided he was in his "'advice' for victims to continue being prey for wolves". Which unfortunately, in this society, is awful and all too common! We need to change that to bullies being arrested and/or taken out of the home, or school. Instead, CPS is often taking the victims out of homes and putting them in foster care (just wrong!), and school psychologists doing exactly what Izzy Kalman is doing!
      Also, how many families expect victims to "be the better person" and "make up" with their abusive siblings? Too many, and that is just plain wrong too.
      How many schools preach "a bully free zone" and "no tolerance for bullying", only to be hypocritical in their policies, or have a "seven strikes and you're expelled" policy (i.e. leaving a bully to prey upon his victim seven times!). Just wrong!
      Hopefully as more people write and speak out, there can be a movement afoot to end the trend of victims being expected to take on the responsibility of placating the family with apologies, and being a seven-time victim because of a "school policy" (all of which just puts the victim in greater danger).
      Child victims are not just in danger from their perpetrators, but they can get symptoms from being preyed upon by bullies: victims are in danger of getting PTSD, suicide ideation, low self esteem and depression.

    2. Who did you call hypocritical?

    3. At the time I was writing this reply (in 2015), "hypocrisy" was in reference to school policies (the "seven strikes and your out policy", while at the same time telling students there is a "no tolerance for bullying" policy -- the "forgiveness policy" i.e. allowing seven bullying incidents does not go with a "no tolerance for bullying" policy).
      In some areas of the country, school policies about bullying have improved since the time of this post, while others have not.

  4. By the way, rationalizing with and defending the abuser while placing the burden/blame on the whistleblower/target is a SURE sign of Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe you should research that and do an article here as this is something that is also very prevalent in families with a Narcissistic Queen or King at the helm with an enabling partner who ends of with Stockholm Syndrome (and often alcoholism to cope with living a lie). I know all about because I'm the Scapegoat of such a family.

    1. FreeSpirit,
      Thanks for the idea. I have an extensive blog post pending on the subject of Stockholm Syndrome.
      Small children usually have some form of Stockholm Syndrome in a narcissistic family ... until someone or something intervenes (CPS, a school psychologist, etc). Scapegoats are usually the "truth tellers" and "whistleblowers" in narcissistic families, and being a scapegoat is devastatingly painful, but also very brave, and I commend your efforts to bring the subject into "the light".
      Thanks again for both of your comments.

  5. The drawing is right on.


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