HI, KELLY: I live with two bullies, and it’s painful. My older sister and my stepsister are best friends and they constantly tell me that I’m no good, worthless, could die and no one would notice, just for starters.
Whenever I go out with friends, they tell me my outfits are ugly or my stomach looks fat, my friends are cuter, no one likes me and that my style is a disgrace. Recently my stepsister sent me a text and told me to “do us all a favor and go crawl under a rock and die.” When I showed it to my dad, he showed it to my stepmom, who brought the girls in. They both created a total lie about how mean I had been and how it was just a response to me being so horrible to them. None of what they said was the truth. When I pleaded my case, my stepmom said that she wasn’t going to take sides and we needed to figure out how to get along.
Kelly, I’m here to tell you it won’t happen because they truly hate me. There is no figuring this out or getting along. My sisters lie for each other, protect each other and will never be nice to me. When my friends are over, they refer to me as klutz or stupid, never my name.
For Christmas, my stepmom gave them money to buy me a present. They bought me a bright pink scarf and they both know I hate the color pink. They laughed when I opened it. My dad knew what they did and apologized, but tried to defend them with the, “At least they bought you something,” or, “It’s normal for siblings to fight.” I made each of them a drawing in my art class for Christmas. My stepsister threw hers in the garbage the next day and my sister has it wadded up on her bedroom floor.
Do you have any advice on what to do if the bully in your life lives under the same roof?
DEAR CHRISTINA: It stinks when your own worst enemy lives down the hallway from you. The sad thing is that this is happening in the spot that is supposed to be your safe place to let down and be yourself. When you don’t feel loved, nurtured or treated with respect in your own home, a swift intervention is needed to stop the hurtful behaviors and protect you emotionally.
In this case your sisters have power in numbers, meaning because there are two of them and one of you, they can create and spin stories to make you out to be the bad guy and they collude with each other to look innocent and blameless. The whole goal of a bully is to have power and control.
Arguing with your siblings is different than intentionally harming them. Siblings fight over the control of the remote, what station to put on in the car or who gets the last cinnamon roll. Normal sibling fighting is more about annoying the other person or trying to get your way. However, if the aggression is aimed at intentionally hurting a sibling physically or psychologically, then it is different from sibling rivalry, which is normal and healthy. Sibling aggression is just as detrimental as the bullying that many students face at school.
An article published in the journal Pediatrics in 2013 said that the importance of sibling aggression for children’s and adolescents’ mental health should not be dismissed or ignored. It stated that young people who were bullied by their siblings had tremendous emotional distress that created low self-esteem, depression, anger and anxiety.
In other words, being bullied by a brother or a sister is not better than being bullied by a classmate or neighbor. The bullies struggled later in life with things like higher risks for substance abuse, struggles in the classroom and violence with partners. Both the bullied and the bully need help to prevent this behavior from having long-term effects in their lives.
You need to speak up, but this time loud and clear. Go to your dad and tell him your family needs family counseling ASAP. Tell him that what is going on at home is not OK nor is it normal. Let your dad know this isn’t a phase and it isn’t going to magically go away if it is not treated and resolved. If your dad doesn’t listen, talk to your mom, a grandmother, aunt or any family member your dad will listen to.
If no one helps you, talk with your school counselor or nurse and ask them to help you awaken your dad to the pain you are in and the hurt they are causing you. Keep talking until someone listens and offers to get your family help.
Your home should not be a toxic environment or a war zone. You deserve a peaceful place that you are subjected to name calling, insults or harassment. The emotional impact of being bullied in your own home by your sisters shouldn’t be dismissed. It is just as important to address and resolve as if someone was doing it to you at school. Just because they are “family” doesn’t mean they get a pass to disrespect, hurt or cause you emotional pain.