Sibling bullying: 'I wished I hadn't been born'

Bullied boy

A recent BBC News Magazine article asked when scrapping between siblings becomes bullying. Readers responded with stories of being bullied - as well as tales of being the bully.

Deborah, US: My two sons (ages 17 & 16) got into such a fight in the car just this morning, I pulled them into the counsellor's office at school. It was a first for the school - which is a top-ranked high school in the US. Both my boys are well-known and well-liked at school, but privately we have a real problem. My oldest is a bully.

It's beyond sibling rivalry - today the oldest was snarling in the youngest's ear like a psycho - "I'm going to kill you. I'm going to destroy your (new French) horn, I'm going to destroy ..." He couldn't get further because I ordered him to shut up or face criminal charges. I've had him sent to jail for three days once for stabbing his brother in the stomach with a pen. His temper is psychotic, he's even slapped me across the face, and his brother has been in terror, shaking all over, that John's going to do something to him.

We have broken doors, walls, and furniture, and just this weekend the oldest smashed some of my favourite art while he was in a fit that I wasn't doing enough to help him apply to college. I've been trying to correct his behaviour all these years, and nothing seems to work - it just gets worse.

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I said some absolutely unforgiveable things to him”

End Quote Louise, UK

Louise, UK: We bullied each other very badly. I had aggressive physical fights with my brother all the way into our mid-teens. He told me I was fat and ugly until after I left home and dropped to six stone, when he seemed to realise the effect of his words and wouldn't shut up about how thin I was. I was scared of him physically and so I made comments to try and dent his confidence. I suppose it was a self-perpetuating circle of his physically punishing me for my comments and me making comments to punish him for physically beating me.

For my part, I said some absolutely unforgiveable things to him which even as an adult I feel incapable of repeating because I still feel so ashamed. My brother and I now have very little contact. He's struggling with life and has struggled with drug problems, relationship and mental health issues. I feel responsible for this and I don't think I'll ever be able to let that guilt go but I don't know how to apologise or make up for the things I said and did.

Kristina as a young girl Kristina as a young girl

Kristina, US: As a young child I remember my brother (the middle child) beating me up, but in a playful manner. It was rarely, if ever, malicious. He would pick on me and call me names sometimes, as I was a chubby child. I had "dead arms" from my brother punching me in the same spot repeatedly. It could be deemed abuse by most researchers, but it made me a stronger person and built my character to withstand the real negative comments in school.

Bullying is never okay. But you make the decision as to whether or not you let it bother you. Of course it stings for the moment, but if you don't react to it people generally stop and life goes on. Today, I am 24. I have a wonderful relationship with my brothers. Parents need to teach their kids to stand up for themselves in situations where it calls for it. They need to use their words and, as a last resort, actions. I always fought back against my brothers, I never let them win.

When scrapping becomes bullying

screen grab of bullying story
  • Almost a third of children in a recent survey said they had been the victim of sibling aggression in the past year
  • They reported a range of acts from theft and psychological abuse to physical assault
  • Some parents believe conflict between siblings toughens them up
  • Research says sibling aggression affects a child's mental health

Caroline, UK: I have hardly seen my sister in 30 years and I prefer it that way - as an adult I do not choose to live a life full of violence, rage, jealousy and bitterness. She is still the same jealous, deceitful, cruel bully as ever, but less violent than when we were growing up. As a young child she attacked me constantly, [she would] sneak up behind me and push me down flights of stairs, down concrete steps, off walls and even a bunk bed. My hearing has always been terrible, I had no idea she was behind me and at three years younger than her, I was a lot smaller and she was a lot stronger. On one occasion she slammed a glass door into me and my hand went through the glass. I had to remove the piece of glass that was sticking out of my wrist and then spent hours in A & E waiting for the deep lacerations to be stitched up.

She broke, destroyed or sold most of my things and was always up to manipulative, devious, tricks and lies, including ripping up my books to ensure I got another beating from my mother, who she took after. My mother knew what my sister was doing and what was happening to me. However she preferred to drink with her friends and couldn't be bothered to deal with such a disturbed child who was such a nightmare to deal with; it was easier to target me. My childhood was a living hell because of this; I spent most of the time in a state of extreme terror and fear and suffered from chronic depression, anxiety, stress and insomnia, which I still suffer from as an adult. I regularly shook from head to foot with fear at the prospect of another beating, or another onslaught and if I wet my pants with terror I got another beating. I was very lucky not to have been killed, or permanently injured by the violent, relentless and persistent attacks; I would now describe their behaviour as psychotic.

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I was also bullied at school but it wasn't as bad as at home”

End Quote Kathy, UK

Kathy, UK: I was bullied by my older brother throughout my childhood. He was eight years older and put a lot of energy into bullying. He drew scary pictures on the wall near my bed when I was three years old. He used a soldering iron to write a horrible message - "you are a fat pig" - on a school pencil case my Mum made for me. At age 11 I remember wishing that I hadn't been born.

I stopped speaking to him at home for two years. My parents did very little to stop it. Christmas was always ruined by it. I was also bullied at school but it wasn't as bad as the bullying at home. I suffered from depression for many years and have experienced workplace bullying and domestic violence. I know it is all connected to my childhood.

Anne, UK: I am the eldest of five. The sister immediately after me (11 months younger) went through a phase of trying to boss all of us. According to my other siblings, she was particularly vicious with me. I can remember the feeling of helplessness because I was not believed and because I did not know how to defend myself. I tried to get my parents to help, but they just called me a drama queen... until my mother overheard my sister tell my brother to hit me with a wooden plank, and as he was very reluctant, she threatened him with breaking some toy.

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Jack as a young boy

It is a natural part of sibling rivalry”

End Quote Jack, pictured here as a young boy

I love my sister, she is extraordinary in many respects, she has worked on aid projects in the Third World etc, and I think it was very positive that my parents put an immediate stop to her bullying and instilled proper moral values into her. But it left traces - our younger siblings were quite traumatised by the malice she exerted against me.

Jack, UK: My older brother used to bully me all the time and at times it was actually quite horrific. But then I believe it's a natural part of sibling rivalry and as bad as it made me feel at the time, I know that I can face the worst of other people. We're now 19 and 23 and I would now consider him one of my best friends.

Charlotte, UK: When we were growing up I used to hit my sister (hard) almost daily and whenever I think about it now I feel sick. Many years ago I apologised for my actions and she forgave me unconditionally, but the guilt never really goes away. I do my best to be a good sister and aunty to her son to make up for the past. I was hit by my brother who is eight years older than me on a regular basis, who in turn was hit by my father. I know I am to blame for my actions but I look back and wish an adult had put a stop to it. Don't allow your children to hit each other and punish them severely (without violence) when they do. The scars can last for life.

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My brother told me to kill myself on several occasions”

End Quote Anonymous, 21

Anonymous, 21 years of age: My brother is a contributing reason why I suffer from severe depression and self harm. There was nothing worse than coming back home after a day of being bullied at school, and on the way home from school, to then be bullied at home. He used to beat me around a lot while my mother was working and we were together. I was, and still am, scared of him, but to everyone else he is one of the nicest people they have ever met, he is popular and very social. Complete opposite to how he treated me. In turn, I have become very introverted.

This has happened more recently too. Last year while I was coming out of severe depression he told me to kill myself on several occasions and hit me several times. I called the police about his violent outbursts on a number of occasions (he would also be violent towards my mother), but due to the fact that he was a sibling and not a spouse/partner they could not do anything against him on domestic violence grounds, only assault. He is a sibling in genetics and we occasionally talk, but I do not consider him my brother.

June, UK: I was the third of five children. Our oldest brother was a bully and a pervert. The awful thing was that my mother favoured him against the other four. I can still remember one evening when big bro was supposed to be "in charge" of us - which meant he tried to beat us all up. Second-oldest brother decided he'd had enough and set about oldest brother with a poker. I was delighted, I regret to say.

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