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How Common Is Sibling Estrangement? (A complete guide)

This blog post will address the question, “How common is sibling estrangement?” It will enlist the causes of sibling estrangement and explore ways to cope with an estranged sibling 

Sibling estrangement refers to a situation in which siblings outgrow each other or drift apart. It often stems from conflict or a series of disputes, and one sibling finds the other toxic as it affects their emotional well-being. 

How Common Is Sibling Estrangement? 

It is relatively common for sibling estrangement to occur. Despite growing up together in the same household, there is no assurance that siblings will remain close and in contact as adults. It is even more true for children who underwent favoritism in the eyes of their parents. 

Now that we know its commonality let us understand why it occurs so frequently.

Causes of Sibling Estrangement

Families can be challenging to be around due to fights or an absence of intimacy and belongingness. Sometimes, it is better for families to get estranged than remain together. Sibling estrangement occurs due to various reasons, some of which include:

  • Trauma
  • Abuse
  • Financial Issues
  • Substance Abuse
  • Death of a Parent
  • Competition 

Trauma

Experiencing a traumatic event can bring about alterations in the way you relate to others and even yourself. Trauma can disable you from processing your emotions as they can be very overwhelming.

It is common and expected of trauma victims to push away their loved ones. If this loved one happens to be a sibling, it could be mistaken as rejection, to which they respond by withdrawing from you. 

If the primary cause of the trauma is the sibling, such separation can serve as a protection for you to minimize your anxiety and other overwhelming feelings. Reuniting with them can be challenging and even dangerous if you have not undergone therapy to process the trauma.  

Abuse

When abuse occurs within a familial context, siblings cope with it differently. They may even become recluse or start abusing alcohol and other drugs. There is an inescapable sense of shame and guilt. You and your sibling may be unable to trust and be open with each other. 

Some siblings become close while others pull away in an attempt to deal with the abuse. You may become a stooge while your sibling is seen and treated as a blessing. Such an atmosphere could make siblings turn against each other if they do not effectively deal with the trauma.

Financial Issues

Money is a potent tool and is associated with various things, including a sense of power, trust, and even safety. If financial concerns come into play between siblings, wherein one deceives the other even in the slightest sense can shake their faith. Such treachery is detrimental to the relationship foundation. 

It gets worse if the siblings have a history of instability and disagreements. Therefore, a minor problem can even lead to estrangement. On the off chance that you settle your financial conflict, trust, once disrupted, can be incredibly challenging to restore.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse entails a plethora of personal, occupational, and social concerns. Socially, abusing alcohol or other drugs can lead to withdrawal from close ones. It can disrupt familial relationships, including ones with their siblings. Such isolation can escalate into estrangement rather quickly. 

Moreover, families of substance abusers pull away upon reaching their tolerance threshold. If appropriate intervention is provided, it can help with the sibling relationship. Unfortunately, sometimes, the damage is excessive to the point that the estrangement is unresolvable.

Death of a Parent

The death of a parent or both parents can cause tremendous grief, which can lead to several alterations within the family, mainly if the household dynamics have been tensed. People cope with grief differently. Some might become agitated and aggressive, while some may become socially withdrawn. Such maladaptive coping mechanisms could result in sibling estrangement.

In some families, one parent may act as the glue, holding everybody together, and ensuring they stay connected. The death of this parent could cause difficulty for siblings to communicate with each other. It is even more challenging when one sibling has to assume parental responsibilities unless they gain support from other siblings.   

Competition 

Sibling rivalry is typical in most families. However, it becomes problematic when it is long-lasting and excessive. When parents promote competition instead of harmony among siblings, they can grow up to see each other as opponents rather than companions. In such a competitive atmosphere, siblings tend to fight for parents’ attention and approval.   

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How to Cope with Sibling Estrangement

Here are a few ways to cope with sibling estrangement.

  • Don’t wait around for an apology; 
  • Avoid involving other family members;
  • Determine the permanence or temporariness of the separation;
  • Is this the only option?;
  • Do not make excuses for unpardonable behaviors;
  • Focus on yourself; and
  • Look for professional support.

Don’t wait around for an apology

Sometimes, people find it challenging to take responsibility for their actions and apologize. Your sibling may be one of them. They might not feel the dedication to your family the way you do. Therefore, do not wait for them to come around and apologize. Instead, accept the reality and work toward moving forward.

Avoid involving other family members

Although a common occurrence, it is unjust to subject your family members to take sides. You must learn to keep your matters regarding your siblings between you two and not involve others. Expecting them to pick sides could result in you and your sibling losing them as well.   

Determine the permanence or temporariness of the separation

Is the reason for estrangement resolvable over some time, or is it something ultimately unresolvable? How do you feel when you envision your life without your sibling? 

If you choose to settle your issues, keep in mind to hear their side of the matter. Own up to your actions wherever necessary and apologize.

On the other hand, if you choose to keep the separation permanent, come to terms with the fact that you might not come to know their side of the matter or the actual cause of your estrangement. Sometimes, the relationship may have been toxic, in which case, separation is a healthy option. Never be ashamed for taking care of your psychological health.  

Is this the only option?

Carefully assess your problem before you decide to walk away from your sibling. Sometimes, we tend to make impulsive decisions by succumbing to the intensity of the moment. Analyze if there are pent-up difficulties that are driving you to separate from your sibling. Ensure that you are walking away for genuine reasons and not in the spur of the moment. Think about the consequences of estrangement on your mental health.

If your sibling chooses to leave you in spite of your pains to resolve the issues, know that they view things differently, and that is beyond your control. Evaluate whether you should let go of the relationship or persist longer. If the situation is toxic, understand your emotions tied to it. Doing so will enable you to make rational decisions. 

Do not make excuses for unpardonable behaviors

People frequently excuse their siblings’ behaviors in an attempt to maintain harmony within the family. If their actions are harmful and psychologically damage, recognize it for what it is. Tell your sibling how you feel and explain your need for boundaries.

Focus on yourself

Some things are within your control, like your cognitive, behavioral, and emotional response to situations. The way your sibling copes is beyond your jurisdiction. Practice the following suggestions to help focus on yourself better.

  • Be aware of self-criticism and negative thought patterns;
  • Be honest and compassionate with yourself;
  • Establish boundaries with your siblings;
  • Be aware of triggering thoughts and stimuli, such as power struggles, arguments, maladaptive behaviors, and unresolved issues; and
  • Learn from your past mistakes

Look for professional support

Psychologists, especially those who are experts in familial relationships, can be incredible assets to cope with sibling estrangement. They will explore your bond in great detail and teach you practical and adaptive ways to cope with the separation. 

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Conclusion

This blog post addressed the question, “How common is sibling estrangement?” The article outlined the causes of sibling estrangement and how to cope with the same.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How Common Is Sibling Estrangement?

What can lead to sibling estrangement?

Various factors, including abuse, the death of a parent or both parents, differences in personalities, and competition for attention can lead to sibling estrangement.

How can you reconnect with your estranged sibling?

When you wish to reconnect with your estranged sibling, do so personally instead of conveying your wish through a third party. If you are hesitant to meet with them, call them or even drop a text message.

Is it okay to estrange from your sibling?

Sometimes, estrangement is extreme or unnecessary. Although it may bring temporary relief, this relief fades quickly and does not seem the way you imagined it to be. However, sometimes, it is necessary and the only solution, usually in the case of toxic relationships.

What is the meaning of sibling alienation?

Sibling alienation refers to a situation wherein one sibling wishes to withdraw from another. Although it can occur anytime, it is common for sibling alienation to happen when one sibling wishes to take over the family inheritance or care for their parents.

How do you tell if your sibling is toxic?

You can tell your sibling is toxic by keeping in mind the following signs.

They are overly critical;
They do not show any remorse;
They are never apologetic for their actions;
They are exploitative or manipulative;
They betray your trust and confidence;
They give you the cold shoulder frequently; and
They continually demean your interpersonal relationships.

What do I do if my sibling is toxic?

Here are a few things you can do if your sibling is toxic.

Speak up as they may be unaware of their harmful actions, and if they are inconsiderate toward your feelings, distance yourself;
Establish boundaries;
Minimize the opportunities for them to tackle you or subject you to their toxicity;
Do not normalize or minimize their toxicity, and instead, recognize it for what it is;
Do not excuse their toxic behaviors;
It is best to take the high road sometimes;
Seek professional help from a psychologist; and
Solidify your sense of self-confidence to prevent their toxicity from affecting your self-esteem

What do you do if your sibling strikes you? 

If your sibling strikes you, tell your parents about it. If they are unhelpful, go to another authoritative figure to help you out. Sometimes, siblings hit each other to gain their attention. However, it is best to talk to your parents or other adults about it. 

What we recommend for Relationship & LGBTQ issues

Relationship counselling

  • If you are having relationship issues or maybe you are in an abusive relationship then relationship counselling could be your first point of call. Relationship counselling could be undertaken by just you, it does not require more than one person.

LGBTQ issues

If you are dealing with LGBTQ issues then LGBTQ counselling may be a great option for you. Maybe you are confused as to your role and identity or simply need someone to speak to. LGBTQ counsellors are specially trained to assist you in this regard.

References

Doyle, M. K. (2020, January 23). 10 ways to cope with sibling estrangement. Considerable. Retrieved from https://www.considerable.com/life/family/sibling-estrangement-how-to-cope/.    

Krull, E. (2020, December 12). What Causes Sibling Estrangement? And How Can You Cope With It? Cake. Retrieved from https://www.joincake.com/blog/what-causes-sibling-estrangement/. 

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Sara Quitlag is an Applied Psychologist, with a deep interest in psychopathology and neuropsychology and how psychology impacts and permeates every aspect of our environment. She has worked in Clinical settings (as Special Ed. Counselor, CBT Therapist) and has contributed at local Universities as a Faculty member from time to time. She has a graduate degree in English Literature and feels very connected to how literature and psychology interact. She feels accountable and passionate about making a "QUALITY" contribution to the overall global reform and well-being. She actively seeks out opportunities where she can spread awareness and make a positive difference across the globe for the welfare of our global society.