Your question: Why does my brother give me anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Feeling anxious is a universal experience. We all feel anxious to a lesser or greater extent at various points in our lives, the problem is when this anxiety becomes too recurrent and intense, damaging the quality of life of the person, even more if it is caused by a family member or close person.

Family relationships are complicated. We commonly hear idealizations about family dynamics, however, families can be a source of anxiety for many people. There are several reasons why you may feel anxious because of your brother or sister. Studies (1) have shown that the most common cause of anxiety in families is violence, whether physical, psychological or sexual.

Arguments between siblings are normal, especially during childhood and adolescence. However, when these arguments become more severe and constant in adulthood, they can be a significant cause of anxiety. Whatever the cause of your brother’s or sister’s anxiety, it is necessary that you evaluate your role within your family dynamics and consider strategies to prioritize you.

No one has the right to violate and offend us, not even our own family members. Therefore, although it is not your fault to feel anxious about your brother or sister, you certainly have the ability to deal with this problem and improve on your own.

Why does your brother or sister cause you anxiety?

There are several reasons why your sibling may be causing you anxiety, all of which are related to the bond you have, which, in order to improve the situation between you and decrease your anxiety, needs to change. Some common causes of anxiety generated by siblings are:

Domestic violence

It is unfortunately common for violence to exist in sibling relationships. Sibling abuse has different manifestations, violence can be physical, emotional and/or sexual (2). It is important that you learn to identify patterns of violence in your relationship with your sibling, as these are often normalized in family dynamics. Insults, mistreatment, humiliation and “jokes” in bad taste are forms of violence that should not be allowed in any type of relationship. Sibling violence is one of the main causes of anxiety related to family dynamics.

Parental comparisons and criticism

Many people grow up with resentment and rejection of their siblings because their parents, from an early age, make negative comparisons and constant criticism. It is possible that the cause of the anxiety generated by your brother is a history of frustration because your parents constantly compare you to him, and criticize you under phrases such as “you should be more like your brother”.

Self-esteem problems

It is also possible that your brother is not a violent person. On the contrary, he may be a kind person with whom you have a good relationship. In that case, the source of your anxiety about your sibling is related to personal self-esteem issues. It is common when we grow up to compare ourselves with our siblings, especially when they are older.

We look up to them as role models, and that can become a problem when we reach adulthood. Many people feel anxious about their siblings because they have personal frustrations, and they constantly compare their lives with the achievements their siblings have made in their lives.

What can you do about it?

Dealing with sibling anxiety requires assessing what problems exist in your relationship. In addition, it is important to remember to seek social services if you are a victim of violence of any kind from your sibling. Although it may be difficult to talk about this problem, it is necessary to allow yourself to heal, remembering to prioritize yourself over everyone else in your life.

Keep a journal

Recording your thoughts and emotions related to anxiety is a useful strategy, as it allows you to vent frustrations and worries in a private space, and to find common patterns regarding the people and situations that make you anxious. In this journal, you will write down the anxiety-related events that your sibling triggers in you.

For example, if you are at a family gathering, and your brother makes a comment that makes you anxious, you write it down in your journal, detailing things like: what he said, how it made you feel, how the people around you reacted.

Communicate directly

Journaling can also help you improve your communication. Sometimes our family members can have harmful attitudes toward us because they don’t know that their comments affect us negatively. Talking to your sibling about the exact things that bother you and make you anxious is a helpful step, because even if you don’t like the response you will get, it allows you to improve your communication with others and gives you certainty about what action to take next.

Expand your social circle

Many people become dependent on their family, and feel that there are no social circles other than their family members. If your anxiety is caused by your sibling, or any member of your family, it is helpful to create new social relationships in recreational spaces of your choice. From the gym to book clubs to movie theaters. The important thing is that you create new friendships that will support you in coping with your problems.

In my experience…

Feeling anxious about a family member is an overwhelming situation. You are probably worried about the idea of cutting ties with your sibling because of the constant anxiety it causes you. Communication is important, talking about what is causing you anxiety with the people responsible is an act that shows maturity on your part.

However, if the abusive behaviors of the person who makes you anxious persist, you need to consider cutting ties, even if it is difficult and painful. In any relationship, the priority should be you and your emotional well-being, and no one, not even a family member, has the right to walk all over you. You will find people who value and respect you as you deserve.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this medium proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health.

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!