Sibling bullying, pt 1: Elementary school

Massive TW: Bullying, abuse, victim-blaming, assault, depression

I read about a study yesterday, where they found that sibling bullying is as damaging as peer bullying, which makes me roll my eyes in aggravation and the surprised tone all the papers are taking with it. Abuse has similar psychological consequences if it comes from a sibling as if it comes from a classmate or parent? You don’t say. It’s almost as if abuse itself is a bad thing! */sarcasm*

So, today I’m going to talk about my experience of sibling bullying. Just to illustrate why that finding does not surprise me in the least. I call it part 1 because I decided to split out stuff by school-age block since this post got really long as I wrote it.

My sister and I had a strange relationship. I’m older, and had a lot of the things that go hand-in-hand with being older: I was expected to be more responsible, I was in a higher grade at school, etc.

For her part, she’s only about a year younger.

Because I was sick and a VLBW preemie, I was very small growing up. Thus my little sister was usually my size or a bit bigger. Because she didn’t have severe asthma and at the time I did, she was stronger. And because she was so close in age, she was jealous that I was “allowed” to do more at school, that my parents left me in charge when we went out, etc.

So she bullied me, and I retaliated. She bullied me physically and socially. I was not strong enough physically to give her much of a fight, so often she would wrestle me to the ground, pin my arms with her knees and sit on my chest, slapping me in the face. My parents at best did nothing, chalking it up to “normal” sibling rivalry. At worst, they punished me since as the older sibling, I was expected to be able to defuse the situation… somehow. I can’t really social very well, so expecting me to “defuse” my sister’s bullying was about as sensible as asking a person with fine-motor coordination problems and no training to perform neurosurgery. My clumsy attempts at defusing usually blew up in my face and in short order I gave up.

Knowing I had no support from my parents, and knowing fully well that I could expect punishment if I went to them for help, I retaliated with practical jokes that were downright cruel. I hid things she’s phobic of around her room so she’d find them. I booby-trapped the door to her room for stuff to hit her or mess up her cleaning or what have you. And so on.

So she retaliated socially, at school. I was hopeless with social stuff in general. A year where the kids in my class were content to just ignore the fact I was there was a success to me. Because the other years, they bullied me mercilessly.

And my sister gave them ammo, providing embarrassing stories, photos, and bits of information for them to use against me. She made up names for them to call me, and I knew the names came from her because she would test them at home to see which ones hurt the worst before spreading them at school. When she didn’t have real stuff to hurl at me, she made up stories – I was secretly a boy which was why I sucked so bad at being a girl, for example. That one led to kids stripping me at a birthday party so they could see whether or not I was a boy or a girl. It also led to me getting grounded to my room for a month for “letting” them gang up on and strip me. My sister received no punishment for spreading the rumor, and my parents chastized me for “letting” the rumor get out of hand. This sort of thing ties into the whole “feeling all adults hated me” thing I mentioned in an earlier post. This was the first of many rumors my sister spread that would lead to me getting punished.

My parents picked up that I didn’t do so good in the social department, and that my sister was as good as I was bad at it. People – adults and kids alike – are drawn to my sister’s charm and charisma, neither of which I really have, nor have I ever been skilled enough at emulating those qualities to compete to any extent. That I was kind of a goofy-looking kid did not help matters. I honestly think they were trying to help me find friends and get better at social stuff with this move, but they bungled it horribly: my parents decided that any extra-curricular my sister went to, I went to. They told my sister that I wanted to go with her and told me that I “had” to go with my sister because they didn’t want her to feel left out. Since we were required to do all of the same extra-curriculars and my sister threw bigger tantrums, I was pretty much never allowed to do something I wanted if my sister didn’t want to do it or wanted to do something else instead. My sister saw this as me “copying” her and resented me for it. For my part, I saw it as my parents favoring my sister’s activities by refusing to let me do anything I wanted to do, so I resented her for it. Which worsened our relationship even further.

The other thing I think my parents did to try to make us more civil to each other was to force us to share a room, even though there was enough room for us to each have our own in my parents’ house. Two adults, forced to be around each other 24/7, will eventually get on each other’s nerves. That’s even more true of siblings, and my sister and I had the same recess and lunch hour, the same school, the same room, and the same extra-curriculars and were never allowed any time or space to be ourselves away from the other.  So we needed space from each other, and were acting out because we needed space, and they responded by taking away what little space we did have.

Things would get worse when I reached middle school.

Part 2 is here

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