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How can I move on after bullying siblings controlled my life?

QIF someone were to say to you, as was said to me: "you have an appalling family", what would be the normal reaction? It was a relief to me when it was said however. I wouldn't disagree with it.

I come from a small family with three other siblings. There was a lot of anger, aggression, bullying and imposing their will on myself and my younger sibling, a brother. The older were fierce controllers and it began after our mother died. They took absolutely no notice of our father who tried to reason with them. They were the bosses of the family as they saw it. Myself and the youngest were really in for it -- for no reason most of the time.

The older two would fight with one another all the way through. Now, one of them, female, is married for 20 years and the second, male sibling, isn't. I don't see them nowadays and neither does the youngest who wisely emigrated. I have my own home so there is nothing these two can do anymore to me.

I would see their behaviour as learned behaviour almost like animals in that they have no real awareness of what they are doing and it seems to be almost instinctive for them.

It was quite frightening for me years ago. It was really embarrassing, for instance, when one of them, the male sibling, gave me a hard time because I wasn't a Mass-goer. They would be very childish, the pair of them and this surfaced again when our father died and myself and the youngest stayed away from the funeral.

That doesn't mean we didn't care as I have put an in memoriam in the paper each year since our father died for both our parents and I send a copy to the youngest. The older two I am sure can see it in the paper.

What saddens me, Mary, is that I don't think these two can ever really improve. They are out and out controllers when no one is looking and one can't really trust them. One is married and has nice teenagers, I am told, but who don't know of this as it was/is kept secret. That's hard. I just wonder how does one handle something like that?

I rarely see them but trying to stop them when they try it on by me being bossy is impossible -- one can't, one has to walk away. The eldest is the female sibling and she never had a woman to talk to her about it. That is why it got as bad as it did. Also her husband was an enabler in that he needed to tell her to stop towards her two younger siblings.

She is OK, I think, in her own home as her kids wouldn't let her do it. I have a good range of women and men friends and have been out in the world more, as has my youngest sibling. The others haven't really. But that does not excuse the controlling behaviour that they are addicted to. And there is a secrecy to it too -- I mean they keep it secret, but sure, since our father died, it is well known anyway and most have said how sad it is.

AIT seems to me that your entire family system did not work properly, particularly after your mother died. In families it is usual for the parents to control the children in order to help them become reasonable human beings with proper values. However in your case it was the two older siblings who took over control of the two younger ones, but in a menacing and aggressive way, and this was allowed to happen by your father and indeed it escalated when he died.

This is particularly upsetting when one considers the role of the eldest child in the family. They usually look out for the others, pave the way with the parents for things such as pocket money, how late they are allowed to stay out, sleepovers and suchlike, so that when the time comes for the younger ones to do the same thing the rules have been established. The oldest child usually continues to be the nurturer and carer of the younger siblings all through their lives. What you describe is totally at variance with this and so you are grieving for having been deprived of a regular family. Your youngest brother decided to get out of the family system by emigrating, which has left you to bear the brunt of things, which cannot have been easy for you.

A really good book for you to read would be Families and How to Survive Them by Robin Skinner and John Cleese -- yes, he of Fawlty Towers fame. It is very much a jargon-free book, which gives wonderful insights into family relationships and the development of children, and I think you would benefit greatly from reading it.

You are perfectly right -- your older brother and sister will not change. However, I would disagree that there is nothing that you can do, that you have to walk away. You always have the option of challenging them in anything that they say, and then standing your ground. Very often the bully doesn't like being challenged, and so gives up on the usual object of their bullying and moves on to bully somebody else.

If you take this approach it may help you to enjoy your life more fully rather than living in the past and thinking about what might have been. You deserve more.

Sunday Indo Living