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The effects of sibling abuse

Updated February 21, 2019

You often hear parents say, "it's just sibling rivalry" when talking about the conflict between their children. Unfortunately, what many want to downplay is true harassment and violence occurring between brothers and sisters. Devastating effects happen to children who are subjected to emotional, physical or sexual abuse from their siblings. Often, these children become introverted, aggressive and abusers themselves. The effects begin with the abuse and can last throughout adulthood.

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Children who suffer from sibling abuse often begin to isolate themselves. The University of Michigan Health System reports a common sign that a sibling is being abused is when he actively avoids the presence of his abusive brother or sister. The child might also avoid all children and adults he fears are aggressive. For instance, he shies away from anyone who speaks in a loud voice as he associates this trait with his abuser.


The aggression shown by an abusive brother or sister can cause the victim to become violent herself. A child will experience the natural reaction of wanting to retaliate if she is shoved, punched, bit, attacked with a weapon or otherwise physically abused. Though she might fear her abuser who she sees as more powerful than herself, she might seek out a weaker person to victimise herself.

Sleep Problems

You know it is hard to sleep when you have problems in your everyday life. This is true of your children as well. A child who is the victim of sibling abuse may experience a change in sleep patterns. He might not want to go to the bed at night, want to sleep in his parents' bed or ask to sleep on a couch. This is especially true if he shares a bedroom with the abuser. Sibling abuse victims often experience nightmares as well.

Lack of Self Esteem

It is difficult to maintain good self esteem when someone in your family frequently demeans you, hits you or takes advantage of you sexually. Children who are treated violently by their siblings usually lack a positive self image. The child might feel she is not worthy of being treated fairly or that she is a bad person who deserves the abuse.

Sexual Acting Out

According to Sasian (Sibling Abuse Survivors' Information and Answers), children who have been sexually abused by a sibling are likely to act out sexually themselves. This can be promiscuous behaviour or aberrant types of sexual conduct. Parents should carefully observe their children for signs that sexual abuse has taken place and seek professional family counselling if it has occurred.


Children who are abused by a brother or sister often develop depression. The child is not just unhappy or having bad days. He actually develops true psychological depression that requires professional treatment. Signs of depression are sadness, irritability, changes in eating and sleep patterns and lack of enjoyment in activities he formerly enjoyed. Consult a mental health counsellor if your child displays any of these symptoms for a period of time exceeding two weeks.

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About the Author

Lisa Mooney

Lisa Mooney has been a professional writer for more than 18 years. She has worked with various clients including many Fortune 500 companies such as Pinkerton Inc. She has written for many publications including Woman's World, Boy's Life and Dark Horizons. Mooney holds bachelor's degrees in both English and biology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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