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When the Bully Is a Sibling
>New research suggests that even when there are no physical scars, aggression between siblings can inflict psychological wounds as damaging as the anguish caused by bullies at school or on the playground. The findings offer an unusual look at an area of family life that has rarely been studied, in part because infighting among brothers and sisters is widely considered a harmless rite of passage.
>But ordinary skirmishes over the remote or joystick are one thing, experts say, and chronic physical and verbal abuse, particularly when it is directed at one sibling, is another. The new study, which involved thousands of children and adolescents around the country, found that those who were attacked, threatened or intimidated by a sibling had increased levels of depression, anger and anxiety.
>Catherine Bradshaw, an expert on bullying and the deputy director of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence at Johns Hopkins University, said the study was impressive in its scope and scale, and noted that it showed that all types of sibling aggression, from mild to severe, were associated with worse mental health.
>“Parents at times might be thinking that their kids can fight it out or that a little bit of victimization might not be so bad,” she said. “But these findings suggest that the threshold is pretty low. It’s not just the rough stuff you have to keep an eye out for.”
>Dr. Caffaro said that the effects of sibling abuse often continue into adulthood. Over the years he has treated patients who struggled with emotional issues and sabotaged themselves in their careers because of repeated humiliation they experienced at the hands of a brother or sister.
>“It can erode their sense of identity and their self-esteem,” he said.