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  • Lynn Catalano

How to Navigate A Toxic Sibling


  • Have you ever been given the silent treatment…by your sibling?

  • Why do they choose to pretend you don’t exist over actual communication?

  • Has your kindness ever been rewarded with accusations of flaunting your success?

  • Would your sibling rather block you on social media than have a real relationship?

  • What happens when the matriarch of the family chooses to do nothing? Or worse, she actually likes the drama and the chaos and she fosters it.


It is impossible to learn the root cause of the problem when your sibling refuses to communicate with you. There is no open, honest communication in your family. Everyone just sweeps things under the rug, pretending everything is ok and then not speaking to you.


What are the signs of a narcissistic or toxic sibling?


  • Controlling

  • Self-centered

  • Likes to play the victim

  • Jealous

  • Competitive

  • Likes to keep score

  • Lack of empathy

  • Argumentative

  • Manipulative

  • Liar

  • Constant criticism

  • Disrespectful

  • Belittles, demeans, diminishes

  • Excluding you from family affairs

  • Spreading rumors to isolate you


What causes a sibling to be toxic?

Several factors can contribute to a sibling becoming toxic. Sometimes parents create an

environment where siblings are groomed to compete. Sometimes parents can actually designate one sibling as a favorite or golden child. This unequal treatment results in another sibling becoming the black sheep or scapegoat of the family. The black sheep of the family simply cannot do anything right. The family will essentially project all of their woes onto to black sheep or scapegoat and then they are blamed for those woes.


Toxicity among siblings also occurs when one sibling has a personality disorder such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). These problems can also occur when one sibling has financial difficulties or relationship problems. The impending jealousy results in fractured relationships.


As siblings age, the non-narcissist sibling naturally grows away from the narcissist sibling. More frequently, they will choose to live geographically distant from this person. There is no great bond between siblings as uncomfortable conversations never occur. Real conversations rarely occur. Communication is almost always about the narcissist. They don’t ask a lot of questions.  They’re simply uninterested in anyone else’s life. These types of individuals perpetually stay in the shallow end of the pool when it comes to their relationships.  


Recent Example

One of my clients recently came to me perplexed as to his youngest sibling. They had always had a distant yet peaceful relationship. They spoke every few months and saw each other once a year. In the past, my client has had a terrible relationship with his other brother. No matter how he tried, this brother was always competing with him in some unknown race. After many years of school, my client has achieved some professional and financial success. He has never lauded it over his siblings or even bragged about his accomplishments. He just quietly lives his life. Perhaps this is more of an insult to them.

It was completely unexpected to get this kind of toxicity from his youngest brother. This resentment, anger, and rage must have been brewing for quite some time. My client couldn’t identify the causing event of this animosity. Nothing had transpired for a while. The only interaction was holiday gifts had been sent to his children asking if they would please facetime them when they opened the gifts. Not only did this not happen but they never even acknowledged receiving the gifts. Why? Was kindness and generosity interpreted as my client flaunting his success? What? Why did a request to try to foster a relationship with his niece and nephew also get misinterpreted? Was the other toxic family in attendance in agreement? What do you do in this situation?


The Scapegoat & The Golden Child

When dealing with non-disordered people, it’s always advisable to have open lines of communication and have a conversation about this issue. However, when you are dealing with people who have personality disorders, communication is difficult. They don’t communicate well or sometimes at all. They don’t want to shed light on their bad behavior.

My father famously said to me “I don’t want to rehash the who said what.” I had not said anything. He didn’t want to go over what he had said and done. If they won’t even talk to you, this leaves little room for any conflict resolution. This becomes yet another obstacle in their relationship made even more difficult by the matriarch of the family always siding with the golden child.


I wrote about this in my book Wrecking Ball Relationships: How to Identify, Live With or Leave the Narcissist in Your Life.”  



“Erika had little contact with her sister as an adult. She had no desire to have a relationship with her but never thought of her sister as a narcissist. She knew there was something wrong as her sister always had to be the center of attention. Her sister was the source of most of the family tension. Erika’s sister had few friends and never exhibited empathy. When Erika had breast cancer, her sister called after many years of not speaking. Her sister asked Erika how she was. Erika told her she was good as she had a great prognosis. If you must get cancer, this was the best kind to get.

Her sister then immediately launched into how she’s in remission for Crohn’s disease. As Chapter 2 discusses, narcissists don’t exhibit empathy. Everything is a competition, even your health. This was shocking to Erika as she hadn’t spoken to her sister in 15 years. She thought she was calling to talk about her cancer, not her sister’s issues with Crohn’s disease. It’s as if they feel obligated to call so it looks appropriate to other people. However, once on the call, they can’t express empathy for anyone else and the conversation must shift to them. Narcissists need to accomplish the task of calling as they feel it will make them look better. It never feels genuine because they can’t express real feelings.

I asked Erika if she remembered a particular family holiday or get-together with her sister. Erika reflected on the time when she finally decided she had enough of her sister’s behavior. All the sisters gathered at their parent’s home with their respective families. Erika lived the farthest away and drove over eight hours with her young family. Erika’s narcissist sister always made an entrance. She was suddenly allergic to whatever their mother was cooking or on a new “special diet.” She knew how to push everyone’s buttons and took every opportunity to push them with abandon.

This holiday, Erika’s mother wanted to give her some special teacups. Her sister couldn’t stand it, why were they for Erika?  The sister started yelling, crying, and carrying on in a narcissistic rage storm. Erika went into another room to cry as she didn’t want her young children to see her in tears. This was the moment Erika decided she’d had enough. She decided to no longer attend family gatherings if this sister was included. Unfortunately, Erika’s parents never intervened when the sister exhibited these behaviors. This made Erika feel they chose her narcissist sister over her.”


What should you do when you learn your sibling is toxic?

1.    Set boundaries

3.    Give them time and space

4.    Hope to one day have open communication

5.    No-contact may be the only option


The Mature One & The Eternal Child

There was another rationale for my client’s sudden animosity with his youngest brother. There is a dynamic in families where one sibling is the mature one and the other is the eternal child. The mature one is just that – responsible, disciplined and reasonable. The eternal child detests boundaries and commitments. They have lots of ideas but rarely put in the work to make their dreams come true. They may go from one job to the next, never committing. Even when the mature one doesn’t self-identify, the eternal child will feel threatened by their success and act out against them.

Unfortunately, when this type of fracture occurs among siblings, one sibling is usually more motivated to heal the relationship than the other. This will only lead to more hurt and frustration. Until both siblings are willing to have open, honest, transparent communication, showing empathy, and taking responsibility, nothing will change.


What happens next?

It’s sad to realize the instant best friend who was there most of your life, shared family vacations, holidays, hard times, good times, is just not that close anymore.

When this type of fracture occurs with your sibling, you long for a reconciliation. But these are people who are supposed to love us. When they abandon or betray us, it cuts deep and leaves long-lasting scars.  


This hurt will bleed into other aspects of your life until you work through it. You need to talk to someone. But not just anyone. Someone who gets it. I get it.


You see, I didn’t get here by accident. I didn't set out to become a narcissistic abuse recovery coach.

But after I’d suffered this kind of abuse, I realized that my story and my experience could help so many people who’ve suffered similarly. 


Everyone wants a good relationship with family members, but when they leave you feeling awful about every interaction and dreading the next one, you wonder if you have toxic, narcissistic siblings. At some point, for your own sake, no-contact is the best solution.


Often, we stay in these cycles of abuse because we don’t believe we deserve something better. I kept trying to make our relationship work, but he didn’t want me in his life. It took me a long time to understand that I deserved better.


You deserve better, too.


If you’re ready to change how you think,

If you’re ready to change how you feel,

If you’re ready to change your path,

Send me a message and we'll have a conversation about how I can support you.


You can find my book “Wrecking Ball Relationships” on Amazon,, and








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