You shouldn’t feel guilty for not being close to your siblings. Distance can be healthy.

Vintage Teenagers, Candid Friends Eating Snacks, Snacking In Backseat of Car Y2k 2000s 1990s

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  • People often think of siblings as ready-made friends, but that’s not always the case.

  • We tend to give siblings a pass on problematic behaviors because they are family.

  • If your mental health is being affected, experts say it’s OK to cut ties.

After confiding in a friend about a problem I was having with my sister, she said, “It’s just me and my mom — you’re lucky to have a mom and a sister.” This friend, who is the only child, insists that family always comes first.

Except she wasn’t exactly practicing what she preached. A few months later, she told me that her dad lived a few blocks away from her, and they hadn’t spoken in more than a decade.

My dad died when I was 7 years old. Just as I couldn’t imagine living close to him and not speaking, my friend couldn’t understand how the bond with your sibling could reach its limits and even break.

Often, we think of siblings as ready-made playmates and lifelong friends. But these relationships are more complicated than sticking people together in a house without cell phones and Wi-Fi and seeing if they become rivals or soul mates.

All relationships go through different phases. Sometimes we feel guilty for not being closer to our siblings or pressured to manufacture relationships that just aren’t there. For advice, I asked therapists about how to cope if you have an unhealthy sibling relationship.

Recognizing the signs of an unhealthy relationship

Having a sibling can help you learn to share, take turns, and apologize when you’ve hurt each other’s feelings. When you’re not under the watchful eye of a parent, you might begin to relax these rules and test each other’s boundaries.

As an adult, “you may have unresolved hurt or resentments toward your sibling,” Elizabeth Fedrick, a licensed counselor and the owner of Evolve Counseling & Behavioral Health Services in Phoenix, told Insider. If your last conversation ended with your sibling yelling or hanging up on you, you might feel a knot in your stomach to see a text from them or wonder if their silence means they’re still upset with you.

Experiencing anxiety is understandable. But if you “dread spending time with your sibling or often feel angry, sad, or irritated after visiting with them, it’s likely because this relationship is not healthy for you,” Fedrick said. Even if you don’t express these feelings directly, they tend to come out in other ways, such as making excuses to avoid seeing your sibling or lashing out at other people.

Another sign of an unhealthy relationship is the inability to engage in respectful dialogue. “The two of you are unable to agree or disagree without projecting hostility,” Cheyenne Bryant, a psychology expert and renowned producer and MTV Teen Mom Family Reunion life coach, told Insider. “In addition, there can be a lack of compassion for each other’s issues and concerns.”

If you’re not putting in equal efforts, you can end up in a one-sided relationship that is “geared towards serving the needs of one person instead of benefiting both individuals,” Fedrick explained. “This type of behavior is often tolerated because it’s the way it has always been since childhood and feels like the norm.”

Challenging beliefs about family dynamics

“Some cultures place a high value on family sticking together,” Bryant said. “Although this is a positive value and would be beautiful if the relationship between siblings is healthy, this isn’t always the case.”

The belief that you must engage with your siblings, regardless of their behavior, is something we learn from society, friends and family. Often, we hear expressions such as “blood is thicker than water” and “siblings are your first and most important friendships.”

Because of messages like these, we tend to give our siblings a pass for problematic behaviors that we wouldn’t necessarily tolerate in other relationships. For example, it might be unthinkable to have a partner who yells at you in front of your parents or a friend who keeps borrowing money from you without paying you back.

Behaving as though family should always be our main priority “creates a belief that no matter how we are treated by family members, we should just tolerate it and stay invested in these relationships, since they are blood,” Fedrick said. To push back on this belief, we need to recognize that being a sibling does not give someone the right to inflict emotional, physical, or psychological harm on you or any of your loved ones, she adds.

Setting boundaries to protect your mental health

“Boundaries are the best way to protect your mental health because they teach people how to treat you,” Bryant said. One reason we struggle to set boundaries is a fear of what other people might think.

Bryant’s advice is to “process before you produce, meaning that you sit with yourself and process exactly what boundaries need to be set for you to thrive in a relationship with your sibling.” You can then have a conversation with them about what you consider to be a healthy and respectful relationship.

Keep in mind that “setting boundaries without consequences is just a suggestion of how we want to be treated,” Fedrick said. “Consequences are about protecting yourself from harm that may occur if your sibling violates a boundary.”

For example, getting annoyed with your sibling for being late isn’t an effective strategy. Instead, saying, “Please show up on time, as I will not wait for you if you are late,” is a request and a reminder of what can happen if they intrude on your time, resources, and peace, Fedrick added. She shared the following tips for setting and holding boundaries with siblings:

  • Be clear about what you are not okay with and what you would like to see change.

  • Say it gently the first time. If they ignore you, be firm or remove yourself from the conversation.

  • Remind yourself that you don’t need to apologize for or over-explain your boundaries.

  • Prepare yourself to redirect the conversation if there’s a topic you don’t want to talk about.

Being clear and consistent with your boundaries allows you and your siblings to feel safe and secure in the relationship. If they ignore your feelings, it’s now your choice whether to limit your time with them or take a break from the relationship.

Dealing with guilt over estrangements

In general, siblings will try to get away with as much as they can and see how you react. “If your sibling continues to violate your boundaries and demonstrates repeated inability to be mentally, emotionally, or physically safe, it is absolutely OK not to speak to your sibling,” Fedrick said.

At first, you might feel guilty for cutting off communication with your sibling. Fedrick’s advice is to explore where these feelings are coming from.

Consider whether your sibling is trying to manipulate you, for example, by telling you that they don’t have any support other than you. In addition, ask yourself if you feel guilty because family members are questioning your decision to pause or end the relationship with your sibling.

“If you feel your mental health is declining, it is wise to disengage and remove yourself from the relationship for as long as you need to,” Bryant said. “It’s important to love yourself enough that you are always willing to set boundaries that represent the love and respect that you have for yourself, and that you give to others.” Ultimately, it’s your decision who you have a relationship with and how you choose to communicate with them.

Read the original article on Insider