David was a fourteen year old kid; he was a straight-A student, made the cut for the freshman football team, and was loved by all of his teachers. Though it might seem like David had it all, on the inside, he was terrified of his successes. With every accomplishment came fear, and the source of that panic was someone who should have been his biggest fans.
David’s older brother, Tom, is a narcissistic sibling. Whenever David succeeds, his brother is there to cut him down. So David did his best to hide his successes, keeping his report cards secret and lying about his after school activities to his parents, anything to assuage Tom’s jealousy.
Ten years later, David is still deathly afraid of crossing his brother. Tom feeds his parents with misinformation designed to sully David’s reputation. David moved away for college and got a job in a city far from his brother, but Tom is always trying to weasel his way back into David’s life. Every time they meet Tom boasts about his successes and uses the time they have together to chip away David’s self worth.
Through it all, David feels helpless – this is his older brother, someone who was supposed to protect him and guide him through the challenges of adolescence. Instead, Tom has been a never-ending source of pain in David’s life and he has no idea what to do about his narcissistic sibling.
So How do you deal with your narcissistic sibling? And what are the characteristics that classify your brother or sister as a narcissist?
Can Siblings be Narcissists?
Anyone can be a narcissist, and although most of us have heard stories about narcissistic partners and narcissistic parents, the subject of narcissistic siblings goes largely unnoticed. Narcissistic sibling abuse can be especially damaging though, because with the exception of your primary caregiver, siblings are often our closest relationships. Spotting a narcissistic sibling isn’t all that hard either, with most of them being defined by a few specific traits.
Narcissistic sibling characteristics include:
Entitlement: A narcissistic sibling will always treat you like you owe them something. They feel more important than you and believe you should be sacrificing more for them. They’ll also monopolize the parents’ time and attention, and justify their behavior by saying that they’re the “favorite” child.
A Lack of Empathy: Sibling relationships are supposed to be a two-way street. Sure, an older sibling might provide guidance and look out for the younger one, and the younger one will usually defer to the older sibling during childhood, but it’s supposed to be an equitable relationship. A narcissistic brother or sister expects you to coddle them in their feelings but will give a blank stare or become irate if you express yours.
Never Accepting Responsibility: You know the kid that always blames their little brother or sister when they broke the lamp running carelessly through the house? That kid grows up and blames their parents and siblings for ruining their childhood and turning them into a maladjusted adult. Narcissists never take responsibility, in childhood or as a grown up.
Always Being the Center of Attention: Narcissists are defined by their strong need for supply, which can come from their friends, romantic relationships, parents, and even siblings. They’re attempting to get all eyes on them, even when it’s completely inappropriate, like your wedding or graduation.
Jealousy: Every big moment in your life is an affront to a narcissistic sibling’s ego. You got a promotion? They’ll tell you why your job is stupid (and theirs is incredible). You’re getting married? They’ll criticize your spouse or tell you how “it’ll never last”.
Typical Behaviour of a Narcissistic Sister
Narcissism comes in several different flavors, and while narcissists have some fairly specific core traits, the disorder manifests itself differently in brothers and sisters. These are some of the most common issues you’ll encounter with a narcissistic sister.
Characteristics of Narcissistic Sisters
She Points Out Flaws in Your Appearance: Narcissists find flaws within themselves and project them onto others. A narcissistic sister is usually obsessed with her appearance and will find any way she can to criticize yours.
She Lies All the Time: Narcissists live in their own reality, exaggerating their successes and sweeping their failures under the rug. A narcissistic sister will lie about mundane things too; it’s all about maintaining a version of reality where they are the most important person in the world.
She Steals Your Friends or Romantic Partner: This one is especially common with an older narcissistic sister. Friends or potential boyfriends or girlfriends might look up to her as the cool older sister, and she’ll turn that admiration against you. When successful, she’ll leave her sibling feeling worthless and isolated, and even if she’s not successful, friends and romantic partners start to feel too uncomfortable with her behavior and stop coming around.
She Plays the Victim with Your Parents:Narcissists crave power, but they’re perfectly willing to gain it through the sympathy of others. A narcissistic sister will tell your parents how hurtful you’ve been to her, while also pointing out every mistake you’ve made to ensure they’re seen as the “good child”.
How to Deal with a Narcissistic Sister?
You might be asking yourself “my sister is a narcissistic bully – what should I do about it?” Should you expose a narcissistic sibling? If other people could just see them the way that you do, they’d lose all of their power, right? While that might seem rational, narcissism is anything but, and exposing your narcissistic sibling can have disastrous consequences. A better option is limiting your exposure to her narcissistic tendencies, while attempting to heal from the damage already inflicted.
Set Reasonable Limits: Narcissistic sisters thrive on the admiration, praise, or deference that you give them. Spending more time with her will lower your self worth and lead to uncomfortable feelings and agitation. You can limit the amount of time you’re exposed to your sister though. She’s still your sister, so it’s inevitable that you’ll see each other on occasion: holidays, funerals, etc., unless you go the no-contact route. Maybe these are the only times you’ll want to spend with her, for the sake of maintaining family harmony.
Determine Acceptable Behaviors: You’ll probably never have a healthy and fulfilling relationship with your narcissistic sibling, but you can draw a line in the sand and outline which of their behaviors are unacceptable. Don’t like how close your sister is getting with your friends or significant other? Let her know these are a deal breaker and she’s at risk of losing you. She’ll probably get upset and could incite narcissistic rage, but at least she’ll know how far she can push before you begin cutting off of contact.
Look for Support: One of the hardest parts of having a narcissistic sibling is how it isolates you from your family members. Families provide critical emotional support, but there’s a good chance your sibling has a hold on them just as they do on you. Instead, find support in friends and professionals (like a licensed counselor) who have some distance from the situation.
Typical Behaviour for a Narcissistic Brother
Men and women exhibit narcissism in different ways and this is also true within familial relationships. Some fighting between brothers is fairly normal, but a narcissist’s behavior goes far beyond the usual sibling rivalry. Violent bullying, especially of their younger siblings is common, but younger brothers may use their position as “the baby” of the family to suck up all the parent’s attention. You might already be saying “I’m pretty sure my brother is a narcissist”, but there are some behaviors that are very common to all of them.
Characteristics of Narcissistic Brothers
He Tells Hurtful Jokes: A narcissistic brother is always telling stories and making comments meant to bring you down. Should you complain about them and explain how much they hurt, he’ll say he was just joking and that you need to have a sense of humor. His jokes aren’t designed to get laughs though, they’re to hold power over you.
He’s Alway in Competition With You: A little sibling rivalry is normal, but a narcissistic brother will turn everything into a life or death tournament, whether it’s academic performance or spitting watermelon seeds. Your brother will also spend an inordinate amount of time comparing your achievements to his, downplaying yours and boasting about his own. Everything needs to circle back to how he’s better than you.
He’s Often Unfaithful to His Partner: This one doesn’t directly affect you, but it’s a pretty good sign that your brother doesn’t have a whole lot of empathy for his partner. This is a person he’s supposed to have intense feelings for, but he regularly disregards his commits in favor of self-satisfaction. Narcissists need fresh supply and a new partner is perfect for gaining it. His hurtful and selfish actions won’t stop with his romantic partner either, they’re more than likely inflicted on his siblings and parents too.
He Never Accepts Responsibility: a narcissistic brother never thinks that he’s done something wrong. Everything is always someone else’s fault and that someone else is usually you. Point this out to him and his defenses are raised immediately and the blame is shifted to you. He’l recruit his flying monkeys, his loyal supporters, who might be your parents, siblings, or just mutual acquaintances. He wants you to know that any criticism will be met with immediate retaliation.
How to Deal with a Narcissistic Brother?
Now that you understand the telltale signs of the disorder, you’re probably concerned with how to protect yourself from your narcissistic sibling. It’s always a delicate balancing act with family, since the simplest solution is usually off the table – completely cutting them out of your life. These are a few options that are less drastic and put some distance between you and your narcissistic sibling.
Don’t Call Him a Narcissist: There’s plenty of evidence showing that most narcissists know that they have a personality disorder, they just don’t see it as a problem. Bring it up to your brother though, and he’ll feel threatened and demeaned. This leads to retaliation and there’s little chance that he’ll seek professional health after the encounter.
Understand What You’re Willing to Accept: Narcissists have a wide array of negative behaviors, and some are worse than others. This man is family and so you’re probably inclined to be a little more tolerating than you would be with a friend or coworker. Set some hard lines for the most upsetting behaviors and make it clear that you’re out if they continue.
Avoid Contact: These suggestions were supposed to steer clear of cutting your brother out, but sometimes it is the only option. Show him the door and he will undoubtedly turn on you, including sending out the flying monkeys. If you can weather the storm though, this is your chance to heal from all of his narcissistic abuses. Once you’ve made some progress, it’s possible to introduce him back into your life in small doses.
Realizing that you have a narcissistic sibling is devastating – the bond with your sibling should be one of your closest personal relationships. Instead, you have someone that’s constantly trying to undermine you and is out to destroy the relationships you have with other family members.
Fortunately, recognizing them as a narcissist is the first step in healing from their abuses and setting boundaries for the future.
You’ll most likely never have the warm and loving relationship you seek with your sibling, but with careful limits you can at least have a civil one.