Bullying Within the Family: How to Recognize and Deal With It

Do you think you suffer from bullying in your family? In this article, you will discover some ways to identify it and strategies to solve it. It's not easy, but not impossible.
Bullying Within the Family: How to Recognize and Deal With It

Last update: 08 September, 2022

When we talk about bullying, we tend to think of a young person being bullied by schoolmates. We may even think of a person at work experiencing such malicious actions by a boss or colleagues. But what about bullying within the family? It exists, and in this article, we’re going to give it a voice.

Bullying doesn’t just happen at school or at work; sometimes, it’s also taking place in the family. This of a sibling who has very harmful attitudes or an in-law who is making life impossible for a partner, for instance.

We tend to believe that bullying only occurs outside the home, but sometimes it’s a good idea to look inside the home first. That may be where the real bullies are.

What is bullying within the family like?

Bullying within the family is not very different from bullying in any other environment or circumstance. One or more people with whom one has family ties manipulate, intimidate, and humiliate a family member or each other for no apparent reason.

Belittling and criticism are often present, so the person (young or old) may have the desire to spend a lot of time away from home to get away from this toxic environment.

The American Osteopathic Association conducted a survey on bullying that revealed very interesting data. For example, as many as 31% of adult respondents had experienced this bullying. This suggests that it’s a form of abuse that is not often talked about but is quite common.

bullying within the family
A mother who underestimates and criticizes her children or a sibling who blackmails and manipulates? All this can be a cause of depression and distress in another family member.

How to recognize bullying within the family

Sometimes, recognizing bullying within the family isn’t easy. First, this is because it’s very difficult to admit that a mother, father, or sibling may be a potential bully. Second, it’s often because the forms of bullying are so subtle that they’re camouflaged through irony and jokes.

However, this list can serve as a guide to help you to identify the warning signs:

  • You start to feel stressed when you think about going home. This is a clear symptom that something is not right at home. If this is your case, it’s important to analyze the situation.
  • Mistrust about one’s own capabilities appears. This is often due to criticism, not feeling valid, and other feelings that may appear due to bullying within the family. In this case, it’s important to determine if there’s someone toxic that’s feeding these thoughts.
  • Anxiety arises frequently. Even panic attacks may occur. Sometimes, the bullying is so subtle that it can be overlooked. The mind and body can’t be fooled, though, so anxiety often surfaces.

When someone within the family tends to blame another, criticize him/her constantly, and/or blackmail him/her emotionally, among other series of attitudes, it’s very important to be alerted that bullying may be taking place. We tend to idealize the family and believe that all its members are good. However, bad people can also be found in the family nucleus.

We think you may also enjoy reading this article: 11 Toxic Phrases that Should Never Be in Our Inner Dialogue

How to handle family bullying

Managing bullying within the family isnt easy. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to become independent or free yourself from a toxic family environment. However, there are certain strategies that can work and strengthen the personality of the person who’s bullied.

Set boundaries

Starting to say “no,” being assertive, and setting boundaries are some of the most effective strategies to make a bully go away. When you[re no longer manipulable, they have no business being there.

However, this is not easy to do without the support of a professional. Seeing a psychologist to start setting boundaries is critical to getting it right.

Like this article? You may also like to read: Toxic Friendships: How to Identify and Distance Yourself from Them

Stay calm

Not reacting to insults or criticism from a bully is the best thing to do. Those who practice meditation have a great ability to remain calm.

So, when a family member says something insulting or harmful, you can breathe and even respond in a way that disarms their comment and prevents it from affecting you emotionally.

a technique for calming down
Learning to remain calm and cultivate tranquility makes us more assertive when reacting to domestic abuse and all of the many forms that bullying may take.

Walk away if possible

If there’s a chance to stop living with the bullies, perfect. However, this is not always feasible.

It’s not a matter of running away from the problem, but to stop having to always be on the alert and hating spending time at home because of what you know is going to happen. In the end, it can be complicated to manage anticipatory anxiety.

Seek help

Bullying within the family is possible to manage, but to do this, it’s best to go to an expert in this type of situation. We’re not going to deny it. These are saddening and frustrating circumstances, but they can be overcome. Never throw in the towel and make sure to get help.

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  • Wolke, Dieter, Neil Tippett, and Slava Dantchev. “Bullying in the family: sibling bullying.” The Lancet Psychiatry 2.10 (2015): 917-929.
  • Dantchev, S., Hickman, M., Heron, J., Zammit, S., & Wolke, D. (2019). The independent and cumulative effects of sibling and peer bullying in childhood on depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and self-harm in adulthood. Frontiers in psychiatry10, 651.
  • Wolke, D., & Skew, A. J. (2012). Bullying among siblings.

The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.