Codependency in romantic relationships has become widely known in recent years.
But codependency can also appear in families, particularly between siblings.
Well, siblings can become codependent on each other if their parents are absent, abusive, or emotionally unavailable while growing up.
To compensate, one or both siblings must rely on the other to meet their needs (whether physical, financial, or emotional), resulting in a dysfunctional family dynamic.
Unfortunately, codependency between siblings does not end when they become adults.
So, if you’ve experienced this with your sibling when you were younger, you will likely still possess many codependent signs today.
Here are eight of the most common symptoms of a codependent sibling.
1) You feel responsible for your sibling’s well-being
Of course, we should always care about the wellbeing of our siblings BUT it should not be our responsibility to ensure they are happy and well.
However, in many cases of codependency between siblings, one family member will take the role of the parent while the other takes the role of the child.
If you’re the “parent sibling,” you’ll likely feel an unhealthy amount of responsibility towards your sibling.
Of course, this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you, which affects your own well-being.
This feeling also links to many other signs of sibling codependency, such as…
2) You make decisions for them
One of the beautiful things about having a sibling is having someone to go to for advice and support. They often know us inside out and can offer us words of wisdom in challenging situations.
However, a codependent sibling will take this too far, needing approval and validation from their family member before being able to take ANY action.
This occurs due to a couple of reasons:
- They have a deep-seated need for approval
- They rely on their sibling to make them feel good about themself
So, if you’re codependent with your sibling, you may find yourself making decisions for your sibling, even when the situation doesn’t involve you.
You’ll regularly receive phone calls from your sibling, asking what they should do, even if it’s about something trivial.
And you’ll never say no to their cry for help because of this…
3) Helping your sibling makes you feel worthy and needed
An over-giving or “savior” codependent often has a low sense of self-worth and low self-esteem.
But one thing that makes them feel worthy is being of service.
In the case of siblings, if you grew up with a family dynamic where you had to care for another family member, you may have linked your sense of worth to being this person’s caregiver.
So whenever your sibling comes to you for help or you “save them” from doing something destructive, you feel worthy.
This is what keeps you from breaking free from the dangerous cycle of codependency.
And what leads to this…
4) You struggle to do things for yourself
As previously mentioned, sibling codependency creates a sense of reliance, which is very difficult for both people to shake off as adults.
When you were younger, you had to prioritize their needs above yours, putting your self-care on the back burner to ensure they were okay.
Even if you’ve now grown up to lead your own lives, you will probably still feel a strong need to care for this sibling.
The habit of prioritizing them remains, and when you do decide to do something for yourself, you probably feel tons of guilt or anxiety.
5) You can’t say no
Along with struggling to put yourself first, you will also be unable to say no to your sibling – and others.
According to licensed marriage and family therapist Kate Engler, people-pleasing is a trait all codependents possess. However, you can also be a people pleaser without being codependent.
So why is people-pleasing so common among codependent siblings, in particular?
Studies show that people who grow up in a stressful or traumatic family develop a strong need to keep their environment safe, peaceful, and secure.
As a result, codependent people typically possess the anxious attachment style (from the relationship attachment style theory developed by British psychoanalyst John Bowlby).
People with an anxious attachment style are much more likely to always say yes to the requests of others as they associate pleasing others with staying safe and avoiding conflict.
And talking about conflict…
6) You can’t handle disagreements and tension between you
Arguing with a loved one never feels good. But while it is normal to feel down after disagreeing with your sibling, conflict can feel devastating for codependent siblings.
Because your sense of value comes from validation from that person.
So, when they are upset or angry with you, it takes a MASSIVE hit to your self-esteem.
This can interfere with all aspects of your life, making it hard for you to continue with things as normal.
One research study explored the relationship between codependency and enmeshment.
Enmeshment is a psychological concept where personal boundaries are permeable and unclear in a relationship due to the merging of emotions from both people.
The report explains that in codependent relationships with enmeshment, it is common for one or both people to feel that they will not survive without the constant involvement of the other.
If you feel like your life is over when you argue with your sibling, and you cannot go back to normal until peace is restored, this could be a sign that you’re codependent with your sibling.
7) You blame your sibling for your unfulfillment in life
If you had to take on the parental role for your sibling, you likely had to sacrifice your own childhood and adolescence to care for them.
For many sibling codependents, this can lead to a LOT of resentment.
As you had to put so much of your time and energy into your sibling’s life, you may feel unhappy and unfilled with your own.
From your perspective, your sibling (and the absent parent) held you back from pursuing your goals and dreams. So naturally, you will blame them for your current life situation.
However, this can become very unhealthy if you identify as a victim and get caught up in the injustice of the situation.
When this happens, you use this as the reason why you will never achieve your dreams instead of taking back control and reclaiming your life.
8) You struggle to define who you are
A comprehensive research paper entitled “The Lived Experience of Codependency” studied eight self-identified codependents to understand more about the experience of a codependent person.
All participants said they struggled with defining a clear sense of self. They all agreed that they have an:
- Over-willingness to blend into situations
- Strong desire to be liked
- Need for belonging and acceptance
These findings suggest that the low self-esteem and need for external validation linked to codependency make it challenging to develop a self-identity.
So, if you struggle to answer the question “Who are you?” or have no clear-set values, passions, or goals, this is another sign you’re codependent.
If you see yourself or your sibling in these eight signs, you likely have a codependent relationship dynamic.
But here’s the good news: recognizing there is a problem is the first step to breaking free from codependency.
So how do you do it?
By establishing clear boundaries and communicating them with your sibling.
Yes, I know setting boundaries as a codependent is soooo hard. It will likely take some time to get there… but that’s okay.
As you embark on this healing journey, remember why you are doing it in the first place. Breaking free from codependency will allow you to:
- Develop a healthier self-image
- Seek validation from within
- Gain a clearer self-identity
- Prioritize yourself more
- Finally, stop feeling responsible for your sibling!