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Sibling Abuse: Detection and Advocacy. Amy Meyers, PhD, LCSW The College of New Rochelle April 15, 2011. Overview. Purpose Relevance Define sibling abuse Repercussions of sibling abuse Contributing family factors Emotional Resonance Intimate Relationships of the survivor

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sibling abuse detection and advocacy
Sibling Abuse: Detection and Advocacy

Amy Meyers, PhD, LCSW

The College of New Rochelle

April 15, 2011

  • Purpose
  • Relevance
  • Define sibling abuse
  • Repercussions of sibling abuse
  • Contributing family factors
  • Emotional Resonance
  • Intimate Relationships of the survivor
  • Risk and Resilience
  • Detection and Advocacy
purpose of the study
Purpose of the Study
  • survivors’ characterization of physical and emotional abusive experiences.
  • the effect of sibling abuse on survivors’

intimate relationships in adulthood.

elements of intimacy
Elements of Intimacy
  • Trust
  • Conflict
  • Communication
  • Satisfaction
  • Dependence/Independence
  • Imperative to the fields of:
    • Child welfare
    • Child and family services
    • School social work
    • Pediatric social work
    • Clinical practice
defining sibling abuse
Defining Sibling Abuse
  • insistent, consistent, and persistent charges of inadequacy, intimidation or control through physical force and/or emotional denigration (Wiehe, 1997).
  • intention, or the perceived intention, of causing physical or emotional pain or injury (Gelles, 1979).
  • rejecting, isolating, terrorizing and/or corrupting (Hart et. al. 1987).
  • The abusive sibling relationship is characterized by fear, shame, and hopelessness (Kiselica & Morrill-Richards, 2007)
physical and emotional sibling abuse
Physical and Emotional Sibling Abuse

Physical abuse

  • bruises, welts, abrasions, lacerations, wounds, cuts, bone fractures
  • behavior that is physically intrusive, physically painful and experienced as physically overwhelming

Emotional abuse

  • active expressions of rejection
  • actions that deprecate the sibling
    • verbal denigration and ridicule
    • actions or threat that cause a sibling extreme fear and anxiety

(Schneider et. al, 2005).

sibling abuse is not sibling rivalry
Sibling Abuse is Not Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry > a normative developmental process among siblings

  • Includes bouts of jealousy, aggression, and low-level violence
  • Fosters skills of competition, negotiation, and conflict resolution (Gelles & Cornell, 1985)

Sibling abuse > intention or the perceived intention of causing physical or emotional pain or injury

•Persistent and unrelenting acts

literature review sibling abuse
Literature Review: Sibling Abuse
  • Sibling abuse has repercussions in adult relationships(Wiehe, 1990)
  • Victimization and later dating violence amongst survivors (Simonelli et. al., 2002)
  • Learned helplessness among adult survivors (McLaurin, 2005)
  • Emotional cutting off of siblings leads to depression, anxiety and subsequent difficulty with intimacy (Caffaro & Conn-Caffaro, 1998)
  • Foster children at high risk for sibling abusive relationships (Linares, 2006)
  • Ethnic differences in the interpretation and experiences of sibling abuse (Rapoza, Cook, Zaveri, & Malley-Morrison, 2010).
literature review sibling relationships
Literature Review:Sibling Relationships
  • Siblings influence:
    • Socialization
    • Perceptions of interpersonal relatedness (Leader, 2007)
    • Positive sibling relationships lead to:
      • Higher self-esteem and emotional well-being
      • Less depression and social anxiety (Sperling & Berman, 1994)
      • Sibling relationships inform aspects of intimacy:
        • Power and hierarchy
        • Fairness and justice
        • Communication styles
        • Conflict resolution
        • Friendship and loyalty
theoretical framework
Theoretical Framework
  • Family Systems
  • Object Relations
  • Resiliency
research methodology
Research Methodology
  • Qualitative, exploratory study
  • Grounded theory and phenomenological approach (Strauss & Corbin, 1998)
  • Purposive, convenience sample
  • Subject recruitment through fliers, online advertisements, email list serves, colleges and universities
  • Subject criteria: 21 years or older and self-identified survivor of childhood or adolescent physical or emotional sibling abuse
characteristics of informants
Characteristics of Informants
  • 13 cases of physical and emotional abuse and 6 cases of emotional abuse only
  • 16 female; 3 male
    • Predominantly male>female (11) perpetration;

5 female>female; 3 male>male

  • Age range, 25-65 years old; median age = 40.
  • Sibling age difference: one to 10 years; median difference = 2 years
how informants describe sibling abuse
How Informants Describe Sibling Abuse
  • “Psychological torture”
  • “Traumatic”
  • “Debilitating”
  • “Damaging”
  • “Tragic”
  • “Devastating”
  • “Relentless”
emotional resonance
Emotional Resonance

Compromised sense of self

Inability to TRUST others

  • Insecurity
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of dependence
  • Skepticism around support
  • Difficulty tolerating intense emotions
emotional resonance1
Emotional Resonance
  • sense of aloneness
  • lack of validation regarding their experience
  • lack of societal differentiation between sibling

abuse and sibling rivalry > SA as normative

  • lack of entitlement to one’s perception of things
  • lack of self-worth
findings intimate relationships
Findings: Intimate Relationships
  • Expectations of abandonment and difficulty trusting others results in:

∙ Anxiety and insecurity

∙ Fear of dependence

∙ Conforming and pleasing behavior

∙ Attachment to emotionally unavailable partners

∙ Difficulty trusting others

∙ Sexual promiscuity

healthy family functioning
Healthy Family Functioning

“Healthy” family functioning:

caring and mutually supportive relationships;

effective parental leadership and autonomy; protection of children;

consistent patterns of interaction inclusive of clear rules and expectations;

acceptance of a range of emotional expressions; and effective conflict-resolution processes (Walsh, 1993)

risk parental response
Risk: Parental Response
  • Passivity; lack of presence; uninvolved
  • Punitive; blaming the abused sibling or corporal punishment of the abusive sibling
  • Collusion with the abusive sibling
  • Unable to manage the abusive sibling
  • Therapy for the abused sibling 
protective factors childhood
Protective Factors: Childhood
  • Supportive adult
    • Another sibling
    • Extended family member
    • Mentor
    • Friend’s parent

• Creative outlets

• Therapy

  • Child abuse
  • Child neglect (even in its more subtle forms)
  • Single parent status
  • Financial stress
  • Siblings with disabilities, substance abuse, or behavioral problems
  • Siblings in caregiver roles
  • Poor parental modeling
  • Inappropriate hierarchical relations
  • Limited supports/social capital
    • Policy – Child Welfare
      • Develop statutes to assess for sibling abuse
      • Monitor identification of sibling abuse in child welfare cases
  • Organizations and Community
    • Develop and implement assessment tools
    • Psycho-education of parents
    • Parenting skills
    • Clinical Interventions
      • Develop support systems
      • Extracurricular activities
      • Mentors/role models
questions comments

Amy Meyers, PhD, LCSW


References: Available for distribution