You are not alone. Many adult siblings juggle multiple responsibilities, feel isolated and need support in their sibling role. Use these pages to get information on sibling issues, and to make contact with other adult siblings in the UK.
Dealing with guilt
For many adult siblings, guilt eats into their ability to enjoy themselves and get on with their lives. It is a useful emotion if you have actually done something wrong, but less useful when you haven’t. The type of quilt experienced by siblings is usually in relation to something they feel they ought to do or feel about their brother or sister. Feelings of guilt may have come from what they believe their parents and other adults have expected of them during childhood. It is absolutely normal for siblings of disabled people to have feelings of guilt.
Some of the things siblings feel guilty about:
- Not having the disability or illness when their brother or sister has (survivor’s guilt)
- That they can do things in life that their brother or sister will never be able to do
- That they have had uncaring thoughts about their brother or sister
- That they haven’t visited, or spent time with their brother or sister as much as they feel they should
- That they wish they didn’t have a disabled brother or sister
- That they have felt jealous of the amount of time a parent has spent with a brother or sister
- That they have resented the impact of their brother or sisters disability on their lives
- That they have not supported their parents with care as much as they think they should
There are a number of ways forward in dealing with it:
Acknowledge the feeling for what it is
Have you really done something wrong? Is this really a justifiable feeling or is it something like you used to feel as a child?
Acknowledge that certain things that have happened are not your fault.
'I feel guilty that my sister grew up in an institution. I was not involved in that decision as I was a young child. It is not my fault that she had a hard time there.'
If your guilty feelings cause you a lot of distress it may be helpful to have some sessions with a counsellor.
The feeling of guilt may be telling you that there is something you need to take some action on. The type of action you take will depend on the circumstances. For example, you may feel better if you simply make a decision to visit your sister twice a month, rather than feeling that you should go every week but don’t actually do it. Put the dates in your diary.
Is there something you have been putting off and just need to go and do it?
'I have been intending to find a befriender for my brother for the past year and I’ve done nothing about it except feel guilty that he has no friends. I will spend 30 minutes on the internet on Wednesday night getting contact numbers for local services.'
Practice getting comfortable about saying no
People can feel quilty because they have always felt that way whenever they have not done something for someone. This can be especially the case if a parent asks siblings to support their brother or sister in some way, and they are not able to or don't want to do it.
Learn how to say no to requests from other people for small things first. When you practice this you will find that the world does not come to an end and people will respect your position. It is likely to make it easier for you to feel comfortable about saying no to parents or your disabled brother or sister's demands.
Reframe how you view things
Recognise that other people’s expectations of how you should behave as a sibling are simply that - their expectations. How do you want to be as a sibling? What is realistic for you given that you have other commitments too?
How can you think about an experience in a positive way rather than in a quilty way?
'I used to feel guilty about being able to go skiing. Now I go and enjoy it and know that when I come back I will feel refreshed and energized and that my good mood will be good for people who are around me, including my disabled sister. Taking time to do things I enjoy will be better for everyone.'
'My brother would hate this; he wouldn’t like all the people and the noise. It’s a very good thing that he’s not here.'
Forgive yourself for things that are in the past and accept those things that simply can’t be changed. Just let go of things that you really don’t have any ability to change.
'I used to pretend that I didn’t have a brother and never mentioned him at school. I felt bad about this for years. That’s what I needed to do as a child. I don’t need to do it anymore. I don’t need to feel guilty about this. It’s just a way for a child to cope.'
Have a rule about not feeling guilty
Learn how to do things that are just for you and when you do, fully enjoy them and say that you will not feel guilty during this period of time.
You have a life that is about other people and other experiences that are not to do with your brother or sister. Allow yourself to see that these things are really important too, and it is OK to do things like give priority to your partner or your own children.
If you find guilty thoughts creeping in, write them down so you can get on with what you are doing, and then have a set time each day when you read them and deal with them in one of the above ways.
If you find that quilty thoughts are a major problem in your life you may need help from a counsellor with this.