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My older sibling always seems to judge me and undermine my interests and achievements. We both graduated from reputable universities in our respective fields (mine being technology and theirs being politics), and have good jobs in our fields. We've always been fairly successful in our lives, despite differences in interests.

We have both moved out from our parents' place and thus don't see each other very often. However, whenever I see them they always nitpick and undermine what I'm doing with my life. For example, I recently accepted a position at a reputable medical company. However, their response to this news was, "I wish you would work in a more 'respectable' field" (i.e. military defense or politics, in their mind). This greatly hurt me given I had worked incredibly hard for the job offer.

Whenever I try to stand up for myself, I'm met with either continued judgment or something along the lines of "I'm your older sibling, it's my duty to pick on the younger sibling". While I understand the jest, the nitpicking and judgment are constant, and given the little amount of time I see them on a yearly basis, I would much prefer a celebration of seeing each other, and not constant bullying. Whenever there's a family visit and I see them, I usually leave the event with a sour mood and a great deal of stress. It's gotten so badly recently that it makes me not want to spend any more time with them.

Are there any other ways I can approach these situations without instigating further conflict?

EDIT: To clarify, my sibling is usually serious about their criticisms. It's very apparent to me when they're joking, but in the example above (and other times referring to hobbies, career, other life choices, etc.) they are not.

Side note: I am located in the US

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    From your description, it doesn't become very clear to me whether your sibling is actually serious about their criticism or if they're just joking / pulling your leg and don't know when to stop. Could you clarify that point? – Flo Jul 17 '18 at 7:38
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You and your brother are in a pattern and have been for decades. It is not easy to break such a pattern.

Not recommended: Confront him in the moment. Reason: He is counting on you getting annoyed. Your reaction would come from and display annoyance. This will simply play into the pattern, no matter what you say or how you say it.

Leave: Leaving is extremely impolite and should be reserved for situations you can not resolve in other ways.

Perhaps try this: Try to solve the situation beforehand. Write your brother so it gives him time to think about it. Use the rules of feedback.

  • Keep It To Yourself.
  • Use a specific situation. No generics.
  • Tell how it made you feel. Feedback is also recommended to be timely. This won't work in your case, because you'll be annoyed and it will play into the pattern.

Don't say something like:

"You do everything wrong"

in retaliation, instead say something like:

"You said X, I felt Y and now I don't feel like coming to family meetings."

For instance:

"Dear brother, I want to say something about our yearly meetings. At the last meeting you said XYZ. This made me feel like I had to defend myself, and as if I were a disappointment and generally throwing my life away. I don't know what to do to make you happy, except quit my job and work in another area that does not mean anything to me which I am not going to do. I feel I have worked hard for this and I am very happy with my job, it makes me sad to think I should look at myself as a disappointment.

The way you treat me makes me seriously consider not going to our family meetings because I go home feeling inadequate and whatever I achieve means nothing. I would appreciate if you could be a bit more supportive of my career choice."

Don't demand respect outright, but tell him you would appreciate if he would offer you a bit more respect. If you respect his career choice, I am sure he can offer the same in return - fair is fair.

Be careful, and stay true to your emotions. The more you keep it to what you feel, the more he will fill in his part by himself; no need to do that for him.

Based on how he replies, if I were you, I would seriously consider not going to a place where you don't want to be.

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I have a younger brother so I know exactly where you're coming from when it comes to annoying siblings. One of the key things I've found is that showing you're annoyed only makes them get more annoying. The reason they're being annoying (for my brother at least) is to see if they can get a rise out of you. Don't give them the payoff they're looking for.

So if you can't show them you're upset, what can you do?

In my experience, the #1 most effective technique was to simply ignore what I thought was ill intended conversation. Pretend like they didn't even say anything. With your example, this may look like:

You: I just got a position at a reputable medical company.

Annoying sibling: Wow that's too bad. If only you'd work in a more respectable field like military defense or politics.

You: How is your boyfriend doing these days by the way? Does he still paint in his free time?

It might hurt you at first to have to hide and hold in these emotions, but the more you do it, the less you'll find them attacking you in this way. Why would they, when they no longer receive their payoff?

  • While I agree with this answer, often times they'll press for a response to their comment – BFG95 Jul 16 '18 at 23:39
  • @SBDBru can you give an example of a situation where they'd make a comment and then press for a response? In the situation you gave and I quoted, it doesn't seem like they'd press...would they? – scohe001 Jul 16 '18 at 23:45
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Depending on your relation, I see three courses of action. Option 1 is the best interpersonal approach, but you depend on the other person for this to work.

1. Try to make them understand how you feel.

If your older sibling really cares for you, he will probably be shocked if he hears things like: it makes me not want to spend any more time You should try to get some time for a private conversation with your sibling and tell them about your problem. Don´t accuse him and don´t judge right or wrong - instead tell them how your current interactions make you feel. In short: Use 'I' statements

2. Learn not to make yourself dependent upon the opinion of others.

I know this sounds way easier than it is, but you need to emancipate yourself. It does not matter what anyone else thinks is a respectable field to work in - it matters that the person in the mirror that greets you each morning things you´re ok. If you are satisfied with yourself, it becomes much harder to hurt you with judgmental statements.

Sibling: I wish you would work in a more 'respectable' field

You: Well, that´s ok - I´m happy so ... it looks like you´ll need to learn to live with it. (say it with a smile)

3. Stand up for yourself.

Constant mocking of each other can also be a friendly game of punches - especially between siblings. So if you can take it as a game, you may just be a able to come to terms with it. I have a good friend who does this constantly and when I meet him I know what to expect. Instead of thanking his comments serious, I think about a punchy reply. When one has "won" such a verbal punching, the other one just nod´s a short: haha - good one

In your example this could look like:

Sibling: I wish you would work in a more 'respectable' field

You: Oh - so instead of healing people I should work at killing them or lying to them to give me power? Wow, I´m happy I did not end up with the same wired set of morals!

(This could escalate - use at your own discretion depending on character of your sibling)

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If the troublemaker is the 'middle child', as in you have a third and even older sibling, then you'll probably always have that problem. The middle child was accustomed to getting all the attention, until the younger one came along. The oldest, having been through the process twice, accepts this.

Even if there are only two children, you'll still get some of that 'you took away all the attention I was getting', even though that may have been decades ago. We learn strange things when we're children, that can stick with us for a lifetime.

If you have been more successful professionally than them, that will only increase the jealousy.

I have an older sister, who was the middle child, and she to this day still maintains that somewhat patronizing attitude. (she is 63, I'm 61) Some never grow out of it. I get the 'I'm your big sister, it's my job' line, I find it irritating, but it never changes. I was more successful than her professionally, and that only made an irritating situation worse.

I have learned to just tune it out and limit contact.

What you need to keep in mind is that you may never get the respect that they would give to a stranger on the street. It's just one of those things. They seem to think it's 'cute' or 'quaint'. It's not, but you won't change their mind.

The conclusion I reached is that her approval really isn't that important any more, because I'll never get it. C'est la vie.

One word of caution: we don't like to think of this, but when you lose a parent and there is an estate to settle, watch out... that sibling will most likely amplify the negativity to a degree that can surprise you. I had this discussion with a couple of friends who have also been through that, and we concluded that when there's an estate to settle (doesn't matter what the size is), someone has to become completely unreasonable, and it's the person who is least happy with their own life.

Just stand your ground, and remember: the greatest achievement of your parents isn't their wealth... it's you.

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