My brother, my enemy: why are brothers and sisters at war?
We have a special relationship with brothers and sisters, says Henry Abramovich. In childhood, we often spend more time with them than with parents, and our relationship with them usually lasts longer. In an era of divorce and alienation, sibling relationships are often the only truly lasting ones.
The birth order of children, their struggle for their place in the family system directly affects the formation of their personality. This connection has fundamental significance, although deep psychology has underestimated it for a long time.
From love to hate
At the same time, sibling relationships are very complex, very emotionally charged and contradictory. We will find here the whole palette of emotions from love to hate, from attachment to complete alienation.
Stephen Bank and Michael Kahn in their classic book Sibling Connection identified eight main models of such relationships – from cooperation-rivalry, from complete merger to ultimate hostility:
- Twin fusion: “We are as a whole, we are the same. There is no difference between us. ”
- Blurred connection: “I don’t know exactly who I am. Maybe I can be like you. “
- Adoration of the ideal hero: “I admire you so much that I want to become like you.”
- Interdependence, dedicated acceptance: “We are very much alike with you. We must always take care of each other, despite our differences. ”
- Dynamic independence, constructive dialectics: “We are alike, but different. This is a difficult task, giving us the opportunity to grow. “
- Rigid differentiation, polarized rejection: “You are so different from me. I don’t want to depend on you, I don’t want to become like you. ”
- Renunciation, de-identification: “We differ from each other in everything. I don’t need you, I don’t like you, and I don’t care if we meet again someday. ”
The drama, if not the tragedy, says Abramovich that too often siblings occupy different emotional positions towards each other. One may be an example for idealization, while the other for the former is de-identification.
One is hostile to the other, while the second is trying to unite with him. Siblings often find themselves involved in a wounding dance of intimacy. They can achieve a happy equilibrium only when they are interdependent or dynamically independent.
Why are they so different?
It would seem that brothers and sisters have more in common than all other people. They have a lot in common in nature and education. One would expect siblings to be extremely similar. However, behavioral geneticists have found that siblings are similar to each other no more than strangers. Why can children in the same family be so different from each other?
In fact, brothers and sisters live and do not live in the same family. Each of them receives different parents, differing in age, experience, level of happiness or wealth. To paraphrase Heraclitus, “you can never enter twice in the same family.”
The first-born in the family has the opportunity to occupy any niche, and most of them choose a niche typical of the first child, developing “team” characteristics.
The second child enters the family, where one “children’s” niche is already occupied, and he must look for another available to him. If, for some reason (temperament, disability, illness), senior sibling did not occupy this first-born niche, it becomes available to someone born later.
When niches are mutually exclusive, each sibling develops a polar identity with respect to the other. If one is bad, the other will be good. If one sister is considered beautiful, the second will be diligent – perhaps to hide that she feels ugly. If one is the mother’s favorite, the second will be the father’s favorite or nobody’s.
Polarization will be the most extreme for brothers and sisters of the same sex and close in age who have the greatest need to differentiate from each other.
Older and younger
Niche first-borns aspire to be closer to parental values, to ensure that they embody parental expectations, and therefore, to higher achievements.
They have more reason to be jealous of their brothers and sisters than the younger siblings.
From the very beginning of his life, parents invest everything they have in their first child. Those who were born later and used to sharing parental contributions with other children never suffer from the birth of a new brother or sister like their first-born.
Parents may try to stave off jealousy, and first-born can often suppress this feeling. But when parents do not see, manifesting the rage of the first-born can be an effective way of bullying younger siblings.
Brothers and sisters, much to the chagrin of their parents, are often obsessed with distributive justice issues (“Who got the most?”) As a way to reevaluate parental investments.
Younger children usually have better social and interpersonal skills. They are more open to experience, travel, new ideas.
Since the first-born are identified with the established order, they are usually more conservative, more likely to assert their power and less open to new experiences.
Younger children appear in a family where other children already have, therefore, as a rule, they have better social and interpersonal skills. They are more open to experience, travel, new ideas.
They can afford the luxury of not growing up when another baby is born. But there is a danger for them that they will never grow up or overcome their identity as a “child” in the eyes of older brothers or sisters.
Get out of the shade
When the psychological space is divided according to the principle of “either – or” (“everything that is yours is not mine”), then the brother or sister becomes a shadow of sibling. Shadow brothers or sisters divide the world among themselves, and then forbid another to enter their psychological territory.
“If I am a smart sister, I can never be beautiful. Trying to be beautiful, I will be forced to invade my sister’s territory. If I do not do this, I will never encounter the beautiful side of myself and live a life cut off from it, just as my sister will never connect with her intellect, ”Abramovich writes.
How can this polarized world be healed? Can brothers / sisters become more holistic? When a person is faced with a difficult situation and his weaknesses come to the surface, the analyst asks him the question: “How would your sister / brother deal with this situation?”
He gives an example of his client Helen – a free, energetic, but somewhat disorganized, artistic by nature. Her brother Paul, a successful accountant, was, on the contrary, a neat and logical person, but somewhat emotionally limited. As a result, Helen looked at Paul as an obsessive-compulsive personality, and Paul considered her chaotic.
In the process of working with the analyst, Helen realized that Paul had many valuable qualities that she herself lacked. She discovered hidden logical skills, developed a system for filling out her papers, and for the first time filed a tax return.
At the same time, Helen’s internal changes were reflected in the Field. He suddenly was able to access his previously hidden creative potential by starting to draw. They had more common topics for conversation than ever before, they became much closer.
Siblings: how brothers and sisters influence our lives
No matter how close you are now, up to eleven years you spent together about a third of your life and participated in shaping each other’s personalities. Studies confirm the effect of siblings on six aspects of human life. Including they can be responsible for excess weight and depression.
Unorganized children: causes and solutions to the problem
Scattered things, a diary forgotten at home, a lost shift … Many children, to the great disappointment of their parents, behave completely unorganized. Victoria Prude, a psychotherapist and child development specialist, provides simple and useful recommendations on how to teach a child independence.