Solving Brother & Sister Problems (Part 1)
Sibling Rivalry & Related Issues © Martyn Carruthers


Are you entangled in a stressful relationship or painful emotions with a sibling?
Do you suffer from childhood anger or fear associated with a brother or a sister?
We help people untangle negative emotions and improve difficult relationships.

Part 2: Sibling Rivalry & Family Chaos

The existence of siblings (living, dead, aborted or missing), vanishing twins
and parental behavior create complex patterns of family dynamics.
(If two families with children merge – everything I mention here will
likely be more complicated – see MERGE)

If you feel strong emotions as you read this, especially if you have
difficult relationships with your family, consider asking us for help.

Children seem to cope better with growing up if they feel loved by and loyal to both parents. We find that if, for whatever reasons, the parents cannot encourage their children’s maturity, both the parents and their children may suffer ongoing stress; and the children of such families are likely to consider chronic stress to be normal.

Only Child

During childhood, single children often live primarily in adult worlds. If their parents have a healthy partnership, single children usually learn how to behave and how to entertain themselves. They tend to be mature and creative, although they may not relate well with other children of their own age. Later, as young adults, they may relate better to mature adults than other children who grew up with siblings.

If a single child has immature parents, one parent – often the opposite sex parent – may inappropriately bond to the child, creating lasting confusion – see covert emotional incest. Many years ago, Alfred Adler predicted the consequences of both parents spoiling their only child:

The only child … becomes dependent, always waiting for someone to show him the way, and searching for support. Indulged throughout his life, he is unused to difficulties, because someone has smoothed his path for him. Being constantly the centre of attention he easily acquires the feeling that he is valuable. … He is almost certain to pick up misconceptions about life.” Alfred Adler 1927

Single children of lonely or depressed parents may discover that they can influence their parents’ moods and behavior, and they may try to ‘parent’ their parents. Such children may assume burdens of responsibility for maintaining their parents’ moods; burdens that they may never put down … burdens that immature parents may encourage … burdens that may crush the children.

Single children of doting parents may not learn how to deal with ordinary animosity, injustice and conflict until adulthood. They may withdraw from difficult situations and comply with more assertive children. Healthier children can compete or fight for their possessions or values – without having to bully or hurt other children.

Lonely children with dead or missing siblings (through adoption, abortion, etc) may feel that someone important is missing, and invent phantom friends to compensate for missing siblings. Later in life they may suffer endless negative emotions.

First Children

First children often carry the most responsibility of all siblings. If a first child dies or is weak, this responsibility may be taken by the next child. If the eldest child was male, and the next is female – the girl may spontaneously show tomboy behavior, as she attempts to compensate for her missing or weak older brother.

I always saw my older brother as weak. During our sessions I realized that I tried to take his place. I parented him, and I tried to be the strong son that our father wanted. Now, with three divorces and your coaching, I can finally be who I am – a woman. Denver

If the parents want a first child to be a boy, a first girl-child may feel under pressure to be boy-like, and become a tomboy. If parents want a girl, but have a boy, such children, as adults, may have difficulty defining their sexual orientation.

My parents wanted a son and then a daughter. As their second son, I always felt that
I was a mistake … they seemed to want me to be delicate and passive …
my older brother became macho and I became introverted. We are still that way.

First children who were treated as special may feel distress if other people do not recognize their special-ness. This seems to prevent many first children from seeking help. Why should they change? They are special! (They may believe that they cannot benefit from help designed for ordinary people.)

As adults, favored children may be unable to change their parental bonds and develop the maturity required for committed partnership. They may get lost in fixations, addictions or affairs as they search for substitutes for happiness.

Brothers and Sisters

In families with more than one child, conflicts between siblings are common, and can persist into adult life. The first two children are often have quite different personalities – the first and second-born children may seem to identify with one or the other parents (and parental expectations) and act out their parent’s conflicts. Third and subsequent children often appear to have more emotional freedom.

If parents resolve their conflicts, transferences and entanglements,
some of their children’s issues seem to magically disappear.
This may be most obvious when children have learning problems.

If an immature parent tries to live vicariously through the life of a child, that child risks becoming a child star. Nothing the siblings do may seem to be good enough. The child star may try and fail to carry the responsibilities of an immature or missing parent, so he or she may emotionally burn out and become a scapegoat for family problems.

Stressed children may feel highly motivated to leave home – to leave the town or even the country, with little motivation to return. As adults, these people may say, “I would get sick / go crazy if I returned!

After her divorce, my mother married a man with four children, which meant eight children in a small house. I began hitch-hiking around the country when I was 14, and left home forever when I was 17. I had no home but I couldn’t stay in my parents’ house.

Siblings who suffered a lack of parental attention may strive to gain the full attention of their parents, something that a first child, a child star or sick child may experience.

Last Children

The youngest children may carry least responsibility in family systems, and be the most fun-loving. Sometimes a father may perceive the youngest daughter as his Little Princess – and enjoy her immature love. A male youngest child may gain his parent’s attention by remaining childish and immature.

Middle Children

The middle children of families are often less competitive – the parents don’t give as much time to each child and so most middle children learn to cooperate. They are less likely to carry the terrible burden of feeling special or wanting special treatment.

My older brother acted like a king and my younger brother acted like a baby.
They both expected me to look after them! I just wanted to be a sister!
My parents didn’t know what to do. I left home as soon as I could.

We help parents solve relationship and emotional problems with their children.

Continued in: Sibling Rivalry & Family Chaos 2