It seems that anytime the topic of siblings comes up, everyone has a story to tell about how difficult it is to maintain a relationship with their adult brother or sister. You may have a sibling who constantly needs rescuing, who is taking advantage of your parents, or shows signs of addiction. The sibling relationship is unique because it is often the longest lasting relationship in a person’s life. There is a shared history and common bond that significantly impacts the growth and development of siblings that is not usually characteristic of any other relationship. Thus it is particularly curious that many siblings tend to have contentious feelings towards one another and yet not much attention has been paid to this topic as an area of research. Work in therapy tends to focus on the influences that psychologists see as more pertinent such as caretakers, peers and genetics. Yet siblings are more powerful figures than parents are in many situations (Slomkowski, Rende, Novak, Lloyd-Richardson and Niaura, 2005).
Because our siblings have been a part of us for so long, it is particularly challenging to disengage or create protective boundaries. It often feels that in order to be a part of our family of origin, we have to participate in what goes on, including the same old patterns that drive us crazy. Here are a few suggestions to start your self-exploration:
- Think about what your sibling relationship means to you and the impact it has had, both positive and negative.
- Consider your relationship with your parents. Often our anger is misdirected towards our sibling when we are angry towards our parents for shortcomings in their parenting style. This can provide clarity and help give direction.
- Examine your own relationships and the space you occupy in your work and personal life. Are you the one that rescues your sibling? What is your role in the family and how will you be impacted if you stop engaging in that familiar pattern?
- Take steps to create healthy boundaries and put your own needs first. Keep in mind that it is completely normal to have these feelings towards your family and don’t succumb to feeling shameful or intimidated by your desire to stray from your “norm.”
Finally, having support can be enormously relieving when trying to make changes. Consider carving out some time to see a therapist who can provide empathy and guidance or confiding in a compassionate friend.
Sarah Foroosh, M.S. Psychological Intern
Bruce Brodie, PhD, License #6574
Slomkowski C1, Rende R, Novak S, Lloyd-Richardson E, Niaura R. (2005). Sibling effects on smoking in adolescence: evidence for social influence from a genetically informative design. Addiction. April, 100(4): 430-8