Coping with Adult Sibling Rivalry

When we think of ‘sibling rivalry’ we often think of fights between children, but for some of us, the tribulations of our youth can sometimes follow us into adulthood-and the holidays.

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CLEVELAND – When we hear about ‘sibling rivalry’ – we often think of brothers pushing each other down on the playground.

But the tribulations of our youth can sometimes follow us into adulthood – and the holidays.

Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic said conflicts are often developed when children suspect a parent is playing favorites, whether the favoritism is real or perceived.

“Kids have different sensitivities to those things,” he said. “Some kids can grow up feeling ‘less than’ and have less than ideal ideas about themselves; see their sibling as somehow better off and getting more parental resource, and that gets carried into adulthood.” 

Dr. Bea said as we get older, we find that people hit developmental stages differently, or sometimes not at all.

Tensions can build over who gets married first, graduates college, or buys a house – and these tensions can create feelings of envy for some folks.

He said envy can promote unpleasant sentiments such as undercutting, sarcasm, or even avoidance by siblings.

To overcome these obstacles, Dr. Bea advises people to be open to honest communication – which he admits takes courage.

“If we can really accept the challenge, we can try to communicate our awareness of what might be going on in the relationship, what we’d really like to see change, and see if we can come to some understanding about each other as adults,” he said. “That takes a lot of guts and a high level of communication and a real willingness –and it does take two to let that occur.”

Unfortunately, in some cases, the wounds are too painful, or too recent for healing to happen.

In these cases, Dr. Bea said it might be better to create a little distance and agree to disagree.

“Rather than trying to solve it, or go through the ideas you might have on how this can be better, or re-remembering past traumas, we just might say, ‘let that be the way it is; let that feel a little broken,’” he said. “If you can do that consistently, that can let you live a little bit more peacefully.” 

Dr. Bea said there is no ‘one size fits all’ to solving family conflicts – you have to know your own family and know yourself to know whether to back away or get involved. 

 

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