Family Dynamics: Sibling Rivalry

Here is a counseling interview with Ellen. She is coming in to get some advice on how to understand her daughter, Jan. To Ellen, her daughter has everything she could want, a nice house, loving parents, and a room of her own. Unfortunately for Jan, she also has an older brother, Kevin who is the superstar of the family.

Jan’s mother has no idea how discouraged Jan feels from the successes of her brother. She feels that she can’t succeed because that role was taken by Kevin before she was born. Jan is constantly comparing herself to Kevin. After 14 years of this, the only place in the family Jan sees as available to her is by going to the other extreme. What does that leave? It leaves her with the option of failing.

Therapist: “So have you figured out why Jan is struggling at school?”
Ellen: “It’s a mystery, isn’t it. I’ve picked up a few clues, but I’m sure that many of the pieces are still missing. She’s always been a difficult child. Her older brother never gave us any trouble, but she has been a problem since day one.”

Therapist: “I’m sure she has. Do you see a pattern in her negative behavior?”
Ellen: “I would say that the major problem all along has been her disobedience. It’s like she never outgrew the terrible twos!”

Therapist: “Her brother is obedient, isn’t he?”
Ellen: “Yes, He’s a joy to have in the house.”

Therapist: “Jan isn’t a joy, is she?”
Ellen: “No, but Kevin has always picked up his things without being told.”

Therapist: “Jan doesn’t pick up her things.”
Ellen: ” No, but Kevin always seemed so mature for his age, even as a child.”

Therapist: “Jan is terribly immature.”
Ellen: “Yes, and Kevin is such a happy child.”

Therapist: “Jan has been unhappy since you brought her home from the hospital.”
Ellen: “Sort of, but Kevin has always had such an optimistic outlook.”

Therapist: “Jan is a professional pessimist.”
Ellen: “Absolutely, but I can always count on Kevin to help me out.”

Therapist: “Jan is irresponsible.”
Ellen: “And Kevin cooperates beautifully.”

Therapist: “Do wish Kevin would be better in some area of life?”
Ellen: “I wish Kevin were more athletic.”

Therapist: “Jan likes sports, doesn’t she?”
Ellen: “Yes, how did you know?”

Therapist: “Kevin is good in school; Jan is a ‘poor student.’”
Ellen: “That’s right…”

Therapist: “Kevin is outgoing, a leader; Jan is discouraged and withdrawn. Kevin has a sense of humor; Jan has nothing to laugh at.”
Ellen: “How did you know?”

Therapist: “Kevin is a successful pleaser; Jan is an unsuccessful pleaser who stopped trying a long time ago.”
Ellen: “You don’t even know Kevin.”

Therapist: “But I know what you say about Jan. And so I know about Kevin and vice versa.”
Ellen: “How can you do that?”

Therapist: “It’s called family dynamics. Each child takes his or her cue from the other children in the family. If you know what roles have been taken, you can guess which roles are left open for the next child to take.”

Ellen: “How does that work?”
Therapist: “We can understand it this way: No two children are born into the same family.”

Ellen: “They aren’t?”
Therapist: “No, Kevin was born into a family that had no kids in it. Jan was born into a family that had a kid in it. It’s a different family, a different adjustment for each child.”

Ellen: “How can a child make such adjustments?”
Therapist: “Like I said, a child’s first task is to find his or her place in the family. Jan wants to fit in, to belong. She needs to feel a part of the family because not belonging jeopardizes her survival.”

Ellen: “Is she conscious of all that?”
Therapist: “Not at all. It all goes on below the level of conscious awareness, but it shapes a child’s problem-solving processes.”

Ellen: “What’s the solution to the problem?”
Therapist: “The first child may feel expected to play the role of being an achiever and being responsible. Very often the oldest child accepts this role and lives up to his parents’ expectations, for which they reward him or her with praise and attention. In your family this was Kevin’s problem and he solved it masterfully. He has found a positive, gratifying role in the family.”

Ellen: “And Jan?”
Therapist: “When the second child comes on the scene like Jan, she sees that all the good roles are taken already; she must contend herself with the roles that are left.”

Visit original source for complete post.

Leave a Reply

Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

Tags: ,