**Note – Most of these suggestions apply with any relative that you also feel as if you’ve treated them like a sister or brother.
When your TFM situation is with a sibling, it can in a lot of respects feel as if you’re stuck in a childhood time warp where without each other, you’re fully fledged adults but around each other, there’s a trigger that causes regression. It might also be that you feel as if you are never allowed to move on, that you’re always paying them back for something, that you seem to always have to be the one to make them feel more comfortable, that you’re the one who’s always been blamed for whatever isn’t right with their life, and you might no longer be sure exactly why there is an issue, you just know that there is one.
Many people who don’t get on with a sibling or possibly all of their siblings, feel shame because again, there is this image that a person has to be really flawed in order to not get on with their own sibling. It can feel like a big rejection when you feel as if your sibling doesn’t like you, because it feeds back into the belief that surely your family are the ones who should like and accept you for who you are. Shame can also be felt if you feel bad about acknowledging that you really don’t get on with or in fact like your sibling. You might feel as if you’re a ‘bad person’, as if there’s some sort of defect that prevents you from being able to feel good about him/her.
You’re not a bad person at all. Yes you’re siblings but you’re also human. Have some compassion for you.
There can be a great deal of anger and sadness in feeling that you don’t have a sibling that you can love and rely on. One of the things that can be handy about having a sibling is that they’re someone who is theoretically on your level and is in a child’s world with you, or certainly experiencing your parents from a child’s perspective. There are shared memories both good and not so good that mean that there is this person who can bear witness to your journey in a unique way. When things are fraught, it can feel as if you don’t have that core person in life that many take for granted as being there, who will have your back. In the worst of TFM situations, it can feel as if you have someone who seems to only want to stab you in the back.
Depending on the level of tension, there are ways in which you can be boundaried on your end that will grow up your relationship (again, from your side), so that tension and issues don’t abound from being in a child-to-child relationship.
Obviously, if your relationship is proving to be very destructive, you are more than within your rights to remove yourself from the situation, even though while on one hand it will bring you relief, on another hand, there will be a level of grief you will have to walk with for a time.
Acknowledge the influence of hierarchy and reshape your role.
Once you have a sibling, there’s a hierarchy and there is no getting away from that. Who came first, second, third, in the middle, is the youngest, all plays a part in the way in which you are not only feeling, perceiving and engaging with each other but also the way in which you each regard yourselves.
What many siblings do not acknowledge is that because they were not in the other sibling’s place in the family, they cannot truly understand, certainly not until they’re an adult and willing to recognise their sibling as an individual rather than ‘just’ a sibling, the influence of that place on that sibling’s experiences and how they built their self-esteem on it.
The eldest child often tends to feel most responsible, often afraid to put a foot wrong and with big concerns about showing a good example, a second child sometimes feels second place to the eldest or even thinks that the eldest is favourite, even though their elder sibling might think that the second child gets an easier ride and is the favourite plus the second child might feel as if they have to compete and prove themselves while the elder child might feel as if they have to keep dimming their light to let the second child feel more at ease with them.
A middle child might feel lost in the shuffle but again, their other siblings can easily infer from what might be seen as that sibling having an element of freedom that they didn’t have, only wishing that they weren’t noticed as much and that it’s the middle child who is the favourite. The youngest sibling might be the least responsible and/or least confident, possibly because he/she was babied but then he/she might easily feel that they are not taken seriously or that they’re treated differently and if there’s a big age gap, might even think that they’re an accident and that everyone else is more wanted, even though this could be very far from the truth.
We all want to be seen.
It’s not your fault that you were born first or second or wherever you were in the birthing order. Yes, you are, for example, the oldest, but now that you’re a grown-up, you don’t have to keep engaging with your sibling(s) from that role. This doesn’t mean that you’re not siblings but you’re humans first and foremost and when you (or they) stop defining this interaction by relationship and instead engage from a place of recognising each other as people, you stop unwittingly playing to a role. You stop giving you responsibilities and obligations that you don’t have which not only reduces tension and resentment on your side but because you’re not playing that role in the sense of doing all the stuff you typically have, they don’t have the same cues and triggers for responding to you.
Be honest about your own feelings and motivations.
A major source of tension with siblings is about one feeling underappreciated for all of their efforts to be a Good Son, Good Daughter and in some instances, Good Sibling, while at the same time feeling that the TFM sibling takes pure liberties with their parents (or them).
Here’s a real-life example: Bessie and Fanny are now both grown up with their own children. Bessie and her husband go to her parents most weeks and help them out, ferry them to appointments and all sorts. Fanny, according to Bessie, doesn’t do jack and instead, has their parents babysitting her kids all the time (so Bessie doesn’t feel as if she can ask or doesn’t want to appear as if she’s taking liberties), gets money, and the kids get different sorts of treats to Bessie’s including, yes, private school fees. Bessie’s anger is mounting and she tells me that she is considering telling Fanny to stop taking advantage of their elderly parents and that she also feels as if she needs to have a word with her parents about Fanny.
As an eldest child, I really do empathise with Bessie, but Bessie’s motivations are in the wrong place and she is not acknowledging that there is long-standing resentment stemming from her trying to be perceived in a certain way and always striving to please, while her sister Fanny appears not to give two figs and is enjoying all of the stuff that on some level, Bessie certainly would not mind enjoying. It’s not that Fanny could not do with being more considerate but it’s not Fanny’s fault that Bessie has opted not to ask for anything. Quite frankly, if Bessie wasn’t too busy trying to play a certain role, she could have been eating in to her parents babysitting time and getting some help herself instead of trying to hint with good deeds.
The amount of stuff that Bessie is doing, it’s also very possible that while she has needs, it’s coming across as if she doesn’t need her parents in the way that she clearly does.
Her parents may be elderly and from Bessie’s perspective, she might think that Fanny is taking liberties (and I don’t doubt she is), but her parents clearly don’t mind being needed and Fanny is also more assertive – she asks for what she wants. I’m not suggesting that Bessie go down Fanny’s route but Bessie needs to acknowledge the role that she’s adopted (and as a result, Fanny by extension is in the role of being taker) and that she’s blaming Fanny for that. Bessie could do less from a more honest place rather than through obligation or looking for reward. It’s also highly likely that some of Fanny’s carry-on is about underlying resentment about Bessie always being the one that helps and so maxing out the babysitting and everything else she’s doing, is passive aggression – hinting at that resentment. Bessie need not worry about Fanny’s feelings when she asks her parents to babysit. Fanny can take care of her own feelings and does not have exclusivity on favours. This way, Bessie gets to have a more balanced relationship without having to criticise her sister about her parents which will only be seen as Bessie wanting what Fanny has.
When Bessie acknowledges her feelings and removes the hidden agenda, the relationship with her sister will feel less tricky and she can focus on healing and doing less pleasing.
Handy Hint – Use the Releasing Exercise in the Resources to examine whether there are any old hurts still poking at you. E.g. That time when your parents praised your sibling for getting lower marks than you did or when they were given a very expensive gift while yours was cheap. These reveal where the sense of injustice comes from.
Empathy goes a long way.
As children, we see things in relation to ourselves. That’s how being a kid works and as we grow older, we expand our emotional and mental development in order to recognise that not everything is an extension of us or how we see it through a child’s eye. When we’re a small child, if we do something naughty and we see a sibling or parent looking upset a while later or something bad happens, we’ll relate what is happening to what we’re doing. This theoretically improves as we get older, unless we don’t realise that we remain attached to old beliefs that need to be updated to an adult, more truthful perspective.
Where this becomes an issue with siblings is when we are unaware of the baggage that each person is bringing into a situation.
Sometimes, because we’re caught up in our stuff or we’ve gotten used to thinking and feeling about sibling’s stuff in a particular way, we don’t really recognise where they’re coming from (or they us).
What can often happen is that siblings are not aware of each other’s struggles because they’re used to seeing things a certain way, or…, sometimes we feel as if we’re almost too aware of their struggles and feel as if we’ve been sidelining ourselves and are tired of pussyfooting around that sibling.
Here’s what I’ve observed time and again though: In sibling TFM situations, each party sees the other in an opposite or entirely different way to the way in which they’re each seeing themselves. So many times, the one who is thought of as The Favourite carries resentment about another sibling who they regard as the favourite. In fact, The Black Sheep/Rebel is often regarded as the favourite! The one who was seen as The Most Clever wanted to be appreciated for more than that, and the one who had a lot of emphasis on their looks, wanted to be appreciated in other ways.
Empathising does not mean that you have to agree with their actions that have led to you feeling as you do but it is about recognising that how they’ve acted is influenced by a way in which they see themselves that you might not be seeing them in. Empathising also isn’t about making excuses or projecting your own stuff in to it – it’s about seeing them in more totality rather than just as your sibling.
JOURNALING: How do you feel about the way in which you get on with your sibling? If you’ve felt bad or even ashamed about the relationship, what are the beliefs and judgements that have caused you to feel this way. What are the things that you feel that you’ve done in order to make things a bit easier with this sibling? What are your concerns including any guilt and obligations? For instance, is there pressure from a parent or a sense of duty? Now try to look at what you’ve written through more compassionate eyes including recognising your own feelings, empathising with their possible position and also empathising with yours, and then see what options you can give you. Think about how you want to feel in this relationship.