Listen, Sister: 7 Steps to Healing Adult Sibling Rivalry
Maybe your brother still insists on calling you "chunkster" like he did when you were growing up. Maybe your sister thinks she can tell you how to raise your own kids. Or maybe your mom continues to compare you and her other progeny until you're ready to move far away from them all.
Fact: Whether you're 8 or 38, siblings can conjure up nasty feelings of resentment, rivalry and disappointment like nobody else. And unresolved conflict can mount over the years.
However, rather than keeping up that double martini habit, MyDaily asked Cathy Cress, co-author of "Mom Loves You Best, Forgiving and Forging Sibling Relationships" how to heal the rifts that last long past the age when you could just safely yank your sister's braids.
"The main problem with siblings is the roles, rules and circumstances you grew up with," says Cress. Roles could be the fact that you're the oldest and you had to take care of your siblings. Rules identify family operating systems like, girls have more chores than the boys. And circumstances could equate to your family's economic status, an illness or anything else that was out of your control.
"Most of these family dynamics are rarely spoken about out loud, they are just assumed," she explains, "yet the feelings of anger or resentment about them can resurface during our adult years."
And while women may not have more dysfunctional sibling relationships than men, we tend to show it more because we talk about it more. "Women say things that aren't always necessary, and we say what we think," said Cress. "We are more open about our feelings with our siblings. Men just don't talk about it."
For Angela, who confessed the stress of family gatherings to me recently, her two sisters just don't seem to "get" her. They disagree about her life choices, her yogic, free-spirited attitude and her strict vegan views. Every few months, the three sisters reunite at a family party or holiday dinner, and the unspoken tension is just as torturous as the underhanded, passive-aggressive remarks.
"I was always the one with the different opinions," Angela explained. "This resurfaced after college. At first, we had peace when we all went our separate ways, but as each of us has come into our own true selves as adults, we recognized how truly different we are. They don't understand me now and the fact that we're not the same people we were when we were 10."
It's been said that family can make you revert to your old childhood self –- your role as the self-absorbed one, the one who takes care of everyone, the underachiever or the one vying for attention. Spending time with your siblings can send you right back to button-pushing, even if you haven't been that person for the past three decades. Sometimes it can seem like a few days –- or even a few hours -– can undo all of the emotional and spiritual self-growth we've worked so hard on.
In many instances, the crux of sibling rivalry is that we are jockeying to move away from the parts of our childhood self we liked the least, while also distancing ourselves from family members whose personalities reflect those undesirable qualities.
This shows up at different points throughout our lives because sibling relationships are like an hourglass, says Cress. You're together in the first part of life like the top of an hourglass. In the middle, you don't see each other as much because you're busy with your career or raising your own family. Then you come back together for a family crisis or when it's time to care for an aging parent. "Brothers and sisters who haven't had to unite for 20 to 30 years now have to figure out how to work together again. Old wounds that have not been healed come out."
In my family, this couldn't be truer. We all have unresolved "issues" with each other, which are exacerbated by differing religious, political and child-rearing views. Add my competitive nature to other strong personalities and you have a very interesting salad of family dysfunction. At least this is the way I perceive things. Ask any one of them, and you are guaranteed to get a different perspective. Regardless, all of our conflict is now manifesting in the care of our aging mother, on which none of us can agree.
But not all sibling relationships have to be fraught for life. One woman I know now proudly displays a framed copy of "The Sister Swallower," a sibling-eating machine she dreamed up in the third grade when her younger sister was born, atop her desk. The framed copy was presented to her at her wedding, by none other than the younger sister it was created for.
All we're saying is, armed with the following tips from Cress, you too can live a sibling version of happily ever after.
1. Have an intention to change
Figure out what you want. You're far more likely to change your relationship with your sibling if you have an intention. Tell it to someone, or write it down. Change only happens when we actually commit to it.
Even without an apology, forgiveness is what you give yourself when you stop being a victim and start being a person who controls her own emotions.
3. End the cycle of revenge
Make the choice to hurt less and heal more. Take back your power by trying to reconcile -- not get even -- with your brother or sister. Don't remain stuck in a world of accusations.
4. Take care of you
In order to be part of a healthy relationship, you have to invest in a healthy body, soul and mind. Sign up for a yoga class, learn stress relief techniques, lose weight if you need to, surround yourself with supportive people, etc. Above all, strive for a serene environment.
5. Seek help
If you come from a really dysfunctional family, get a therapist involved to help you through all of the steps. Realize that this is worth it because healing your sibling wounds could give you another 30 or 40 years of a deep relationship.
6. Tell your story to your sibling
When you are ready, schedule a time to sit down with your brother or sister. Tell them what happened in your mind. Use "I" words, not blaming "you" words. Communicate that you'd like to establish a relationship for the rest of your life, but there's something you need to talk about first. Be positive.
7. Be OK with the results
Your chances of success with your siblings are good. Sixty to 70 percent of family members will say, "Yes, let's have a new relationship." And if they don't? You have still come a long way on your journey by moving into the present and focusing on your own growth.
Deborah Dunham is a freelance writer whose twin sister stole the leading role from her in their fifth grade play. She says she's over it, but she's really not.
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