We can all recall, those of us with siblings, the lasting memories of childhood and the instigators in our life we call brother or sister. Many of us had close, bonding relationships that made us feel protected, and others recall times of utter chaos and torment. Some of us felt our birth position as powerful, such as the first born dictates, or how much you were able to get away with things being the baby in the family. But no matter the type of relationship you had with your siblings, they shaped us in ways we are now finding impacts how well we adjust in our daily adult lives.
“There may be no relationship… that’s closer, finer, harder, sweeter, happier, sadder, more filled with joy or fraught with woe, that the relationship we have with our brothers and sisters.” – Jeffrey Kluger, TED Radio Hour.
They know your real Persona.
As stated by the well-known clinical psychologist, Carl Jung in his research about Persona, we wear “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual” (London, 1953). Siblings call you on the carpet when they see you acting in a way that is not your true self. As we grow from childhood to adolescence we ‘try on’ personas that may be different than how we behave in our family setting. Siblings know us for who we were and how we developed, so they let us know when we are trying too hard to be something we are not, and help us develop a more natural persona. That’s if we choose to listen.
They can be the best of role-models.
‘Constant competition may well shape our life script, leading us to filter every subsequent human interaction through the distorting prism of our original relationship with our siblings,’ says psychologist and therapist, Martin Lloyd-Elliott. ‘We’re all immersed in the unique culture of our particular home situation. Inevitably, any siblings who share that environment with us have an enormous influence on our overall experience of the world and we carry this forwards, often unconsciously, into our adult lives.’
We can all recall who we emulated growing up. My older sister was my constant reminder on how I didn’t do things right, yet my twin brother showed me how I was his equal. No matter the role-modeling that occurred, they shaped us in inexplicable ways.
They are a lasting, supportive relationship.
For most of us, siblings are the only relationship that withstands time. Today, siblings “spend a much longer period of their lives together than ever before. While one might spend forty to fifty years with one’s parents, life with a sibling can last sixty to eighty years” (Bank & Kahn, 1997). Through divorce, break-ups and loss, siblings are usually the ones we can count on being there for us. Sibling relationships give us the coping skills needed, especially when times are tough. In a pioneering study, Cumming and Henry (1961) “found that older people with living siblings had higher morale”. During early and middle adulthood, “they provide companionship, emotional support, and occasionally financial support for each other. They can usually be relied on for help during times of crisis, and typically cooperate with each other in order to care for their elderly parents.” (Goetting, 1986)
They also help us relate better with others.
William Ickes, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, published findings that states “The guys who had older sisters had more involving interactions and were liked significantly more by their new female acquaintances,” says Ickes. “Women with older brothers were more likely to strike up a conversation with the male stranger and to smile at him more than he smiled at her.” I can attest that my close bond with my twin brother had me looking for a man with his same values and personality.
Siblings help shape the friends we seek out, or the relationships we want to stay away from, depending if their influence was a negative one. We learn through early interaction what works for us and what doesn’t.
They give us validity to our life.
They know our earliest memories, can tell numerous stories of our craziest accounts, and also remind us of our mortality. “Siblings,” says family sociologist Katherine Conger of the University of California, Davis, “are with us for the whole journey.” We can trust our siblings know our stories better than any other relationship we have, besides our parents. Growing research indicates that by the mere existence and availability of our siblings, our morale and health are greatly impacted during aging.
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