Be Patient, And You Will Surpass Your Siblings

bepatientYou’re a guy. Your older brother is the captain of the football team, an ace at math, and a total chick magnet. Although you fight a lot, deep down you probably love him. But that doesn’t make up for the sad fact that you spend your life being compared to the guy.

You’re a girl. Your older sis is a champion downhill skier who loves the mountains and a prize-winning writer. You feel you’ll always be the geeky younger sister or the ugly duckling. Since this is reality and not a fairy tale, you’re convinced your life is lame.

Sibling Rivalry

Spending your life in the shadow of an older brother or sister is part of sibling rivalry, the catch-all term for not getting along with your brothers or sisters. As long as there have been siblings, there has been rivalry. Many TV shows have featured squabbling sibs–Frasier, The Brady Bunch, and Malcolm in the Middle, for example. These sitcom siblings competed in every possible arena, including seeking their parents’ attention.

The odds of experiencing some not-so-friendly competition increase if your sibling is the same gender as you. And, by the time you become a teenager, the battles can get downright nasty because you know where your sib’s buttons are and you know exactly how to push them.

The Competition

Like it or not, your multitalented, attention-hogging older sib isn’t going to magically disappear. If you keep comparing yourself, in the classroom or at home, with Big Bro or Sis, you are bound to get discouraged. So what’s a jealous sib like you to do?

There is nothing you can do about birth order–you are stuck with your position in the family–but you can stop acting the part of the family underling. “‘Just like with TV families, all families are like a troupe of actors where everyone chooses a role to play,” explained Jim Skinner, a teacher and counselor from Chilliwack, British Columbia. “And you can certainly change how you play your role.”

Take Marilla, for example. Marilla is 16 and lives near Seattle, and a couple of years ago she drastically changed her role in the family. Her sister Dannielle is four years older.

“Dannielle is really beautiful,” said Marilla. “We call her ‘the princess.’ This is a girl who would get up at 5 a.m. to leave for school at 7:40.” Marilla continued, “My guy friends have said to me, ‘Your sister is really hot. You two don’t look at all alike.'” Ouch, that’s got to hurt.

Until Marilla was 14, she tried to look more like her sister. Dannielle wasn’t happy about that and the two sisters fought constantly. “I even started losing friends over my obsession with my looks,” Marilla said.

Finally Marilla realized she didn’t want to become a mini Dannielle. “It wasn’t me,” Marilla said. Now that she has stopped imitating her sister and has adopted her own style, their relationship has changed. “We get along a lot better now.”

Me, Me, Me

Sometimes it is hard to snap out of it like Marilla did. If you can’t seem to get past sibling rivalry, Elisabeth Baerg Hall has some advice. Hall is a psychiatrist in Vancouver, British Columbia, who works with adolescents. She suggests that you focus on your own strengths rather than focusing on those of your sibling.

Hall recommends making lists titled “What I like about me” and “What I’d like to change.” Think of the activities you do that are different from those your sibling does so you won’t tall into me competitive trap. In the long run, you’ll be happier if you learn to follow your own joy and keep focused on what is fun for you.

Whenever you find yourself obsessing over your accomplished sib, stop and refocus. “Ask yourself: ‘How can I change my behavior toward this person?'” Hall said. “You can’t change anyone else, but you can change yourself.”

If all else fails and you’re still fuming over a “flawless” sib, cut yourself a break. “Don’t beat yourself up about it,” Hall said. “Move on.”

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