Professionally, she asserts that unresolved sibling conflicts become the root of problems adults have in their jobs and with their families. She often gets patient referrals from employment assistance programs. Her intake assessment includes questions pertaining to childhood experiences so she is able to determine how the patient’s current conflicts are linked to past sibling relationships. Sibling rivalry is actually listed as a contributing factor to illness in the DSM, a guide health care professionals use to diagnose mental disorders.”
Utilizing professional counseling is encouraged for adult siblings as well. Having the expertise of a professional to sort through the past and skillfully guide siblings through the healing process can save relationships once thought to be beyond hope.
On a personal level, as the oldest of four, Dr. Hicks is the one who mediates tensions amongst the siblings who have had some hard times. She gave a deep chuckle when she said, “family blood is not going anywhere”. This sometimes means just giving a sibling the time they need to work on things. Other times it may involve the nieces and nephews being the champions of good family relations. It is important to always fight fair by meeting the sibling where they are and making sure you remind them that you love them. To help ease conversations, Hicks encourages the siblings to write down key points to talk about beforehand to lessen going off track with emotions.
Studies have shown that individuals who have positive sibling relationships are healthier and have better satisfaction with life overall. Sibling bonds are the foundation for every relationship afterward. Again, our birth family was not a matter of choice, so we all must come to terms with how those relationships influence the totality of our lives even well into our senior years.
As you navigate the holidays, here are some tangible ways to help reset family relationships:
Bear in mind that you and your siblings each had different relationships with your parents, and your parents were different people when each of you entered the family constellation.
Acknowledge that competition may be driven by childhood feelings of insecurity and a reaction to perceived scarcity. Some siblings will continue to fuel such rivalry well into adulthood. If this happens in your family, keep the conversation moving forward and do not let yourself be antagonized into responding.
If a sibling simply cannot move beyond the past, perhaps you should have a face-to-face, heart-to-heart discussion with him or her.
It is said that adulthood turns rivalry into envy. If someone is envious of what you have accomplished, that says a lot about their own self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.
If all else fails, limit time with a rivalrous sibling and simply let their comments float by if you must be in his or her company. The best way to end a fight is often to refuse to engage.
Clarene Mitchell is a print journalist and managing partner of TCM Communications LLC, a PR firm.
By Clarene Mitchell