Sibling Rivalry: The Truth About the Family Favorite with Vera Rabie-Azoory

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Event Date: 06/06/2000.

Dr. Vera Rabie-Azoory discusses his views on sibling rivalry and parental favoritism.

The opinions expressed by Dr. Rabie-Azoory are hers and hers alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Family Wellness Auditorium. Today we are discussing "Sibling Rivalry: The Truth About the Family Favorite," with Vera Rabie-Azoory, PhD.

Rabie-Azoory is a psychologist with over 20 years experience in family counseling, assessment and supervision of families going through divorce, and family mediation. She has worked for several hospitals and social service agencies as well as conducting a private practice in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. Dr. Rabie-Azoory received her baccalaureate at McGill University and earned her Master's and Doctoral degree in psychology at the University of Montreal. She resides in Toronto with her two children.

Dr. Rabie-Azoory, welcome to WebMD Live.

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: Thank you. The first thing I'd like to say is that this is a very revolutionary point of view. Favoritism has never been looked upon as a serious issue in personality development. However, after having had my education, which was steeped in Freudianism and in behavioral theory, that is, reward and punishment techniques, I realized that confronted with children that I was raising, I couldn't use any of the techniques that I had learned in school to apply to reality. And so, through experience, I came to the conclusion that there was some kind of deeper conflict that was going on between my children that had never been explained to me before in my psychological studies and for which I could find no reason. And so, my explanation in time through observation turned to issues of favoritism and the children vying for attention from their prime love-giving adult, that is, from one parent who was seen as the more loving, caring, approachable, and warm parent. And so, I arrived at a model of family functioning which distinguishes between two parents, one being the more giving and easy-going and warm and relaxed parent, and the other being more demanding, probably more disciplining, and perhaps more detached. And that distinction, I must emphasize, has never been made in psychology before, that parents take on two different parenting roles, one being warmer and more approachable and the other being less approachable. The further part of the model has to do with the children where the children divide into divergent personality types, one being the more relaxed, easy-going, compliant and likable child to the parents, and one being less easy to like, either diverting their behavior into angry modes or anxiety-ridden modes of behavior or depressive modes of behavior. And I call the child who is more compliant and easy going the favored one, because adults tend to like those characteristics better, and the one who is more angry, anxious and depressed as the disfavored child. And that's never been done before in psychology. 

It's never been recognized that there are two different personality types emerging from siblinghood, and that siblinghood determines those personality types more so than the parents' input. It's absolutely astounding, but what happened in history is that Freud took center stage and took our attention by focusing on sexuality and psychosexual stages of development. But Alfred Adler, at the same time, tried to put forth a theory of personality development based on sibling rivalry, but he was debunked by a rigorous and I should say vicious Freud who dominated the scene for the past century. So we're back to square one, the sexuality theory and behaviorism didn't work. It doesn't really engage the will of the child. It works with animals and lower species. But a human seems to have a will that you need to engage before getting them to behave positively. 

The theory goes that if there are two siblings born next to each other, immediately they develop opposing or divergent personality types. You'll see that in any siblings who are born first and second. It's not about the birth order because the first born may be either favored or disfavored. And, equally, the second born can be either favored or disfavored.

txoutlawgirl_WebMD: I just remarried and my daughter became the middle child. How does birth order affect step families?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: That's complicated. Now, you need to think this out carefully because there is a model. You have to decide who the primary care giver is for that child. If you are strongly connected to your daughter and she is your favored child, it doesn't really matter that much. There will be jealousies. There are more jealousies if the child starts out as a disfavored child. But, if she starts off as a favored child, close to her mother, that bond will not easily be disturbed in a new constellation, with a new family. If it is disturbed, she should bolster up her own daughter. Make her feel secure, reassure her. There's always upheaval when there's remarriage, so even a favored child probably needs to be reassured and some positive light put on the whole new situation in order to help her readjust to the new siblings that have come into the picture.

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