Sibling Rivalry: Truth About the Family Favorite (cont.)

Moderator: Are children better off with siblings? Or is there a lot to be said for the single child?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: I'd say the latter. Honestly, if parents want to have an easy -- it's really more from the parents' point of view. It makes a lot of sense in terms of peace of mind that parents will eventually ever have to have just one child. There is the deprivation in terms of the child not having companionship. A lot of single children will pine for a sibling, but as soon as a sibling comes, again, all the conflict ensues. Just in talking to people -- actually when I wrote the book I thought that only children have a difficult time because they don't have perhaps the skills that they might have acquired from the opportunity to compete with a sibling and would come out to the world as naive and overly sensitive, which sometimes happens. However, in speaking repeatedly with adult single children, I've often heard they were perfectly happy with their lives and many said they never desired siblings and they were pleased to be by themselves with their parents and to have all the attention focused on themselves. There is so much research that can be done in this whole field that I try to answer questions but, of course, there's probably a whole gamut out there of replies that you'll get anyway.

txoutlawgirl_WebMD: How do you help a middle child from feeling the middle child syndrome? What are the characteristics?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: Again, it's not the middle child syndrome. If there are three siblings, the first two are in conflict. So, the third child really doesn't have much to do with that conflict. If the third child is butting in or teasing the middle child, you have to call off that youngest child. Then you deal with the competition between the first two children. That's done in the same way as any other competition. You distance yourself and try to love the middle child for their input . And then, in the final analysis, after you've done as much encouraging and bolstering as you can to the middle child, you try to love that child in the same way as you love the other child that is the first child and you make some, not too many, but favorable comparisons with the older child. Try and give that middle child a separate status that will identify them as distinct from the older child but special and worthy. You have to ultimately recognize that the siblings in conflict have the desire to be better than the other child who they see as more favored. You have to somehow get them to feel that they are more important in the end and at least as worthy, but maybe even more so in some respects. So, there is no middle child syndrome. It's the same conflict that you're addressing.

You have to consider that some ways society condones women's activities is to say it's a wonderful thing to be involved with helping people by being doctors and social workers. With ambition, you really have to have a basis for doing research. I say in my book that research has to be guided by theory. If you don't have theory then your research could be anything. You could take 1000 people and get one answer and take another 1000 and get another answer.

Moderator: Through therapy can you undo the damage done by favoritism?

Dr. Rabie-Azoory: It's one of the huge tasks that I don't know if therapists address all the time. First of all, they don't always recognize favoritism as being an issue, but once you do that, a huge obstacle is one I describe at the end of the book with Grace Kelly. It's to detach your emotions from the needs and frailties of the people around you who didn't do what you wanted them to do. Grace Kelly is an example of a person who became depressed because she wasn't loved as much as her siblings. She had a sister, brother, herself and a younger sister. She was third. The conflict would then be with her younger sister. Among four, you have two and two. So in this conflict with her younger sister, she was undermined and isolated. She played with dolls and people ignored her a lot. She was once locked in a cupboard for hours and hours, and was discovered still playing with her dolls. She led a dream life. So, Grace Kelly is an example of a person who would need to detach herself from her family. Her family continued to treat her like Cinderella for years and years, and in order for her to get over the feelings of not being Cinderella, she'd have had to work it out for herself that she's not who she was as a little girl and is now the beautiful swan and to start to believe that.  She would have had to close off all that emotional pounding and harassing that she got all through her life from them. That's an extremely difficult task, and that's what a therapist should be helping people do, and yet still be in a position where you can love your family. Forgive your mother for being so jealous. Forgive your sister for putting you down and telling you day in and day out that you're ugly, even though you're gorgeous. It's difficult, but therapists, if they understand the dynamics, can help a lot. 

You can see with a person like Barbara Streisand who was an extremely anxious individual with stage fright to the max, she lost her dad as a baby and moved in with her grandparents who were tough and disciplinarian. Her stepfather, who ironically was named Mr. Kind, actually used to discriminate her over her stepsister. He'd call her ugly and wouldn't buy her an ice cream one day because she's too ugly, he said. Barbara has been through a lot of therapy and has come a long way. But, it's the attention that you get from psychoanalysis. You go daily and somebody cares about you and gives you the love and support for the self and there is a lot of caring that comes across and you grow and mature and detach. Perhaps she got over a lot of the anger she used to experience. I know she used to give her mother and sister a very menial amount of money to live on while she is obviously a very wealthy woman. Whatever she did achieve early in life also, she used to put tremendous pressure on herself and had a drive for perfectionism and had this stage fright that plagued her for years and years. But, she did have the support and the detachment that comes from working it out.