Smouldering sibling resentment

and a more helpful way to view it

Key points:

  • There is commonly an expectation that siblings close in age will also be close friends.
  • Parents and other relatives often also expect that the older will support the younger, or the stronger will support the weaker.
  • This often causes lasting resentments. Looking through the lens of emotional needs can help in handling sibling conflict more healthily.

“What she did to me was deliberate!” wailed Melanie. “I just can’t forgive her for that.”

Melanie is a student at the university where I offer counselling. I had first had contact with her when she was struggling to cope with the demands of her non-identical twin sister Ellis.

“Ever since we were little,” she had told me then, ‘I was encouraged to help her, because she found studying harder than I did; to let her play with me and my friends, because she couldn’t keep any of her own; to do more of the chores around the house because it was too much for her. She was the dramatic one and I was the ‘good’ one.”

“She can make friends easily because she can be vibrant and exciting but she never keeps them because she is only really interested in herself. I didn’t want to have to share my friends with her, because that often meant I lost them too, as Ellis has such a –” she searched for the word – “difficult presence. I love her, don’t get me wrong. But I also want so much to be free.”

It seemed as if some freedom was at last in sight when, after applying to the same university to study the same subject as Melanie, Ellis failed to get the grades and had to accept a place at a different university, through the clearing system. For the first time, both were going to be away from home, with 200 miles between them.

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