How does parental perception contribute to sibling rivalry?

How does rivalry among siblings shape their relationships and impact their psychological development? Where does this competitive behavior stem from, and when does it become a cause for concern? In exploring the intricacies of sibling dynamics, we delve into the paradoxical nature of parental reactions, the role of envy in childhood, and the historical roots of sibling rivalry.

The Paradox of Parental Perceptions

It seems paradoxical, but some parents find solace in the competition between their children, allowing them to assert their parental authority and, surprisingly, continue settling scores with their own siblings. Psychologist Ekaterina Mikhailova notes that inadvertently cultivating rivalry among children can trap parents in their past, saying, “‘This is what it’s like to be the older (younger) one!’,” as they try to share their pain and bitterness with their offspring, often oblivious to the cruelty of their actions.

In large families with four or five children, each child typically has a defined role, reducing the frequency of rivalry. According to Mikhailova, even with three children, the intensity diminishes, explaining, “The birth of the third child alters the dynamics between the first two. Playing hide-and-seek is better with Vasya, drawing is more interesting with Masha, and sometimes, both ignore me… The theme of ‘hatred’ surfaces more frequently when there are only two children.”

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Envy and the Confessions of Augustine

In his Confessions, Saint Augustine describes a little boy’s confusion witnessing his younger brother breastfeeding. While too old for such nourishment, the child still yearns for it and envies his brother’s bliss. Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan asserted, “Desiring means desiring another.” Often, children covet something not because they truly desire it but because someone else desires and possesses it. Thus, envy and jealousy become inevitable in sibling relationships.

The disparity in lifestyles and life choices exacerbates unresolved issues from childhood. The chances of harboring resentment increase when blinded by envy, unable to relinquish grievances or identify personal desires. Blaming a sibling for hindering happiness and success becomes a common coping mechanism.

As siblings grow older and pursue diverse paths, existing childhood tensions intensify. Alexandra, 29, experienced shock when excluded from her younger sister’s wedding because she “might make a negative impression on the guests.” The rift in their relationship showcased how differences in lifestyle and choices can amplify unresolved childhood conflicts.

When animosity reaches a level where reconciliation seems utopian, even without extreme circumstances like betrayal or broken promises, the prospects for mending relationships become challenging.

The First Brotherhood, the First Murder

Reflecting on the biblical tale of Cain and Abel, the first children of Adam and Eve, we encounter the archetype of a person driven to commit a crime out of envy. If a child harbors such intense resentment towards a sibling to the point of desiring their death, psychoanalyst Daniel Siboni believes the mother bears responsibility. He rereads the biblical story, attributing the blame for Cain’s actions to his mother, who linked all her aspirations to the firstborn, exclaiming at his birth, “‘I have gained a man from the Lord!’

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Understanding the psychological intricacies of sibling rivalry unveils the deep-rooted complexities shaping human relationships. As parents navigate the delicate balance of fostering healthy competition and preventing destructive envy, it becomes imperative to recognize the far-reaching impact of childhood dynamics on adult relationships.

Sibling rivalry is a multifaceted phenomenon that intertwines with the human experience. By acknowledging its origins and repercussions, we empower ourselves to cultivate more understanding and harmonious familial relationships.


How does parental perception contribute to sibling rivalry?

Parental perception plays a crucial role in fostering or mitigating sibling rivalry. Some parents inadvertently cultivate competition among their children to assert their parental authority and settle unresolved issues from their own past. This often involves projecting their experiences onto their children, perpetuating a cycle of rivalry.

Where does the intensity of sibling rivalry lessen?

In larger families with four or five children, and even with three children, the intensity of sibling rivalry tends to diminish. Each child in a larger family typically has a defined role, reducing the frequency of competition. The birth of a third child alters the dynamics between the first two, creating more diverse interactions and lessening the heat of sibling rivalry.

What role does envy play in children’s relationships?

Envy is a significant factor in children’s relationships, as pointed out by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Children often desire what others have not because they truly want it but because someone else desires and possesses it. This creates an inevitable dynamic of envy and jealousy in sibling relationships, influencing the way children interact and compete with each other.

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When do differences in lifestyle exacerbate childhood conflicts?

As siblings grow older and pursue diverse paths, differences in lifestyle and life choices can escalate unresolved childhood conflicts. The disparity in their choices intensifies existing tensions, contributing to increased resentment. This becomes especially apparent when siblings fail to reconcile and navigate their differences, leading to strained relationships.

To what biblical story does psychoanalyst Daniel Siboni attribute sibling rivalry?

Psychoanalyst Daniel Siboni attributes the origins of sibling rivalry to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. In this narrative, the firstborn, Cain, harbors intense resentment towards his younger brother Abel, ultimately leading to murder. Siboni interprets the mother’s influence as a significant factor, claiming that she linked all her aspirations to the firstborn, contributing to the destructive dynamics between the siblings.

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  1. I never realized how childhood stuff could mess with us so much.

  2. My sis stirs constant drama.

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