Can All Things Become Equal?
Yesterday we used my own family to illustrate a few variables than can prevent “all things [from] being equal” in the development of typical sibling profiles. Today, we’ll look at how mitigating circumstances, if they impede differentiation, can sometimes be reversed through a healing process. Again, I’ll use my own story as an example.
Oldest Brother of Sisters
My partner Brad is an oldest brother of two younger sisters, so all things being equal, he should have developed into a leader, a guardian of family traditions, morality, and the status quo. He should be conscientious, hard-working, and able to handle the stress that comes with responsibility, although he may have difficulty accepting criticism. Having grown up in the company of females, he should be considerate of women, and should value his relationship with his wife as his most prized one.
It turns out that this description fits Brad well, suggesting that his family of origin was at least moderately differentiated. However, when Brad was 10 years old, he experienced one of those events that can skew the development of typical sibling personality profiles: his father, a sergeant in the military, took a position in Germany and within two years, his parents were divorced. Brad was left without a father to guide him through the significant teenage developments of adolescence and young manhood.
Seeking the guidance of a father, Brad adopted the teachings about men and women espoused by the faith community he adopted when he was 18 years old, which took his natural consideration of women to a whole new level. In this faith system, women were believed to know what’s best for relationship, the family and the home, while men were simply to trust their judgment, without thinking for themselves. This idea led Brad into two long-term relationships in which he surrendered his essential self.
Eventually, Brad’s relationship failures led him to question some of the assumptions he’d been making about relationships, and to learn for himself about himself and about relationships. This road to his own differentiation began in earnest in mid-life.
Also in mid-life, Brad was diagnosed with ADHD, which helped him understand the dissonance he experienced when the symptoms of ADHD blocked the success that he would have otherwise achieved. With a personalized treatment plan, Brad has been able to manage his ADHD, focus his energies and maximize his potential.
Youngest Sister of Oldest Brother
According to family systems theory, Brad would be the perfect match for a youngest sister of an oldest brother, such as myself…all things being equal, of course, which for me they weren’t. As you’ve read, I experienced sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse as a child, and I realized at age six—through an experience of domestic violence—that I was going to have to figure out how to do life without the guidance of my parents. This significantly disrupted much of what might have been normal birth order profile development.
By time I reached adulthood, there was very little about me that might have identified me as a youngest sister, and while my life choices seemed responsible, they were significantly driven by post-traumatic stress reactivity. When this reactivity threatened my marriage, I entered counseling and subsequently spent much of my own adult life seeking healing from the wounds of my early life environment.
Today, over 20 years after my first counseling experience, I’m feel like I’m more connected to my essential self than ever before in my life. My position as a youngest should prevent me from being a natural leader—youngest children tend to be followers—but this is a characteristic that has remained with me. Perhaps I still have much to learn about relaxing into the strength of others who are trustworthy and competent.
I do enjoy relaxing into Brad’s strength and his traditional maleness, although my independent spirit and free-thinking sometimes clashes with his conventionality. Fortunately for me (and for us), Brad’s own attendance at the school of hard knocks forced him to challenge some of his traditional thinking, opening him up to his own critical thinking and intellect. He seems to enjoy my accomplishments and my free spirit, although we tend to land on opposite sides of the tough-minded/tender-hearted continuum. In keeping with a typical older brother of sisters profile, Brad is exceptionally considerate and does value me as his highest treasure.
Being an old soul, it’s an unexpected bonus that Brad is eight years older than I am. When our perspectives differ, I appreciate his life experience more than I would someone’s my own age who didn’t have to grow up as quickly as I did. I’m also deeply grateful for Brad’s uncommon intelligence, which contributes to exhilarating conversations.
Brad and I have in common a desire to understand relationship dynamics and to grow from life’s experiences. Our commitment to personal growth seems to have put us back on the track toward our essential selves and has even brought us closer to our typical birth- ordered personality types. This bodes well for our perfectly-matched profiles. I’m now living a life that someone with my history shouldn’t be living. The healing work of the last 20 years is definitely worth it.
Tomorrow we’ll look at how the sibling positions of parents play a role in the personality development of their children.
(For more information about sibling positions and profiles, see Birth Order & You, by Ronald W. Richardson and Lois A. Richardson; and Family Constellation: Its Effect on Personality and Social Behavior, 4th Edition, by Walter Toman.)