Genetics and Epigenetics
We’ve been looking at the powerful factor of birth order position in the development of personality. Children born into the same sibling positions in different families tend to form similar personality profiles, all things being equal, which of course, things rarely are. We’ve looked at some of those factors that can skew typical sibling position profiles, with the help of my own family system as an example of how a family that is rife with mitigating factors can skew norms.
For example, there’s the question of genetics and epigenetics. On both sides of the family, undiagnosed and untreated ADHD plays a significant role. This highly genetic but highly treatable condition is often coupled with other disorders, and is highly correlated with compulsive behaviors, addictions and conduct issues. These are rampant within my family system, as well, complicating typical sibling profiles.
Epigenetics refers to the study of potentially heritable changes in gene expression depending on environmental conditions. Simplistically put, we’re learning that some genes may have predispositions that can get turned on (or not), given the right circumstances. For example, I suspect that the mental health issues on my father’s side of the family may be passed on generationally in an epigenetic fashion.
Birth Order and Outside-the-Box Thinking
A few of my extended family members, the ones who are willing to discuss the family system honestly, seem to be the ones who have broken out of the patterns, for one reason or another. For example, my mom’s cousin Doug attributes his time in the military for his break from the system’s patterns. Having grown up with a severely abusive, womanizing father, Doug should be living an unstable life, much like his siblings. Having military structure imposed upon him was his saving grace, he says. Perhaps his position as youngest male of two older brothers, two older sisters and one younger sister has something to do with his ability to break out of systemic patterns, as well. Youngest children tend to think outside-the-box.
Same with my father’s cousin Emma, the youngest sister of an older brother, two older sisters and a younger brother. My father’s sister Barb, who is open to talking about family dynamics, is also the youngest female, with seven older brothers, four older sisters and two younger brothers. Perhaps the typical free-thinking nature of youngest siblings has helped to bring clarity about family dynamics to my youngest-sibling relatives and me.
(Dis)Loyalty to Birth Order Profiles
To be fair, however, my paternal grandmother—the one who married beneath her family’s highly-regarded public status—was also a youngest female, the seventh child of eight, whose twin was a male. In her case, it may have been the rebellion of a youngest child that led her to marry a “bad-boy” whose poor mental health contributed to the difficult lives of all 14 of their children, and to the dysfunction of many of their own families in the next generation, as well.
My own mother, the youngest child of two, was more responsible than her older brother, and carried on the family traditions and loyalty to the family way of being like an oldest child. In the role of wife, however, she expected her husband to dote on her and take care of her, which my father never did, leaving my brother filling that emotional void for her. These unconscious motivations and expectations have wreaked incredible havoc on the interlocking relationships of the family throughout our lives. Such family traditions would have been best dumped overboard.
Between bad sibling profile matches and a host of mitigating circumstances, it’s no wonder why my parents bickered so bitterly, and it’s no wonder why their children developed personality profiles that are the opposite of typical patterns (see “Dating Wisely 1.41”). It’s no wonder why all three of us siblings eventually failed in our intimate relationships, either. Ugh. Time to dump some heavy cargo and steer this ship toward a different destination!
Tomorrow we’ll begin looking at our final concept in the effort to date wisely!
(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.)