When Sibling Rivalry Turns Into Adult Envy

Sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy are difficult issues to deal with for parents. To some degree these situations are normal and, with sensitivity, can be managed with siblings growing out of these unhelpful emotions. It becomes far more of a problem if this continues and manifests later on into serious adult envy.

If you are reading this then maybe you feel you are in this unhappy situation. Sibling envy between adults has the potential to disrupt the entire family, can spill over into extended family (if the extended family are close) and can adversely affect the adult siblings’ own nuclear families.

This scenario is one that is often played out in movies, TV series and novels. Often the final outcomes, in the story, can be devastating. One even sees this played out in real life in the media.

Example of Sibling Rivalry Turned to Adult Envy

The best way to chart the journey from sibling rivalry to sibling jealousy to adult envy is by way of a case example. This is an entirely fictitious story but I am sure that certain elements of the story might resonate with my readers.

Bill and Pat got married in their twenties. They had been together since their last year of high school. They wanted to marry young and have children young. They believed they could manage this as they had supportive parents on both sides who lived close by and could assist with the babies.

Bill had trained as a carpenter and was working for a company that made beautiful bedroom furniture out of pine wood. It had a ‘cottagey feel’ to it and was selling really well in the retail stores. Bill loved his work and took great pride in his craftsmanship. His ultimate dream was to open up his own business producing a similar kind of furniture, but to expand to include more than just pieces for the bedroom. He dearly wished for a son who could hopefully join him in this future business one day.

Pat had an admin background but had decided that once she had children she wanted to be a stay at home mum and take care of her family. Bill wanted only two children but Pat was open to the idea of a third.

They were both delighted when Pat gave birth to a healthy baby boy, John, two years after they got married. Bill was ‘over the moon’. He now had his son who would one day be his business partner!

Less than two years later Pat gave birth to another baby boy, Peter. She was delighted, but Bill was secretly disappointed. He really wanted a girl this time. What is starting to emerge thus far is that Bill had very fixed ideas about the way their lives were to be lived. He was in fact quite controlling and Pat preferred to keep the peace and agree with him in order to avoid conflict.

Bill showed a lot less interest in Peter. By now John was a toddler and very active. Bill spent a lot of his free time playing with him and showing him things in his workshop at home. Pat was left to look after Peter on her own and often felt lonely. 

As the boys grew up this pattern continued. The family did not spend a lot of time together, all four of them. Rather the pattern of Bill and John vs Pat and Peter continued as the boys went through school. John never missed out on love from his mother and consequently was a confident and social child and adolescent. He achieved good grades at school and by the time he finished high school he was looking forward to training as a carpenter, just like Dad.

Peter, on the other hand, had a difficult time at school. He was shy, did not play sport and did not do as well as his brother academically. He was very much a loner and Pat was continually worrying about him. He spent hours alone in his room reading or playing computer games. Also and, most significant, more and more he started to resent his brother. He was jealous and envious of John and very resentful of all the attention John received from Dad.

During Peter’s high school years he spent a lot of time with the school counsellor and by the time he finished school he was on anti-depressant medication. Pat was consumed with worry and by this stage the marital relationship had deteriorated badly.

Where was Bill at this point? Very busy setting up his new business and ready to realise his dream. He was already receiving orders for his fine furniture and was eagerly waiting for the time when his eldest and favourite son would join him in the exciting venture. By now his relationship with Peter was very strained. He was always criticising him about being lazy and not showing any drive to succeed at anything.

So, the years went by and the business made a great success. John got married and too had two sons, so more boys for the business according to Bill. Meantime Peter was not thriving. He was still living at home, barely spoke to his father and felt a strong hatred for his eldest brother. He felt there was something wrong with him and the same feelings of sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy were still there from childhood. Pat was miserable too and the marriage was virtually non-existent in spite of them living in the same house. John lived with his wife and family close by.

One night something in Peter snapped. He had had enough. He was tired of suffering, he was tired of being consumed by hatred and envy. In the early hours of the morning when everyone was asleep, he doused the workshop, which housed his father’s entire business, with petrol and set it alight. Being a wood business it burned very quickly and was destroyed. Before he could even see the extent of the damage, he took all his medication from all the years of being at doctors, ran to remote area and took his own life.

This story illustrates the fact that issues that may seem unimportant with siblings can escalate and develop into serious problems in later life. Sometimes problems that do not have simple or, in fact, any solutions. The only option is to sever all contact with the adult siblings and their families. This is more common than many would imagine. Both in my professional and personal experience I have met many many people who do not speak to any members of their immediate family. The different parties involved are scattered all over the country. There is resentment and often hatred in these troubled families and cousins never get to know each other or share special occasions.

Then when the parents die, the fangs often come out in how the estate is distributed. The only winners here are the lawyers.

Equally Love Your Children

The message again is very simple. Love each and every one of your children equally, find value in each where ever you can. Before deciding to have children be sure that yours is a relationship that is able to make the necessary adjustments and sacrifices that are part and parcel of child rearing.

And, lastly, your child’s life does not belong to you. Let them decide the course they want to take and give encouragement and affirmation as often as possible. Anything else is not good enough parenting.

Sibling Rivalry, Why It Happens?

Sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy is to some degree normal and healthy. Learning to co-exist with siblings can teach children some valuable lessons about relationships in the greater world outside of the home.

Many parents will report that when the second baby came along there was an increase in negative behaviour from the first child. If this is well managed by the parents, ie that the older child gets some special attention, as well as the consistent attention they were used to, the situation will often calm down after a couple of months.

Sibling rivalry and jealousy becomes a problem when it shows itself at a later stage, either in primary or high school. If this is not addressed adequately at this point, it could escalate and lead to more serious problems later in life with one or all siblings.

Showing More Attention To One Child

There can be many reasons why siblings will compete against each other to a degree which is problematic. The first thought that comes to mind is that sometimes one or both parents overtly show more attention to one child. They might not even realise they are doing this. This could be because the child is a high achiever in one area which results in lots of affirmation from parents. Also, this situation could lead to more time being spent with this child, especially if parents have to transport them to the activity, eg a certain sport.

The other child or children then get less of the parents time but maybe also less attention. It is very hard when one sibling is talented and the rest are somewhat average. It becomes a real challenge for parents to find value in each child and be consistent in affirming this. Every kid is good at something, our job as parents is to value this, even if the skill is something less obvious.

Another scenario that can cause jealousy and resentment is when there is a child with special needs in the family. They may have a chronic illness or some other disability so naturally a greater proportion of parental time is taken up with this child. The healthy children, who might in fact be thriving, can feel very jealous and angry towards the special child. This can often be a very real and difficult situation in a family.

Give Each Child What They Uniquely Need

The message here is that parents need to be aware of the differing needs of their children and try to ensure giving each child what they uniquely need. So sometimes different rules and norms for different children in a family are appropriate. Just like clients in a psychotherapy practice, each child needs something different.

It is parents who elect to bring children into their world and it is the parents who are responsible for the emotional tone in the home. If the family is a relatively functional one, and the parents present as a united front, you will most likely find less rivalry and jealousy. If the parent’s relationship is volatile then it is really hard to find the emotional space to consider the effects on the children or to give each child the attention they deserve.

Ask For Help

So what is the answer if sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy is destroying harmony in the home? Simply, ask for help! Sometimes it can be as easy as approaching the school counsellor. If this is not an option you might need to seek help privately.

At Zetland Psychotherapy this issue would be thoroughly assessed in order to understand the different elements of the problem. This could involve sessions with the parents, maybe separate sessions with the children or perhaps family therapy where the whole family attends the session.

It is important to try to address these issues as soon as possible. To grow up alienated from your siblings is to miss out on the wonderful relationships that become part of your extended family in adulthood.  Ideally families should try to remain connected as children grow up and parents age. The joy of feeling part of a loving and supportive family can never be over rated. Healthy families form the cornerstone of a healthy society.

Signs Of Depression

Do you have signs of depression? We all feel sad at times, that is part of being human. Often our sadness can be triggered by an external event. We may be grieving a relationship breakup, we may lose our job, someone in the family may be ill or perhaps life is just stressful. This kind of sadness usually soon passes. It may take a few days or a few weeks and then we start to feel better and manage to cope quite well. It is good to let ourselves feel these feelings and a bit of self-nurturing can do a lot to help us manage.

A Feeling of Gloom and Doom

Then there is a different kind of sadness. This can be a feeling of gloom and doom and suddenly your whole world feels dark. Perhaps you are not sleeping well or maybe sleeping too much. Maybe you do not feel like eating. When you wake up in the morning all you want to do is curl up and go back to sleep. Facing the day feels too hard. Perhaps this has been going on for several weeks. If you are feeling any of these more severe feelings there is a good chance that these could be signs of depression.

Life Feels Miserable

Depression is like the common cold of mental health problems. One out of five Australians will probably have an episode of or show signs of depression in their lifetime. This condition robs you of your joy and things that you used to give you pleasure are now no longer fun. It is hard being around happy people, you no longer laugh and life feels pretty miserable.

Treatment and Medication

Depression is a debilitating illness and can affect your physical health too. You may in fact with struggling with the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The good news is that the treatments today are highly effective. Helping someone with depression often involves a combination of medication and some kind of interpersonal psychotherapy. Most depressive episodes usually pass if the appropriate treatment is received.

Not everyone who is depressed needs to go onto medication. At Zetland Psychotherapy a comprehensive assessment is conducted around your signs of depression. We look at when your mood started declining, what possible triggers there may have been for this, and your family background and then together we decide on the best way to treat you.

Medication is sometimes necessary to help to lift your mood so that you can get the maximum benefit out of your therapy. Your general practitioner will probably be able to prescribe a suitable drug for you. If you do not have a general practitioner that you know and trust we are able to offer you some names of good doctors to go to.

If you have very severe symptoms of depression, and you have been feeling this way for a long time, it may be more beneficial to be referred to a psychiatrist. These are doctors who specialise in all areas of mental health and are better equipped to treat the more treatment resistant depressions. Often they will use more than one drug to help you and it is the combination of two different medications that assist the more serious episodes. Furthermore psychiatrists are allowed to prescribe stronger drugs that general practitioners are not authorised to. If a psychiatrist is not able to assist helping someone with depression using all of these more sophisticated means, they may decide that there would be a benefit from an in-patient stay at a psychiatric facility. This is nothing to be afraid of. There are some excellent facilities in Sydney, staffed by caring professionals, who offer a full therapeutic program. Once you are an inpatient and you are still not getting better a decision may be made by your doctor to prescribe Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). This is done under a light anaesthetic and is painless. This has been described as a miracle by many people suffering treatment resistant depression.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

On the other hand you may not need medication. You might just need someone to talk to and through the sharing of your feelings and concerns we may be able to make headway without involving anyone else in your treatment. The treatment style at Zetland Psychotherapy is psychodynamic psychotherapy. This focuses on establishing a warm and trusting relationship as well as getting a detailed family history. Part of this process may also involve some behavioural therapy. If you have been feeling depressed for a while you may have stopped doing many things that you used to enjoy. You may have even stopped leaving the house except for your doctor’s appointments. So part of our work is to slowly assist you to re-engage with your life. It may be as simple as going for a short walk each morning and attending to your house hold chores. As you start to feel better we can jointly decide what other activities you might feel ready to take on.

Depression is a serious condition but one that can be treated very successfully.