Familial dynamics, especially when it comes to parental and sibling relationships, are inherently complex issues that make for some incredibly compelling drama. For instance, the television show Succession, the play King Lear, and the film Ordinary People are all works of fiction that get their inspiration and core conflicts from the issues of sibling favoritism.
You may have even recognized this in your own life and harbor extremely strong feelings towards your sibling or parents because of this. If that is the case, read on to educate yourself more about why you might feel this way as well as the origins of why this is potentially happening. We’ll also go over some solutions you can take with you as you deal with this problem.
1. Recognizing what favoritism looks like
The first step in dealing with favoritism is to actually recognize it for what it is. There is no sense in gaslighting yourself into believing that it doesn’t happen and that your parents love each of you equivocally and unconditionally. While this is a great thought to lean back on, it doesn’t hold much substance when real-life circumstances get in the way and the family dynamics rears their, often ugly, heads.
Favoritism can manifest itself in a number of ways and isn’t always obvious at first. Over time, however, it can lead to strong feelings of resentment, jealousy, and anger towards the sibling that has been the favorite child as well as the parent.
Over the years, one child may get preferential treatment over the other or might seem as if they are the apple of the parent’s eye. Sometimes a parent may spend more money on your sibling, while you get the wrong end of the stick when it comes time to be punished. Alternatively, you might feel as if your sibling hogs the spotlight while your parents completely ignore you and whatever accomplishments that you have made in your own life. Finally, your parents may have completely changed their parenting style to become a better fit for your sibling. This can often happen in special needs cases where the younger child gets more of the parent’s attention because of a developmental issue. While this can be cognitively grasped by the older sibling, the feelings of being ignored in favor of the other child still operate at an unconscious level and can pose trouble later on in life.
2. Understanding the root causes of favoritism
So you understand what favoritism looks like, but that is just the surface of an iceberg that reaches very far and deep into the individual’s psychological unconscious. Mothering, while evolutionary in nature, has a specificity to it that comes from learned behavioral patterns. Like any other relationship, this often comes down to how well there is a fit between two individuals. This makes it easier to raise one child than another.
For example, a mother that is prone to introversion may feel closest to one that is similar to her. This creates a subconscious mirroring effect where the child is rewarded based on how the mother perceives their behavior as good or bad. You could see this playing out in public where an introverted mother severely punishes an extroverted child for “embarrassing” her in public when her perception of the event was projected onto the child.
Additionally, environmental factors like age, economic status, marital stability, and other factors can prove how different siblings are treated compared to one another. While families are built upon the idea of mutual love and affection, these internal and external stimuli can prove to be major points of contention where a difference in how one sibling is treated over another manifests itself.
3. Processing your feelings
Keeping an open mind and being level-headed about the situation can be great for everyone involved in the dynamics. Because you can only control how you respond to adversity, making sure you have processed everything at the highest level is your best bet against the feelings that come along with feeling as if you played second fiddle the majority of your life.
As we have discussed, your parents may have favored your sibling because they had special needs to attend to. On the other hand, they may have favored your sibling due to how naturally the sibling fits with their own personality. In either case, it is important to understand that it is not your fault and to not blame yourself or any of your own shortcomings. Sometimes there is no answer to how relationships develop over time and the most important thing to do is to take a step back and observe everything from a birds-eye view. While you might not be able to help yourself from getting emotional, processing your feelings in a healthy way is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.
4. Communicating your thoughts
Speaking of processing your feelings, communicating how you feel is one of the best things that you can do to jump-start this process. Holding onto negative thoughts and feelings and letting them fester within you is harmful both physically and psychologically. Opening up to your family members about how you feel might result in some key insights that show you may have magnified the issue in your mind. Avoid taking a controversial approach to the topic as it might lead to even deeper rifts between family members. Your mother may never have recognized this feeling in you and just having a conversation about it in person while doing some kind of activity can go miles in terms of repairing the negative feelings that you have.
5. Grow as a human being
Growth in yourself will ultimately lead you to become a more empathetic person overall. By taking up a new passion or class, you will find parts of yourself that you may have never even known previously existed. Deepening your well of experience leads to deepening your well of love for the individual that you feel has wronged you over the years. Although you may feel as if your parents never loved you as much as your siblings, being empathetic towards them is one of the strongest actions of love you can take. Being patient and supportive of your parent’s own mental health processes is a part of this. Everyone has work to do on this front. Getting out and meeting people that can help you will eventually turn you into someone that allows your parents to see things in a more clear way.
6. Get professional help
Thankfully, we live in an era where mental health issues are not as stigmatized as they once were. As a result, getting access to a professional therapist is easier than ever. Having someone to talk to and relay your experiences to can be enormously beneficial. In turn, this individual can guide you in taking the right steps outside of the depression you might be feeling about being an unloved child and towards a more fulfilling life. Family dynamics are often complex and, if left unresolved for years, can lead to physical and psychological issues that are very difficult to resolve. Make sure to get help sooner rather than later and start your journey to a healthier state of mind.
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