Growing up with siblings can make you feel as if you’re living in someone else’s shadow, especially if they’re successful. You may feel inclined to follow a career path similar to your sibling’s out of pressure from your parents or even yourself.
Feeling like you have to compete with your siblings is a sad but real experience. You don’t want to be known as the “dumb” sibling, or the one who didn’t work as hard in school. While having some competition with your siblings can push you to achieve more, it can easily become toxic. Competition brings out jealousy, which should have no place in sibling relationships.
In early childhood, sibling rivalry is quite normal. It usually occurs because each child is trying to find their place within the home and family. In this phase, siblings will banter with one another and the parents ideally remain impartial.
While many people believe sibling rivalry disappears after childhood, it can sometimes become worse as siblings grow older. One sibling may become closer to their parents than the others, which can make the other siblings jealous. Parents can play into this dynamic by treating the siblings differently and causing more conflict. Another major reason for sibling rivalry is jealousy of a sibling’s success and opportunities.
It is important to remember that success is temporary. Someone’s job can change in the blink of an eye, and they can lose everything they worked for. Family is an everlasting bond —– meaning it’s better to take care of your relationship with your sibling than to obsess over how much more successful they are in comparison to you. Nobody wins when siblings are jealous of one another.
You should also remember that everyone is unique, even people you are related to. You most likely won’t have the exact same interests as your siblings. You will end up on different life paths according to your strengths. Instead of forcing yourself to pursue a career as a doctor like your sibling just to impress your parents, choose something you are passionate about. It will be hard to derive joy from something you forced yourself to do out of competitiveness.
Success is also very subjective. Some people believe having children makes them successful, some believe going to college makes them successful and some believe having a law degree makes them successful. You may deem your siblings as “more successful” because they’re well-paid investment bankers and you’re an artist, but success comes down to how proud you are of yourself.
When you’re caught up in trying to out-perform your siblings, you can forget to be proud of what they’ve accomplished. Take a step back away from your competitiveness and acknowledge their growth. You have probably witnessed your siblings go through challenges throughout their lives, and as their sibling, you should make it clear that you’re proud of them. Remember that they have a life outside of yours and have struggled in similar ways that you have. Breaking out of sibling rivalry requires you to recognize their humanity.
Adult sibling rivalry can usually be worked out through discussion. Instead of hiding that you’re jealous of your siblings, try admitting it to them. Yes, it seems uncomfortable, but it can be a good place to start. You may even find that your sibling is jealous of you, too. If your siblings care about you, they will definitely reassure you that there is nothing to be jealous about.
Sometimes sibling rivalries can become too toxic beyond repair. Once parents begin to take sides, your relationship with your sibling can become too difficult to maintain. If this is the case for you, don’t be afraid to find alternative support structures beyond family. This can be close friends or others in your community. You don’t need to stay in toxic relationships with people just because you’re blood-related to them.
Even though sibling rivalry is very real, remember to focus on your individual successes and try to be proud of what your sibling achieves. You don’t need to be “better” than your sibling in order to be satisfied with your life.
Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, California. She likes talking to her two older sisters.