Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Managing Adult Sibling Relationships During the Holidays

Dealing with adult siblings relationships during the holidays can stress you out


Much has been researched and written on parent-child relationships as well as marital and partnered relationships. In comparison, surprisingly little has been researched and written about sibling relationships. This seems strange since we know that both good and bad sibling relationships can impact us all. As we enter the holiday season in full force these relationships so often emerge in powerful ways for healing ...and for torture.  Too often sibling relationships can add a great deal of stress to an already stressful time of year.

In working with psychotherapy patients for 30 years I can’t tell you how often clients talk about the challenges associated with their sibling relationships and, most especially, how these challenges unfold during the end of year holidays. While some are blessed to have very positive, loving, and nurturing relationships with brothers and sisters too often many don't have very good relationships with their sibs at all. In fact, many have had (and continue to have) relationships that are toxic, abusive, and even criminal. I can’t count how many patients I have treated who have reported that they were significantly victimized by a sibling while a child or teen and yet haven’t been able to tell anyone about their victimization. They didn't want to burden their parents or thought that others wouldn't believe their stories. Physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse are common not to mention cruelty and severe sibling rivalry too.

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We often tend to dismiss sibling stress perhaps focusing more on other relationships. Arguing, bickering, and so forth between siblings appear, on the surface, to be just normal aspects of family life. Yet, many are traumatized by these experiences and relationships. 

So, as we share the end of year holidays with siblings how do you feel about them? Surprisingly, even middle aged and elderly adults still experience the kind of raw emotions with their siblings that they experienced a half century or more ago when they were kids.

While there are no magic answers in terms of dealing with challenging siblings, it is important to take a deep breath and maintain reasonable expectations. The stresses, conflicts, and fears that developed when young generally don’t just go away with adulthood. Learning to manage, forgive, cope, and not attach too much to old hurts and troubles can be important. And both asking for and offering forgiveness might be a good idea too.

So, as you find yourself sharing the same holiday celebrations with siblings who you don't like so much ask yourself how can you best manage your relationship with them even many years since you lived under the same roof together. How can you take a step back, review your experiences with siblings over the years, and not get too caught up in the challenges of trying to get along? Can you work in developing an observing ego experiencing your relationship with your siblings with some distance and with adult (rather than child like) perspectives? 


What do you think? How do you manage dealing with challenging
siblings this holiday season?

Check out my website at www.scu.edu/tplante and follow me on Twitter @ThomasPlante. 

Copyright 2013 Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP

 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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