Dating Wisely 1.46, Study the Societal Emotional Process, Part 1

Study the Societal Emotional Process

And now we come to our final concept – Dating Wisely Concept #13: Study the Societal Emotional Process. Never did this concept make more sense to me than when I began dating Brad. I’ll tell that story later, but let me first explain the concept…and please bear with me because it’ll take a post or two before I can demonstrate how incredibly relevant and critical this concept is to the battle of the sexes and to your dating life.

The concept of societal regression emerges from Psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen’s observation that the emotional process in society reflects the emotional process in a family system. When a family experiences chronic, sustained anxiety, it begins to lose contact with its intellectually determined principles, and increasingly resorts to emotionally determined decisions to quell the anxiety of the moment. As we’ve seen, this generates immediate physical and emotional symptoms, and if the anxiety isn’t managed with emotional maturity, it results in chronic regression over time to lower levels of functioning.

Society does the same thing, just on a larger scale. After all, society is just a big group of family systems. When anxiety increases in a society, emotional reactivity also increases, reasonable solutions decrease in favor of automatic reactions, and societal dysfunction results. Just like in a family.

The 1960s

Bowen contended that the 1960s were a time of increasing chronic societal anxiety, and that the society was resorting to Band-Aid legislation, complicating the problem rather than solving it. He expected the cycle to keep repeating, with further and further regression. As Bowen conceived it, society goes through good periods and bad, and he postulated that the chronic anxiety of his generation stemmed from population explosion, decreasing food supplies and raw materials, and environmental pollution.

Bowen also suggested that the societal upheaval of the 1960s had begun after WWII and would continue its downward trajectory until society was willing to withstand the pain of long-term solutions over the short-term relief of stop-gap measures. He expected the regression to continue until the mid-21st Century, when he thought human beings would achieve a way of living that was more harmonious with nature.

The French Revolution

How this applies directly to your partnership may be more than a little elusive, so indulge me for a minute. In my view, the population issues that concerned Bowen began long before WWII when societies began to grow beyond the governance required for small tribes and villages. The larger societies get, the more conflicts occur, and the more organization is needed for people and people groups to (co)operate. Rather than tracing the evolution of human society over the entire span of recorded history, however, I think it’ll suffice to go back to a significant social turning point—the era represented by the French Revolution (1789-1799).

An amazing and exciting thing was happening in human history then. Until then, societies were governed by wealthy aristocrats who lived above the law. The French revolution, however, marked a seismic shift in the accepted order of things, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies and replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. This shift expanded human rights, including those of non-wealthy people, such as non-wealthy men, women and slaves. “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” became a foundational document adopted by France’s National Constituent Assembly in 1789.

20th Century

Three years later, Mary Wollstonecraft followed up with Vindication of the Rights of Women, arguing that women should have the right to education along with their male counterparts. After all, she contended, women were the teachers of the young and could be potential companions, not just wives, to their husbands.

Wollstonecraft’s work is considered to have ushered in the first wave of Feminism (we’re now in the fourth wave), which spanned the next century. Over that period of time, the rights of the general populace increased, although more slowly for women and slaves than for the common man, with suffrage being the most significant issue of feminists during that century. In 1920, the United States passed the 19th Amendment precluding sex as a legal restriction against voting.

That was the beginning of a societal process that impacted society and the battle of the sexes in important ways–ways that we’re now able to see more clearly with hindsight. More on that tomorrow. For now see if you can anticipate what I may have to say about the developments of the last 100 years and how relationships may have been impacted by those developments.

Dating Wisely 1.45, Study Sibling Positions, Part 10

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.)


Dating Wisely 1.44: Study Sibling Positions, Part 9

Sibling Position Across Generations – Dad’s Family of Origin

Yesterday we looked at my mother’s side of the family as an example of how birth order influences the formation of a child’s personality. Today we’ll look at my father’s side.

The 11th of 14 children, my father was the oldest child in the youngest set of four, and he was followed by a brother, a sister, and another brother. Abuses of all kinds were rampant in his family, so the patterns are difficult to untangle. My father was autocratic like a typical oldest child, and he expected obedience from his wife as he carried on the moral code of his upbringing. Like a youngest, however, he never seemed to be able to manage the responsibilities of his adult life well.

Furthermore, his unacknowledged and untreated ADHD prevented him from reaching his potential (he was highly intelligent), and the family coffers were always low. Still, he felt personally slighted when my mom went to work 15 years into their marriage. He was averse to criticism, and I suspect this had as much to do with his own pervasive sense of shame from never living up to his own standards, or the standards of his extreme religiosity, as it did with his sibling profile.

In recent years, I’ve been able to connect with one of my father’s younger siblings, Barb, who has provided helpful insight into the patterns that Dad brought with him into his marriage and subsequent fatherhood. My Aunt Barb revealed to me that although my grandfather was institutionalized when my dad was six years old, Dad was more like his dad than any of his other siblings. If that’s so, it could explain why he was so strict about others following Biblical rules (as our church interpreted them) but was so inconsistent with following them himself.

His own father was the fourth child, and the firstborn male, out of eight siblings. His mother died when he was 15 when she was pregnant with the ninth child. If family patterns hold true, I suspect that his position as the firstborn male brought him much attention, and that he was doted on by his older sisters and his mother.

What other factors contributed to his mental illness (and the mental illness of three more of his eight siblings) I may never know, but I have the newspaper article that describes the bizarre interaction between him and the police the day he was removed from the home in 1944. Strange that my dad would be so much like his father who was only a (seemingly?) distant influence from the time he was a small child. I suspect that there were some genetic or epigenetic factors, beyond ADHD, crossing generational lines.

Sibling Position Across Generations – Dad’s Extended Family

I recently connected with my Dad’s cousin Emma, the third daughter of four children of one of my father’s aunts. Emma has done incredibly extensive work on the family genealogy, which has allowed me to put together a bigger picture of the multigenerational family system on my father’s side.

On many Sunday’s growing up, Emma’s family made the 3-hour trek from one rural town to another to visit my dad’s family. Emma’s own mother, a sister of my father’s dad, was also afflicted with mental illness (diagnosed with schizophrenia), eventually dying in a mental health facility. Another sister and another brother of that generation also spent much of their adult life in mental health institutions, and as I continue to learn more about the family system, I’m sure I’ll come to understand how mitigating circumstances may have impacted the mental stability of that generation.

Cut Off

Having cut myself off from the family for a few decades, I have a lot of catching up to do with the families my father’s siblings raised. I don’t know much about which siblings did better or worse in life. I do know that the firstborn son, Sonny, tangled with the law all his life, and that the oldest daughter, Ginnie, never married after breaking off an engagement to a young man that her institutionalized father didn’t like.

I also know that the fourth child, the second oldest boy, Jerry, earned a reputation in the family as an upstanding person, a “real Christian,” my Aunt Barb called him recently. The second youngest child, Joe, also had a reputation for being kind and good-hearted. The other siblings stand out less clearly to me–some achieving greater functioning and some less.

I can’t help but recognize that my last name still carries negative connotations in my father’s hometown, a name that has carried a stigma for many generations. The tribal, anti-authority sentiments of the family continue to trickle down through the generations into my own family and into the families of my cousins.

Still, as I continue to keep contact with this side of the family, I expect that there will be some golden nuggets among the rubble. Perhaps I’ll meet some of my father’s mother’s family–a family of teachers, social activists and musicians–from whom she was cut off after marrying my grandfather, a man who was beneath the social status of her family of origin.

Tomorrow, we’ll try to draw some conclusions about birth order, and then we’ll move on to our last concept in this Dating Wisely series.

(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.)


Dating Wisely 1.43: Study Sibling Positions, Part 8

Sibling Position Across Generations – Mom’s Family of Origin

As you’re studying sibling positions, don’t forget to include your parents in your research because the sibling profiles of your parents can provide insight into your own personality profile, as well. (And if you’re dating, this information about your date’s roots could help you understand him or her, too.) As I mentioned yesterday, I’ll use my own family as an example, starting with my mom’s side.

My mother, was the youngest child with an older brother whose protective mother favored and sheltered him from his gruff father. Although he was an oldest child, he developed a more typical youngest child personality profile—evidence of poor differentiation in his family of origin.

In the next generation, my mother continued the pattern of favoring the oldest male child, and since I’m very much like my mother temperamentally, I would certainly have done the same had my ex-husband and I birthed children.

Powerful Forces

Favoring children does no favors for anyone in the end. For at least three generations, the mothers in my family system on both sides have fused with their sons while their passive fathers have abdicated the responsibility of creating a strong bond with them. This pattern has crippled the adult lives of these males…and their sisters who had a very different set of expectations to live up to.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that these attitudes and expectations about males and females came from an extreme fundamentalist religious system that suppressed any efforts toward differentiation. Gender and religion were such critical factors in the family system’s way of thinking and operating that they trumped every other factor. Natural factors—such as birth order, capacity, intelligence, interests, talents, and abilities—were actively stifled by the adherence to a belief system that supported only those factors that matched its preconceived notions.

Sibling Position Across Generations – Mom’s Extended Family

I’ve recently connected with my mom’s first cousin Doug, and my conversations with him have confirmed many of the suspicions I’ve had about my mother’s family. My mom insists that her family was solid and that her childhood was healthy, but the symptoms all over the family system belie her assertions, suggesting that she may be unwilling or unable to evaluate the system clearly. My cousin Doug seems to be more honest about his evaluations of the family’s functioning, and about how various factors (such as the religious extremism) contribute to its dysfunction.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at birth order patterns on my father’s side of the family, and then we’ll draw some conclusions about sibling position and dating when we put it all together.

(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.)


Dating Wisely 1.42: Study Sibling Positions, Part 7

Can All Things Become Equal?

Yesterday we used my own family to illustrate a few variables than can prevent “all things [from] being equal” in the development of typical sibling profiles. Today, we’ll look at how mitigating circumstances, if they impede differentiation, can sometimes be reversed through a healing process. Again, I’ll use my own story as an example.

Oldest Brother of Sisters

My partner Brad is an oldest brother of two younger sisters, so all things being equal, he should have developed into a leader, a guardian of family traditions, morality, and the status quo. He should be conscientious, hard-working, and able to handle the stress that comes with responsibility, although he may have difficulty accepting criticism. Having grown up in the company of females, he should be considerate of women, and should value his relationship with his wife as his most prized one.


It turns out that this description fits Brad well, suggesting that his family of origin was at least moderately differentiated. However, when Brad was 10 years old, he experienced one of those events that can skew the development of typical sibling personality profiles: his father, a sergeant in the military, took a position in Germany and within two years, his parents were divorced. Brad was left without a father to guide him through the significant teenage developments of adolescence and young manhood.


Seeking the guidance of a father, Brad adopted the teachings about men and women espoused by the faith community he adopted when he was 18 years old, which took his natural consideration of women to a whole new level. In this faith system, women were believed to know what’s best for relationship, the family and the home, while men were simply to trust their judgment, without thinking for themselves. This idea led Brad into two long-term relationships in which he surrendered his essential self.

Eventually, Brad’s relationship failures led him to question some of the assumptions he’d been making about relationships, and to learn for himself about himself and about relationships. This road to his own differentiation began in earnest in mid-life.

Also in mid-life, Brad was diagnosed with ADHD, which helped him understand the dissonance he experienced when the symptoms of ADHD blocked the success that he would have otherwise achieved. With a personalized treatment plan, Brad has been able to manage his ADHD, focus his energies and maximize his potential.

Youngest Sister of Oldest Brother

According to family systems theory, Brad would be the perfect match for a youngest sister of an oldest brother, such as myself…all things being equal, of course, which for me they weren’t. As you’ve read, I experienced sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse as a child, and I realized at age six—through an experience of domestic violence—that I was going to have to figure out how to do life without the guidance of my parents. This significantly disrupted much of what might have been normal birth order profile development.


By time I reached adulthood, there was very little about me that might have identified me as a youngest sister, and while my life choices seemed responsible, they were significantly driven by post-traumatic stress reactivity. When this reactivity threatened my marriage, I entered counseling and subsequently spent much of my own adult life seeking healing from the wounds of my early life environment.


Today, over 20 years after my first counseling experience, I’m feel like I’m more connected to my essential self than ever before in my life. My position as a youngest should prevent me from being a natural leader—youngest children tend to be followers—but this is a characteristic that has remained with me. Perhaps I still have much to learn about relaxing into the strength of others who are trustworthy and competent.

I do enjoy relaxing into Brad’s strength and his traditional maleness, although my independent spirit and free-thinking sometimes clashes with his conventionality. Fortunately for me (and for us), Brad’s own attendance at the school of hard knocks forced him to challenge some of his traditional thinking, opening him up to his own critical thinking and intellect. He seems to enjoy my accomplishments and my free spirit, although we tend to land on opposite sides of the tough-minded/tender-hearted continuum. In keeping with a typical older brother of sisters profile, Brad is exceptionally considerate and does value me as his highest treasure.


Being an old soul, it’s an unexpected bonus that Brad is eight years older than I am. When our perspectives differ, I appreciate his life experience more than I would someone’s my own age who didn’t have to grow up as quickly as I did. I’m also deeply grateful for Brad’s uncommon intelligence, which contributes to exhilarating conversations.

Brad and I have in common a desire to understand relationship dynamics and to grow from life’s experiences. Our commitment to personal growth seems to have put us back on the track toward our essential selves and has even brought us closer to our typical birth- ordered personality types. This bodes well for our perfectly-matched profiles. I’m now living a life that someone with my history shouldn’t be living. The healing work of the last 20 years is definitely worth it.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how the sibling positions of parents play a role in the personality development of their children.

(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.)


Dating Wisely 1.41: Study Sibling Position, Part 6

Sibling Positions in an Undifferentiated System

I mentioned a few days ago that sibling profiles are more likely to follow typical patterns the more differentiated the parents are. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that my family system scores pretty low on the differentiation scale, and our sibling profiles reflect that. The degree to which Jonathan, Debbie and I came to match our sibling position profiles is directly related to the degree of undifferentiation of our parents and the parental projection process.

A Young Oldest

Jonathan, the oldest child and the most triangulated one into the parental projection process, developed many of the characteristics of a youngest child, and only a few of the characteristics of an oldest. Due to our mother’s dependence on Jonathan for her own emotional support, little more was expected of him than to be her little man. Mom often protected Jon from the rage of our father, and Jon came to depend on Mom to get him out of his scrapes.

He’s recently learned that he’s also the genetic recipient of severe ADHD (and some other related issues), a condition that has wreaked all kinds of havoc on his life. Although he was officially diagnosed in mid-life, he continues to sabotage his potential by either leaving it untreated or by trying to treat it himself. It’s interesting that he takes medication to prevent epileptic seizures that he began having at age 11, but he’s refuses to treat his ADHD.

He’s highly gifted musically but he’s had a difficult time taking charge of his life. He’s sociable, easy-going and popular, although for all his outright rebellion against the strict fundamentalism of our upbringing, he has become, in mid-life, the one to guard the status quo, and preserve family traditions and morality. Considering the extreme religious fundamentalism in our family system for generations on both sides, this is disturbing.

A More Differentiated Middle

Debbie, the middle child, most closely developed into the sibling profile typical of her birth position, which is in keeping with her higher level of differentiation, compared to the rest of us. After I was born, but she was diagnosed with diabetes when she was four, Debbie adopted me as her own live Kewpie doll. She nurtured me well.

After her diagnosis, however, Debbie spent most of her time alone, not feeling up to playing. Debbie seemed to connect closely with the other children she met on her frequent hospital stays, and she managed not to adopt the judgments about people that were characteristic of our church. One deaf little girl, Mo, who was Debbie’s roommate during a particularly long hospital stay, remained a close friend of hers until Debbie died at age 36 from the complications of her disease.

An Old Youngest

I, the youngest child, most closely resemble the profile of an oldest child, with few strong youngest child flavors. Although my natural temperament is gentle and laid back, I donned a type-A personality, placing high expectations on myself and driving myself to accomplish many things that a female with my fundamentalist background doesn’t typically aspire to. I’m more of a leader than a follower, and I have great difficulty with people who try to make my decisions for me.

Like a typical youngest, however, I’m highly creative, am drawn to unconventional and unique ideas and things, and I like new adventures.  People tend to feel safe with me because of my sincerity, authenticity, non-judgment, and confidence. They seem to sense that I practice what I preach, that I deeply care about people, and that I’m serious about making a difference in the world.

I have certainly been conscientious and hard-working to the extreme, but oddly enough, my playfulness sometimes gets me in trouble with more serious types. Play, fun, and humor are some of my highest values—a few of the youngest child characteristics that stuck, and seem to float to the top of my values as I continue to differentiate. While I used to be the guardian of morality in our family, I now only guard my own spirituality—a much less concrete entity.

A Bad Sibling-Position Marriage Match

According to family systems theory, my ex-husband and I married the exact worst match, both of us being youngest children of an older brother and sister. Although I took a leadership role in our nuclear family system because that’s how I’d survived my childhood, I resented that I needed to in my marriage. I had unconsciously anticipated being able to relax into the leadership of the masculine when I got married, expecting my husband to step up to the plate where the men in my family had not. Scott, however, was temperamentally and socially ill-equipped to do so. He much more closely followed the typical sibling profile of a youngest. So I slipped into my familiar role of over-functioning and he into his familiar role of under-functioning, one of the dynamics that eventually led to the failure of our marriage.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how conscientious efforts to heal from childhood wounds and to differentiate can make important differences in how a person chooses a partner.

(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.)

Dating Wisely 1.40: Study Sibling Positions, Part 5

All Things Being Equal

As we’ve discussed typical sibling profiles, I’ve used the phrase “all things being equal” several times because it’s a critical one. There’s infinite variability in a family’s birth order constellation and in the external forces that act upon a family’s development. Each of these variables can have an impact on the development of each child.

Some of the most common variables include:

  • Chronic illness in a family member
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Addiction
  • Divorce
  • Remarriage and blending families
  • Death of a family member
  • Adoption
  • Immigration
  • Frequent moving
  • Parental relationship at time the time the child was conceived and born
  • Number of years between children
  • Gender of the child
  • Age of the child
  • Father-mother-child triangles and other interlocking triangles
  • Genetics and epigenetics

Any one of these factors can significantly impact a family’s expects a child to be in a family and how a child perceives him- or herself. When more than one of these factors occurs either simultaneously or over time, an even greater impact can result.

For Example

Consider, for example, a firstborn female child with two brothers, each two years apart. Given typical personality profiles, one would expect the big sister to be responsible, nurturing and independent. However, let’s say that she comes from a family system that prizes males. In such an environment, she may be treated more like a younger child than an oldest, and she may not develop the typical leadership qualities of an oldest child.

And what if the middle child in this family, the first male child born in a family that prizes males, is expected to take over the family business when he grows up. He may be groomed for his leadership qualities, and may slip easily into that role, especially because he’s the older brother of a younger male.

Mitigating Circumstances

Let’s say, however, that this middle child is killed in a car accident when he’s 12 years old. His 10-year-old brother may get the message (or impression) that he’s supposed to step into his brother’s role. Having been taken care of by his big sister, big brother and his parents, he may feel pressured to fill shoes that don’t fit. Being the more free-spirited youngest, he may rebel against the new expectation, adding more tension to an already tense system. Furthermore, the onset of puberty would undoubtedly play a significant role in how this family deals with the crises of these developments, which may also impact the personality development of the survivors.

Now let’s add more wrinkles to the fabric. What if one of the children is diagnosed with autism? How might this alter how the parents interact with each other and with their other children? How will this alter what expectations each child carries and how they interact in relationships? Or what if younger children immigrate to a new country with their family while the older ones are left with grandparents to finish school in their home country? Or vice versa—the younger ones staying with grandparents and the older ones immigrating? Or what if one parent has an affair and the family disintegrates?

So What?

No family escapes significant stressors that impact each person in the system. The point isn’t to make sure the children are free of any stress that would alter the development of their personality. No family is perfect and no family can stave off the natural blows that come as a result of living on this planet. The idea is to be consciously aware of how these stressors can influence development and to help children to grow solid within them.

By way of example, tomorrow I’ll present how some of these external forces impacted the personality development of my siblings and me.

(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.)


Dating Wisely 1.39: Study Sibling Positions, Part 4

Middle Children

In the last few posts, we’ve been noticing how sibling position plays an important role in personality development, all things being equal. So far, we’ve looked at common profiles of oldest and youngest children. Today let’s look at middle children, only children and twins.

The middle child tends to have a less distinctive identity, and is more difficult to describe. Middle children are simultaneously younger siblings to the ones who came before and older siblings to the ones who came after. Although there are countless variations in the ages, sexes, and number of other siblings, middle children tend to have more of the characteristics of the birth order position that they are closest to. If they are directly in the middle, they will share more of both youngest and oldest profile characteristics. They lack the authority of the oldest and the spontaneity of the youngest, but they become adept in dealing with all kinds of people.

The way the sexes and ages of the siblings are distributed is most important to the personality development of the middle child. A middle boy with an older sister and younger brother will have a different profile than if he had a younger sister and older brother. If all the children are the same gender, the middle child has the greatest disadvantage, as he or she will receive the least attention and have the most need to compete.

Only Children

The only child is perpetually the oldest and youngest child and will have the characteristics of both. More than any other sibling position, the only child picks up the characteristics of the same-sex parent’s sibling position. Only children tend to demand a lot from life and are usually successful. However, never having lived with a peer, living with a partner presents unique challenges.

The male only child tends to be more favored than the female only child, and he tends to expect life to favor him. He tends to be a loner, and for a mate, can take or leave just about any woman, expecting her to make life easier for him without giving her much in return. The youngest or middle sister of brothers is his best match, since he would have been an oldest brother had there been other children. Another only child would be the worst match, as both would struggle with the unfamiliarity of a close peer, opposite sex relationship.

The female only child often feels she is special, craving approval and adoration. She is both mature for her age and perpetually childish. The least contentious match for her would be flexible, easy-going and good-natured, able to cope with her capriciousness and her tendency to test his love. An older man is usually best, and his birth order position is irrelevant since the female only child had no sibling peers. Like the male only child, another only child would be the most difficult match for the female only child.


Twins present a unique sibling configuration. If there are no other children in the family, twins will act like two siblings of whatever gender they are, without the age conflict. They’ll have the characteristics of the youngest and oldest of their gender. When other children are present, both will have more characteristics of the birth position they share. They tend to act as a team, and sometimes find it difficult to leave each other to marry, and when they do, they often marry twins.

I’ve used the phrase “all things being equal” several times. Tomorrow we’ll look at some factors that can skew the development of typical birth order profiles.

(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.)

Dating Wisely 1.38: Study Sibling Positions, Part 3

Youngest Children

For the last couple posts, we’ve been looking at how sibling position plays a significant role in shaping our personalities. All things being equal, individuals born into particular positions in their families share characteristics with others who were also born into that position. Yesterday, we looked at common characteristics of many oldest children. Today we’ll look at common characteristics of many youngest children.

The youngest child gets lots of attention because everyone else in the family feels some responsibility for taking care of the youngest, who learns to expect good things from life. Youngest children tend to have fewer expectations placed upon them, and as a result tend to achieve less. They also tend to depend on others to make their decisions for them. They tend to be more creative, less conventional, and more adventurous than their older siblings. They’re more likely to be followers than leaders, and tend to be sociable, easy-going and popular.

Baby Sister

The youngest sister of sisters often acts the youngest all her life, and can play the feminine role to the hilt. Her best-matched mate is usually the oldest brother of sisters who can handle her manipulations. Her poorest choice would be the youngest brother of brothers since neither would nurture the other very well, and since neither is used to opposite sex peers.

The youngest sister of brothers is usually congenial, optimistic, attractive and fun-loving. She is fond of men, and will consider her husband her prized possession, while still having several male friends or mentors besides her husband. Her best marriage match is the oldest brother of sisters. The youngest brother of brothers is usually her worst match since they’ll both want to be taken care of, with little patience for gender differences.

Baby Brother

The youngest brother of brothers is daring, headstrong, capricious, unpredictable, and often rebellious. He doesn’t like losing, leaves if things aren’t going well, but can be carefree and good-natured when there is little stress. He’s usually shy with women, so the oldest sister of brothers is his best match, especially if she’s maternal. The most difficult match would be with the youngest sister of sisters, because neither would want to run the household.

The youngest brother of sisters is usually taken care of by women all his life. As a boy, he was likely doted on simply because of his gender (surveys indicate most parents want a boy), so he expects to expend limited efforts to achieve what he wants. He is best matched with the oldest sister of brothers, who is good at taking care of men.

So What?

As we mentioned previously, these profiles are descriptive, not prescriptive, but if you study the sibling positions in your family of origin and in previous generations (such as the families your parents’ grew up in), I bet you’ll find that these broader categories generally hold true.

Given that partners tend to match best when their respective sibling positions most closely reflect the sibling positions they held as they were growing up, you might even make some sense about why you and your partner seem (in)compatible. If your sibling profiles compliment your relationship, be grateful! If they clash, perhaps understanding sibling position personality traits can help you work more effectively as a team, rather than provide you with endless reasons to fight.

Tomorrow we’ll look at common profiles of middle children, only children and twins.

(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.)


Dating Wisely 1.37: Study Sibling Positions, Part 2

Descriptive, not Prescriptive Profiles

Yesterday we’ve began discussing the reality that the way we think about ourselves and others starts with how our family members relate to us as males or females, and as first, middle or last born. There’s an infinite number of combinations of birth order positions, depending on the number of siblings, their gender and their relative ages, but all things being equal, there are some distinct patterns that can help us understand common personality profiles. Today, we’ll zero in on oldest children.

Let’s start with noting a couple caveats, however. First, if there are more than five years between siblings, each will be more like an only child. When there are large gaps between siblings, sub-groups will form, with the individuals in the sub-group developing the characteristics of the position they occupy within that group. The smaller the age difference between siblings, the more they influence each other.

Second, the profiles of each position are descriptive, not prescriptive. No one fits his or her birth order profile exactly because there are many other family variables that modify these characteristics, but the typical patterns can help you identify the possible origins of some aspects of your personality, the personality of your mate, and those of other loved ones, too. It’s particularly helpful to see how the mix of your partner’s and your birth order positions may affect your relationship. All things being equal, matches usually work best when birth order and gender order are well matched, meaning that the couple most nearly duplicates the age and gender arrangements both were used to as children.

Oldest Children

We aren’t always attracted to someone with whom we are well-matched in birth order position, however. For example, two oldest children may enjoy the kindred spirit they share and the common burdens and frustrations they carry, but when they are living together, they may constantly battle over who’s boss.

Oldest children tend to have many parental qualities; they can be nurturing and can often handle responsibility well and assume leadership roles, along with the tension and seriousness that comes with responsibility. They are typically conscientious and hard-working, although they have difficulty accepting criticism. They often grow up guarding the status quo, preserving family traditions and morality. If the siblings that follow are of the same gender, these characteristics will tend to be intensified, but they will moderate if the younger siblings are of the opposite gender.

Big Sister

An oldest sister of sisters is usually bright, strong, independent, well-organized, domineering, self-confident, outgoing, and opinionated. Her best match is with the youngest brother of sisters, who is used to having a stronger woman in his life. The oldest brother of brothers is the worst match because both tend to want to be in charge.

The oldest sister of brothers is also strong and independent, and men are often the most important thing in her world. Her best choice of mate is the youngest brother of sisters, because that’s the arrangement both are used to. Her poorest match is the oldest brother of brothers, due to the power struggles that typically ensue.

Big Brother

The oldest brother of brothers is usually the boss, and likes to be in charge of all aspects of his life. He is successful, gets along well with others, but isn’t on intimate terms with anyone. He likes to be mothered, expects a lot, but usually gives little. His best match is the youngest sister of brothers, or an oldest sister of brothers since she will be maternal. The worst match would be with the oldest sister of sisters, due to ranking issues.

The oldest brother of sisters is more easygoing then the oldest brother of brothers. He is fond of women and is considerate of them. He is best matched with the youngest sister of brothers, which duplicates the position he was in as a child. The oldest sister of sisters is the most difficult match, although he could make it work since he’s good at pleasing females. Whomever he chooses, his wife is usually more important to him than his children, though he’s a good father, as well—concerned but not overly strict.

So that’s a start on typical birth order profiles. Tomorrow we’ll look at youngest children.

(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.)