Study Sibling Positions

We’ve been considering how dynamics in your family history for generations before you filters down to you and impacts your love life. We’ve noticed that if you want to date wisely, making a study of your self and of the family system of which you’re a part can be tremendously enlightening and useful. Bringing the unconscious patterns up to the surface can lead to choices that save you lots of pain down the road.

So this brings us to Dating Wisely Concept #12: Study Sibling Positions. It might seem strange to consider that the order in which you and your siblings were born contributes to the success or failure of your date/mate selections. It might seem even stranger to consider that the sibling positions of your parents and those of your date/mate and his or her parents also play a role.

There’s Comfort in Familiarity

In working with thousands of families, however, Psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen found that a person is less likely to divorce if partners’ respective sibling positions are similar to the sibling positions in which they grew up. In other words, we do better in situations that feel familiar.

For example, an oldest brother of sisters would be most comfortable with a wife who had older brothers; an oldest sister of brothers would be best matched with a younger brother of sisters. These matches put them in positions they’re both most comfortable with. On the other hand, two oldest children paired together would tend to vie for power, and two youngest children would conflict about who gets to lean on whom.

Common Sibling Positions

Of course there are many other variables in the formation of our personalities, but all things being equal (which they never are completely), children of different families who share the same position in a birth order line-up tend to develop similar characteristics.

Here are the sibling positions Bowen studied:

  1. Oldest sister of sisters
  2. Oldest sister of brothers
  3. Oldest brother of brothers
  4. Oldest brother of sisters
  5. Youngest sister of sisters
  6. Youngest sister of brothers
  7. Youngest brother of brothers
  8. Youngest brother of sisters
  9. Middle children
  10. Male only children
  11. Female only children
  12. Twins

Birth Order and Family Projection

Sometimes a child’s position in the sibling line-up marks him or her for the family projection process, which is one of those variables that prevents all things from being equal. But combining your study of sibling position, the family projection process, and the multigenerational transmission process may help you identify and make sense of patterns that you never saw before in yourself and in your family system.

Personality Profiles and Family Level of Differentiation

The degree to which an individual’s personality fits the profile of his or her sibling position provides a way to understand the level of differentiation and the direction of the projection process from generation to generation. For example, if an oldest child fits the typical profile of an oldest child (calm and responsible), it is good evidence of a decent level of family differentiation. If, however, an oldest child turns out to have the profile of a youngest child, that is strong evidence that s/he was the most triangled child in a poorly differentiated system. If a child shares some of the characteristics of the appropriate sibling position profile but some of other profiles, too, that is strong evidence of a moderate level of undifferentiation.

Bowen’s work with families led him to believe that no single piece of data was more important than knowing the sibling position of people in the present and past generations as a way to predict how individuals would handle the mix of their own sibling positions in their families of origin, and how partners would handle their efforts when they found themselves in therapy.

Over the next several posts, we’ll take a look at some typical profiles of the sibling positions Bowen studied, so that you can begin to make a study of your own position in your family relative to your siblings, your parents, and your parents’ respective sibling positions in their own families of origin. Then we’ll look at some examples that illustrate how all of this is relevant to your love life.

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