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.)

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