Sibling Rivalry Past to Present
> 2/28/2006 10:34:05 AM

In Beyond Rivalry, a Hidden World of Sibling Violence Katy Butler examines the effects of the seemingly innocuous sibling rivalries that often dominate in early childhood.  The question however, is where does "casual, intimate violence" turn into "a form of repeated, inescapable and emotionally damaging abuse?" 

Butler sites a new study from the journal Child Maltreatment, which contains a new survey of a nationally representative sample of children.  Researchers found that "14 percent of the children were repeatedly attacked by a sibling; 4.55 percent were hit hard enough to sustain injuries like bruises, cuts, chipped teeth and an occasional broken bone; and 2 percent were hit by brothers or sisters wielding rocks, toys, broom handles, shovels and even knives."

This sustained or particularly violent abuse translates into anxiety, depression and other symptoms of trauma.  They can effect a growing child adversely in numerous ways.  The trouble is that very often parents who witness these types of behaviors brush them off as "part of growing up" or "boys will be boys." 

The truth of the matter is that sibling interactions, whether violent or more passive, have a very real effect on the course of our lives.  Butler opens her piece with the story of Daniel Smith, now an adult, who grew up with a persistently abusive brother.  His own mistreatment only ended when he was old enough to fight back and eventually bests his older brother, a moment that he describes:
"I remember feeling like I should have been triumphant and I did feel some of that, but I also felt scared and confused," he said. "It was a rite of passage for me. I'd accomplished something and become my own person."

Drs. Bill and Mada Hapworth wrote a book about where these feelings of fright and confusion often lead us when we grow up.  Mom Loved You Best: Sibling Rivalry Lasts a Lifetime analyzes the ways in which our sibling relationships shape our adult lives and how we can grow and heal by examining those relationships.  The doctors explain that siblings' effects need not even be a result of physical violence.
Your siblings can usually trigger your tactical stance quicker than anyone else.  After all, who knows your well-protected secrets better than they?  In fact they are experts at setting you up... Maybe they say in a critical tone, "Don't get temperamental on us," when you are known as "the emotional one" in the family.  Or perhaps your brother starts talking about something else in the middle of your story about your harrowing trip to the airport, and you feel a lack of respect, just as you did when you were kids.

As the book makes clear, and Butler notes as well, the relationships that we have with our siblings are as varied as they are rich in texture and subtext.  This can make for highly rewarding, loving relationships.  But it can also set people up for pain and rejection on a scale that can be matched by few other people.  As with other people in your life, coming to terms with your siblings during adulthood is important.  At the same time however, parents need to do their part during childhood to prevent abusive (physically as well as emotionally) siblings.  The bond that we share with our brothers and sisters is one of the most unique that we'll ever form.  A loving family network, one that includes our siblings, can set us up for a healthy successful life. 

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