When Habitual Responses Clash…

Sibling birth order discussions are sometimes quite intense between those who believe it is an issue of how the parents react to their children, those who believe it is ingrained in the child themselves, and those who simply don’t believe sibling issues based on birth order are necessarily going to happen in every family.

But, I can tell you that it is often something that happens for some of us.  I am, in many ways, a middle child with some youngest child thrown in.  I was born 4 years after my sister, and 9 years before my brother.  I have, sadly, most often idolized my sister and in many ways attempted to prove that I am “just as good as she is.”

I could be all mystical and woo-woo here if I wanted to be.  As an amateur astrologer (I’ve been studying astrology since the mid-90s), there are some very obvious differences and tendencies that show up not only in my siblings’ charts, but also some of my own. Her being a sun sign of Libra, while I am a Sagittarius, for example makes for an obvious trend for both of us.  She tends to look at all sides of an issue before doing what she thinks is the right thing to do, while I tend to make quicker decisions but based on the principle of justice (which can often make me choose what I see to be “right” but it is different than what she thinks is “right.”)

But woo-woo is not what this post is about.

Developmental psychology can often explain many reasons for why siblings – even if raised in exactly the same way – can clash based on how they deal with the outside world.  And this also means that many of those ingrained habits of childhood (not only the ones inside of us all, but habits we have when dealing with family members), will sometimes come to loggerheads.

In my case, my sister and I have opposing ingrained habits.  While she is not completely conflict-avoidant, she does tend to dither somewhat if there are too many grey areas in relation to a decision.  She will still do what she considers to be the “right thing” but only after looking at it for its moral and ethical underpinnings.

Alternatively, I tend not to be conflict-avoidant unless it involves one of those emotions that are considered “chaotic.” If it is a matter of legal issues, social issues or other issues of justice, I prefer to go with the strict interpretation of what is justice in the case of decision.  And sometimes that means I have to take my lumps for any mistake I make.

But, just because I choose a different path than she, doesn’t mean that she is wrong to take that path.  It has actually helped her in dealings with our father.  Dad can be harsh, aggressive, with an attitude of he’s “always right” (to quote Vin Diesel in the movie “The Pacifier” he often has an attitude of ‘We’re going to do this my way, no highway option.’

Her unwillingness to engage with Dad when he is being unreasonable has allowed her to have a more calm and reasonable relationship with him.  She’s far clearer with her boundaries between the two of them than I have ever been able to be – until more recently.  The why’s and wherefore’s of our arguments have tended to escalate when the issue is about something where his ideas of justice and my ideas of justice clash.  And, being very much similar in many ways, we both become stubborn and insist that we are each respectively “right” about the issue at hand.  Until recently, I couldn’t articulate to him the difference between subjective truth and objective truth.  Talking to him, and admitting something is “MY perspective” takes the attack out of the discussion, and means both of us can be seeing the same truth, but it is colored by our own perspectives. We still may disagree (and we do), but our relationship no longer needs to be necessarily tumultuous.

In this case, I’m not being conflict-avoidant, I’m re-framing the discussion in a less attacking manner which makes it more likely to be a productive discussion.

And there are some things, other than my relationship with Dad that I need to learn how to re-frame so as to not automatically trigger defense mechanisms in others.  Productive discussion is often the only way to get through some major issues.

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Categories: Feminism, Mental Retraining | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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