Celeste Owens
Psychologist

Celeste Owens

A motivational speaker and licensed psychologist with a PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.

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Competition starts early

Q: Is the success of a sibling a blessing or a curse? Last week Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo acknowledged that it hasn't been easy to be the half brother of President Barack Obama. How difficult is it to live with the success of a brother or a sister, even if they aren't famous?

Eighty percent of Americans have at least one brother or sister. Statistics even suggest that one is more likely to grow up with a sibling than a father. Therefore the opportunities for siblings to affect one another in both positive and negative ways are great.

Competition between siblings, also known as sibling rivalry, can occur very early in the life of a family. It typically starts with children seeking affection, approval, and acceptance from their parents. Left unchecked it becomes the foundation from which siblings interact for the duration of the relationship.

I am the eldest of eight. Both my father and mother were raised in environments that were less than ideal.They were determined their family would be different.

In following that idea, they came up with some pretty ingenious ways of reducing sibling rivalry. One such technique was to inundate us with messages such as "siblings don't fight," "siblings love one another," and "we don't love one of you more than the other."

If that didn't work and we were still unloving or fought, they did the unthinkable: the dreaded alone-time technique. This would require the dueling siblings to spend at least 15 minutes together without the company of the rest of the family. When that time had ended they would ask the two to hug and say "I love you." Where was Child Protective Services when you need them?

Sibling rivalry is as old as time. One of the oldest recorded stories told regarding sibling rivalry is that of Cain and Abel as depicted in the Bible. Abel, a gentle and hardworking shepherd was successful at getting God to accept his sacrifices while his older brother Cain, selfish and lazy, received no such acceptance. Cain in his anger killed Abel. Now that is sibling rivalry at its worst.

Thankfully most rivalry between siblings is far less toxic. In fact, healthy competition between siblings can be harmless and a source of motivation. A sibling's success can even inspire us to be better and to complete some of the tasks that we have neglected. Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo was quoted as saying that the election of his brother President Obama "peeled away some of hardness" that he had toward their biological father. He also stated that he was proud to be an Obama once again and found the drive to complete his book.

Today my siblings are supportive of my success as I am of theirs. Do we have conflict? Absolutely. Are we sometimes envious of another's success? Yes -- but not for long. The foundation for healthy acceptance of self and others was laid many years ago and we have learned that if one can succeed, so can another.

By Celeste Owens  |  November 9, 2009; 1:55 PM ET  | Category:  shadow of success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I totally agree with the idea of sibling motivation. I am the third of nine children who set aside our Monday nights to get together on the phone to pray, talk and encourage each other. I can truly say that it has strengthened our relationships and increased my confidence in facing any challenge I encounter.

Posted by: Hismusician | November 11, 2009 1:44 PM
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Great article. I agree with the point that parents have to instill the culture of a loving and forgiving family. I believe a lot of people think siblings just love and care about each other automatically, but I believe practice makes perfect.

Posted by: rometap | November 10, 2009 5:21 PM
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