Sibling rivalry is pretty normal behaviour. Sisters and brothers squabble and compete for attention, even when they’re grown up. If you can prevent conflict from causing a total communication breakdown, a sibling relationship can provide you with positive spin-offs. An opportunity to become aware of someone else’s needs, it serves as valuable training for other relationships in adulthood, and, by highlighting the differences between you, can help each sibling develop a strong sense of self.

Although they do their best, parents, sadly, aren’t perfect. One of your parents may unconsciously favour one sibling, perhaps reflecting his or her own experience of growing up. For instance, if your mother felt replaced by the arrival of her younger sister, she might compensate for the loss she’s felt ever since by giving her eldest daughter more love and attention. It’s not fair, but it’s life.

In an ideal family scenario, siblings aren’t compared or favoured but are encouraged to be friends. That said, basic personality differences can make it hard for two siblings to build a close bond. If you basically don’t like your sibling as a person, it’s difficult to develop a meaningful relationship.



Being labelled from an early age – as, say, ‘the clever one’, ‘the good-looking one’, ‘the rebellious one’ or ‘the reliable one’ – can become a source of tension between siblings. The problem with a family label is that, unless you make a specific point of either dropping it or creating a new one for yourself, it tends to stick. And, even though you might have shrugged off your family label in every other facet of your life, the minute you’re in the same room as your siblings or parents, you’re in danger of clicking back into your old role – with disastrous results.

A common destructive pattern in family behaviour is ‘scapegoating’. When a particular sibling – usually the ‘naughty’ one – is stuck in the role of family scapegoat, constantly accused of various wrongdoings, he or she may actually end up committing those exact crimes for which he or she was always blamed! Siblings may also project their own shortcomings or unpleasant thoughts onto the scapegoat: to feel better about themselves, they attack in their brother or sister the very things they don’t like about themselves.


Yes, there’s hope! Reassuringly, brothers and sisters who were always at each other’s throats during adolescence – a time when we tend to fight with our siblings over personal space, and struggle to establish our individual identities – often grow up to form meaningful relationships with each other. But it hinges on the proviso that each sibling is settled comfortably into a separate life and identity.

To Do

1. Take responsibility

Old behaviour patterns can be broken – if you’re willing to take the initiative. Don’t see yourself solely as a victim of circumstance. You have to take responsibility for your relationship with your sister or brother.

2. Make sure you understand the situation

Check through your family history to see whether the same issue has cropped up before, perhaps in another generation of another branch of the family, and decide what changes need to be made for the problem to erupt less often.

3. Ask yourself, ‘How are my attitude and actions contributing to the problem?’ For instance, living up to your stereotype as the responsible one by bailing your sister out of financial problems or volunteering to do her laundry, means you’ll only reinforce a negative pattern.

4. Be aware of the way you phrase your thoughts when talking to, emailing or texting your sibling, and avoid an accusatory or aggressive tone.

5. If you’ve been living in the shadow of an older sister or brother who’s been your role model throughout life, focus on developing a sense of your individuality and becoming an independent person with your own initiative.

6. No matter how radically your brother or sister’s views on life differ from yours, learn to respect your sibling and his or her chosen lifestyle without trying to emulate or control it. Often, sisters and brothers feel they have a right to pass judgment on or interfere with their sibling’s life simply because they’re family. This is potentially disastrous, as it fuels resentment and hostility.

7. With patience, respect and sensitivity, some of the knottiest sibling relationships can be smoothed out – but not all. Sometimes your best coping strategy is to accept that the two of you will never understand each other, take a deep breath, and move on. But if you haven’t yet reached this point, work on communicating effectively with your brother or sister. It’s worth the effort.