First-born child syndrome

gumbosoupNovember 18, 2008

Hi there, this is not exactly the right forum to pose this question, but there is no "Siblings" or general "Family" forum, so I chose this one. I imagine many of you have experienced this issues firsthand with your own children or siblings, so I hope you can help.

My older brother (age 35) has what I guess is called "first-born child syndrome". HereÂs a good description of him (from an article I found on the web):

"The other side of the coin is the compliant firstborn, Âmodel children who grew up to be pleasers of othersÂ. Compliant first borns are well known for taking it and being walked on by a world that loves to take advantage of them. They are also known for nursing their resentments quietly, and then venting with one grand explosion."

My brother is a great guy. Always willing to help people, responsible, caring, they typical "dutiful" son. But this causes problems because he carries a lot of resentment. He always feels he has to make the responsible choice, says yes even when he should say no, and has become oversensitive because of it. He has difficulty accepting apologies from people who have hurt him. He has difficulty letting things go. Also, he continues to try to do what he feels is the right thing even when he doesnÂt want to, and this causes him further problems. For example, heÂll ask my parents advice on an important decision because he feels he should, then the next day do the exact opposite thing because heÂs already made his mind up. Which is fine  heÂs 35 after all! But then my parents get upset. They would rather he didnÂt ask if he didnÂt care for the advice. (It's not like they expect him to TAKE every piece of advice they give, but if heÂs asking, they expect him to at least consider it. I think thatÂs fair).

I am 33, the middle child and only girl. I get along really well with everyone in my family. Our younger brother (22) came after a very big gap. He has a great relationship with me and our parents. The problem is between the two brothers. Older one resents younger one to no end, because my parents were so slack with him in comparison. I understand the frustration with that, but our younger brother is an adult now, and a good guy (a very good guy, in fact). But older brother cannot relate to him and still chides him on not having his "life figured out yet". I feel my older brother, who used to be a really fun guy growing up, is getting more and more bitter as he grows older. I feel sorry for him. I wish he could loosen up.

For anyone who can relate to this, how can I help him? My younger brother has never known the fun older brother, the one who used to sneak me into parties or cover for me when I went out with my friends. And I feel my older brother has forgotten that part of himself. In trying always to please others, he has lost a part of himself.

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There you go, being the middle child, trying to make peace between the other family members. ;o) I tease, I'm sorry.

I don't think it's your job to help them. Other than to be respectful of any feelings that exist, be fair and kind, don't choose sides. Otherwise, they will have to grow, mature, and make their own solutions. It's not your job to identify your brother's "issues" and provide a solution. If he hasn't asked for your input, he isn't looking for it, and won't be open to it if you offer it anyway.

And I don't think it does any good to try to analyze it as a first child syndrome or anything else. Both your brothers are individuals, not a syndrome, and think, feel, and behave as only themselves.

I am a first born, and I probably have a stronger sense of resonsibility than my younger brother, and for my younger cousins. I am "supposed" to set a good example and be independent. For the most part, I do that. Some people would say that's the first-born nature in me, some would say that's the Virgo in me... it just doesn't matter. It's me, my strenth and my weakness.

From what you say, it sounds like your family has a strong foundation of love for each other. I'd bet it's strong enough to work through this naturally without pushing it.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2008 at 12:05AM
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Haha! Yes, middle-child syndrome. Actually you might think from my post that I'm a big believer in the birth order thing, but not so much. I think it has some merit, but it's not the be-all and end-all. But in this case, my brother actually says stuff like "I was the oldest, so I had to do everything right" "He was the baby, he got away with murder". So, apparently it's an issue in his mind!

Thanks for your advice. Maybe it isn't what I wanted to hear, but maybe it's what I needed to hear. You're right that he probably wouldn't be open to my advice since he hasn't asked for it. I guess...I am not so overly concerned about the relationship between my two brothers. I do agree that that will probably work itself out as they get older. I just wish I could get him to let go of the "responsibility burden" that he still carries around. I will make a decision and forget about it; he will make a decision and agonize over whether it was the right one (as in, the good, fair, responsible thing to do). He puts undue pressure on himself and it breaks my heart because he's such a good guy. I encourage him not to let things get to him, but it seems so ingrained now that it's hard to get through to him. I guess I am hoping to hear from other people who might feel the same as him. So I can see if there's anything I can do to help him see things differently.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2008 at 9:50AM
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I'm 58, and a firstborn. Your description fits me to a T. I've always been the one to be there for everyone else--even when it meant I had to sacrifice.

You cannot change him. No one can change or 'help' someone else unless THEY recognize their own problems and WANT to change themselves.

I will say this, just in the past few months, my eyes have been opened wide. As I said, I've always been the one who everyone could count on--can't tell you how many people I've helped move, or babysat their children, or helped with home repairs, or cooked for or...... you get the picture. And for the last 12 years, I took full charge of taking care of my mother--while all my siblings were able to go on with their jobs, their everyday lives, etc and I worried, did the dr's runs, addressed health issues, etc. Well, I happen to be in the position of needing a little help right now. Asked a favor that would have take only a morning out of sis's life--she flat out refused, and then DENIED that I'd helped her move twice (I definitely did, and was even PREGNANT the move she's apparently conveniently forgotten about).

Well, no more. I've been pushed to the limit. But no one could get me to that point. Heaven knows, my poor husband has tried and tried for years to get me to stop feeling responsible for the world (or at least my family). Right now, I'm living life for me. It's my time, and I'm enjoying my newfound freedom from taking on the responsibility for the entire family. But he's not going to get to that point until HE gets there--if you get what I mean.

Just care about him, and be very careful that YOU don't fall into the trap of taking him and his help for granted.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2008 at 4:30PM
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Azzalea, thank you for sharing your story. I'm sorry to hear how you've been taken advantage of, especially by your own siblings! That is exactly what I don't want for my brother. He's such a good guy and I love him very much. It hurts me that he carries this burden around. But, I guess you and Stephanie are right, there's nothing I can do except provide support and encouragement. I hope that he will "see the light" as you did, soon!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2008 at 10:13AM
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First borns are generally laboring under the burden of having to fulfill all the parent's dreams.
They are expected to be the best and generally step up to that challenge.
In some homes they are also given much responsibility for siblings which is not exactly fair.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 7:54AM
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