Sibling Rivalry > Readers' Letters - 1
[Letters in Spanish]

Sibling Rivalry - Is it really that important? - News reporter's questions.

No siblings, no rivalry?

Is all power abuse of power?

Aspects of legal interest.

Adult sibling rivalry.

Are there documented cases of the psychological effects of birth spacing?

Does sibling rivalry in infancy promote later success in life?

No siblings, no rivalry?

Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 14:50:20
From:  Sarah
To: William Boyle
Subject: No siblings, no rivalry


Your article makes me not want to have any more children besides the one that I have due to the large disservice towards the second child.

On a professional level, your article was great.

Thank You


Date: Fri, 01 Nov 2002 10:27:00 -0500
From: William Boyle
To: Sarah
Subject: No siblings, no rivalry?

Hello Sarah:

Thank you for your message.

I am sorry that you may be inclined to not have additional brothers or sisters for your child - sibling love may be the most enduring one that any one of us experiences, longer and less demanding than that of our parents, children or spouse - a source of solace and strength during our periods of trial - and siblings are those with which we most naturally share any of our small or large triumphs.

My essay was meant to try to shed some light on the situations that may transform this bounty into a burden - and also to show that we all live with the effects of sibling rivalry, even if we don’t have siblings - again, the only easy solution to some problems is to not let them get started in the first place -

Please let me know if you have any additional comments or questions.

With best regards,

William Antonio Boyle, Ph.D.

"Information is the negative of entropy." - Claude Shannon, 1948.

Is all power abuse of power?

Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2002 16:55:32
From:  Steve
To: William Boyle
Subject: All power is abuse of power

All power is abuse of power.


Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2002 09:38:24
From: William Boyle
To: Steve
Subject: Is all power abuse of power?

Hello Steve:

Thank you for your message.

Is all power abuse of power?

In some social or family situations, it may well seem that way.

But, how power is used depends on who has the power and how they use it - the simple and infantile way to use it (abuse) is to maintain this power through terror (i.e., if you don't obey me, I will cause terrible things to happen to you) - in the long run, this benefits no one.

Power without knowledge is dangerous, e.g., like a child with a gun or a stick of dynamite - or like a child without adequate responsible supervision.

Power without ethics is evil - it submerges the social or family group where this power is being used into a situation of escalating misery and pain - the only easy solution is to not let this kind of situation begin in the first place.

Every day brings each one of us large or small opportunities to choose to be like Cain - or to choose not.

(Logically, this also means that every day we need to be prepared for others to be like Cain towards us - or to try to seduce us to help them be like Cain).

Please read again what I have to say about abuse of power.

I hope this helps.

With my best wishes,

William Antonio Boyle, Ph.D.

Aspects of legal interest.

Date: Wed, 1 Aug 2001 2001-08-01 00:08:55
From:  Axel
To: William Boyle
Subject: Aspects of legal interest.


This is a very interesting essay - you certainly present some important ideas.

I am a law student, and I'd like your permission to publish parts of your essay in our student newspaper.

Thank you.


Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2001 00:32:47 -0400 (EDT)
From: William Boyle
To: Axel
Subject: Aspects of legal interest.

Hello Axel:

Thank you for your message.

As long as you cite the source, you are certainly welcome to reprint parts of my essay (or the whole essay!) in your student newspaper.

I believe that the parts of my essay that would be of the most interest to law students are the one on "Abuse of power," and the ones on "What the community can do," on "The trascendental social importance of sibling rivalry," as well as the one on "The human mental structure," in which I am in essence simply restating Gunther Stent's model of the human mind (Gunther Stent is a scientist and structuralist philosopher).

I would be very interested in the opinions (if any) of your fellow students and instructors.

I also believe that the definition for "Abuse of power" that I present is an original one, although it owes much to Immanuel Kant's precept that any human being has a right to respect because innately and inalienably each one of us posseses "dignity," (i.e., infinite intrinsic value), and to the Jainist concept that the highest moral principle is "To not harm anyone" (Jainism is an ancient philosophical and religious tradition in India).

However, these concepts of Kant and of Jainism do not explain the propensity so many of us have to be disrespectful to, or to actually cause harm, to one another - this is where, I believe, my concept is of value as it proposes a mechanism or sequence for the origin of this propensity - and a mechanism implies possible ways to control and avoid these situations.

With my best wishes,

William Antonio Boyle, Ph.D.


"All human thought and communication is in terms of models, i.e., structural abstractions of reality.
A model is not physical reality, but a good model can help us understand and utilize that aspect of reality."

Adult sibling rivalry.

Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2000 12:16:03 -0500
From:  M.H., Chicago, Illinois
To: William Boyle
Subject: My nieces' sibling rivalry

Dear Dr. Boyle:

I read with great interest your article on sibling rivalry and have a few questions.  The article seemed to reflect that sibling rivalry begins when the children are very young and continues while the children are growing up.  My nieces (3 years apart, Josie is 26, and Melinda is 29) were extremely close as children.  They did everything together.  Then, when Melinda, the oldest, was about 16 she developed the normal teen behavior of going out with their friends and dating which meant she wasn't at home a lot.   When Josie  turned 16, my mother became very ill and Josie joined in with the family (her mother and myself) to take care of her.  She helped caring for our mother until she died in July of 1999.  Melinda and Josie's father is an alcoholic.    However, he did not abuse the girls in any way  - except perhaps verbally (sometimes calling them "idiots" and swearing a lot).  Luckily his job took him away from home most of the time. My sister divorced him 2 years ago.

Since the time Melinda was 13-16, my nieces began to grow apart.  They didn't do things together and Melinda didn't want Josie hanging around her and her friends.  Melinda moved out when she was 19, married shortly after that and had 2 children (2 girls, 3 years apart).  It has gotten to the point where Melinda will not make eye contact with Josie, and will not even answer a simple  question from Josie,  like, "Would you like some coffee?"  Everyone in the family has seen this.

Melinda has approached her mother and myself, relating stories of things that never happened the way she remembers them (according to Josie) accusing Josie of all sorts of things.  The story that comes up the most often is that nobody loves her (this alternates between me, her mother, and Josie).  Melinda would come to me and say, "Mom doesn't love me."  To her mom, she'd say, "Aunt Marion doesn't love me."

But the situation always comes back to Josie.  Melinda keeps saying that Josie is not a "good" enough sister or aunt to her children, that Josie got more things while growing up, that Josie never had to get a "real" job, that the family "likes" Josie better - and so on.

Josie says she's tried talking to her sister about this several times and it always culminates Melinda rehashing past history (again, things that didn't happen the way she remembers them) and she avoids the topic by running circles around it or hanging up the phone or walking away.

Josie says it gets so bad sometimes that she just wants to sit down and cry.  Josie says she has had to make it an artform, staying away from Melinda, just so she can stay calm.

The family has bent over backwards to accommodate Melinda.  I was once very close to Melinda - BUT her attitude is if you don't do as she wants when she wants it, then she puts you on her "list."  For many years Melinda has tried to play my sister (her mother) and me against each other.  About 2 years ago she called me to tell my that her mother did not love her because she (her mom)  would not go to a 4th of July party at Melinda's in laws.  Well, I finally had or tried to have a heart-to-heart talk with her.  She ended up hanging up on me several times.  I would not let it go and kept calling her, finally I drove over to discuss it several days later and she acted like it'd never happened.

I am VERY close to my niece Josie.  The road that she, my sister (12 years older than myself) and I have traveled has brought us closer.  For 10 years we were mother, caregiver, and friend to my mom, Josie's grandmother.  Melinda was never around!  She doesn't like sick old people and appears to be afraid of growing old!  When my mom died July of '99, I asked my sister, Frances, to call Melinda to see her grandma one last time. Melinda seldom came to see her.  Anyway, Melinda did come, and mom went very peaceful, the room was full of love and adoration for a very sweet, gentle, kind woman.  She passed away with a smile on her face.  Even in her death she taught us a lesson of love and compassion that I shall never forget.  But did Melinda enter the group as we were hugging and crying?  No, she backed away.

Just to let you know, when the girls were little, it was Melinda that was doted on by the whole family (she was the first grandchild on our side of the family, and also on her father's side).  Melinda was treated like a little princess.  She was very excited and wanted to hold and help when Josie was born.  But when Melinda hit those dreaded teenage years (we've all been through them), then she wanted no part of the family.  She moved out and lived with Robert, her boyfriend, and decided to get married.  We all went to Vegas to see her get married (including our mother who at the time was in the beginning of her illness.  Thank God my husband stayed at home with our son so I could take mom to Vegas).  Melinda would have felt we didn't "love" her if we didn't all go to Vegas.

She dropped the news that she was  pregnant right after the ceremony in the middle of the restaurant - in front of total strangers (her husband's family already knew).  Melinda'd had plenty of time to tell us but didn't.  We would NOT have "shunned" her.  I would have told her that she didn't have to get married to have this baby.  We would have helped and supported her in any way we could.  But my sister took it very hard (she kept it together and hugged Melinda, but we left the restaurant immediately.  In the end Melinda lost that baby and, as she said to me when we got back, she HAD to get pregnant again to "prove" that she was a woman (her words - NOT mine).

Both Melinda and her husband, Robert, feel that they need a baby BOY for some reason.  When she was pregnant with her second girl, they were both upset that it wasn't a boy.  Robert was at our home, and in front of our then 10-year old son, said, "Well I guess you heard the news, it's NOT a boy.  My reply was as long as both the baby and Melinda were healthy, then that's all that matters. Robert's next words were, "Well, isn't that why you stopped?"  I replied: "No!"  Anyway, Melinda and Robert feel unfulfilled by not having a son.  She feels less than a "woman" for not bearing a son!  We as a family try and support both of them as much as we can without compromising our own beliefs and relationships.

I know this probably doesn't make much sense, but Melinda feels not loved by anyone unless you do as she asks, when she asks.  "Prove that you love me" by doing whatever she asks you to do.  She has said this on MANY occasions.   We all support her and are there whenever she needs us.  But at times we all feel like doormats.  I have tried to talk to her and tell her how much she means to me and my own family.  She is constantly upset that Josie chose her own path, yes, very different from Melinda's.  I have tried to explain that not all people want to get married and have children, that my husband and I waited 8 years before we decided to start our own family.  That just because people don't always agree with her, that doesn't mean we don't love her.

Melinda has gone to therapy (I don't know if that means therapist or a counselor at her church) and says she is "much better" now.  In a letter she wrote to her mother, Melinda says she's just coming to terms with having an alcoholic father and realizing she has no self esteem and feels she has no worth (that she's not interesting enough, has nothing intelligent to say, etc), and what a horrible childhood she had.  Melinda also says she went into a deep depression after the birth of her second girl, who now is three years old.

Anyway, Melinda and I are not very close anymore.  I try calling her, but it's as if I'm intruding.  Her oldest daughter (6 years old) is my Goddaughter - I try to see her as often as I can - when Melinda will let me.

Do you have any advice on how to handle the situation when the rivalry gets to this point?  Holidays are a nightmare.  Melinda ignores Josie all the time, something I told my sister I find hard to tolerate in my own home.

I've seen lots of books on sibling rivalry that deal with extremely young children, but nothing about ADULT sibling rivalry and how Josie can deal with this situation.

Any assistance you could provide would be greatly appreciated.


Chicago, IL

Date: Wed, 2 Aug 2000 10:31:36 -0400 (EDT)
From: William Boyle
To: M.H., Chicago, Illinois
Subject: Nieces' sibling rivalry.

Dear Ms. M.H.:

Thank you for your very informative message.

If what I think is happening is indeed the case, then there is relatively little that your younger niece, Josie, can do directly to resolve the issue (except more or less accept the situation as it is), if Melinda is not willing to change, as the problem appears to originate with Melinda and her behavior towards Josie.

HOWEVER there is a LOT that YOU and your sister can do, if you two were the primary caregivers to your nieces when they were little.

So, would you be willing to try what I suggest, and enlist the cooperation of your sister?

After all, it is YOUR family, and if it succeeds, it will bring you all closer and make you all stronger, both as individuals and as a family.

Remember, when a child of yours does something bad, you have to reject and condemn the child's BEHAVIOR, but you should not stop loving that child - And each of us, inside, keeps on being the child we once were, with that child's endearing as well as irritating characteristics.

OK.  What appears to be happening is that Melinda is living again what she went through as a three-year old, when Josie was born - being VERY afraid that the family was going to love the new baby (Josie) more than they loved her.  The little child inside Melinda is very afraid of losing the special affection you and her mother have for her - that you and her mother are going to love Josie more than you love her - and that child is trying to do something about it.  What proves that it is the child inside her that is doing this, are the childish behaviors Melinda has been manifesting (Being rude to her sister at family gatherings, telling stories about how "unworthy" her sister is, fishing for sympathy for herself, etc.). 

The original situation appears to have been handled well - You say that as children Melinda and Josie were friendly and close.  Of course, being three years older than Josie tended to make Melinda fairly confident of her special status within the family.

The problem appears to have begun when the girls reached adolescence - Melinda got married and began her own family, with its own problems and stresses, and Josie matured and began having her own successes in life (that rivaled or even surpassed Melinda's - for example, Josie's valuable help during your mother's long illness).  You and her mother may have begun praising Josie in front of Melinda - the results of this are the situation that you have been living.

So, what can you do now?

Well, if you remember what kinds of things from you gave Melinda special comfort when she was little (hugs, special words of affection, special foods you made for her, other things) you can try to go out of your way to give them to her now - and so should her mother or any other caregivers she had then.  You can also tell her (repeatedly) how special she is to you, and how you'll never stop loving her.

You should not go out of you way to remark on her negative behaviors toward her sister, but you should NOT accept them either, tell her that you also love Josie and that you will not take that from her - as with a small child, do show approval to Melinda when she shows affection for her sister.  Also, make it a point to praise Melinda in front of Josie for Melinda's accomplishments (but make sure it doesn't sound false) - and keep the praises for Josie in front of Melinda to a minimum.

The problem is that Melinda is afraid of being unimportant, and of being unloved.  You (and the family) have to make it clear to Melinda (and to the little child inside Melinda) that you LOVE Melinda, and that Melinda is VERY important to all of you, well, because she's Melinda! - BUT that you also love and cherish Josie because she's JOSIE - and that you will not stand for ANYONE, not even Melinda, trying to take that away from her.  That the family rejoices with each of Melinda's triumphs and accomplishments, and is there to share Melinda's problems and struggles, but that you are ALSO there to share JOSIE's accomplishments, as well as her struggles - that that's an integral part of what being a FAMILY is all about.

Also, you can bring Josie in on this so that she won't suddenly feel left out - but you have to be careful about how you present it to her or eventually to Melinda, so that you are not making them feel like they're being manipulated, or giving them ammunition for later fights.

If this doesn't help the situation (or even if it does) the family may want to consult with a therapist.  But, make sure that it is not just Melinda that goes to the therapist (even in the best of circumstances that will not really solve the problem - it will just make Melinda feel better - and maybe just for a while).  To approach a REAL solution to the problem ALL the family members involved in the situation should consult with that therapist - it is a family problem, so it is the family that should endeavor to discover and then solve the problem.

Also, it might be a good idea to make sure that ALL the family members involved - as well the therapist, have read my little essay on "Sibling Rivalry" - Reading it might make what I am suggesting that you do a little easier to understand.

Also, if you have not previously read it, a book that may be of use to you and your family in finding and selecting a therapist that may be of help to you is  The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck  (See the "Afterword" of this really great book).

Again, if you have not yet read it, I would also recommend that you read The Dark Side of Love; The Positive Role of Our Negative Feelings - Anger, Jealousy and Hate by Jane G. Goldberg.

By the way, I completely agree with you that the thought that somehow a BOY baby is less important or should in any way be cherished less than a GIRL baby is just as silly as the other way around.

However, some peoples' social environments and the way these environments have shaped their mental structures preclude them from perceiving even relatively simple concepts such as this one. And so, we have to waste much of our life energies addressing made-up problems such as these ones, instead of using our energies to solve the many REAL problems we face in our day-to-day lives.

Let me know if you have any further questions.

With my best wishes,

William Antonio Boyle, Ph.D.

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