Watch Out for Sibling Rivalry

“Yesterday, my sister confided the good news to me. She said she and her husband are expecting a baby. I don’t know who deserves this happiness more. But when I heard the news, I couldn’t sincerely rejoice with her. I felt anger inside me, and then came the feeling of guilt.”

When Envy Damages Our Lives

Envy prevents us from rejoicing in the success of other people. It is an emotion that we do not easily notice in ourselves and that quietly devours us. You could also call it unhealthy competition.

Do you feel that the people around you have lives that are easier than yours? Are you constantly haunted by the feeling that you have to achieve certain goals for your life to be fulfilling? Do you sometimes feel that nothing can make you happy?

Envy can settle in our thoughts and show us a distorted image of the world around us. We compare ourselves to others all the time. We want to be better than them. When envy is our constant companion, it can lead us to unhealthy thoughts.

When we recognize that in our minds we are dealing more with others than ourselves, we probably have problems with envy. Deep beneath envy lies fearfear of not being noticed. This can originate from childhood.

Family Dynamics

Parents may inadvertently encourage competition among siblings. They may often ask, “Why did our children grow into such different people when we raised them the same?” 

In the families of “mother’s sons” or “father’s princesses,” other siblings may feel that their brother or sister is more special in certain ways—but they want to be loved by their parents in the same way.

Another example is families with overlooked children. These are usually well-behaved, hardworking kids who do not require special attention from parents. In families with siblings who may need a lot of encouragement and receive praise for any minor successes, the overlooked child longs for praise but may get it very rarely. This can unconsciously breed anger in that child toward their siblings.

In unhealthy relationships between parents, children can become exploited as emotional partners. Because of their emotional wounds from childhood, they may find it harder to build healthy partnerships. They may not even realize what kind of relationships they are building in the family.

Sibling Rivalry in the Bible

Envy between brothers and sisters has been in the world since creation. It appears between Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-12), the first set of siblings mentioned in the Bible.

We also see it in the story of Joseph (Genesis 37:1–50:21). Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery because they feel he is their father’s favorite. 

In the parable of the prodigal son, we recognize the older son as the overlooked child. The younger son is foolish and wastes his father’s possessions, but his father gives him a party when he repents. The older son never causes his father any trouble, but his father does not reward him in the same way (Luke 15: 11-32).

In biblical stories, we can see that envy between siblings never brings a desired result. However, the prodigal son’s father recognizes the plight of both sons. Instead of scolding them for bad deeds, he gives them another chance.

Parents Can Help

How can parents become aware of problems? Watch your children. When you notice constant competition or frequent quarreling between them, let this be a signal that something is wrong.

Before tackling the problem by judging the children or placing blame, ask yourself if you might be contributing in any way to such a family atmosphere. Try to change your behavior, and you will notice changes in your children as well.

Change does not come overnight, especially when problems are multifaceted. But change is always possible. To change the atmosphere in the family, it is necessary that the parents consciously work on the partnership. When dealing with issues in a relationship, we often find that they can be the result of emotional wounds from the past. With time and effort, they can be healed.

You will find it easier to deal with this complex problem with the help of an experienced therapist. The first step to change is certainly to recognize envy among children. Give yourself credit for this realization as a parent who hears the needs of their children, just as God hears your needs.

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