Adult Sibling Rivalry – Healing Old Wounds

Dear M,

I am a woman in my mid 50’s and I thought time would heal an old wound.  It hasn’t.  And now I am not prepared to wait for time to do it.  I haven’t talked to my older brother in a decade. I carry the weight of this in my heart.  And sometimes I feel a tightness and pain in my chest and I think I am having a heart attack. I have been checked by my doctor so many times and I am healthy.  I also get headaches.  I think there is a connection with my symptoms and my feelings. How do I resolve this?  My brother has approached me many times over the last ten years but I am one tough lady and I won’t budge.  I think it is connected to how we were raised.  I admit that I felt jealous as we were growing up.  He was the first born and a son.   He was the prize of the family.  I heard that every day.  I was always getting into trouble. A real challenge they said.  My brother had privileges and opportunities – I had to wait my turn. I feel like my turn never came. Sometimes I go to the phone and call and I hang up before he picks up. Where do I go from here?

Signed,  Scar wars

Dear Scar wars,

It sounds to me that you are tired of being at war with yourself.  The decision of “holding out” is outweighed by your desire for family connection.  It sounds like you have carried a big hurt for a very long time and you are getting ready to repair what feels broken.

It’s a tricky thing…

When we are hurt we have creative and inventive ways to take care of our hurt. Sometimes we hurt or punish others as a way of letting them know how much we hurt.  When we don’t have contact, we tend to fill in the gaps with our own story. And it’s our story – not the story of the other. When we stay stuck in our mind, our bodies “speak out” with physical pains and discomfort and a sensation of heaviness.

 Give Yourself Permission

When you say that you won’t budge, it has served a purpose. It has been a kind of default for safety and doing anything different may seem impossible. And yet somehow by making this inquiry you wonder if there is another way.  How do you imagine you can you let yourself off that hook?  What would happen if you acknowledged your desire to connect with your brother – even with the fear, anger and hurt that you feel?

To call or not to call…

The decision to call – don’t call – call – don’t call is a conflict which has important meaning for you. When we stop ourselves from following through there is often an underlying fear and a desire – perhaps a yearning. Approach this with a gentle curiosity.

  Preparing for the Phone Call

To get started you may wish to ask yourself some questions:

What is my biggest fear about calling? 

What do I imagine will happen if I call and my brother answers the phone? 

What do I hope will happen?

What do I want to say to him that I have never said?

What do I need to hear from him to talk openly?

What do I want him to know and understand about me?

Think about how you can support yourself at the time of the call.  Some examples: Prepare notes with what you want to say.  Make a point to speak about your feelings.  Listen with curiosity to your brother’s point of view and his feelings. If you fear your anger will be out of control during the phone call,  let him know and if necessary say you need to call back. Have photos on hand of your childhood.  Get comfortable.  Plan to have someone with whom you can talk to afterwards.  Plan a walk following your call.

 From Freeze – Frame to Curiosity

When so much time has passed without contact, it is not unusual to be stuck in a time warp about your sibling. Although you have certainly made some changes, you and your brother may have fixed childhood images of each other.  Are you open to telling your story and hearing your brother’s story?

The conversation may be awkward and bumpy at times. Breathe and stay with it. Keep in mind your goal and intention. All feelings are valid.  The phone call is an opportunity to update your knowledge and memory of each other and to create a meaningful connection.  Your curiosity and openness can be your ally. At best, you have moved from your impasse to action. And yes it takes courage to do this.

Once you have managed to make the call and you feel there is a real possibility for a renewed relationship consider meeting with a counselor together to get the support you need to repair the old wounds.

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