Family Identity Discourse: A Study of Ego Development in Sibling Relationships
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Russell A. Walsh
developmental, personality, psychoanalysis, qualitative research
The aim of this study is to examine adult siblings' understandings of identity in the family by exploring processes of identification with and differentiation from parents and siblings. Participants from one family (including the two biological parents and their four sons) are interviewed about family background; perceptions of self, others, and roles in the family; and perceptions of relationships between family members and of similarities and differences between family members. The data obtained from the interviews are approached from a psychoanalytic perspective and are analyzed in order to answer the question "What does it mean to have an identity in the family?"
First, the study allows for a closer look at the family system, highlighting how dynamics between members play an important part in the assignment of roles. The findings support the idea that parents also seem to promote differentiation between siblings as a means of reducing rivalry. This ultimately assists each child in creating and securing a particular place in the family.
Second, it illustrates how identity development is informed by the relationships that parents maintain with each of their children, exploring whether or not parents bring unresolved issues from their families of origin to their relationships with partners and children. It also considers other possibilities, such as parents' tendencies to identify with one child more than another and to be competitive with their partners, which stem from insecurities about their children's love for them.
Third, the study proposes that individuals, from an early age, often learn conflict resolution in their relationships with siblings and that an older sibling may even provide a younger sibling with opportunities to work through Oedipal conflicts. Family constellation variables, more specifically birth order and age spacing, are also taken into consideration to account for some of the similarities and differences that were identified between siblings. The results indicate that alliances and rivalries in sibling and parent-child relationships mutually influence one another, both contributing to an individual's psychological development.
Ghany, J. (2006). Family Identity Discourse: A Study of Ego Development in Sibling Relationships (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1604