People Pleasing and Sibling Estrangement

We’re all a little bit guilty of this at one time or another in our lives. Choosing to take a step back and altruistically giving in to our sibling’s needs. After all, it’s normal to give a little to get a little, right? The other person will surely give in, and look to satisfy our own needs afterwards, right?

In reality, what really happens is the other person recognizes that they get an « easy yes » from you. Factor in a person who is selfish and power-driven, and you have a cocktail of perpetual reactions in which you are made to feel bad for making your needs known. Invariably, you do what you normally do : shut down, hope for the best, and keep the peace, much to the benefit of your egocentric sibling.

Fast forward into the future, and you have someone who sacrificed much of their needs, and starts to become depleted and reactive. Perhaps through chronic expressions of sadness, anger, cynicism, or with cold dead silence. All of this either in front of, or away from your sibling. Does that futuristic person need to exist? Can we prevent this from happening? The answer is yes! First, recognize that you are the best person to uphold your needs. It can mean to shift the mindset that your sibling will somehow do what’s in your best interest.

For us to get to that point, it can mean to « dare to displease », as I like to call it. It’s also important to remember that should you choose to do so, to expect pushback from the part of your sibling. You will be tested. You may well be made to feel guilty, and have your opinion put into question. Be ready for that. Practice in the mirror if you need to. Chances are, you probably know what they would say. You can formulate an answer to that question or comment on their part. Science has shown that when you rehearse something beforehand, you’re enabling those pathways to get created in your brain. Thus, when it happens, you’ll be able to activate that part more easily.

When you start to speak up, you might well start to think that you’re suddenly becoming a bad person, and that you’ll go too far. First, if you’re asking that question, then it shows you’re conscientious, and will still act according to your moral code. In other words, you’ll act according to what you feel is fundamentally right. So there won’t be a danger that you’ll somehow become this terrible person.

So you practiced in the mirror and you feel you’re ready. Now is the time to move on to the next empowering step that will make this real: setting a micro-goal for yourself. First and foremost, remember that you’re doing this for YOU. If your sibling happens to respond to your needs, then that’s a bonus! Just don’t expect that much from them. This is about you learning to let go of a long held pattern and building a better you.

After all is said and done, measure your progress. Now is the time to see if just what you did or said took you a step closer towards becoming that ideal person you would like yourself to be. If you did something different, and this allowed you to act differently than how you normally would, then that is a success! Some habits take time to change. Consistency is key. Keep it up until it becomes your new normal. Sooner or later, the People-Pleasing You will shift towards the back seat, and this New Person that you’re becoming will be the one driving your life, and helping you to develop into the wise and healthy adult. A journey always begins with a single step. Small changes can make a big difference. And there’s always something we can command in our own lives. I look forward to hearing from you on this empowering path that we all choose to walk.

Take care, and keep on becoming who you are!

Ali-John Chaudhary is a Registered Psychotherapist with offices in Ontario and Quebec. He helps clients going through sibling estrangement issues, and produces YouTube videos on the same subject, with author Fern Schumer Chapman. He also hosts an online support group on zoom for those looking to empower themselves with this rarely discussed subject.

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