In one of my recent online support groups, it was discussed that some members were experiencing a significant shift with regards to their perception of their sibling, and the role they play in their lives. I truly believe this is a process of grief, associated to Worden’s tasks of mourning ( as adapted in the article “How to mourn a sibling relationship” available here ). It looks very much like what French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would call facticity and transcendence.
So what is facticity? This is a concrete reality, the givens, that which we cannot change. Weight, height, skin color, as well as race, nationality, overall health, and our birth order, just to name a few. There are psychological factors, of course, such as desires and character traits that also fit into facticity. So being born in a family, and having siblings is a given that usually remains throughout our life. Whether their character traits and ours mix well or not is pretty much a throw of the dice.
Transcendence involves moving beyond our circumstantial conditions. To illustrate this a friend of mine who was born disabled recently passed away. He confided in me, at one time, that despite it all, he would choose to cultivate his mind, and subsequently became a crusader of various social causes. He didn’t let the illness he was born with dictate how he should live. In essence, he transcended his circumstances and facticity. We can do the same with our siblings.
In the third task of mourning, I mention how there needs to be an internal adjustment that favors a broader view of our overall identity, and a change in what we think family and siblings should be, either within our lives or not. In task 4, we continue to reassess the role our sibling has in our life in the midst of embarking on our new life adventure. And this is where that pivotal shift can happen. In which we feel how our sibling no longer plays a significant role in our lives, and that we’ve come to accept this as a new reality. We have, in effect, transcended the circumstances of the estrangement, such that the loss no longer defines us. Instead, we fill that space with whatever matters and creates meaning to us.
It doesn’t mean we won’t occasionally have bad days, or reminders of the loss. It means that we shift our focus towards what can define us further, just like my late friend Blaine did. It’s a good measuring tool to determine how much we’ve adapted with regards to the estrangement. Here’s hoping you can come to this point in the loss of your sibling relationship. For those that got there, it really is an experience of further exercise in freedom of the self, which would make Jean-Paul Sartre proud.
Ali-John Chaudhary is a Registered Psychotherapist with offices in Ontario and Quebec. He helps clients from different parts of the world 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.