Maintaining or completely cutting off ties with a sibling is perhaps one of the biggest questions we can attempt to answer. It is not always an easy decision to make, and can sometimes feel counter-intuitive. Such a choice doesn’t come lightly, and can be due to a series of dehumanising and demeaning gestures that build up over time. In the end, only you can decide if full no contact is the best path for you, or if going low contact is better.
But what if there was a tool that could help us to determine what is right for us?
The following graphic can help us to illustrate just where we situate ourselves in our sibling dynamic, in accordance to both humanisation and belonging. I call this the Four Quadrants of Relationship. Let’s look at the high and low manifestations of both lines.
The horizontal line of Humanisation is a concept that involves respect on a behavioral and action-based level. It is the recognition of one’s humanity, and thus the degree of consideration that one gives you when interacting with them. It can be as simple as reassuring eye contact, smiling, safe touches, kindness in our exchanges, and being thoughtful towards the other person in a kind and gentle manner that is personal to them. A humanising behavior will typically look as if the other person is making room for you in the relationship with them, even though you may not always agree.
Conversely, a dehumanising behavior wlll be the exact opposite. It will look domineering, demeaning, unsafe, where the other person can come off as being confrontational, calling you abusive names, dismissing what you say and do, intimidating you or touching you in provocatory ways, or worse, degenerating into physical violence. You will rarely get the sense that the person is able to go deeper with you in a conversation that is dehumanising. In fact, you’ll be left with a negative impression that took away your personal dignity, possibly reliving these negative actions in your memory.
Moving on to belonging. The vertical line involves how we are made to feel in a given relationship. As with humanisation, a consideration will be put onto you in a way to demonstrate that you are welcomed. It is the natural effect of being recognised as being a part of a system or group. Someone who belongs in a system high in belonging can be respected for who they are, welcomed, and recognized in their place within the relationship.
In contrast, someone who is in a sibling relationship where there is low belonging and more alienation often looks as though they are islands unto themselves. No significant memories are invoked in a cherishing way. Instead, people can feel closed off, having to fend for themselves and made to feel as though they are rejected or never quite good enough to make it into acceptance. You can see this with siblings that are authoritarian, and who are enabled in a family unit that does nothing to foster rituals of togetherness, closeness, or shared activities.
Now that we know what both these lines can look like in a sibling relationship context, let’s look to see where various actions and examples fit in the Four Quadrants of Relationship.
In conclusion, If your sibling relationship seems to have some of these examples mentioned above, in particular those that related to alienation and dehumanisation, then it may be time to evaluate your sibling relationship in terms of your own personal engagement with them. Finally, no list can ever be exhaustive. I would love to hear about which behaviors you feel fit into some of these categories in your own sibling relationship.
Wishing you peace, fulfilment and empowerment on your sibling estrangement journey.
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 a twice-monthly online support group on zoom for those looking to empower themselves with this rarely discussed subject.