Mapping the challenges that come with sibling estrangement can be a daunting task. We are invariably put in a position that causes us to reevaluate entire relationships, and assess what this has done to us, and how best we can cope and protect ourselves. One aspect that comes to mind is the courage and dignity that this path demands us to encompass. One such way to assess how we’ve been changed by our sibling estrangement lies in analyzing the various types of courage that this has brought us. Let’s explore some of these together.
One particular aspect involves physical courage. This can mean to continue putting one foot forward after another by building strength, resiliency and exercising willpower in the face of unpleasant and daunting tasks. For us, it means to carry on in your projects, despite the adversity that comes with estrangement. It can mean to continue to feed those areas of your life that need to be stimulated and experienced. I sometimes call this showing up to life, and avoid going into fight/flight/freeze/fawn when it comes to interacting with people, going to certain places or doing certain activities. Feel the fear and do it anyway is a good way of summing it up.
Another aspect involves social courage. As we’ve mentioned before, when our sense of self-image is crushed with estrangement, we work on salvaging our identities. Part of that work involves finding out who you truly are, by allowing you to see yourself unconditionally, and to live your life in an unapologetic manner. The best way to do so is to see how you do in the company of others at being yourself. Are you cringing, or can you still feel and be the best expression of you? Is it ok to make room for mistakes and missteps? A good way to work with this is to tell yourself that it doesn’t need to be perfect while interacting with others or expanding your social identity.
Yet another aspect is what’s called moral courage. This can mean to do what you feel is within your convictions, even if it means to experience a sense of discomfort or goes against the majority. Speaking up and expressing displeasure or a divergence of opinion, even if it means being scolded or talked down to by a narcissistic sibling, can be a good indicator of progress. Giving importance and priority to your feelings and what you feel is right despite peer pressure involves moral courage.
Still one more type involves emotional courage. While it can be difficult, and even destabilizing to experience certain emotions, due to their negative nature, or in some cases, expecting the worst to happen right after having positive emotions, it’s part of the process of finding ourselves to know and experience what is happening inside of us. Understanding the importance of this process allows us to explore safely what negative beliefs may have been engrained in us by our sibling or family dynamic, and how we can teach ourselves to experience positivity without condition. This aspect is in line with living authentically with ourselves.
Another important attribute is intellectual courage. My late supervisor would often say to me that it was important for people to deconstruct in order to better rebuild themselves. Nothing could be truer to that statement than this type of courage. This particular attribute demands that we unlearn certain things we may have been taught to believe from our sibling-s. It can be to confront that particular thought or idea, and see if this is indeed the truth, or rather was used as a means to subjugate, talk down to us, and ultimately control us to their own benefit. Part of this process can be to learn who we truly are, through our unbiased rational observations of ourself, such that we can identify our strengths and resiliencies.
Finally, another aspect involves spiritual courage. This can manifest as being present and oriented towards our purpose and meaning. This type of courage manifests after you have decided that your sibling estrangement is no longer going to define you. It can often be what I describe as reclaiming yourself in such a way as to walk in dignity and grace despite what your brother or sister thinks of you. It can mean to embrace your larger identity, and to recognize that you get to experience the freedom in defining yourself all while exercising compassion with yourself and with your life.
So, are some of these present in your life? Are some of these absent, or a work in progress? You’re best suited to know what needs to be worked on. And if you’re not sure, then talking with a therapist that knows about sibling estrangement can be a surefire way to make these various types of courage more active and present in your life.
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.
He can be reached through the contact section on top of this page.