Family Constellation

In therapy, Adler ahnost always asked patients about then family constellation, that is, then birth order, the gender of then siblings, and the age spread between them. Although people's perception of the situation hito which they were born is more important than numerical rank, Adler did form some general hypotheses about birth order.

Firstborn children, according to Adler (1931), are likely to have intensified feelings of power and superiority, high anxiety, and overprotective tendencies. (Recall that Freud was his mother's firstborn child.) Firstborn children occupy a unique position, being an only child for a time and then experiencing a traumatic dethronement when a younger sibling is bom. This event dramatically changes the situation and the child's view of the world.

If firstborn children are age 3 or older when a baby brother or sister is born, they incorporate this dethronement hito a previously established style of life. If they have already developed a self-centered style of life, they likely will feel hostility and resentment toward the new baby, but if they have formed a cooperathig style, they will eventually adopt this same attitude toward the new sibling. If firstborn children are less than 3 years old, their hostility and resentment will be largely unconscious, which makes these attitudes more resistant to change hi later life.

Accordhig to Adler, secondbom children (such as himself) beghi life in a better situation for developing cooperation and social hiterest. To some extent, the personalities of secondborn children are shaped by then perception of the older child's attitude toward them. If this attitude is one of extreme hostility and vengeance, the second child may become highly competitive or overly discouraged. The typical second child, however, does not develop hi either of these two directions. Instead, the secondbom child matures toward moderate competitiveness, having a healthy desire to overtake the older rival. If some success is achieved, the child is likely to develop

Siblings may feel superior or inferior and may adopt different attitudes toward the world depending in part on their order of birth.

86 Part II Psychodynamic Theories

Siblings may feel superior or inferior and may adopt different attitudes toward the world depending in part on their order of birth.

a revolutionary attitude and feel that any authority can be challenged. Again, children's interpretations are more important than their chronological position.

Youngest children, Adler believed, are often the most pampered and, consequently, run a high risk of being problem children. They are likely to have strong feelings of inferiority and to lack a sense of independence. Nevertheless, they possess many advantages. They are often highly motivated to exceed older siblings and to become the fastest runner, the best musician, the most skilled athlete, or the most ambitious student.

Only children are in a unique position of competing, not against brothers and sisters, but against father and mother. Living in an adult world, they often develop an exaggerated sense of superiority and an inflated self-concept. Adler (1931) stated that only children may lack well-developed feelings of cooperation and social interest, possess a parasitic attitude, and expect other people to pamper and protect them. Typical positive and negative traits of oldest, second youngest, and only children are shown in Table 3.2.

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