You are sooo lucky." If you have a female sibling, you've no doubt heard this lots of times from only children and girls who have just brothers. And yeah, there are perks, but there are negatives to sisterhood too. And while doing research for her book You Were Always Mom's Favourite!, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., found that one of the most prevalent emotions among sisters is also one many don't know how to deal with: jealousy.
"Many women assume that envy is bad, so they ignore it, which ironically, can be damaging to the relationship," Tannen says. "But understanding the emotion can have a positive impact on your bond and the rest of your life." Intrigued? Yeah, so were we. So we got Tannen to shed some light on this common but totally confusing phenomenon.
Know That It's Normal
Your cell rings. It's your sister calling to say that her first date went really well. Your first reaction is happiness. But that feeling is followed by something else-something you can't explain or don't want to admit: you're jealous.
"Even in the best sister relationships, it's normal and inescapable," says Tannen, who interviewed more than 100 sisters. The stage for jealousy is set from birth. Since siblings seek approval from the same source, they see one another as rivals.
And while brothers are more open about it, sisters downplay their feelings and can start to resent each other which can in turn be very damaging to their relationship.
Diffuse the Jealousy
Just because you're destined to get envious, it doesn't mean you have to turn into the scowling Debbie Downer sister. Tannen says that even the most envious siblings are able to control jealousy with this trick: bring it up instead of ignoring it. "Women are big on matching others' confessions. So when you tell your sister you're jealous, she'll eventually bring up an example of something she envies in you-and that's a honest start for one." Hearing her admit that will help put things in perspective. If what's making you envious is something bigger-like, say, your sister is married, and you don't have a boyfriend-think of why you wouldn't trade spots with her, even if the reasons aren't about having a guy. It's easy to get focused on one aspect of her life. Reminding yourself that she doesn't have everything will make the jealousy less all-consuming.
Make It Work for You
Tannen found that jealousy is one of the best motivators. "Women are naturally inclined to compare themselves to their sisters and subconsciously try to out-do them," she says. And this dynamic is often emulated in the workplace. "Jealous sisters are likely to really push themselves in their careers." The key is to be very cognisant of setting goals, either by making a list of them or giving yourself a time line-e.g. 'By spring, I will have these two new responsibilities'. This is equivalent to completing the chores you were assigned by parents as a kid. "Even if you weren't rewarded," she says, "simply knowing you did it better or faster than your sister was enough."