One of your Facebook friends has posted about her high-flying new job in the city—and over 40 people have commented on her success. But, pleased as you are for her success, you can’t quite bring yourself to add your congratulations. Rightly or wrongly, her achievement makes you feel worse about your own position on the career ladder. And the worst part? She’s your sister. If you have a sibling, it’ll be one of the longest relationships of your life. But even if you love him or her to bits, you might still be consumed with envy at news of their success—and feel like you’re constantly living in their shadow. We’re pretty much accustomed to feeling envious of other people’s status updates. But among other things social media has brought to the fore, ‘shadow sibling syndrome’—where people may struggle with their status as the ‘less successful’ child. And it can be made even worse if you feel one or both parents hold the same view. “Social media means that siblings’ achievements (along with everyone else’s) are given more of a showcase,” says Tina Kretschmer, a researcher on sibling rivalry. “We are constantly reminded that they’re happier, prettier, richer, more successful, The negative consequences are flourishing beyond anything we’ve ever seen.”
Priyanka, 33, is a successful novelist—but admits to pangs of jealousy whenever she sees photos of her musician brother Rahul hanging out backstage at the NH7 festival. “I think the world of him, but I’ve always lived in his shadow,” she says. “He’s very popular—he’s a musician and tennis coach, he passed his driving test in the first try, and I’ve never seen him fail at anything. While my parents never showed any preference, he was definitely my grandmum’s favourite—she had five photos of him on display, just one of us both, and none of me alone.” Fast-forward 20 years, the same thing’s happening—only this time, it’s online. “On Facebook, even our mutual friends tend to send Rahul birthday messages, and not me. But on the plus side, it was probably seeing him succeed at things I can’t do that motivated me to find something I’m really good at.”
Having sold her first novel at just 23 years old, Priyanka has learnt to live with her brother’s different brand of success. “Sometimes, I wish I could post exciting pictures likes his online—but then I get to chat with famous authors on Twitter. It might not be quite as visible, but it’s still as exciting. Finding my own outlet means that now I’m a lot less jealous of my over-achieving brother.”
Happily, as Priyanka found, using social media to drive your own success can have a positive influence when it comes to dealing with shadow sibling syndrome. But, for other women, the effects can be devastating, particularly if one or both parents appear to love them less.
Around 45 percent of adults admit to having some type of dysfunctional relationship with their brother or sister—one being treated better than the other or vice versa. But the good news is, whichever side of the fence you’re on, having experienced this sibling rivalry doesn’t mean your relationship with your brother or sister is completely doomed, or that it will stay that way for your whole lives. “Try to avoid making direct comparisons,” says Kretschmer. “And don’t beat yourself up about being jealous of your sibling, as jealousy’s not always a negative emotion; it can motivate us, too.”
And if you can’t see any reason to build bridges with your favoured sister or resentful brother just now? Remember they’re always there, for good or bad—you might unfriend them, but they’re still family.