Growing up with siblings should feel like a blessing. But if you grew up feeling like you were neglected because you were not the favorite child, having a sibling can feel like more of a curse. According to experts, there can be some long-term psychological effects of feeling neglected as a child. However, it's not always bad.
"In my work with clients, it’s clear that those who 'felt' as if they were not a favorite feel the impact on a deep level," Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author, tells Bustle. For anyone who feels this way, this is an issue worth exploring because "being the favorite" is important on an early developmental level.
According to Dr. Manly, when we feel like our parents love us best, we instinctively know that we'll be watched over and cared for just a little bit more. "This results in feelings of safety and security," she says. "From this vantage point, feeling 'special' or knowing that you're the favorite can provide a lifelong foundation of security."
When parents favor one child and neglect the other, more often than not, Dr. Manly says it's done unconsciously. But there are certain parents who knowingly create toxic environments for their kids by using favoritism to create sibling rivalries. Regardless, feeling like the least favorite child can affect you in many different ways. So here are some long-term effects of being neglected in this way, according to experts.
1. You're More Likely To Develop A Habit Of Comparing Yourself To Others
It's completely common to compare yourself to others. But if you weren't the favorite, the comparisons you make can affect you on a deeper level. According to licensed marriage and family therapist, Heidi McBain, you may never feel like you'll live up to others. "You may not feel comfortable being who you truly are in relationships because you never felt like you were good enough compared to your siblings growing up," McBain says. You may even feel like you need to be perfect in order for the people in your life to love and care about you. It's hard to stop comparing yourself to others, especially if it's something you've been doing since you were a kid. Adopting habits that encourage self-love, like practicing gratitude, can help you appreciate yourself more.
2. You May Hold Yourself Back In Relationships
If you always got shut down whenever you asked for something but your sibling didn't, it can make you feel like your needs aren't as important as others. It can leave you feeling guarded and more closed off when it comes to expressing your feelings. "You may even second guess yourself because you put the wants and needs of others above your own," McBain says. "You see others as more important than yourself." If this is a problem in your relationships, it's important to find a partner that you truly trust. If you find someone that you feel safe with, you can learn to slowly open up and be more comfortable with asking for the things you want.
3. You May Not Feel Like You Can Have A Close Relationship With Your Sibling
Sometimes sibling rivalry can occur as a result of favoritism. "Rivalry and competition often creates difficult and even toxic dynamics," Dr. Manly says. "When siblings 'compete' for feelings of love and affection, the lifelong effects can be challenging." When you've always seen your sibling as competition, it can be hard to break out of that mindset. But it's important to try and forgive your siblings and parents for any harm they've done, whether they were conscious of it or not. As Dr. Manly says, "When you forgive deeply and truly, you set yourself free."
4. You May Develop A Defeatist Attitude
Being unfavored can make you feel defeated and unmotivated. "This typically happens because as the child, you’re constantly working hard to get your parents’ support and affirmation," Adina Mahalli, certified mental health expert, tells Bustle. When it doesn't happen, you may start feeling like nobody cares anyway, so what's the point? The reality is, it's not always possible for parents to treat their children "equally" because each child is different, Mahalli says. So it's OK to cut your parents some slack. But if you feel like you're being treated unfairly, it's a conversation you may want to bring up with your parents. Sometimes, people don't realize that what they're doing is hurtful.
5. You May Do Better In More Independent Relationships
If you weren't the favorite, you may have learned to be more dependent on yourself early on. "This means you may need to find a spouse who isn't looking for someone to be overly nurtured and coddled as you are used to just getting things done in life," Belinda Ginter, certified emotional kinesiologist, tells Bustle. In order to have a successful relationship, you may need a partner who loves your independence and doesn't have codependent tendencies.
6. You Have More Freedom To Do Your Own Thing
Not being the favorite can also impact you in positive ways as an adult. "There's a pleasure point to being the underdog," Ginter says. "Since the pressure and spotlight was never on you, I think that drives you to be strong, driven and confident for sure in your later years." It also allows you to have more freedom to be creative and thrive in your own time. "You have the advantage of being your own secret weapon," she says.
7. You May Have A More Grounded Approach To Success
If you never felt pressured to succeed or live up to a certain ideal, Ginter says this can make you OK with who you are. You're just doing your very best, which can make you more grounded than others.
"There's really no need to overcome not being the favorite," she says. "Just be proud being 100 percent, authentically and unapologetically you. Your upbringing has made you the amazing person you are, and it doesn't matter if you view it as a negative or positive experience."
But if you feel like this is an issue that's impacting your life in a big way and it's hard to deal with on your own, a therapist may be able to help.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.