Liz Hodgkinson writing in The Daily Mail 31 July 2012
The news came as a shock, yes, but it didn’t provoke tears, or even any sense of grief. I’d just heard from my niece that my brother Richard had died of a heart attack, aged 62, following an apparently minor operation. And all I felt was a surge of happiness and relief.
That day, five years ago, a long, dark shadow that had blighted my existence was lifted. You see, I hated my brother and he hated me to the point of pathology. So much so that we hadn’t even seen or spoken to each other for 20 years.
I imagine this sentiment will jar with many because it goes against everything we are supposed to feel for our siblings. After all, it is meant to be the strongest and longest bond we will experience in life.
To admit such animosity is to break one of our strongest social taboos — but the feeling is far from rare, with psychologists estimating that in as many as a third of all families there is bitter hatred and rivalry between siblings.
Writer Margaret Drabble’s long estrangement from her novelist sister, Booker Prize-winner A.S Byatt, is a case in point.
Their feud, which started at birth, is, according to Drabble, completely unresolvable, and has provoked much interest.
Ever since Cain slew Abel, stories and myths abound of siblings turning against each other.
But what does it actually feel like to hate a sibling? Well, it’s something that is always there, lying dissonant and dormant in the background. You dread the slightest contact, whether by letter, email or phone call.
In my case, before my brother stopped speaking to me altogether, he would preface any communication by saying: ‘You’re supposed to be so clever.’
Harmless at first glance, perhaps, but words designed to fill me with rage. And they achieved their goal, unerringly.
When there is hatred at this level, you can’t even pretend that person doesn’t exist, as it burns a deep and lasting hole in your psyche.
The animosity between my brother and me stems from childhood. Apparently my mother had only wanted one child, so when she became pregnant with my brother while she was still breastfeeding me, she was distraught.
He was born 18 months after me, following a very difficult birth which nearly killed our mother. Right from the start, I was the firm favourite of both parents and the question: ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister?’ was often asked.
Such favouritism, I believe, is the crux of it. American psychologist Jeanne Safer’s latest book, Cain’s Legacy, explores this very phenomenon.
Writing from her own experience of being estranged from her brother since birth, she believes it is favouritism that causes such bitter sibling rivalry. ‘When this happens, it sets you up for a lifetime of strife,’ she says.
‘The bond can never quite be severed, yet the bitter hatred gets ever worse. Because it happens before you can speak, it goes far deeper than anybody ever realises and can never be healed.’
Read the whole article here