Synopses & Reviews
What is it like to grow up with a sibling who is difficult or damaged?
Few bonds in our lives are as psychologically and emotionally significant as the ones we share with our sisters and brothers, although little has been written about this formative relationship. In this first-of-its-kind book, psychotherapist Jeanne Safer takes us into the hidden world of problem siblings and explores the far-reaching effects on the lives of those who are considered the “normal ones.”
Drawing on more than sixty interviews with normal, or intact, siblings, Safer explores the daunting challenges they face, and probes the complex feelings that can strain families and damage lives. A “normal” sibling herself, Safer chronicles her own life-shaping experiences with her troubled brother. She examines the double-edged reality of normal ones: how they both compensate for their siblings abnormality and feel guilty for their own health and success. With both wisdom and empathy, she delineates the “Caliban Syndrome,” a set of personality traits characteristic of higher-functioning siblings: premature maturity, compulsion to achieve, survivor guilt, and fear of contagion.
Essential reading for normal ones and those who love them, this landmark work offers readers insight, compassion, and tools to help resolve childhood pain. It is a profound and eye-opening examination of a subject that has too long been shrouded in darkness.
"Revelatory...an indelible, brave, profoundly sensitive, and deeply personal look at how the ‘normal’ half lives, loves, resents, reconciles, sometimes denies, sometimes transcends, aches for—but never quite trusts—the consolations of family." O Magazine
"[A] persuasive examination of the considerable effect that...impaired brothers and sisters have upon their ‘normal’ siblings throughout life." The New York Times Book Review
For someone with a "difficult" brother or sister, there is nothing normal about family life. And until now there has been no book for the countless thousands who are affected by this troubling dynamic. Renowned psychotherapist Jeanne Safer opens a window onto the inner world of "normal" siblings to reveal the lasting effects of unexplored emotional pain that can mark them for life. Beginning with a candid and moving examination of her almost-lost relationship with her own brother, Dr. Safer draws on sixty in-depth interviews with siblings of people who suffer from a wide range of mental, physical, and social ills. She explains the "Caliban Syndrome"--a set of emotional challenges faced by normal siblings--and its four symptoms: premature maturity, survivor guilt, compulsion to achieve, and fear of contagion. Insightful and astute, this powerful book, which was nominated for a Books for a Better Life Award, explores the intractable and painful problem of being "the normal one," and provides understanding, empathy, and hope.