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     Volume 6 Issue 22 | June 8, 2007 |

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Birth Order and You

Syeda Shamin Mortada

How is it possible for each of us to be unique in our own way? How did we grow up to be the way we are? How do personalities develop? What makes one person funny and loving and another mean and violent? Researchers have been trying to answer these questions for years. There are many theories and counter theories to these questions; genetics, environment, experience, social roles, culture, gender and other such factors are said to influence a person's personality. Since ancient times philosophers and people in general have tried to discover the factors that shape the behavioural patterns of humans. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle was interested in what the human mind could achieve. He believed that the mind or soul, which the Greeks called psyche, was separate from the body. The psyche, according to him, was the source of the highest human virtues and enabled people to reason. Thus came the word psychology, from psyche “mind or soul” and logia “study”.

There are some psychiatrists who believe that birth order influences personality. Alfred Adler was one of the first experts who claimed that birth order does indeed influence a child's lifestyle and choices; he also claimed that birth order affected how an individual learned to deal with different situations and relationships, and this in turn affected their behaviour both inside and outside the home. Morales and many other birth theorists happened to be staunch supporters of the same theory. Another prominent figure, Frank J. Sulloway a visiting scholar in the institute of personality and social research at the University of California researched the influence that birth order had on personality and behaviour.

Let us start from the top of the ladder, with the firstborns who are given more power and responsibility, which in turn tends to give them more confidence and a higher self-esteem. There is much literature supporting the view that a great number of individuals who achieve reputation or have high IQ's are usually the first-borns. Being older, they tend to occupy more status in the family. In a competition or brawl there are certain strategies they apply that the younger ones cannot. For example a young one can decide to hit the older one, but this may not be a good idea as the elder sibling can hit back even harder. In general, firstborns tend to be more aggressive and use tough-minded tactics that take advantage of their physical size and later become a part of their personality. Firstborns tend to identify closely with their parents and their values. They are also found to be more conscientious, conventional, scholarly, possessing high moral standards, dominating, and quick tempered compared to their younger siblings. Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and all of the actors who have played "James Bond", were firstborns. Now that is what we call being on the top! It is even said that the firstborns who tend to be timid apply different tactics with their younger ones to keep them in place, like giving them a cold shoulder or being moody with them.

Next in line are the natural mediators or the middleborns who have a diverse range of personalities. The habits of many middleborns are motivated by the fact that they have never truly been in the spotlight; the firstborn always seems to be accomplishing things and pioneering ahead, while the younger sibling is secure in his or her niche entertaining and being pampered by the family. Being in the middle can make a child feel insecure which can affect their personal relationships and at times can make them depressed or even lonely. They tend to have fewer pictures alone in the family album compared to the first borns. A middle child usually has an even temper, “take it or leave it” attitude and they usually avoid conflict. However, middle children are highly loyal to their peer group and have many friends. From a Darwinian point of view the middle children do not have the benefit of being the firstborn or the advantages of the lastborn; they are the ones that tend to get lost in the shuffle. They respond to this situation by being peer-oriented. These children usually develop good social skills and have an easier time growing up with others.

It has been suggested that middleborn children are more likely to be good entrepreneurs, because they tend to be diplomatic and flexible. Some middle children tend to be more competitive and ambitious, possibly because they can surpass the firstborn's achievements, but remain unconcerned about the glory.

Further down the ladder is the baby of the family or the youngest child; an outgoing charmer, or an entertainer who is unafraid to test his or her luck. Though, this may not be true for all youngest siblings, proponents of this theory state that the youngest of the family is an endearing, and delightful friend. Always pampered and spoiled this lot may become dependent, selfish and irresponsible when they enter adulthood. Some of them often become manipulative and control seeking if their siblings, parents or peers are overbearing or bossy. These charming and outgoing lots are often viewed as the risk takers. Women who become supporters of radical causes and have their names written in history books are usually the rebels of the family. They are more likely to have had a conflict with a parent.

Let's talk about twins now. It is said that twins adjust and organise themselves where they live within their family. If they have one older sibling, they may both exhibit characteristics of a second born. And if they are the oldest, they may adopt traits associated with first borns. Some experts believe that their own birth order affects their status as twins. The birth order personalities of twins are often more intense than in normal birth order. Because they share the same age and have similar capabilities, the dominant one has to work harder at being dominant thus reinforcing the birth order personalities of both.

The case of the only child is different one all together. They have no siblings and hence no sibling rivalry. They are said to have intermediate personality traits. This is because they are not pushed by a younger sibling to be particularly conscientious and aggressive or pushed by an older sibling into being daring or unconventional, and thus remain somewhere in the behavioural middle. Moreover they are free to occupy any niche they wish to choose without having to worry who will occupy the niche that they vacate; and freely roam around. For this reason they are said to be more variable in their personality traits and interests. Only children are an unpredictable group, this is because their childhood options are greater than for those who grow up with siblings. Sigmund Freud believed that the only child loves being the centre of attention and matures quickly but in the end some fail to become independent. However, there are other experts who believe that only children learn to depend on themselves and have no problems being loners.

Research findings of psychologists have greatly increased our understanding of the human behaviour. A great deal still remains to be unveiled. Nevertheless, insights provided by these researchers help people function better as individuals, friends, family members and workers.

This article is based on the theories and beliefs of the mentioned researchers.

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