Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Birth Order

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 4, 2012

   Marty, now fifty-four,  was born the third of four children and the second boy. His parents, Bob and Marilyn, did not set out to have a large family, but “somehow it happened,” Marty relates to me. Marty’s older brother Warren, the first-born son, seemed to be the boy his parents always dreamed of. He was smart, athletic, social and motivated for financial success. Marty, by contrast, struggled in school, did not like sports, and was painfully lost about his future. As an adult, Marty’s insecurities are painful. He never feels entitled to assert his opinion. He quietly resents that other people in his life, his kids, his wife, steamroll his ideas, making him feel foolish for making even minor suggestions, like where to go for dinner.

  “Maybe the circumstances of your birth have something to do with your insecurities now,” I suggest. “Maybe if you were the first-born boy, you might have felt more cherished and hence you might have had more confidence in your ideas.” Marty looks at me with dismay and confusion. “You mean to say that my parents messed up my life because they liked my brother more?” Marty asks with disbelief. “I mean that maybe in the context of your family, your strengths were not in the foreground and so you were made to feel like you had to blend in or else you would be an unwanted part of the family. As a result of having to blend in, you never formed your own opinions, and as such, you now do not feel entitled to be assertive with your ideas.” I say, suggesting this as a possible explanation as to why he always feels invisible in his current nuclear family.

“You are terrible to suggest that my parents’ did not love me,” Marty says, as if I want to ruin his idealized image of his parents. “I am not saying they did not love you, but I am saying that they might have loved you in a different way if you were born in a different order.” “I will chew on that and then poop it out,” Marty says, trying to lighten our discussion, but also reassuring me that he will think about what I am saying. “Let me know how that goes for you,” I say, continuing with our fun word play with the notion that good food turns into feces.

4 Responses to “Birth Order”

  1. Jon said

    Your final statements about food and their end-products remind me of the dialogue in Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek:

    “‘Tell me what you do with the food you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are. Some turn their food into fat and manure, some into work and good humor, and others, I am told into God. So there must be three sorts of men. I’m not one of the worst, boss, nor yet one of the best. I’m somewhere between the two. What I eat I turn into work and good humor. That’s not too bad, after all!’ ”

    “He looked at me wickedly and started laughing.”

    “‘As for you, boss,’ ” he said, “ ‘I think you do your level best to turn what you eat into God. But you can’t quite manage it, and that torments you.’ ”

  2. Shelly said

    Birth order is an interesting concept. What does it say about twins, if the twins are only children? If the twins are the youngest children? From where do children develop self-esteem from? Thanks.

    • It is so interesting that you mention twins, since we were discussing this concept in my class last night. The literature on the psychological development of twins is very sparse, as far as I know. I told my students that they needed to write papers on this subject, since not too many people have speculated on the impact of twins, particularly identical twins, on self-esteem.

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