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A Bond Like None Other: Sometimes proximity isn’t the same as closeness

January/February 2012


Ever since Cain and Abel, sibling rivalry has been with us—big-time. Had the Bible been a tabloid, the headline would have screamed: “Brother kills brother! Murderer denies sibling responsibility and is cursed by God!” And if you think sisterhood is superior to brotherhood, just try the story of Rachel and Leah: “Older sister steals, then shares, younger sister’s intended hubby, Jacob!” As for the blended family of half-siblings that Jacob and his two wives produced and raised, you can read all about it in the saga of Joseph, whose half-brothers sell him into slavery, thereby setting in motion a story filled with so many lies, tricks, and turnabouts that even the most accomplished psychotherapist might have despaired of finding a way to the family reunion that eventually ensued.

These archetypal tales continue to possess us because our sibling bonds mark us—not as a curse like Cain’s, but as a roiling mix of love and anger, affection and rivalry, pride and guilt, loyalty and animosity, trust and suspicion. These emotions form the complex fabric of sibling (and family) life, and the imprinted patterns of these relationships stay with us, and affect us, in one way or another, throughout our lives.

That is the theme of two new books, The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us, by Jeffrey Kluger, and When a Brother or Sister Dies: Looking Back, Moving Forward, by Claire Berman. Though they overlap somewhat, the…

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