The Normal One: Life With A Difficult Or Damaged Sibling

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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.

The New Yorker

behavior, and even offer relief through medication or therapy. But as Debra Ginsberg explains in Raising Blaze, her memoir of bringing up her own "extraordinary" child, a diagnosis can sometimes create more questions than answers. Blaze, who was choked by his own umbilical cord during delivery, expresses himself with enigmatic figurative phrases; loud noises send him screaming around the room. The doctors' assessment was vague to the point of tautology: "pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified." Ginsberg struggles with the public-school system and its rigorous notions of acceptable behavior, where even happiness is monitored: "I am struck again by how difficult it is to navigate a world where we have to be mindful of when laughter is appropriate."

According to Jeanne Safer, in The Normal One, the families of disabled or difficult children also suffer. Inspired by her own troubled relationship with her brother, Safer sees "normal" siblings as suffering from "Caliban syndrome." Her book tries to peek under the sentimental surface of most representations of disability (such as the TV star who told Us magazine that her mentally retarded sister was "my love, my heart, my angel"). She writes, "Guilt is rarely absent from the thoughts of healthy adults about their damaged siblings because no amount of devotion or care can make the damaged whole or blot out the dark victory of their own normality." Though some draw away, others become martyrs, feeling inextricably bound to care uncritically for their less able brother or sister. And some, like Safer, reject the sibling, then write a book about it.. (Andrea Thompson)

Author : Jeanne Safer

Publisher : Delta

Published Year : 2003

Edition : 1

Format : Paperback, 224 pages

ISBN : 0385337566

ISBN13 : 9780385337564