Have you ever considered the effect that birth order has on your character and the course of your life? In her fascinating new book Birth Order, Linda Blair examines the true effect that our position in the family has on our lives.The idea that birth order can shape our destiny is an intriguing one and, perhaps because it offers a simple way to understand ourselves better, one that captures our imagination. Many of us sense – quite rightly – that our position in the family must make a difference. Whether we were the first, middle, last or only child must influence how we think, feel and behave. But how much can your position in the family really tell you? Take a look at a few of the ‘typical’ birth order characteristics below and see if you can guess which set best describes your birth order position (you’ll find the answers at the end of the article).
Individuals in this birth order position are…
- articulate and likely to be academically successful
- logical and have an organised mindset
- prone to unease when socialising with peers
- charming and outgoing
- vulnerable to feelings of low self-esteem
- creative and ready to challenge authority
- aware and sensitive to the needs of others
- realistic about their abilities
- reluctant to ask for help when distressed
- apt to set high standards and be highly self-critical
- keen to please those in positions of authority
- nurturing and caring
I suspect that while you may have two traits from one of the sets of characteristics, you also have some from other sets too. You may not even be able to guess your position from this!
The point of this simple exercise is to illustrate that while our character may show some allegiance to our birth-order position it is much more complex, having been shaped by a fascinating web of influences. Birth Order makes sense of that interplay of our birth-order characteristics and the other factors that influence the person we eventually become. These include:
- Your parents – what were they like, what were their attitudes towards parenting and towards you? How were they parented and what was happening to them when you were growing up?
- Your siblings – how many children are there in the family, what is the gender of each sibling and what is the spacing between each?
- Shake-ups in the family – what are the effects of divorce, remarriage and step families; the implications of moving house at a particular age?
So how can learning more about this help you?
You’ll get to know yourself better Appraising the ways in which you fit in to your birth-order profile, as well as how you differ from it, is a powerful catalyst to get you thinking about the past – how you were parented, your relationships with siblings and others, shake-ups in your home life and so on. By going through this process you’ll be able to see more clearly how you were influenced, and how and when you changed as you grew up.
What you’ll learn can also help you understand more clearly why you form the relationships you do now, and why some of them seem so comfortable and easy to maintain, while others are more problematic. You’ll begin to see how, throughout your life, the relationships you seek reflect the patterns you formed in childhood.
It will help you understand the other people in your life If you know a person’s birth-order position you’ll already be able to guess a great deal about the way they behave, think and feel. By asking a few more questions about their background – based on the other important influences outlined – you’ll be able to understand even more about their character and what motivates them.
It will enable you to view life choices in a new light Armed with so much new information about yourself and those around you, you will learn to think about people in richer and more complex ways than ever before – knowing that character is the result of a number of interweaving factors. Your new perspective on human nature will be invaluable in helping you to assess the best course of action when presented with important choices – be it the best choice of partner or whether or not to go down a particular career path.
Birth Order is designed to deepen your understanding of yourself and others. Most importantly, it should make it easier for you to feel proud of and capitalise on your unique qualities and, ultimately, become more self-confident.
QUIZ ANSWERS: A – single, B – last-born, C – middle, D – first-born
Linda Blair has worked as a clinical psychologist for over 25 years. She's quoted regularly in newspapers and magazines, and has had columns in the Guardian and in Psychologies magazine. She now has a regular column in The Times and in Junior magazine. Linda is a member of the National Advisory Council for children's mental health and psychological wellbeing and a trustee for the charity Kidscape.
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