02 September 2006

Changing Your Birth Order

Another thing I've been doing whilst the blog was down is some research on the birth order/sibling theory of personality. By research, of course, I mean some random browsing on the internet, an article from the July 10th Time magazine, and some obscure popular psychology book from my mom's collection. For anyone who's not familiar with it, or couldn't guess, here's some basic personality types based on your birth order:

  • Oldest Children - Parents often have high expectations for the first child, especially since they have little to no experience of what raising a child actually means. This means that the oldest is often treated like a mini-adult, with high expectations for behavior and responsibility. As a result, oldest children tend to have high standards for themselves, and a perfectionistic streak a mile wide.
  • Middle Children - The novelty of having a child is worn off, but the special position of baby of the family is given to someone else. This leaves the middle child striving for a way to make themselves stand out from the pack. Middle children vary widely, but you can usually see how they choose activities and traits purposely opposite their older siblings. Middle children also usually end up with good negociating skills, since they must mediate the authoritative streak of the oldest and the baby princess attitude of the youngest.
  • Youngest Children - Obviously, the baby of the family gets a lot of attention, which often leads to outgoing, manipulative little superstars. They have a wide variety of examples to choose from in their older siblings, and therefore don't the same differentiation complex that the middle children do. As a result, they often don't take life very seriously and just want to have fun, trusting that everything will just work out in the end.
  • Only Children - All the high pressure of the oldest child with all of the attention and drama of the youngest child put together. Perfectionistic complexes blended with people manipulation skills and a sunny exterior.
Any of you who know me at all might have noticed I fit the classic oldest child stereotype: I love rules, I'm obsessed with doing well, I care about how others see me, and I take life very seriously. But most people aren't as perfectly cookie-cutter as we sometimes seem, and this is one of the weaknesses behind the birth order theory. Not all young children are self-destructive rebels or baby princesses, and not all middle children are insecure and forgotten. And the genders of the children in the family also matter: both the oldest boy and girl can end up with the first-born complex, but an only girl in a family of boys can easily end up with a youngest child mentality, regardless of birth order. What I'm try to say is you can only predict the influences from the outcome, not the outcome from the influences. I can't take someone's family situation and try to figure out how they will turn out based on that, but I can take their current personality and family situation and draw correllations between the two.

However, in my mind, there's another very useful way to use these three personality types, and that is to see them as different sides to your own personality that you need to keep in balance. Instead of "oldest," "middle," and "youngest" personalities, I've decided to see them as three different desires that change how we mold ourselves: our desire to be successful; our desire to be a different, unique individual; and our desire for fun and attention. Too much of any one of these can be bad--perfectionism leads to low self-esteem and depression, a desire to be different causes us to be contrary and hard to get along with, and an obession with attention leads us to be easily swayed by peer pressure and caught in bad relationships. None of these desires should be pursued to the exclusion of the others, but rather in harmony to create a whole person.

I'll go back to me as an example. As I said before, I'm your classic first born personality, but I also see traits I have of the other two. I resist doing classic girly things as a way to differentiate myself from the crowd, and I love playing random ubiquitous games where I can be crazy and outgoing. But I've allowed my middle and youngest child sides to be overwhelmed by my oldest child perfectionistic desires. I think my life could be a lot happier if I learned to let go of at least some of my high expectations for myself and take on some more traits from the other personalities. I've been working on being more "youngest child" lately, and I think it's helping me a lot. I feel less stressed and more interested in other people. It's good stuff.

1 comment:

Marisa VanSkiver said...

Hah, I'm definitely all three combined. Being the only girl I was spoiled a bit, so I have that mentality. But I'm also a perfectionist in my school work and in other parts of my work. Generally though, I am mostly a middle child, which is what I am. I strive for uniqueness and difference from the crowd, it's what I've done my whole life. But, I have chosen a career similar to the oldest child's in my family: web programming.