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Colonna, A.B. Newman, L.M. (1983). The Psychoanalytic Literature on Siblings. Psychoanal. St. Child, 38:285-309.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 38:285-309

The Psychoanalytic Literature on Siblings

Alice B. Colonna and Lottie M. Newman


This survey has covered Freud's writings on the role of siblings; the research, mostly by analysts, stimulated by his views, and the changes in child-rearing practices inspired by them; and the writings of analysts since Freud. Our review has been selective rather than comprehensive in the attempt to highlight aspects which, though embedded in clinical experience, are infrequently focused upon.

Every analyst of both children and adults knows that siblings play an important role in the life of those who have them. Many hours are devoted to this theme in the analyses of patients, but the literature does not accurately reflect this. Even though Freud described other aspects of the sibling relationship, the overwhelming emphasis in the psychoanalytic literature is on rivalry between them, the detrimental effect of the birth of a sibling as well as sex play and mutual seduction, and their role in symptom formation. Rarely is there any mention of the constructive role of siblings, of enjoying play with them, or of their closeness in childhood and later as adults. That conflictual aspects predominate in analytic case reports is expectable, but the relative neglect of the sibling experience as a topic deserving study in its own right is surprising. If one compares the extensive literature on the parent-child relationship, the role of early object relations, and the many reexaminations of the oedipus complex, for example, with the few papers focused directly on siblings, it becomes apparent that the reasons for this neglect require an explanation.

This report is submitted in the hope that once analysts are alerted to looking for the complex and positive elements and intricacies in the sibling experience, they will also report on cases where the sibling relationship was not directly implicated

in a patient's neurosis or where, after initially being involved in conflict, the rivalry and envy underwent important transformations into object love.

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