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Why do siblings drift apart?

 What you can do if you're estranged from a sibling (Photo: iStock)

The dust around Prince William and Prince Harry's royal feud is finally settling down. Who would have thought that the monarchs have some skeletons behind those gallant doors?

Well, the reality of sibling estrangement is closer to home than to the East. Siblings are supposed to be supportive-a source of love you can count on. But when that is not the case, it is a unique form of agony that can only be doled out by a brother or sister.

Siblings' drifting away starts like a tiny crack in the wall, barely noticeable. But as the years pass by, the rivalry thrusts the cracks further and further away from each other, until one day the siblings wake up to a vast impassable chasm between them-ask the Princes.

Is blood still thicker than water? Or is it becoming diluted more and more by toxic family dynamics? Estrangement is not a new concept per se, it can be traced back to the days of Jacob and Esau or Joseph and his brothers- many centuries before Christ.

Admittedly, there are many healthy families that are well-bonded and are masters of overcoming adversaries. The classic 'burdens of love'. However, families prone to estrangement have one thing in common, preferential treatment of one child at the expense of another.

In the case of the monarchs, Prince Harry always felt less loved, often ignored and dismissed while his brother, the future king, was showered with love and adulation.

Siblings will always have a level of jealousy and competition even in healthy homes, but as they grow older, they come up with ways to deal with and accept each other.

Where preferential treatment is obvious, however, they might never recover or mend their relationship. Little specks of rivalry will grow into fiery furnaces, with only dim embers and ashes serving as a reminder of a lost affiliation.

Stirring up jealousy in your children is a sure way to ensure that they grow up hating each other. The concept of 'favourite child' may sound harmless. The truth is, in every 'favourite child', there's always a 'black sheep'.

The one who takes the blame for everything in the family. The latter absorbs all the lethal energy in the family, is often blamed for everything, and will often wind up living up to the label- of an addict, runaway, or delinquent. Ironically, the latter has concrete insight into whatever happens in that family.

There are other causes of sibling estrangement like pronounced forms of hostility, and physical or emotional aggression in the relationship. Emotional or sexual abuse. Power imbalances throw the relationship out of kilter.

Consistently feeling manipulated, rejected, or disliked by the other. An element of entitlement-one sibling feels they should get more attention or kindness from the other. And the presence of a mental health disorder-such as bipolar or narcissistic disorder-or substance abuse in one or both siblings.

What you can do if you're estranged from a sibling

If you intend to mend the relationship with your estranged sibling, start by getting a grip on your anger and putting it aside. Reach out to your sibling and bring up the subject of reconciliation.

Be honest and open about your feelings, without being accusatory about who did or said what. Instead, focus primarily on what you'd like for your relationship in the future. Listen to your sibling's perspective and try to understand it.

Be patient and don't expect miracles. Take things slowly and give each other the time and space you each need to think about how to move forward with your relationship.

On the other hand, if a sibling has been consistently hurtful or abusive toward you and there's potential for the relationship to continue to be hurtful or toxic, keeping your distance may be a healthy way to protect yourself from getting hurt repeatedly in the future. In that case, it's important to find ways to accept the estrangement and recognize that it's in your best interest.

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