From Control Issues to Sibling Rivalry

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“Suzanne Gelb Image”

Dear Readers:


As an added resource, over the next few months I will supplement my responses with references to self-help materials. Supplemental reading for today’s answers can be found in my book “Welcome Home. A Book About Overcoming Addictions” (pp. 11-12 relates to Answer No. 1; pp. 13-15 relates to Answer No. 2). For more information visit my Web site at

”Control — Why Can’t I Just Let Things Happen?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

I am a hard-working student and mom. But I feel like I am always “on.” I think it is a good thing to be hard working, but I don’t really know how to plant a seed, so to speak, and just let it grow. I compulsively fuss with it, because of my uncertainty about whether I’m doing enough. My excessive responsibility causes me to sometimes “kill the plant,” if you know what I mean. My friends say I need to trust that things will work out. I don’t understand. To me, sitting back and waiting for life to work out, is irresponsible. Do you have any thoughts on this?


A: Dr. Gelb says . . .

Dear Control:

Right on. I appreciate the sense of responsibility you appear to have toward yourself and your loved ones. I hope you can shake the attitudes of those irresponsible friends who appear to be trying to coerce you into believing that it is positive to just kick back and let it all hang out. In my opinion, that is bad advice. Reality is about being focused, making positive choices and of course, behaving responsibly. Reality need not be tiring or threatening if one realizes that experiences are by choice and not motivated by do-gooders who think they know it all. Believe me, backyard therapy can be misleading.

Regarding the compulsiveness you describe, that type of behavior tends to cause people to continually take the plant out of the soil to inspect the roots to see if it is growing. Such people invariably find it difficult to leave well enough alone. This behavior is somewhat different to the responsible behavior I just discussed. From that perspective, your friends may very well be trying to suggest that you stop excessively doing things that can be prioritized for another time.

”Comparisons – Why do Others Always Seem Better Than Me?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

I was raised in a family of five. My siblings live all over the globe, but we keep in touch and I feel close to them. We are different in many ways, but I love them. I don’t feel in competition with them, and don’t remember feeling that way growing up, so I was wondering why I feel that other people are better at things than I am, and that I need people to help me if I am to be successful in life?

Always Less Than

A: Dr. Gelb says . . .

Dear Less Than:

If I were you, I would take my head out of the sand and stop pretending that there was not a problem with my siblings when growing up. Sibling rivalry invariably conditions the growing child. This conditioning can sometimes be negative, exposing the young child to unhealthy attitudes, which then tend to unconsciously motivate behavior. Consider picking up a good book on sibling rivalry so that you can learn about the effect on siblings of their position in the family.

”’Suzanne J. Gelb, Ph.D., J.D. authors this daily column, Dr. Gelb Says, which answers questions about daily living and behavior issues. Dr. Gelb is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Honolulu. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Human Services. Dr. Gelb is also a published author of a book on Overcoming Addictions and a book on Relationships.”’

”’This column is intended for entertainment use only and is not intended for the purpose of psychological diagnosis, treatment or personalized advice. For more about the column’s purpose, see”’ “An Online Intro to Dr. Gelb Says”

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