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The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged Sibling

3.54  ·  Rating Details  ·  130 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
What is it like to grow up with a sibling who is difficult or damaged?

Few bonds in our lives are as psychologically and emotionally significant as the ones we share with our sisters and brothers, although little has been written about this formative relationship. In this first-of-its-kind book, psychotherapist Jeanne Safer takes us into the hidden world of problem sibling
Paperback, 228 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Delta (first published 2002)
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Apr 22, 2013 Anna rated it liked it
The author's thesis is that siblings are an overlooked but integral part of our identity. She argues that having a sibling who is "difficult or damaged" generally makes parents go in one of two directions, both of which damage the "normal" child. Option A is to sink all of your energy into the problem child, with the result that the normal child becomes invisible, generally having to mature quickly to help with the damaged child and becoming an overachiever in life as a way of drawing parental a ...more
Jul 28, 2008 Anittah rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: normal ones
From my review:

At times, reading this book was so difficult I had to close it for a while. The feelings that it brought up were so intense, raw, and neglected for so long that it was difficult for me to face them. Reading this book has made me realize that in my plight I am not alone, and that there are actionable steps I can take in order to heal myself.

Some key quotations from the text that I, personally, found poignant:

- (Healthy children) "grieve, they feel guilty, and they strugg
Jun 01, 2007 Laren rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I had high hopes for this book since it covers a topic not often seen - what it is like for siblings to grow up in a family where one sibling has emotional or medical problems. Unfortunately, early in the book the author admits that she had a very hard time finding subjects to interview, since many of them refused to talk about their experience. Of the few that did, only one had more than one sibling. It seems dream analysis guided much of the author's conclusions, and in more than one place, I ...more
Nov 30, 2010 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Re-reading....again. Tis the season.

This book took me years to read. Yes, I said years. At some points the words were so raw and true that I had to set it aside for a period of time until I felt ready to face it again.

I'm not going to detail my own situation, it isn't necessary to put that down here. I will say that the book is extremely helpful. I was able to say, "that's me!" and "that's ____" and "that's how ____ acts and why!"

A must read for anyone that deals with a member of the family with
Oct 06, 2010 Cindy rated it it was amazing
Very interesting, not depressing (which is what I thought it might be!) I recommend this to everyone no matter WHAT your siblings are like! Somehow, it was reassuring to understand the similarities of growing up with ANY sibling, as well as with a sibling that created more challenging circumstances. It's especially reassuring to know that you're not alone..... There are more similarities than differences for all of us and most of us never talk about the ripple effect of how a difficult sibling c ...more
While this book was not completely relevant to my relationship with my siblings, there are aspects of "normal" sibling relationships throughout the book. For example, even in a family with "normal" children, parents or siblings will often assign themselves roles (the smart one, the easy one, the emotional one, the artistic one, etc.). These roles can be both comforting and confining, and part of becoming an adult is realizing that you get to break out of your childhood role and just be who you a ...more
Nov 03, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it
Upsetting in a good, validating sort of way. Alternated between not being able to put it down and not being able to look at it, but read it cover to cover in 2 days. I hope that plenty more will be written on the topic.
Sep 12, 2014 Mary rated it it was ok
I was excited to read this, but didn't feel like I really grew or learned much from it. The large section (chapters) dedicated to dreams didn't really appeal to me. While it started off strong, and I made several connections with the personal memoir-ish introduction, the book seemed to be more about making a case for the "Caliban Syndrome" (which doesn't seem to have caught on since this phrase was coined) and less about how to heal, grow, learn as a result of living with a troubled or needy sib ...more
Dec 02, 2013 Bonnie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a so-called "normal one" to a sibling with developmental disabilities, I was really excited to finally read something that I could relate to. Unfortunately though, while there were a lot of points that certainly hit home, there were plenty that just didn't. Yes, I do feel that all the key elements of Caliban syndrome, a Safer-coined term absolutely relates to my personal experience with my brother, but I do feel that for a rather short book, this was quite a tough read that dragged quite a bi ...more
Feb 10, 2016 Shawna rated it really liked it
I am the normal one - a middle child between an older sister with drug and alcohol problems, and a younger sister born with a rare syndrome that necessitated numerous surgeries and left her partially deaf and mentally retarded. Only in the last few years, as my responsibilities toward my younger sister have started to chafe, has it even occurred to me to examine my feelings about the situation, and it took this book to make me realize what a factor it has been in my personality development. Safe ...more
Rhonda Rae Baker
I am in awe of this groundbreaking book that is part memoir and part psychological insight. Such thoughts coming from the 'normal' one or even the 'surviving' child brought me full circle with feelings on my own childhood and that of my children.

I've never understood sibling interpersonal relations in this fashion and the insight presented here taught me as well as confirmed issues I am presently witnessing. The processes of integration were explained as if Jeanne had been speaking to me persona
Jun 05, 2008 Lizzie rated it really liked it
What becomes of the normal one? Sometimes they're ignored or neglected. Some parents have unreasonable expectations of them. They expect them to include a troubled sibling in everything, or to cheerfully take care of a damaged sibling, or to go into a career working with such people, or to be perfect, or to be a success in a way that will make up for the messed up one. I just read it out of curiosity but it turned out to have a lot of resonance for me because I saw my mother in it.
Her sister wa
Liz Kelley
Jul 18, 2014 Liz Kelley rated it did not like it
I read this when I was very young. I have a brother with Down Syndrome and I felt extremely offended while reading this book. I am not sure I would feel differently if I re-read it 10 years later.
Jane Hanser
Apr 08, 2014 Jane Hanser rated it it was ok
What she wrote about she did a good job of. However, the book was not comprehensive enough for me and omitted many situations in which the physically and emotionally health sibling is shortchanged.
Hira Ahmad
Feb 05, 2014 Hira Ahmad rated it liked it
An okay book but I just got bored in certain parts because I feel like the authors of the memoirs were not getting to the point fast enough to grab my attention and make me want to continue reading
Lisbeth Fagan
Mar 27, 2011 Lisbeth Fagan rated it liked it
As interesting and informative as Jeanne Safer (and the various other sibling's) accounts were, I found this book very dry and hard to get through. I was expecting more of a narrative exploring the lives of these "normal" siblings, but instead encountered short vignettes of various lives. While I appreciate Safer's creation of what she calls the "Caliban Syndrome," I was hoping for her to expound more clearly upon how to help children and adults in these situations. A good introduction into the ...more
Feb 24, 2012 Kelly rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
I'm not really sure what to say about this one. I picked it up off my sister's bookshelf one day (she's a therapist), read the back cover, then started reading the introduction. As someone with multiple siblings, it fascinated me. And as a writer, I value some of the insight I gained into sibling relationships.
Oct 01, 2010 Emily rated it it was amazing
I really connected to this book, being a "normal one" who fits many of the traits described in here. I will say, though, that my parents read it and thought it was a load of crap.

As a "normal one" though, I really appreciated it and felt it said what I feel very well.
Doug Ebeling
Not sure why my sister gave this to me. It's about people with really severely damaged siblings. I'm thinking she doesn't qualify. But if your sibling is mentally ill, severely disabled, or a criminal of some sort, this book might offer some insight.
Interesting read. A psychology book on being "normal" when you have siblings that have problems which could range from severely handicapped to mild disorders.
Jan 29, 2016 spilltojill rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Interesting Read about the Sibling Dynamic. Also covers Learning Disabilities and Special Needs. Great for Counseling Majors!
Oct 24, 2010 Stephanie rated it liked it
It's an excellent book for silblings of people with special challenges.
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