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The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged Sibling Paperback – September 30, 2003

3.5 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Adults who grew up with a disabled brother or sister may have been labeled the "normal" one. Psychotherapist Jeanne Safer addresses the premature maturity, emotional and intellectual perfectionism and deep guilt about their own health that she says many "normal" siblings experience in The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged Sibling. Using interviews with 60 subjects who have disabled siblings and her own experience with an emotionally ill brother, Safer sensitively documents the various challenges that siblings face and offers wise, gentle counsel for dealing with these challenges.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

"The chance that the homeless person I see on the street in my town could be my own brother scares the shit out of me--this is somebody I grew up with." Safer combines her own aching personal experience with her professional perspective as a family therapist to shed light on what she calls "Freud's blind spot," the role of siblings, especially disabled or troubled siblings, in family life. For most of the book, she writes with simple directness, informal and jargon-free ("the sibling of the child with special needs is not supposed to have any needs") as she explores the burden of being the normal one. Drawing on concrete examples from her own life and also from her interviews with 60 other siblings, she identifies the key symptoms that no one escapes, including premature maturity, survivor guilt, compulsion to achieve, the fear of contagion, and jealousy. She analyzes Shakespeare's Tempest, and there is some psychological theory, but it's the memoir and the candid talk that make the book special. A great choice for group discussion. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; First Printing edition (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385337566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385337564
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anittah N. Patrick on December 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
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 struggle to compensate by achieving for two."

- "Fixing the unfixable, or saving the irredeemable, is a frequent occurrence in sibling dreams... Dreams in which a sibling no longer has the disability ... gives a brief respite that is both painful and pleasing to recollect."

- (The 'normal' one's) "everyday trials and tribulations pale beside the catastrophe of their sibilings' predicaments, so it seems natural that they should never come first... As a result, many healthy siblings grow up with a hunger for attention that it never satisfied and that seems wrong to feel. Their needs, so consistently ignored, become invisible to themselves."

- "The fallout from being invisible is to become self-effacing; perverse preeminence breeds perfectionism, morbid self-criticism, and fear of failure... Excelling is not an ideal; it is an emotional life preserver."

- "... a nameless anxiety haunts them and makes everything they have seems (sic) tenuous or undeserved... compulsive self-sacfrifice driven by the belief that you do not deserve your advantages... At significant moments... it is excruciating to know how much better off you are and always will be.
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Format: Paperback
I was weak with relief when I read Safer's book; finally someone put into words what I've been feeling all my life. I have two older brothers, one borderline and drug-addicted, the other severely emotionally damaged and physically violent from early childhood. I remember envisioning myself at the age of 10 as walking behind my family with a broom to sweep up all the dirt left behind by my brothers' actions. The pressure to be perfect to offset their flaws was incredible. As the only girl I'd always had more expected of me and thought that it was due to generational sexism on the part of my parents; Safer led me to consider the possibility that it was partly because I was my parents' last hope.

What I wish Safer had included more of was a discussion of the rage that abused normals feel. My violent brother terrorized and brutalized me; many years later, I still feel a great deal of hatred toward him. Yet Safer's focus on guilt (her own brother never hurt her, so she doesn't feel residual rage toward him) made me feel somehow dirty that my guilt is matched by equal -- no, MORE powerful -- feelings of rage. I wish too that Safer had acknowledged that sometimes parents, in an effort to blame their damaged child(ren)'s defects on something, anything, will overtly blame the good child for somehow robbing their damaged sibling(s) of health and wellbeing. This happened to me; thus I grew up knowing that I had to succeed to save the family name (a phrase my mother tossed around liberally), yet at the same time every success was held against me as an act of thievery against my brothers.

I agree with the other reviewer who said the book is a good start, but not enough. It could have been twice as long, with much more detail paid to the different varieties of the Caliban Syndrome.
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By A Customer on May 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
This was a fascinating book. It sheds light on a family situation far too often ignored--the needs of the healthy sibling submerged in the all-engrossing task of taking care of a mentally ill or emotionally disordered sibling. It is true that a child who grows up in a such a family, whose needs and hopes and successes are never quite as important to his or her parents as the needs and small successes of the damaged child will feel the repercussions for the rest of his or her life.
I had only two problems with this book. First, it's not always like that. It would have been nice to have some functional family portraits, so that parents with both normal and disabled children can learn what works as well as what doesn't. In my own family, I have two normal brothers and a normal sister, all highly intelligent and successful. I am normal and in college. My other brother is emotionally disturbed and struggles both in school and in personal relationships. For a long time, my other siblings and I resented "what he had done to the family" but the fact is, he can't help it. And we have come to terms with his disorder, and even found him to be enjoyable if you are patient enough to sift through the layers of fear and anger. Frankly we have banded together as siblings over his illness, but it took time, and most of it was due to our parents, who balanced his needs against our perfectly understandable resentment, anger, and misunderstanding. They never rebuked us for how we felt, only explained to us the truth of my brother's problems, and were always available to talk to us when we needed to vent. My brother HAS a problem, he's not a problem.
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