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What does your birth order say about you?

birthorderDoes where you are in your family – be it first born, middle, last or single – make a difference to your personality? Psychologist, Linda Blair, believes it does have a big influence…

There’s probably no subject that fascinates us as much as human character. We all want to get to know ourselves better and to feel as comfortable as possible with the way we think, feel and behave. Perhaps that’s why the birth-order theory captures our imagination – it offers a tantalisingly simple means of understanding both ourselves and others. But how much can it really tell you?

Can it give you an understanding of how you’ve come to be the way you are? Can it help you to predict the way you’ll behave in certain situations, and how you’ll interact with other people? Many people sense – quite rightly – that your place in the family must make a difference. Whether you were the first, the middle, the last or the only child must influence the way you think, feel and behave.

First born

We begin not only with the first child in the family, but also with the most common birth-order position. The modern trend is to have smaller families, so of course that’s not surprising. It’s estimated that in 2010 nearly 40% of individuals in the UK were first borns, and that this figure will rise to 50% before long.

Typical characteristics
First borns have a strong desire to gain the approval of others, particularly those in positions of authority. First borns, you have a period of time when you enjoy the exclusive attention of your parents. But at some point, you have to start sharing what you’d previously considered to be your own. Since this important loss is usually experienced early on – within the first four years of your life and, therefore, before your own sense of place in the family and of security has been firmly established – your thirst for approval will probably always feel unquenchable.

In other words, no matter how much praise or adoration you receive, sadly, you’re likely still to find yourself wanting more. You may have begun to widen your search for adult praise and approval.

You’re also liable to feel easily hurt by any criticism that’s levelled at you by an authority figure. This is again linked to your loss of exclusive parental attention. A criticism can feel very much like a rejection, and it is therefore likely to trigger your underlying anxiety about being supplanted by someone else in the eyes of those who are in charge of your wellbeing. These feelings are particularly distressing for many first borns because they are unaware of why they’re feeling so upset.

First borns want to be in charge and ‘in control’ and to take up positions of leadership. You admire those in power and many of you also want to be just like them – in other words, to assume power yourself. It takes great insight to be able to step back from this anxious search for reassurance and outside affirmation and to look within yourself for the praise and reassurance you’re seeking. Sadly, few people ever acquire this degree of wisdom and self-assurance. A disproportionate number of first borns are in leadership positions. For example, more US presidents and British prime ministers have been first borns than would be expected statistically, and the same is true of the chief executives of most companies and organisations.

First borns tend to be academically successful. You’re good students in the traditional sense. You do your homework and generally accept what your teachers – who are authority figures, after all – tell you without question. But of course, individuals in other birth-order positions often obtain high marks in school, too.

First borns are usually organised and responsible. By the time you’ve grown up you’ll have had a great deal of practice taking on positions of responsibility for others. You observed how to look after others as well as how to organise and run a household. No doubt you were also given many opportunities to practise being efficient and responsible yourself. All this practice and observation served you well when you were growing up. Your organisational skills and obvious competence when it comes to taking charge are likely to make others want to put you in control.

First borns are nurturing and caring. You are the ones who are most likely to take on caring roles in adulthood – you’ll often choose careers that involve looking after and/or educating others. This is, of course, in part because you’re so familiar with and experienced in carrying out these roles.

However, it is also true that you seek out such positions because they’re associated in your mind with receiving praise and attention from authority figures.

First borns tend to be highly self-critical and less likely to forgive themselves when they make mistakes. You dread failure, and you never wish to be thought of as lacking in good qualities. As you’ve probably already guessed, this characteristic is driven by your fear of rejection.

First borns are more prone than other people to suffer from anxiety and, in particular, feelings of insecurity and jealousy. Feelings of displacement and jealousy make a deep impression, particularly if they first arise when you are still quite young. That doesn’t, of course, mean that all first borns are bound to experience feelings of anxiety, insecurity and jealousy! It simply means that in general terms, you are relatively more likely to have these feelings than your siblings because of the circumstances in which you grew up.

Middle born
More myths seem to surround middle borns than those in any other birth-order position. The middle born is usually portrayed as ‘a difficult person’, ‘the black sheep of the family’ or someone who’s unhappy, rebellious and withdrawn – the odd one out. Yet, when you examine the statistics and talk to middle borns, the picture turns out to be quite different. Although some of these stereotypical descriptions may occasionally apply, for the most part middle borns have been misrepresented.

Typical characteristics
Middle borns are able to get along with most people and to restore social harmony when conflict arises. Middle borns are the co-operators. You’re the diplomats who come up with compromises and figure out how to smoothe the waters when everyone’s at war. You manage to get on well with most people and to fit into any group, classroom or office in which you find yourself. You are, more than anything else, peer-centred – that is, you’re very aware of and sensitive to the needs and feelings of the people you’re with.

Middle borns are easily persuaded by others, and most likely to give in to peer pressure. Middle borns are most attuned to their peers. Having grown up surrounded by other children, your primary focus has always been those roughly your age. You can find ways to get along socially in most situations and with most people. However, you’re also more likely to find yourself in trouble if the people you’re with are looking to challenge authority or to make mischief.

Middle borns are more likely to have an accurate view of what they can achieve, and to be able to set realistic expectations for themselves. Since you grew up always with other children around you, some a bit older and more capable than you and others younger and less mature, your model of comparison is based as much on peers
as it is on adults. So, the expectations you have for yourself are likely to have been appropriate for your chronological
age and developmental level.

Middle borns are likely to excel in slightly more creative ways – sport, art or music, for example. Middle borns will usually focus your energies in areas where your older sibling has been less successful. The conventional way to please parents is to do well in school. Your older sibling cornered that method, so you had to think of a new and different way to gain parental attention and approval. The most common second choices that please parents are sport or the arts.

Last born
This is the birth-order position that people most often say they’d choose. As the youngest person in the family, you’re always the ‘baby’, the one everyone else loves to look after. Any mistakes or inadequacies tend to be excused, when you ask for help you usually get it and no one’s constantly nagging you to ‘grow up and do it yourself’.

Typical characteristics
Last borns have an outgoing, charming and ‘cute’ nature – they’re often the entertainers when they’re with other people. You last borns tend to be sociable creatures, and, moreover, enjoy being the centre of attention. You’re very often regarded as the focus of the group, and/or the clown – the one who entertains everyone and makes them laugh. Your parents considered your babyish qualities to be endearing, instead of seeing them simply as something they had to put up with until you finally managed to grow up a bit more.

Last borns can be manipulative. In its extreme form, charm becomes manipulation. At that point it’s no longer attractive because it causes everyone who’s around the manipulator tofeel overwhelmed and trapped.

Last borns are often rather disorganised, but at the same time they’re comfortable with this tendency. Since you last borns focus so much of your attention on what others can do for you, it means that there’s less time available for setting goals for yourself and organising your own behaviour. Furthermore, because you’ve probably come to expect others to sort  you out, you may never take the time to stop periodically and think about what you’re doing and where you’re going – again, as would a first born. That means that you quite often appear undirected or possibly at times seem a bit chaotic.

Last borns are often creative and innovative. Although on the one hand disorganisation is associated with a lack of predetermination, it’s also linked with creativity. Carefully constructed plans cause us to ignore fresh possibilities – without such plans we’re able to remain open to new and different ways of thinking about what’s going on around us.
Last borns tend to be rebellious, and more likely than others to challenge authority.

Because last borns are compelled to find a different way to gain attention, they’re the ones who are most likely to turn convention on its head in this way. These last borns are almost always considered rebels during their lifetimes – and groundbreakers, even geniuses, only much later on. Of course, it’s a great deal easier for you last borns to get away with breaking rules and behaving in unconventional ways than it is for the older siblings in the family.

One-child families are increasingly common and it’s meant that a number of the negative qualities associated with being the only child in a family – in particular, feeling awkward when trying to socialise with peers and feeling lonely and misunderstood generally – no longer inevitably go hand in hand with being single.

Typical characteristics
Singles are extremely articulate and likely to be academically successful. Those of you who are singles, like first borns, tend to do well in school, both because you’re able to express yourselves clearly and well and because you’re used to and skilled at interacting with adults. After all, those in both of these birth order positions enjoyed a period of time in their early development when they received the exclusive attention of their parents and, therefore, all the rich linguistic input that goes with child–adult exchanges.

Singles tend to have high levels of self-confidence. Singles are unlikely to lose the fond and exclusive attention of either parent and you’re very often showered more or less continuously with love and approval and because when individuals are sure they’re loved and when they receive positive attention whenever they need it, their self-confidence develops healthily.

Singles show a preference for and an identification with others who are older. You have grown up in a world of adults at home, so it will feel natural for you to seek out the company and the approval of those who are older and more mature than you are. After all, that’s what you’re used to doing.

Singles are able to amuse themselves happily and to spend significant amounts of time alone. This is perhaps unsurprising and it distinguishes singles from those in other birth-order positions. You’re not only used to being on your own, you’re also quite likely to enjoy spending time in that way.

Singles are prone to unease or discomfort when socialising with peers, often feeling ‘misunderstood’. Although parents of singles usually make enormous efforts to provide their child with plenty of opportunities to socialise with their peers, these interactions are likely to have been planned, time-limited and supervised by adults – certainly, at least, when you were younger. That means you’ll have missed out on learning the skills needed to establish ‘territory’ without an adult there to sort things out for you.

Singles show a strong tendency to perfectionism. Being practical and sensible and wanting to do everything as expertly as possible is all very well. However, it’s also important to know how and when to relax and let things slide a little. Without this counterbalance, we are prone to burn-out and other disorders that result when the pressure is unrelenting.

Singles find it difficult to tolerate disorder. In larger families someone’s always knocking over someone else’s carefully arranged set of blocks or deleting their favourite game on the computer, so individuals in those families have plenty of opportunities to figure out what to do when things go wrong. That wasn’t the case for you singles. When things in your life fell into disarray, there was usually an adult on hand to sort it out straightaway. That means you probably grew up with little experience of coping with disorder and confusion, particularly lasting disorder and confusion!

birth-order-coverFantastic reader offer!
Birth Order by Linda Blair  published by Piatkus, normally costs £12.99, but we have teamed up with Piatkus to offer it to at home readers at the special price of £10.99 including P&P. To order your copy, call 01832 737525, quoting reference ‘PH150


This article was first published in at home with Lorraine Kelly in May 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

Image: Getty

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