CAIN'S LEGACY by Jeanne Safer


Liberating Siblings from a Lifetime of Rage, Shame, Secrecy, and Regret
Email this review


A psychotherapist identifies how unresolved, destructive sibling rivalries play a special role in our adult lives, shaping both our sense of identity and how we deal with work, marriage and parenthood.

Safer (Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult's Life—For the Better, 2008, etc.) suggests that Sigmund Freud, a favored son, was unable to deal with his own guilt toward his sister. In his opinion, this left him blind-sided when he probed the crucial role of childhood experience and developed his theories about the Oedipus conflict, penis envy, etc. Today, writes the author, a shift in psychotherapy has occurred “from intrapsychic processes to interpersonal transactions,” which has led to more consideration of the importance of sibling relationships. Safer provides anecdotes—taken from case studies, interviews, experiences related to her by friends and her own disturbed relationship with her brother—to provide a road map to help readers identify the hidden dynamics within families. She also gives examples of successful efforts to achieve reconciliation between adult siblings—with and without professional help—and calls attention to pitfalls that can short circuit the sometimes-slow process of building a healthy new relationship. In families, not only may certain children be favored, creating guilt on the one hand and animosity on the other, but parents may unwittingly chose favorites on the basis of their own unresolved sibling relationships. Safer references the biblical stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers to show how such intergenerational conflicts can persist but also be resolved. She also offers several contemporary examples of successful reconciliation efforts.

An important contribution to the self-help bookshelf.



Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-465-01940-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2011


FictionHER FEARFUL SYMMETRY by Audrey Niffenegger
by Audrey Niffenegger
NonfictionBEAUTIFUL UNBROKEN by Mary Jane Nealon
by Mary Jane Nealon
NonfictionTHE SIBLING EFFECT by Jeffrey Kluger
by Jeffrey Kluger