One of the significant factors shaping the functioning of individual family members is their sibling position. Dr. Bowen incorporated the research on sibling position done by the late Dr. Walter Toman, an Austrian psychologist. In Bowen theory, sibling position represents both the work of Dr. Toman and Dr. Bowen’s understanding of the impact of the family projection process on the developmental course followed by a child.
Sibling position appears to be one of nature’s ways of enhancing survival by evolving different roles and positions. This results in the formation of family leaders and followers and all combinations in between. Each position naturally develops certain predictable strengths and weaknesses. The emotional process in the nuclear family unit can result in the individual in one sibling position being more vulnerable to the family projection process. The result is the impingement of the natural development-of-a-self process for the individual in that sibling position.
The following is an example of emotional process acting on a particular sibling position. Eldest children are naturally trained in family to take on greater levels of leadership and responsibility in and for the family in the next generation. When an eldest child becomes the focus of the family projection process, the natural eldest abilities can be exaggerated or weakened. When weakening is the result, the usually capable and accomplished eldest functions more toward a helpless youngest. When exaggeration is the pattern, the eldest’s behavior takes on the harsher side of leadership; e.g. dominating, domineering, bossy, authoritarian behaviors.