Being The First-Born: The Burden Hardest To Bear

By: aseya


Society and culture can often place extreme burdens on the first-born child in a family. Being the eldest child in the family often entails additional responsibilities, expectations, and demands. Different cultures exhibit this tendency in varying degrees, though the added pressure and importance of the first-born has sometimes been seen as a universal trait. However, given the right psychological conditions, a first-born child can mentally collapse under such responsibilities, with effects ranging from developing an anxiety disorder to severe case of performance anxiety.

Parents from different countries and cultures usually expect the first-born child to be the one to carry on the family name, as well as help maintain the family's reputation. In the modern environment, this tends to include the expectation of performing well in the academic, personal, and professional realm. Children are oftentimes expected to perform as well if not exceed the performance and achievements of their parents. In some lower class families, the expectation also includes bringing in the extra money needed by the family for its daily survival. The eldest son or daughter is also expected to help with the bills in the house as well to send the younger siblings to school. These pressures generate resentment, frustration, and a deeply-rooted sense of status anxiety and social anxiety.

For first-born children in the higher classes of a particular society, the more prevalent problem is a combination of status anxiety and performance anxiety. The problem here stems not from the desire to better one's status, but to maintain the current status and preserve the family's collective social reputation. As such, first-born children are groomed to either be mirror images of their parents, or a reflection of the hopes and dreams the parents had when the child was born. The personal identity becomes blurred with concepts such as filial duty and social status, essentially fostering an individuality only when it is in accordance with social and familial values and demands. While they have little concern over social anxiety, the psychological need to maintain the family's position often results in a form of performance anxiety, as the performance of the child is inevitably compared to anything and everything possible. In some cases, the child is compared to his parents, though parents are more likely to compare the child to his peers.

For members of royalty or long, noble bloodlines, there is an even greater pressure. Those who are from so-called noble or aristocratic families sometimes grow up with a social anxiety that drives them to live up to the reputation of their forebears. People with famous ancestors also feel the pressure of having the same achievements as those of their well-known predecessors. The problem comes when people inevitably compare the ancestor to the descendant; a comparison that typically shows favor towards the ancestor. This can sometimes cause a child to feel performance anxiety, rendering them unable or unwilling to even attempt to achieve anything on their own, fearing the “unfair” comparisons that they expect to come.

All of these demands and pressures can sometimes come together to “snap” the first-born and make them lash out in a variety of ways. Some reject the responsibilities altogether and actively endeavor to be the exact opposite of what is expected of them. Others develop an anxiety disorder that effectively cripples their ability to fulfill their duties, despite their willingness to do so. A few decide to isolate themselves not only from society, but from their own families. In some instances, people have observed that the first-born exhibits what can only be described as a fear of success, resulting from the inability to cope with the high expectation that he was raised with and has blown out of proportion. In rare cases, the pressure builds to the point that the only way to relieve it is to embrace ---- madness.

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