The story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis, of the children of Adam and Eve and of the first murder/fratricidal recorded in the human history, is a point of reference in the human nature. Cain was the first biblical murderer and at the same time a fratricidal, who killed his younger brother Abel out of jealousy for the approval that God showed to his brother.
Whether we talk about actual events or symbolic stories, the bottom line is that from the beginning (and again, beginning could be the beginning of human history from the bible or the symbolic beginning of man, his birth and early stages of development) man shows destructive drives in his nature.
Family tragedies can take many shapes. In Genesis God/father rewards Abel’s sacrifice something He didn’t do for Cain. Feeling the father’s injustice, Cain reacts. The ‘primary man’, like the child in the early stages, has no internal restrictions. Therefore, acting impulsively, Cain kills the person God showed preference to and in this way takes his revenge to his God/father.
Usually parents are ignorant of their children’s aggressive impulses and feelings. The birth of a sibling always brings an intense emotional reaction to the older child of the family. Often parents express their worries to me of such reactions in their child. The answer that I give is that they should be worried when their older child shows indifference or has a very positive reaction towards the new member of the family. If feelings of jealousy and aggressiveness are the expected emotional reactions a child should have with the birth of a sibling then the question is what happens to these feelings in the indifferent child? These are questions every parent should have
I wouldn’t want to transfer the wrong messages here. Any form of aggressive action against the younger sibling should be condemned from the parent. In psychoanalysis we learn that all kinds of feelings are acceptable. The message I sent to my three year old daughter when her sister was born was clear, “You don’t have to love your sister, but you will have to accept her.” These kinds of messages have more indirect messages that the child needs to hear. What I was indirectly transferring to my daughter was, “It is acceptable not to love your sister, it is even acceptable to hate her, but she is here to stay in this family.” Many children have the fantasy (and wish) that the little person who suddenly appeared in the house would go back to the family that he/she came from. Probably and naturally, the older sibling would hate his/her parents also since they are responsible for the new person that just doesn’t go away. The dethronement of the king is never easy.
I shouldn’t also give the impression that my daughter was never acting out aggressively towards her sister. It’s important to handle such behaviours with patience and love but on the other hand the message that aggressive actions are not acceptable should be solid. One of man’s biggest achievements in his early development is the postponement of his impulses that push for action. This is one of the “traumas” of civilized man but without it we wouldn’t differ much from other animals.
Family tragedies are part of life. Stories like that of the fratricidal Cain, the patricide Oedipus, the rebellious Prometheus, and many others, have been kept alive over the centuries because they touch the unconscious of each one of us. They depict fantasies and wishes well hidden and repressed. If we as parents accept our children’s negative and aggressive feelings as something normal and healthy to have together with all kinds of other feelings, then the most probable outcome would be that the intensity of those feelings would slowly start to weaken. Otherwise, if our kids get the message that their feelings are unacceptable, then those feelings would most likely be repressed and that’s when problems start. It would be a matter of time when symptoms in various forms start to appear. The worse outcome would be to create a character that buries deep any “unacceptable” feelings. That’s a recipe for mental disaster.