struggling with insecurity and competition with a sibling
February 2, 2017 2:31 PM   Subscribe

My sister and I signed up for a race, on my suggestion. The closer the race day is, the more I'm worrying about whether I'll be faster than her and how I would react if she finished before me. Those thoughts are recent and didn't occur to me before. I'm mortified that I'm struggling with such a thing.

[pardon my English!]

For context, I train pretty intensively (run 5 times a week, lift weights 3 times and swim, hike, ski, etc.), but don't talk a lot about it. I am not very competitive about it (for example Strava makes my eyes roll pretty hard). I sometimes do races with friends but am not focused on the results. Spending time together is the most important factor. Another thing is that I am seen as the "obese" one from the family (although I'm in a very normal weight range) because my body doesn't conform to my parents standards of fit (I have thick legs and a wide frame).
OTOH, my sister is the fit one of the family : she is more conventionally thin, gets praise from family for it and she talks a lot about her fitness & outdoors activities, sends SMSs telling us about how long her bike ride or whatever was, and how fast. She gets a lot of praise in return from our parents and they're proud of her because of it.

When I suggested we do this race it was because I wanted to spend time with my sister doing something fun and new, plus the scenery is beautiful and the atmosphere very friendly... we're very close, communicate every day but we're living pretty far away from each other.

I struggle with the realization there's competition between us and have a hard time accepting this. I'm ashamed of this to be honest.

Can you help me with how do I process this? Is there something I am missing? Is competition normal? (I wish there weren't). How do I just let it go, see it with perspective? I wish I didn't care and have a blast.

Info that might be relevant : I'm in my late twenties, my sister is several years younger, we have an older sibling, and we're both female. I meditate regularly, am aware of the concepts of acceptance, letting go, ego conditioning... but here books aren't enough, I feel I'm lacking perspective.

Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
what's the worse thing that will happen if she did finish before you?
posted by TRUELOTUS at 2:44 PM on February 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can't tell, does your sister feel competitive as well? Or is this just something you're feeling? If she's acting competitively, talk to her about how it makes you feel. If she's not, then it's more of an anxiety issue, with the usual recommendations for that.

Remember the quote about "there's nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men; true nobility lies in being superior to your former self". So don't worry about beating your sister. Focus on beating your personal record.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:47 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I think it's absolutely normal, even when you think of yourself as non-competitive. I'm a lifelong runner but not a fast one, and actually a large part of my day job is to encourage people to take up jogging, to not be intimidated by others who are faster, and to celebrate achievement at all levels in running.

But despite my deep desire to be magnanmous in 'defeat' and to only run my own race, I get upset when my friends beat me in races. Even though they always do because I'm not fast. Can't help it. It feels unjust when I've worked so hard, and I take it personally (almost as if I think they shouldn't have let themselves beat me!). I keep it to myself, congratulate them, and sign up for the next race. It's the very definition what being sporting is all about (and within a few days the bitterness goes!)

I put it down partly to the fact it's such a physical enterprise, it arouses some really base instincts - like competitiveness, jealousy and childish upset. Or something. I'm not proud of it, but I don't want to let it stop me running, so I avoid running with friends I know are much faster than me, and just keep on trucking. Try and see it as part of the whole thing, like sweat and blisters.
posted by penguin pie at 2:48 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and remember that *every single runner in the world* except the World Record holder, has people who are faster than them. That helps sometimes. It's absolutely an intrinsic part of running.
posted by penguin pie at 2:49 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds like your parents have a long history of pitting you against each other, and that the love is conditional upon it. So no wonder you're tense!

Just understand that you were conditioned to feel this way by the family dynamics.

Love isn't a scarcity! The universe has enough love for both you and your sister.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:51 PM on February 2, 2017 [23 favorites]

Emotional hedge: winner has to buy the loser lunch!
posted by starman at 2:51 PM on February 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

Hi, this is me a couple of years ago.

I ran the half marathon about 30-45 minutes behind my sister. I was proud of what I did but it definitely hurt and took away from the accomplishment that we didn't do it together.

I think it would be good to have a talk with your sister now to find out if 1. She plans on literally running with you, if so the two of you should should agree to a pace you can both do and not change it the day of the race and 2. What does this race mean to you? Is it a big end goal that your working towards or just a fun weekend activity.

I really wish that I had decided what I wanted before the half marathon. I was caught up in it being a "sisterly" activity rather than my real goal of just running a half marathon for the first time.

If this is some sort of fitness goal for you, I recommend looking for a second race to sign up for that you can do on your own.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:53 PM on February 2, 2017 [12 favorites]

My younger sister and I ran a half marathon together. I assured her before hand that she was welcome to run ahead of me at whatever pace was comfortable for her, and she assured me that this was something we were doing together and so thats how we finished, together. Having straightened out our intentions before we got on the course was very helpful.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:20 PM on February 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

To my mind, unless one of you is angling to be the Big Number One Best Winner of the whole entire race, there should be no harm in a "let's keep pace as this is meant to be a fun thing we do together" sort of conversation beforehand.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:38 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm the eldest. The sister just before me and I had a long period where she worked very hard to keep up with me. I forget all of the various things we did together, we ran, we did some rock climbing, we were both whitewater guides. Did some cycling.

I actually never thought of it as a competition, I always thought "Hey, I'm doing something fun. And, hey, my sister thinks it's fun, too!" Working through issues later, she did, she talked about the challenges of self-worth trying to keep up with me. But as someone who was pretty darned good at all of those things, I was also aware that I wasn't ever going to be a world-class climber or paddler (I hung out with such folks, but...).

So I saw it as "we're hanging out together", and people I hung out with would say "yeah, I'm gonna walk this rapid" or "Why don't you lead this pitch?" all the time. Your sister may, in fact, be more fit and outdoorsy because she's been chasing your example, trying to live up to you.

So, yeah: I'm with turbid dahlia: "I don't want to turn this into a race, I want to run a finishing pace but make it a social thing."
posted by straw at 3:57 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I struggle with the realization there's competition between us and have a hard time accepting this. I'm ashamed of this to be honest.

As a buddhist, one of the first things that I learned (and was asked to contemplate) was how we all have the same negative emotions and inclinations. Like, ALL of us. This was such a relief I can't tell you. I have spent my whole life being ashamed of being jealous and competitive, and it has been incredibly isolating (hence the shame, but I could also use it to feel special, like I am such a poor snowflake who is so flawed, poor me).

Realizing that it isn't just me, has been so liberating. It hasn't solved my being competitive (but it has lessened maybe some of the ways I would act it out) but more importantly I am much more comfortable now being aware of it and working with it rather than hiding it away, and I feel now connected to other people and understanding of how we all feel the same things. (And having negative feelings, and doing negative things doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't come from *you* or your character.)
posted by nanook at 4:26 PM on February 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

It sounds like your parents have made "being thin and athletic" into a big deal, and are judgmental toward you about it. They praise her for being thin and active, and are critical of how "obese" you are. Of course that hurts! Of course you would want to prove that you are her equal or better. Unfortunately, I fear that they have taught her to define herself around her athletic achievements. So I would not be surprised if she does run ahead of you, because she expects that of herself. (Or, if you run ahead of her, I wouldn't be surprised if she made excuses, some sort of injury perhaps.) You guys are still pretty young, so you'll hopefully both get to grow out of this. Maybe you can feel sad for her that she feels she has to be athletic to be who she is, to be worthy of love. If she became unable to stay fit, it might be challenging for her. Sometimes the "bad kid" frees themselves of their parents expectations, since they can't live up to them anyway, while the "good kid" stays trapped. Maybe feel sympathy for her about that? And to the extent that you're constrained by your sense of inferiority and desire to prove that you're not inferior, blame your parents and try to realize that their expectations and judgments were unrealistic and unkind. You're both trapped by that, so try not to turn that angst toward her. You could even say something about how you're realizing that your parents were a little bit over the top about that, if you want. Most of all, try to remind yourself of how fit you are and how ridiculous all of this is, and be happy in your own body. One day you'll be old and unable to run a long race, so try to just enjoy the heck out of this one.
posted by salvia at 7:33 PM on February 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

Make a goal for yourself, be it a time goal or not walking any of it or even just finishing.

This wouldn't be hard for me because my sister is a) older and b) has always been faster than me. So, If we were to do a race together, I'd know ahead of time that she'd do her own thing and that would be fine. Note this wasn't easy for me when we were kids, but that was a lot of years ago. Now I can straight be of the opinion that "damn that's my awesome fast sister! Look at her go!"... while simultaneously setting a much slower but hopefully plausible goal for myself!

As for the body type thing, I think the parental crap is the real problem here. And that I don't have any direct advice, except that it seems you've got it right- your body is doing a great job of carrying you through all this athletic activity you do. And if you can't get the parental criticism out of your head, there's the Askme standby of therapy. Did me a world of good.
posted by nat at 8:05 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ask her if she would be willing to pace you and see if she is open to crossing the finish line holding hands. You two are sisters, not rivals. You are here to help each other. Let her know that doing this would help you.
posted by Mr. Fig at 5:59 AM on February 3, 2017

This sounds like an excellent opportunity for the two of you to actually grow closer. If you have this conversation with her, you can tell her your worries, you can gain an opportunity to listen to what she thinks, and you can help to make it more about you two and less about the roles other people think you should play.
posted by disconnect at 10:42 AM on February 3, 2017

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