Duties of the Eldest Sibling

December 19, 2021

Florence Ng (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer


As the eldest daughter in an Asian immigrant family, a lot of my personal journey has been trying to discover and rediscover who I am as an individual. Specifically, defining myself outside of my relationships. I find that one of the most difficult things the world asks of me is to be the protagonist in my own story.


Over the years, I’ve met many people like me: classic people-pleasers, perfectionists and people who don’t know how to service themselves in the same way they service others. Of the many people I’ve met, and among my closest friends, I find it interesting, yet not altogether surprising, that many of these take on elder sibling or even parental roles in their family systems. There seems to be a similarity in the way our anxieties manifest and in the way we wrestle with what we owe others and what we owe ourselves. We are content to play supporting roles and uplift others while putting ourselves aside over and over.


Those like me have spent lifetimes learning how to draw boundaries while trying to hold onto our self-worth. It isn’t easy, as I’ve come to find, when you grow up learning that love is conditional and must be earned. Boundaries seem impossible to navigate, because failing to stretch ourselves over the canyon for others to safely walk over us feels selfish. We learn that we must be self-sacrificing in our roles, putting the family system first before ourselves, and we learn that the act of saying no is rebellion, and rebellion creates tension. The lasting effects of all this can be traumatic. 


I confess that there are times I’m afraid to trust, to simply accept any love that comes my way at no cost. In those times, I remind myself that the world is not always as we perceive it to be. I am worthy of the care that I give to others, and I deserve the same kindness that I think everyone else deserves. 


If you find yourself in a similar camp, you are not alone. Even if you do not have a parental role in your family but feel the weight of such responsibilities on your shoulder, I am certain there is an army of us behind you.


I have to tell you this: we are among the most resilient in the world. We’ve spent our lives adapting, expanding and contracting, moving like liquid through every trial. To quote Brené Brown in Braving the Wilderness:


The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It’s the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid—all in the same moment. A wild heart can also straddle the tension of staying awake to the struggle of the world, while also cultivating its own moments of joy.


Learning to straddle this tension hasn’t been easy. The struggle to achieve the highest good for others and for ourselves might feel impossible and never-ending. 


Even so, we’re trying.


For that, I’m proud of us!



Hello! My name is Florence, and I’m an educator, storyteller, traveller, avid board game collector and curious, lifelong learner, among many other things. I’m passionate about human connection and mental well-being, and I love meeting new people! 

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