Relationships

What Being The Middle Child Has To Do With People-Pleasing And Perfectionism

By Anna Hartman··  8 min read
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Do you ever read something that resonates so deeply you feel like your entire life clicks into place, even just for a moment?

Defining our “toxic traits” has been a hot topic lately all across social media. For me, my mind instantly goes to my downfall of being a lifelong people-pleaser and perfectionist. Oftentimes, when I find I’m at odds with myself, it’s the direct result of wanting to satisfy someone else’s desires, keep the peace, and exceed others’ expectations of me. 

When you grow up sandwiched between a strong-willed older sibling and a coddled younger sibling, over time you learn how to navigate the middle ground by adapting and compromising in order to fit in. 

Until I read up on “middle child syndrome,” which is essentially the belief that middle children are “excluded, ignored, or even outright neglected because of their birth order,” I didn’t have any real reasoning behind why my personality is the way it is (for better or for worse). 

While I’d argue that my upbringing was more than ideal – with loving and supportive parents and a stable household – I can see how being a middle child has lent its hand in contributing to some of the challenges I’ve faced over the years. Many children who were raised in between two siblings identify as people-pleasers with nonexistent boundaries and often struggle with critical self-evaluations. 

In the same breath, I believe that my birth order has also been helpful in shaping me into the person I am today as a happily married woman and devoted mom with a career I’m passionate about. Although there can be many drawbacks to being the middle child (as with older and young siblings), we certainly still have the ability to thrive and be successful in any environment. 

There are pros and cons to every place in the birth order and understanding your “why” behind certain attributes can be extremely helpful in learning how to use those traits to your advantage. 

Personality Traits in the Middle Child 

According to the birth order theory developed by psychotherapist Alfred Adler in 1964, “The middle child is even-tempered but has trouble fitting in due to being sandwiched between the younger and older siblings.” Their personality can be easily overshadowed by their other siblings, causing them to be quieter and more eager to please in order to fit in. 

Due to the lack of attention they receive from their parents growing up, middle children often have trouble feeling equal to their siblings or “enough” in friendships and romantic relationships as they grow older. 

Middle children often have trouble feeling equal to their siblings.

Additionally, a study from 2016 showed that middle children are “more likely to develop maladaptive perfectionism, which is characterized by the constant desire to have things go as planned.” Now, if that isn’t the truest statement I’ve ever read. Although it may seem silly, one of the things I’ve learned to address and work on in recent years is letting go of my expectations and rigid plans when it comes to holidays, special occasions, and even the timeline for my life. 

As someone who struggled with infertility before getting pregnant with my firstborn, the stress of not being able to get pregnant according to my very specific 5-year plan nearly broke me. That situation taught me how to ease my white-knuckled grip of control I felt I needed and embrace the idea that life would unfold as it should, whether I understood it at the time or not. 

Eager To Please and Play Peacemaker

“Plays well with others” – this should have been my tagline growing up. Ever since I can remember, I’ve felt eager to please those around me and to be well liked by all of my peers. I’ve also been the one in my friend group, our family dynamic, and even my work environment to play peacemaker whenever conflict arises. I’m able to see both sides of the coin easily when it comes to disagreements and resolving the issue between two or more parties to bring about a calm, symbiotic aura is my strong suit. 

As a person who finds themselves in the middle of siblings often, the middle child learns how to become the peacemaker of the family. They also score higher in agreeableness than older and younger siblings, a tactic that allowed them to receive attention and praise from people growing up. Although middle children are more likely to show signs of perfectionism, they also tend to have personalities that are equally as relaxed, so they can go with the flow and adapt to different situations easily (mostly due to their desire to fit in). 

With less attention from their parents comes stronger friendships and larger social circles than their siblings, which can be excellent for making connections to further them in adulthood. As they grow up, they may have more of a distant relationship with their parents and be less likely than their siblings to reach out when they’re in need of help or advice.

Feeling Undervalued and Left Out

Depending on how extreme the situation was at home with a lack of attention from their parents, middle children can develop an inferiority complex, have trouble sticking up for themselves, and often feel left out and undervalued. Feeling lost in the shuffle of the family dynamic can lead to low self-esteem and confidence, and they may struggle with codependency in their adult relationships. 

Middle children are more likely to be perfectionists, but they also tend to be equally as relaxed.

Personally, I experienced feeling overlooked and out of place predominantly throughout my teenage years which led to rebellion and putting others’ happiness and needs above my own. It wasn’t until I started writing that I felt like I finally found my voice and was able to develop the self-confidence that has served me in my adult life. I believe that once you become more secure and surround yourself with loved ones whom you trust, respect, and can be vulnerable with, then the feeling of not being “enough” will soften (although it may still be something you continuously work to keep at bay). 

How To Use Your Birth Order To Your Advantage

If you’re a middle child and are navigating a relationship, whether romantic or platonic, or simply want to work on personal growth, there are a few things to keep in mind. Being aware of your birth order and how your family dynamic has impacted you as you age are essential to harnessing your strengths and recognizing your weaknesses. 

Now, you can contemplate your middle child traits and focus on their drawbacks, but if you’re going to have them anyway, why not turn them into your superpowers?

  • Peacemaker = resolve conflict and find a middle ground in your relationships and at work; become a point of connection for others.

  • Agreeableness = easy to communicate with others; work effectively with different personality types.

  • People-pleaser = open-minded and flexible; strong willingness to adapt to new situations and see others’ points of view.

  • Perfectionist = hard working and eager to improve your skillset; thrive in leadership roles.

Whether you want to improve your friendships, marriage, parenting dynamic, or workplace mannerisms, you can use the attributes you’ve gained as a middle child to your advantage. 

Work on standing up for yourself in circumstances where you feel strongly about a certain issue or when you find that you’re holding yourself to an unrealistic standard or rigid timeline. This can begin with simple actions like giving yourself a challenge to speak up in a meeting or celebrating your small wins to build up your self-esteem and affirm that you are indeed “enough,” no matter what. 

Lastly, in order to form strong relationships built on trust and vulnerability, open up a line of communication with your spouse, family members, and/or colleagues when you’re feeling undervalued or unseen. With this information, they'll be more aware of where you’re coming from and how they can best support you moving forward.

Closing Thoughts

Wherever you may fall in the birth order, there will always be some advantages and disadvantages to how the dynamic shapes your personality and, thus, your life. If you are a middle child like me, you may have always felt the draw to please others and work tirelessly at perfecting a certain task or timeline, sometimes at the expense of your own happiness. 

Alternatively, these traits may also be the very same ones that have led you to your most joy-filled moments in life like pursuing an ambitious career, making meaningful friendships, or attracting the man of your dreams. 

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