Middle Child Syndrome

middle child syndrome

What is a Middle Child?


A middle child is someone who is born in between two or more siblings. Being born in the middle, as you’ll soon find out is not that simple. The middle child, unlike the eldest or youngest child, does not get much attention. Middle children are also usually considered outcasts in their families and often develop a condition called Middle Child Syndrome.

What is Middle Child Syndrome?


Middle child syndrome is a condition in which children born in the middle experience feelings of emptiness, inadequacy and jealousy. It is also characterized by low self-esteem and extreme introversion, sometimes even leading to psychotic behavior.

The middle child, unlike the eldest child and the youngest child, is not given much attention. They have to go the extra mile just to get some of it. Middle children tend to be achievers because they need awards to be recognized by their parents. Sadly, this also goes the other way around, they can be very troublesome and determined to get noticed even if it means getting scolded at or punished.

Because they lack emotional support and guidance from their parents, they will always have a sense of low self-esteem. These feelings of emptiness and loneliness make them not very friendly and maybe even weird to other people. Most likely, these negative feelings will also stop them from pursuing what they want.

Other observable traits of middle children are insecurity and jealousy. Being raised in an environment where they have to compete for attention, it’s natural for them to have feelings of insecurity and jealousy of others. Seeing others easily get attention while they continue to strive for attention, these feelings of resentment towards others will continue to build up. All these repressed feelings of being unloved, unwanted or even hated can trigger an extreme case of middle child syndrome where they show psychotic behavior.

Possible Causes of Middle Child Syndrome

After discussing the common traits of people with middle child syndrome, we can find two main causes, identity crisis and lack of emotional support.

Identity crisis is very common to us all, and it’s something that we all experience at some point in our lives. Wanting to be different from everyone else is very normal and there’s not much we can do about it. The other cause is lack of support. Because the eldest and youngest are the common favorites, the middle child is not given any support or attention. This unloved feeling makes them less confident and envious of others, often leading to even more problems such as drug abuse.

Is there a Solution?

Some say that middle children should be given the love and attention that they should have had when they were young, but I believe this will only make them more dependent on their parent’s approval.

There are also cases where middle children tend to separate from their family at a relatively early age to have families of their own. While having a new family means getting another chance, I do not think this is the best solution because escaping the past will not really resolve any childhood issues and these issues may haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The main cause of middle child syndrome is lack of emotional support, which is the responsibility of the parents. So logically, I would have to say that good and responsible parenting is the real and outright solution for middle child syndrome. While this may sound more like prevention rather than treatment, I think that it’s never too late for good and responsible parenting.

But this is just my opinion, what do you think? Comments are very much appreciated.

P.S. I’m a middle child in case you’re wondering. :)

865 thoughts on “Middle Child Syndrome

  1. I’m almost sorry I read this article because it opened a very big wound.

    I’m a middle son of three boys. My mother favoured my older brother quite openly but it wasn’t too bad because I know she loved me.

    My father was a different matter. I felt he hated me and worshiped my younger brother. When I was quite young my brother and I were play fighting. He grabbed my head and mashed my temple into the corner of a coffee table. I was really hurt but my father cheered boisterously at my siblings victory. My younger brother and I scrapped a lot. Once, continuing after being told to stop, my father punched me in the face. We were both guilty of the same offence but of course I was the only one to receive the blow.

    It was not uncommon for me to get punished when my brother was delinquent. A day didn’t go by that I wasn’t called stupid, a thief or a liar. Conversely, in my whole life I don’t recall one pejorative word directed at my brother.

    This behaviour continued to adulthood. My father even favoured my brother’s kids over mine.

    The repercussions as a kid was that I acted out. I went to great lengths to get attention and it was mostly negative. I took more risks than anyone else. I jumped higher, drove faster, consumed more.

    As an adult I engaged in unhealthy behaviour. I had a propensity to use women, substances and bad habits to escape pain. I subconsciously told my self I wasn’t worthy of love or success.

    After years of soul searching, therapy, mediation and hard work I can say that I’m no longer obsessed with my father’s hate. This is the first year that I don’t spend several hours a day resenting my father for his misguided behaviour. I’m 57.

  2. Exactly and explicitly honest.

    Middle child here. My mother jumps when my sisters need something. But when I need help I have to wait. My grandmother (her mom) treated all the grandkids fairly. My “mother” always pulls the I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it liner. But boasts to her friends she is so proud of me. I don’t believe it. My family forgets about me and sometimes blames me for everything bad that happens.

  3. Hi! OMG…will you PLEASE stop telling my life story lol… jk I am a middle child and had always wondered why I felt the way I do… i had never heard of MCS before today, so thank you for sharing! I am the middle child of 7 (3 older sisters, 2 younger brothers, and a younger sister) and being that we had such a large family, I not only was the last thought about, but I even put myself last on many occasions just so that it “wouldn’t hurt as bad”. And on top of being in the middle, I am small framed (I am 32 and only 5 feet tall lol) and relatively quiet, which made “running over me” even easier. I’ve healed from a lot of the things that I felt in my youth, but there is such a wide array of emotions, that you never know when the harder to deal with will be triggered. It is just really good to know now that I am not alone :) Something amazing happened when I read so many of the comments above… there was a release, and for that I am thankful! So, SALUTE to all the mid-kids!!! YOU ROCK!!!

  4. Yeah I totally related to the MCS stated above , since I’m a middle child too ( 1 three years older sister ,and a year younger brother)…well i grew up in a chinese family…i could say that favouritism are REAL ( it will be more obvious if it was a boy )but they will never admit it.. As a middle child , I always have to give in extra effort to earn my parents attention ,and approval until to the extreme that I felt like my life was all about seeking parents attention/approval and start to loose myself…I have always felt this unfairness between me and younger brother…my mom will always praise him for everything he did right but for me she will just ignore or think that I was suppose to do it just like taking me for granted, and if i don’t she will scold me or even shout at me but for my brother she will never scold him even he did something wrong.
    but to a certain point i was grateful for my parents treating me unfairly since young, it had made me more mature,tougher and more independent on life. I’m now 18. life had just begin but i still do believe in God eventhough i cant hope for much changes in my parents but i think i can let it go just like some of the comments (i read all and i cried T.T) LIFE IS ALWAYS UNFAIR BUT THATS WHAT LIFE REALLY IS.

  5. Yeah I totally related to the MCS stated above , since I’m a middle child too ( 1 three years older sister ,and a year younger brother)…well i grew up in a chinese family…i could say that favouritism are REAL ( it will be more obvious if it was a boy )but they will never admit it.. As a middle child , I always have to give in extra effort to earn my parents attention ,and approval until to the extreme that I felt like my life was all about seeking parents attention/approval and start to loose myself…I have always felt this unfairness between me and younger brother…my mom will always praise him for everything he did right but for me she will just ignore or think that I was suppose to do it just like taking me for granted, and if i don’t she will scold me or even shout at me but for my brother she will never scold him even he did something wrong.
    but to a certain point i was grateful for my parents treating me unfairly since young, it had made me more mature,tougher and more independent on life. I’m now 18. life had just begin but i still do believe in God eventhough i can hope for much changes in my parents but i think i can let it go just like some of the comments (i read all and i cried T.T) LIFE IS ALWAYS UNFAIR BUT THATS WHAT LIFE REALLY IS.

  6. I am not the middle child but i do have 3 beautiful children a 4 year girl old a2 year old boy and a 11week old boy.

    I think my 2 year old boy has mcs, I thought I treated my children all the same but reading ur comments maybe I don’t??

    He bites and pinches and hits all the time and its been a lot more since my daughter 4started school and my baby boy came along.
    I think he thinks his being pushed out but I love him so much but think his craving more attention.
    Thank u I’m glad I found this I’m going to try and be a better mum to him and give him more of my time

  7. I suffer from middle child syndrome and it has never been easy. Feeling like you don’t belong, like no one is listening. I also suffer from severe anger issues. I get the most angry about the littlest things. If you suffer from either of these things, it will get better. You, will be heard. there’s this quote that gets me going and I hope it will help.

    I AM STRONG
    because I know my weaknesses

    I AM BEAUTIFUL
    because I am aware of my flaws

    I AM FEARLESS
    because I learnt to recognise, illusion from real

    I AM WISE
    because I learnt from my mistakes

    I AM A LOVER
    because I have felt hate

    and…

    I CAN LAUGH
    because I have known sadness….

    Good luck x

  8. I’m not the middle child, in fact, I’m the eldest in the family of 5. However, sometimes I couldn’t help but to think that I have the middle child syndrome.

    I grow up in a Chinese family. I have a sister who is 3 years younger and a brother that’s 13 years younger. As the eldest, my parents assume that I should know what to do and thus giving my lesser attention than my sister. Everything was okay, my father gave me and my sis attention and my mother gave my sis her entire attention. Then my brother came into the picture. Being the only boy and toddler in the family, he was given the utmost attention.

    So the splitting of attention is like this:
    Me: 2/6 of father’s
    Sis: 1/6 of father’s, 1/2 of mother’s
    Bro: 3/6 of father’s, 1/2 of mother’s

    In the family, I was the trouble maker, I didn’t exceed academically, I wasn’t as pretty as my sis too. My sis was everything I’m not. She’s pretty, smart and sociable. It’s no wonder my mother would give her attention rather than me.

    I feel so unloved. I was outcasted by my mother. From young, I was the one get the most and worse beating from her. She could hit me with everything: belt, vacuum cleaner, shoes, balloon sticks, anything that’s within her reach, it can be her weapon. My sis would just sit by herself, if needed, she will rub in the situation with salt.

    I thought that when I’m older, situation would get better. No, it’s still the same. There was this one time when I was 17, I got beaten by her till I screamed, because we lived in a flat, neighbours could hear us. One of them called the police and they came. She still has the balls to tell me to tell the police that she didn’t hit me.

    Right now, we do not talk at all. She does not acknowledge my existence unless there’s a problem. She would nag, insult, starve me. Whenever there’s food, she would call my sis and bro, but not me. Whenever she wants to go out, she would call my sis and bro, but not me.

    Thank God I have my father, he dote on me because if he don’t, who will? My situation may not sound as bad as the others, but when pain, we intensify it.

  9. I am the second of four siblings – my brother Sam is 3 years my senior, and the youngest sister May is 6 years my junior. My other sister Dee is only 11 months younger than I am – which means I was the middle child from before I turned one year old.

    Growing up, my mother loathed me. I was told she had hoped for a daughter when she was carrying me but she ended up with an effeminate boy instead, so maybe that’s the reason for her disdain towards me. She already had a macho son in Sam and when Dee and eventually May came out, she had her daughters, so why bother with me, you know?

    Am I engaging in self-pity? No, I’m just being frank.

    I knew Mom loathed me since I was 5. One morning, I felt this sharp pain in my legs and couldn’t stand up so I had to miss pre-school. Mom was convinced I was faking it.
    I stayed in bed until noon and she didn’t check on me once. Feeling hungry, I slowly got out of bed and used the wall for support as I took one painful step after another all the way to the dining room where Mom was preparing lunch. There I was, one slow at a time, leaning against the wall, and all she said was, “You don’t look like you’re in pain. Seem to be walking fine to me.” If it were Sam or Dee, we’d be at the clinic already.

    Another time, when I was 9, we were in the parents’ room. When it was time for bed, everyone started kissing our parents goodnight. I was afraid of Mom so I only kissed Dad. Then little May called out, “Aslan only kissed Dad. You’re supposed to kiss Mom too!” Mom’s smile immediately turned into a scowl and I was frozen for what felt like eternity. So I walked up to her and kissed one cheek – she didn’t even look at me. Dad just chuckled.

    Dad was a hardworking breadwinner and was always travelling so his parenting skills were usually phoned-in. But he was still biased. Sam and May could ask for anything and he’d get it for them. I never got that privilege. So I knew from early on that my parents favoured the other three: from age 7, I had to do all the chores at home – laundry, dishes, vacuuming etc. I was already handling a knife at 7, peeling onions and garlic – and if I didn’t, I’d get scolded. But Sam, Dee and May were never expected to do chores – I even had to clean Sam’s school shoes and socks. They’d get to sleep in until noon on weekends but I have to wake up at 9am to do chores – Mom would bang on my door, screaming, if I got up any later. She didn’t do that with the others. My siblings could do little wrong but whenever something messes up at home, I would be the prime suspect with heavy scolding to follow.

    For example, there was this one time, May was 6 and had accidentally locked Mom in the bathroom. My cousin Bill, Dee and I (aged 12) were hanging out in my room which was at the other end of the house. I thought I heard someone scream my name but Bill and Dee said they didn’t hear anything.
    Eventually, Sam heard Mom calling for help and let her out (his bathroom was adjacent to hers). Then she came marching to my room and screamed at me, “I was calling out for you at the top of my lungs and don’t pretend you didn’t hear me! You are so useless!!” What puzzled me was this: May had locked her in. Sam was in the room closest to her. Bill and Dee was with me, yet I was the only one singled out for not rescuing her. All that was my fault?

    So yeah. When shit happened, I was to blame. Mom also enjoyed scolding me in front of her friends. I hated that most because her friends would give me this pitying look. Even when they complimented me by telling her “Aslan is so helpful around the house” her reply would be “That’s because he’s a ‘fairy’.”

    I was afraid of my Mom but eventually grew to hate her. Sometimes when we argue – by that, I mean she would scold me for something and I’d just sulk (to this day, I have never ever raised my voice to my parents because I find that disrespectful) – Mom and I would not talk to each other for weeks, the longest being three months.

    Because I was treated so unfairly, for a while I thought I was orphaned. There were times I contemplated suicide. When I was 16, I brought a knife into my room but was too chicken to slice my wrists. So I prayed to God, crying, and begged of Him, “Please, God, take my life now. Please. Let me sleep and not wake up. You can throw me into hell for I all care because I’m already experiencing hell here. Any place is better than here.”

    The reason why I wanted to die then was because, against my wishes, my parents sent me to boarding school for 2 years. I didn’t care about being away from home but I didn’t want to be away from all my friends. But it worked out in my favour: at 16, that was when I began feeling free from my family. And maybe because I was far away, and there was noone to help around the house, Mom started to mellow down. When I came back during school holidays, she didn’t scream at me as much. Then over the years, when I started college, she stopped scolding all together and became warmer towards me.

    Still, I hated my childhood – to this day, it’s hard for me to recall good memories involving my parents. Even now, my parents and I hardly talk. We would be watching TV, eating dinner together, or even in the car together, we don’t talk much, if at all. Only when one of the other siblings are around, then they would be chatty.

    But somehow, miracle of miracles, I turned out alright.

    See, I was the first to graduate from college, the first to leave the nest, the first one to get a job, the first to buy his own house. In contrast, Sam the eldest was the best student for English and History, yet when his pre-college results came out, he flunked both of those subjects and couldn’t apply for college. So he had to wait another year to re-take his exams. He graduated a couple of years after me, worked for a year and a half, then quit and was unemployed for about 8 years. When he got married at 33, he was still unemployed (my parents paid for everything, of course. In fact, throughout his unemployment, they gave him a monthly allowance. They also paid for his car. At the age of 30, he was asking money from Dad to buy an iPod).

    May, the spoilt brat, changed courses and colleges about 7 times (I lost count, but all paid for by the parents). Eventually she left college for good and now is in and out of work (she also gets allowances from the parents).

    Now as grown-up, Sam and I exchange a quota of one sentence a year – he was mean and abusive towards me until I was 15. He has tried on few occasions to try and connect with me but I’m not interested – the scars run too deep.
    May and I used to be close but I kicked her out of my apartment two years ago because she was being spoilt and selfish – she was 30 and lazy and was turning my apartment into a pig sty. She felt victimised and refused to talk to me up to today.
    Dee and I are the closest because of our 11 months difference. Also because, since May came into the picture, she had experienced what it was like to be the middle child. Dee is still my parents’ favourite though because she’s the most gregarious, but she still has to work for it: when Dee got out of college, she asked for a car but my parents said she was old enough to pay for her own. Then when May started work and moved in with me, she got a car without even asking. Dee and May have never gotten along.

    These are the kinda things favouritism does to families.

    I maybe an adult now but the favouritism still happens. When I was 28, Dad said he had created funds for all of us since we were kids. The year before, he had given Dee hers and she told me she had received around $3000. She believed mine was more – maybe $6000 plus – since some of her money was used to pay for her UK degree (unlike me, she didn’t get a scholarship so the parents had to help pay for her tuition). When I received my account book from Dad, it came with a note “I had saved some money for you but we had to use some of it to help pay for your sister’s college.” My balance was around $500. They give monthly allowances to Sam and May because they were unemployed spoilt brats, yet they use money that was rightfully mine to help pay for Dee’s education? Gee, thanks, Mom & Dad.

    But here is what I learned from my experience as a middle child: let go and let God. My parents are good people – noone gave them a manual on how to be good parents. They’re human, they make mistakes. Sure, they treated me unfairly but they still gave me a home, food, and rights to education.

    And there really is no use to dwell on this predicament. Apart from developing thick skin, I’ve learned the important thing is this: don’t seek for their approval. I’ve had good grades, great success, was generally an obedient child, respectful… yet none of that changed anything. In my parents’ eyes, I’m still just second-rate.

    And that’s fine by me. Because I am now an adult with my own ‘family’, a set of friends who respect me and love me, and co-workers who hold me in high esteem. To them, I am never second-rate. Sure, due to Middle Child Syndrome, I suffer insecurity, I’m introverted, I have trust issues, I have dreadfully low self-esteem, I’m pessimistic sometimes bla bla bla… we all have our demons. But I sure as hell won’t let that get the better of me. Because I suffered through childhood, and that’s all in the past. Now, I deserve better, dammit.

    So if anyone is reading this, if you’re a middle child going through shit or if you’re someone who gets treated unfairly or abused by your family, and you feel lonely, under-appreciated, suicidal, worthless, humiliated… know this: it gets better. Just bloody hang in there. Find strength in God. Be the person you want to be, always think well of others, work hard to be a better person and go get a better life. And quit complaining – do something about it. Because in the end, what’s going to happen to your life is up to you. You can only blame your parents or your family for so long – come a time, you have to stop seeing yourself as a victim. You have to be an adult.

    Have faith. And Godspeed. My prayers go out to you.

    Life is good, God is great,
    A.

    • i just read all of this. my childhood was nowhere near a quarter as bad as yours. I still suffer from low self esteem, lack of drive (sometimes), anxiety… etc etc. Somehow you pulled through, eventually I hope I can do.

      I think almost all middle kids, maybe 90%, are cursed with the MCS no matter how nurturing their childhood was.

      I am scared of the future, I’m scared about how it will turn out for me. Where I live our government doesn’t take care of its citizens as well as yours probably does so that’s a downside.

      I am amazed you don’t hate your parents, especially your mom (I refuse to call her a “good person” I’m sorry) and glad you didn’t turn out to be a psychopath.

    • I cried reading your letter.may this an inspiration to others.
      An eye opener to those who experience the same situation likr

    • Hi. I am not a middle child, but the younger of two children, with a 21 month age difference. I got the abuse, neglect and abandonment treatment. My brother could do no wrong. I am only writing to say, that the treatment you got you did not deserve. That was what made your mom the criminal, not you. The biggest obstacle in believing this, is that at the time that we are suffering all the injustices, are during the formative years, where we are too young to have another point of reference. I am sorry that you, me and countless other people suffered at the hands of the very people who should have been their protectors and advocates. I know that you will find your way in this life, and I was comforted by Psalm 27:10-14, paraphrased, it says: If your mother and father fail you, I will take you up (The Lord speaking) take you up to mean, become your parent. I am sorry that you suffered, I really am, but now you are in control of your adult life and I hope it holds all the joy you are longing for. God bless you :)

  10. I have a husband whom I could not figure out what was going on with him. As a person interested in psychology after many years I finally did research on MCS. I have 3 siblings older and two younger. My mother always told me I could do whatever I wanted. Therefore anytime someone said I couldn’t do it, I ALWAYS proved them wrong! I became an over achiever because I was also teased because my skin was the darkest of all my siblings. I am now trying to be the wind beneath my husband’s wing to help him manage through this. While his Mom and Dad did contribute to the issue, as his wife I am the one in a better position to help through this. He possess a great deal of these symptoms. I asked him to review this with an open mind and let’s discuss to determine if additional help is needed. I draw as well and I want you to know that you possess a unique skill, never feel bad about that! We are all special and we all have talent. Dig deep, find your talent and enjoy your new found skill and start allowing it to help you build self-esteem. Learn to love yourself!!!

  11. Its true,.. All the words you said is true.. Parents are really unfair .. I already felt those emotions too :( Its so sad

  12. I am the middle child of 3 daughters . I totally relate to the feeling of not being good enough and growing feeling unloved. As I got older I thought I was going crazy for feeling this way like it was all in my head but over the last couple of years events have happened that have only validated how I have felt for most of my life. Here’s just one example, since I was 17 I have payed dig money to my parents to stay in the house I’ve grown up in my whole life , I also payed for all my own things , phone , and paid for my own driving lessons , car and insurance. And for most people this is normal and expected for a 17 year old , I agree. But here’s the kicker – my sisters have never had to do these things. My older sister lived here dig free and had a car bought for her by my grandparents , my parents bought my little sister a car yesterday and have paid her insurance , they pay her phone bill and tap her money when lever she asks , yet when I’m a bit short on my dig money because I’ve just paid £300 to get my car fixed it’s like the world is ending (please also note I am a full time university student currently in my final year ) . Some people may see this as a moan about money but it’s soo much more than that. This pattern has happened through out my entire life , I’ve been singled out and made to feel like I’ve had to go without so that the other two can get. This recent example has driven an even bigger wedge between me and my mum to the point that we don’t speak and I’m finding it more and more difficult to have a relationship with her. All those times people would joke and say aww it’s middle child syndrome , no , these feelings I have are real and causes by real situations in which I’m constantly treated different like an outsider and the worst part is I have no idea why.

    • That is so messed up. How can parents be so unbelievably unfair? It blows my mind sometimes how parents can behave. Don’t they grasp that their actions will have a far reaching effect on their kids. I too am a middle child and have always suffered low self esteem.
      It’s only now (I’m 35) that I’m ready to look at my past and see how my childhood might have contributed to this; I always just assumed I was a depressive person, that I was just somehow flawed – in short, I’ve blamed myself.
      Now, I’m going to get some therapy and examine exactly how I’ve ended up here. I don’t want to blame anyone. I just want to understand and then let it go.
      I wish you all the very best,
      Oliver.

  13. I am so glad that I did not experience this growing up. I am the third of four and the only girl, so I don’t relate to this at all. Also, my brother who was born second and I excelled the most academically, musically, and athletically. I think my oldest brother felt the most left out, as he was an only child for three years and in the following three years gained 3 siblings. The youngest was definitely coddled and even at 30, still thinks he should get his way every time. I have wonderful, loving parents and never felt unnoticed, in fact, I always preferred to have less attention. I do feel that the middle children in my family were held to a higher standard, because we were always high acheivers, but I don’t think that has anything to do with birth order. I am so thankful for all of things my parents did for me.

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