The Eldest Daughter Syndrome Trend Offers Healing Through Humor, But It's Okay To Seriously Self-Reflect, Too

Many eldest daughters are finding solidarity in the "eldest daughter syndrome" trend that's taking over social media. The term has taken off on Twitter, with many people identifying with traits like lost childhoods, excessive people-pleasing, and being forced to carry out parental roles when they were much too young. The trend seems to be tapping into a particular set of expectations put upon eldest daughters, and these often unfair expectations carry out in adult life.

Twitter user @idgafahhk tweeted, "No one talks about how draining it is to be an eldest daughter. everyone will expect so much from you. from your achievements to chores but not even once received a 'thank you' or 'i'm so proud of you' and they will easily be disappointed with one f***ing mistake." 

"Eldest daughter syndrome" is a relatively new trend on social media, but the core characteristics are part of a tale as old as time. Young girls, typically the oldest girl in a family lineup, get burdened with the responsibility of caring for younger siblings and performing parental duties from an early age. Traditionally, their brothers are exempt from these expectations. Eldest daughters often end up acting as mediators in conflict, even for their parents. People who identify with "eldest daughter syndrome" also report stricter parenting rules, while their younger siblings got away with more, and got the chance to simply be kids. The trend is uniting a lot of people and prompting some serious conversations. 

Don't let humor deflect from the seriousness of eldest daughter syndrome

Like many trends on social media, people are addressing "eldest daughter syndrome" with humor. One person tweeted, "Eldest Daughter to Therapist pipeline lol," and one wrote, "Eldest Daughter April Goal: Do less." Another added, "Being the eldest daughter in [the] family is not for the weak." 

The positive side of humorously dealing with this syndrome is that it allows people to speak up about the experience without the pressure of getting serious. Not everyone wants to dish their traumatic past on the internet, but airing out traumas humorously can be healing. It can also be a way of introducing the subject in a light, engaging way. Exploring the deeper ramifications of "eldest daughter syndrome" means it's worth considering some real self-reflection. Not that people who joke about it online aren't doing that. But as they unpack and make light of this syndrome, it's also perfectly reasonable to feel grief over what was lost. 

Dr. Gail Gross explained the severe ramifications of this syndrome to Katie Couric Media. "By parenting her parents, and taking over some of their responsibilities, the oldest daughter, in a sense, is suppressing her own feelings, wants, and needs," Gross says. "She loses the capacity to not only recognize how she feels, but also to speak her feelings." Gross explains that eldest daughters often enter adulthood feeling sad and depressed. "This state can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as personality disorders and free-floating anxiety," she adds. 

How to begin unpacking 'eldest daughter syndrome'

Introducing the concept of "eldest daughter syndrome" with humor can be a great place to start, but it's not the same as doing some real self-reflection if there are deeper issues at play. If it feels right and it's accessible and affordable to you, therapy can be a beneficial step in this process. Regardless, there will be a lot of unlearning. "You can certainly talk about it in therapy when you've left [the family home]," psychotherapist Sally Baker told the Evening Standard. "You can unlearn the patterns and you'll probably need to impose really firm boundaries if you continue to have any contact with [your] family, because it will be uncomfortable."

Ellen Bradley-Windell, LCSW, told Katie Couric Media that there are other strategies to untangle this syndrome. "See the situation from an adult perspective," Bradley-Windell says. "Know that you didn't do anything wrong. All you knew was that you were being compliant and doing what was expected of you." Bradley-Windell also suggests speaking to your younger self. "Forgive the little girl who felt so alone because she couldn't do things her friends were doing and wasn't able to just be a kid," she suggests.

Not every eldest daughter is going to have this particular syndrome. But the fact that a space exists online to speak about these experiences and their consequences can help undo some of the earlier loneliness. It can also offer a launching pad to do some deep self-reflection.