What we look for in family dynamics
Family Projection Process
The family projection process describes the primary way parents transmit their emotional problems to a child. The projection process can impair the functioning of one or more children and increase their vulnerability to clinical symptoms. Children inherit many types of problems (as well as strengths) through the relationships with their parents, but the problems they inherit that most affect their lives are relationship sensitivities such as heightened needs for attention and approval, difficulty dealing with expectations, the tendency to blame oneself or others, feeling responsible for the happiness of others or that others are responsible for one's own happiness, and acting impulsively to relieve the anxiety of the moment rather than tolerating anxiety and acting thoughtfully.
The concept of emotional cutoff describes people managing their unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other family members by reducing or totally cutting off emotional contact with them. Emotional contact can be reduced by people moving away from their families and rarely going home, or it can be reduced by people staying in physical contact with their families but avoiding sensitive issues. Relationships may look "better" if people cutoff to manage them, but the problems are dormant and not resolved.
People reduce the tensions of family interactions by cutting off, but risk making their new relationships too important. For example, the more a man cuts off from his family of origin, the more he looks to his spouse, children, and friends to meet his needs. This makes him vulnerable to pressuring them to be certain ways for him or accommodating too much to their expectations of him out of fear of jeopardizing the relationship.
New relationships are typically smooth in the beginning, but the patterns people are trying to escape eventually emerge and generate tensions. People who are cut off may try to stabilize their intimate relationships by creating substitute "families" with social and work relationships.
Impairment of one or more children
The spouses focus their anxieties on one or more of their children. They worry excessively and usually have an idealized or negative view of the child. The more the parents focus on the child the more the child focuses on them. He is more reactive than his siblings to the attitudes, needs, and expectations of the parents. The process undercuts the child's differentiation from the family and makes him vulnerable to act out or internalize family tensions. The child's anxiety can impair his school performance, social relationships, and even his health.
As family tension increases and the spouses get more anxious, each spouse externalizes his or her anxiety into the marital relationship. Each focuses on what is wrong with the other, each tries to control the other, and each resists the other's efforts at control.
Dysfunction in one spouse
One spouse pressures the other to think and act in certain ways and the other yields to the pressure. Both spouses accommodate to preserve harmony, but one does more of it. The interaction is comfortable for both people up to a point, but if family tension rises further, the subordinate spouse may yield so much self-control that his or her anxiety increases significantly. The anxiety fuels, if other necessary factors are present, the development of a psychiatric, medical, or social dysfunction.
Alignments: the way family members join together or oppose one another in carrying out a family activity.
•Functional: Alignment between parents on key issues, such as discipline.
•Dysfunctional: Triangulation, each parent demands the child ally with him or her against the other parent. Whenever the child does side with one parent, however, the other views the alignment as an attach or betrayal and, in such a dysfunctional structure, the child is in a no-win situation.
Enmeshment: An extreme form of proximity and intensity in family interactions in which members are over concerned and over involved in each others life.
Disengagement: Family interaction in which members are isolated and unrelated to each other, each functioning separately and autonomously.
Scapegoating: The assigning of a “bad” or “guilty” label onto a family member, who is held responsible by all for family dysfunction.
Psuedomutuality: A relationship among family members that gives the appearance of being open and with mutual understanding, but in fact its not.
Parentification: The taking on of the nurturing, teaching a role of a parent by a child, temporarily or permanently.