Why Does Family Conflict Harm Some Children More Than Others?

Professor Gordon Harold and his colleagues have conducted a research study that helps to cast light upon why some children appear to be more resilient to the adverse psychological and behavioural effects of living in a household in which there exists family conflict than others. The findings of the research suggested that key to such resilience is related to how the child interprets the situation and the meaning that s/he attaches to it, especially in relation to the parents’ behaviours and what actually underlies the conflict (main foundations of conflicts within the families studied included adversarial relationships between parents, strained and problematic relationships between the parent/s and the child and maternal depression).

If the child interprets the situation as his / her own fault (this is, sadly, a typical, unwarranted response) s/he is at higher risk of developing behavioural problems (e.g. anti-social tendencies).

Notwithstanding the above, however, overall and on average girls are more likely to respond to conflict within the home by displaying emotional problems (internalisation) while boys are more likely to respond by displaying behavioural difficulties (externalisation), according to Professor Harold. (In relation to this, you may be interested in reading my previously published article entitled: ‘Why Girls Are More Likely To Report Suffering From Depression Than Boys).’

On the other hand, according to the research, if the child interprets the conflict as dangerous and as a threat to his/her wellbeing or is fearful it will lead to the breakdown and disintegration of the family, s/he is at increased risk of developing psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. Depression was also more likely to manifest itself in girls, the research suggested, if the parents’ relationship was volatile or if interpersonal relations between the daughter and mother were strained and stressful.

Professor Harold has also stated that for family conflict which is poorly resolved to adversely affect the child’s mental health, it does not necessarily have to be ‘high intensity’ conflict but may involve parents being very withdrawn from one another or using what has been termed ‘the silent treatment‘ as a means of inflicting psychological punishment. Furthermore, he has drawn attention to research that suggests that living in households in which there exists longterm, ongoing conflict between the parents can adversely affect children physiologically (for example, by increasing their risk of suffering from tachycardia, hypervigilance and/or impairment of normal brain development).

According to the researchers, interventions most likely to help families living in conflict are those that concentrate upon solutions that enable parents to resolve or reduce their day-to-day conflicts with one another and that also focus on encouraging and improving techniques of positive and nurturing parenting. Professor Harold has stressed that importance of effective interventions due to the risk that bad relationships between parents may get passed down the generations in a self-perpetuating cycle (concerning this, you may be interested in reading my previously published article on the topic of so-called transgenerational trauma).

Professor Harold stresses that occasional arguments between parents are reasonable and, if the parents resolve these successfully, this can set a positive example to the child that may help him/her resolve his/her disputes in future relationships. He also points out that supportive, positive relationships that the child has beyond that with his/her parents, such as with grandparents, teachers and siblings, can have a substantial impact on his/her psychological resilience, though warns that the quality of the child’s relationship with his/her parents can affect these negatively as well as positively.

Finally, it is worth emphasizing that, according to Professor Harold, often the most damaging aspect of parents’ divorce upon the child may be the chronic, unresolved conflict (arguments, confrontations etc.) which may occur before, during and after the separation. Certainly, as a young child, I can remember sitting at the top of the stairs listening to my parents screaming at each other downstairs, shaking with fear (and then being shouted at by my mother – ‘that sodding kid’s eavesdropping again!’ – if I was discovered). An all too common experience, I imagine.

 

To read the paper by Professor Harold et al. (PDF format) entitled: WHAT WORKS TO ENHANCE INTER-PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS AND IMPROVES OUTCOMES FOR CHILDREN, click here.

 

RESOURCE:

BE LESS CONFRONTATIONAL | SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

 

RELATED ARTICLES :

Divorce: Signs Children Are Being Used As Pawns Or Weapons.

Acrimonious Divorce May Damage Children’s Immune Systems

Effects Of Divorce On Children Under Five

Combined Effects Of Divorce And Emotional Abuse On Children.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

Why Are Girls More Likely To Report Suffering Depression Than Boys?

Research shows that during adolescence girls are more likely to experience depression than are boys (this difference between males and females is also reflected in the adult population). Why should this disparity between the genders exist?

INTERNALIZATION VERSUS EXTERNALIZATION :

According to Daniel Freeman (a psychiatrist at the University of London) and Jason Freeman (his brother), authors of the fascinating book. The Stressed Sex’, one reason why females report feelings of depression more frequently than males is that they are more prone to internalizing their problems whereas men have a greater propensity to externalize theirs.

Internalization of psychological difficulties manifests itself in ways that include insomnia, anxiety, self-harm and, of course, depression whereas externalization can result in behaviours such as physical aggression, drug abuse and alcoholism.

 

LOWER SELF-ESTEEM?

Furthermore, Freeman and Freeman suggest that females are more likely to suffer from depression because, on average, they are more susceptible to low self-esteem than males (e.g. Kearney-Cooke, 1999; Bleidorn et al. 2016) which is likely to make them more prone to not only depression but other mental disorders too. (Other researchers, however, have argued that the idea that women have lower self-esteem than men is not applicable to modern, 21st century females ; for instance, one study involving over 100,000 participants found that although girls had greater anxiety in relation to their physical appearance than boys, their self-esteem was equal to that of boys in relation to their academic abilities and also in relation to their ethical standards of behaviour.

STIGMA :

It has also been suggested that females report feelings of depression more than males do because they (females) are more inclined to talk about how they feel compared to males (who feel inhibited about talking about how they feel because a greater stigma attaches itself to male disclosure of such matters and perhaps, too, because they are more likely to fear being regarded as ‘weak’ and ‘unmanly’).

SUICIDE RATES :

According to the ‘stigma’ argument, then, ACTUAL RATES of depression amongst males are not necessarily lower than amongst females but only appear to be as they are less likely to report their feelings of depression than females.

Indeed, this theory is borne out by the fact that ‘successful’ suicide rates amongst males are DOUBLE the rates amongst females (even though females are twice as likely to ATTEMPT suicide which suggests females might be less likely to intend to kill themselves when exhibiting suicidal behaviour because, more frequently than amongst males, the primary motivation behind such behaviour may be to communicate emotional pain – the classic ‘cry for help.’ (N.B.It should never be assumed a suicide threat, made by a male or female of any age, isn’t genuine and is  ‘just a cry for help.’ A very substantial number of individuals who threaten suicide go on to commit it ‘successfully.’)

SEX HORMONES :

After puberty (when, many studies have found, that differences in rates of depression between boys and girls start to become marked) the sex hormones in males and females undergo dramatic changes (males produce large quantities of testosterone whereas, in contrast, females produce large quantities of oestrogen). These hormones affect the brain and may, therefore, at least in part, help to explain the disparity in depression rates reported by female and male adolescents and adults.

PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME (PNS) :

For the majority of females problems related to PMS are fairly minor. However, some may suffer much more serious symptoms which impair day-to-day functioning to a significant degree at which point it may be diagnosed as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and its symptoms include depression, extreme irritability and anxiety (approximately 7-14 days prior to the commencement of the individual’s period). Whilst the precise nature of the mechanism underlying the link between depression and PMS / PMDD is not entirely certain, it has been theorized that a primary explanation, as alluded to above, could be that certain hormones, including oestrogen and progesterone, may adversely interact with serotonin (a neurotransmitter thought to be involved in the experience of depression) in the brain.

eBook :

 

Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. Click here for further information.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

 

Increased Risk Of STDs In Adults Who Experienced Childhood Trauma

 

 

We now know, as has been shown in a very large (and increasing) body of research, the most well known of which is the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Survey, that the more adverse childhood experiences we suffer. the greater is our risk of later developing various psychological and physical illnesses (indeed, those who have suffered significant chronic trauma as children have, on average, a reduced life expectancy and age at a faster rate compared to those fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable and secure childhood. For example, those who suffered, as children, severe enough chronic trauma to have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) in adulthood may, without appropriate therapeutic intervention may have a life expectancy that is 19 years below the average.

 

WHY MIGHT THOSE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED SIGNIFICANT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA BE AT INCREASED RISK OF CONTRACTING SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES (STDs)?

 

  1. IMPAIRED IMMUNITY: Research suggests that childhood trauma can weaken our immune systems which, in turn, makes us more vulnerable to contracting diseases including, of course, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  2. INCREASED RISK TAKING: It has also been found that those who have suffered childhood trauma are less averse to taking risks than average and this includes a greater than average propensity to taking sexual risks.
  3. ALCOHOL/DRUGS: Those who have had traumatic childhoods are more likely than average to develop problems relating to alcohol and drugs which, in turn, can lower inhibitions with obvious knock-on effects in relation to sexual behaviour.
  4. PSYCHOLOGICAL PAIN/DISSOCIATION/PROMISCUOUS SEX: Those who have suffered significant childhood trauma may suffer chronic psychological pain as adults from which they desperately need to escape – such mental escape is known by psychologists as dissociation and sex can allow a person temporarily to dissociate. Seeking such a dissociative state through sex can, therefore, become addictive (in the same way as using alcohol and drugs to detract from mental anguish can become addictive); it is easy to see, therefore, why survivors of childhood trauma may become sexually promiscuous.
  5. FEELINGS OF REJECTION/INFERIORITY: If we were rejected by parents in childhood we may grow up feeling unwanted and inferior; frequent, casual sex can make individuals feel temporarily desirable and special, acting as an ephemeral antidote to these negative feelings. However, once the sexual encounter is over, the individual will often be left feeling empty, ashamed and of as little worth as a human being as ever.
  6. LONELINESS: Related to the above, many people who have experienced significant childhood trauma develop serious problems with interpersonal relationships as adults, leaving them feeling socially isolated and alone; again, casual, promiscuous sex can provide temporary relief, but also involve the drawbacks mentioned above.

EXAMPLES OF RELEVANT RESEARCH :

Research conducted by Haydon et al. (2010) found that young women who had experienced physical neglect in childhood were at higher risk than average of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Wilson and Widom (2009) conducted a 30-year prospective study and found greater reporting of having suffered more than one sexually transmitted disease (STD) by participants who had suffered childhood trauma or neglect compared to controls.

Madrano and Hatch (2009) conducted research that found the greater the severity of abuse (physical, sexual and emotional) female participants had experienced in childhood the more sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), on average, they were likely to have contracted.

CONCLUSION:

The above serves to add further evidence to an already very large body of research demonstrating the potential impact of childhood trauma on adult health.

RELATED ARTICLES :

 

Effects Of Interpersonal Childhood Trauma Sexuality

The Link Between Childhood Trauma, Psychopathology And Sexual Orientation.

Childhood Trauma And Hypersexuality

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

3 Reactions Of Nervous System To Shame And Health Effects

 

 

INTERNALIZATION DURING CHILDHOOD :

I have described in several other articles that I have published on this site that if we were treated during our childhood by our parents / primary caretakers in an abusive fashion (e.g. made to feel worthless, unlovable, unwanted, inadequate, fundamentally flawed etc.) we are likely to internalize a very negative view of ourselves and, without appropriate therapy, go through life having to endure profound and pervasive feelings of shame that can severely impair our quality of life by making us feel unwanted wherever we go and of less worth than others (Pattison).

PHYSIOLOGICAL RESONSES TO SHAME :

In physiological terms, we respond to shame a similar fashion to how we respond to feelings of fear, danger and threat. In evolutionary terms, this response has come about because the perception of shame is linked to the fear of social rejection and ostracization which could, literally, threaten our distant ancestors’ ability to survive ; therefore, to be rejected from the group could be fatal.

In the modern day, of course, social rejection and ostracization is unlikely to prove fatal (unless, of course, it drives us to suicide) but our nervous systems still respond to perceived shame as it did for our ancestors i.e. feelings of shame are equated with being in danger and, as a consequence, the SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM IS ACTIVATED AND WE ENTER THE FIGHT / FLIGHT / FREEZE STATE.

In this state, the body is biologically prepared to deal with danger by either PHYSICALLY FIGHTING or RUNNING AWAY. However, as I have said, this response evolved to help our ancestors and is seldom appropriate in relation to modern day shame-inducing scenarios so, instead of physically fighting, we may become extremely angry and verbally aggressive (although in extreme cases a person might become physically violent) or hide ourselves away (e,g, by not leaving the house, avoiding people etc. – in extreme cases, a person might move to another town, country or, if things are particularly bad, perhaps, continent). This feeling of wanting to hide and escape is encapsulated fairly well by the expression : ‘I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me’ and, of course, by actions such as covering one’s face with one’s hands or averting one’s gaze away from others / looking down at the ground. To reiterate, all these shame responses are directly linked to the activation of our sympathetic nervous system and the potential danger to which our brains are alerted.

However, our most common response to shame is the FREEZE response (which involves part of the nervous system shutting down) because we can’t properly metabolize our feelings of shame via the fight or flight responses. This freeze response can give rise to various unpleasant symptoms such as dissociation, derealization and depersonalization. In this state we feel trapped, powerless and completely unable to help ourselves or change our situation. It can also deprive us of our ability to think clearly which Nathanson refers to as ‘cognitive shock’ – cognitive shock is a state of panic involving a desperate need to hide from or conceal our shame and stops us from being able to think in a rational way or to exercise moral reasoning (Nathason).

To reiterate : all three reactions to shame, i.e. fight, flight and freeze, are physiological repercussions to being in ‘survival mode’ due to perceived danger. When we are in ‘survival mode’, because all our mental and physiological resources are focused on, in effect, ‘keeping ourselves alive,’ it is almost impossible for us to feel empathy for others. 

Shame pervades our very sense of identity making us feel intrinsically worthless as a person, Furthermore, we are highly liable to ‘feeling ashamed of feeling ashamed‘, creating a viscious cycle whereby shame feeds off shame. (You may wish to read more about this in my previously published article about a phenomenon known as THE SHAME LOOP.)

Because being conscious of our own shame can be exquisitely painful, we sometimes repress it (i.e. block it out of conscious awareness) and protect ourselves from its poisonouis effects by employing psychological defense mechanisms. According to Nathanson, four such defenses we use against shame are :

  1. shameful withdrawal
  2. masochistic submission
  3. narcissistic avoidance of shame
  4. the rage of wounded pride

HEALTH EFFECTS OF CHRONIC SHAME :

I stated at the beginning of this article that feelings of chronic shame can stem from an abusive childhood, and it is also associated with PTSD, complex PTSD, social anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.

There is also research existing to suggest that chronic shame can lead to :

  • alcoholism
  • addictions
  • eating disorders
  • narcissistic rage leading to violence and antisocial behavior
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • weight gain

And, research suggests, because chronic shame is such a powerfully negative emotion, it can increase the level of stress an individual experiences leading to increases in the body of the stress hormone cortisol which, in turn, can impair both cardiovascular health and the immune system.

 

RESOURCES :

Dealing With Guilt and Shame | Self Hypnosis Downloads

or may wish to visit this website : The Healing Shame Center

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Narcissistic Parents’ Use Of The Complimentary Moral Defense

 

 

 

Having lived with my highly unstable mother until since my parents’ divorce when I was eight,, I moved into the house of my father and step-mother (I have explained how this came about elsewhere on this site) when I was thirteen. It was obvious from the start that I was not wanted in my new environment : soon after I moved in my father told me that what I had to understand was that when his new wife (i.e. now my step-mother) married him (a year or two previously) she didn’t realize that I was going to become ‘part of the package) ; indeed, the antipathy she felt towards my presence was palpable from the start (whilst my father coped with my presence by essentially ignoring me).

My step-mother was a highly religious woman who was a pivotal member of her church and started a charity for the homeless (and eventually built it into an organization of some local significance) which was ironic in as far as several years later she insisted my father threw me out of the house (a demand to which he acquisced without apparent quibble), thus making me homeless (I had to move in with a friend and his parents – my step-mother’s homeless charity was not forthcoming with support). Although my step-mother had an impeccable public image, I believe she was what is known as a communal narcissist (she also worshipped her own, biological son, whilst intensely disliking me and it is a recognized phenomenon that narcissistic parents often have one favourite child and another they make the family scapegoat.

But back to when I was thirteen and had just moved in. As I have said, my step-mother was highly religious and attended a Charismatic church (i.e. one that beieved god actively intervenes in the world through miracles, signs, symbols, prophecy, healings, supernatural events and general spookiness. Congregation members, for example, would apparently sometimes spontaneously start talking in so-called ‘tongues ; this is, Charismatic Christians believe, a ‘divine language’. Notwithstanding this spurious and bogus claim, it is nevertheless incomprehensible to not only the listener, but also the speaker. However, it  superficially sounds like an actual language in so far as it is made up of syllables from a real language and tends to be spoken with at least some degree of rhythym and melody (Williams, 1972). Anyway, the point is that after I had just moved in and was in the middle of some fairly trifling argument with my step-mother, she suddenly started shouting at me in said ‘tongues’ (with, as I recall, a somewhat crazed look on her face which did little to reassure me).

So, what was she trying to communicate? Although I was stunned into a sort of mental blankness (an example of dissociation, I assume) by her bizarre and disturbing behavior at the time and, for a long time afterwards, blocked it out of my mind, in retrospect it is clear (although the ‘tongues’ themselves were, I can see now, amounted to nothing more than nonsensensical prattle) that the message she intended to convey was that she herself was a holy, godly and good person whist I was the polar opposite : unholy, ungodly, and evil (so evil, in fact, that she wished me to believe that god had seen fit to give my step-mother the ‘gift of tongues’ with which to really drive the point home) ; I undoubtedly internalized that message, reinforced constantly by her attitude towards me over the years which has led to a life mired in self-hatred and self-contempt.

I retell the story because what happened between myself and my step-mother that day, so many years ago now, but still vivid in my mind, encapsulates very well what is meant by the psychoanalytic phrase : THE COMPLEMENTARY MORAL DEFENSE.

As I alluded to above, for much of my life I have felt essentially worthless and this, if Shaw’s (author of : Traumatic Narcissism :  Relational Systems Of Subjugation, in which he expounds upon this) theory (an expansion of Fairbairn’s original theory) is correct, may well be due to the complementary moral defense (which I’ll refer to as CMD).

Essentially, CMD involves, firstly, the child of narcissistic, abusive parents being unconsciously driven to perceive himself / herself as ‘bad’ rather than the narcissistic, abusive parents as bad because this is the only way s/he can maintain an attachment to them, upon which s/he is so pitifully dependent.

Secondly, CMD involves the narcissistic, abusive parents developing the diametrically opposed belief about themselves which is complimentary to the child’s view of himself as being ‘all bad’, i.e. they regard themselves as ‘all good.’ This appallingly destructive relational dynamic is maintained by the narcissistic parents continually projecting their own badness onto the child which s/he internalizes : like a diabolical form of osmosis, slowly, but surely, over the years, the psychological poison projected from the narcissistic parents is absorbed into the child’s self-image, potentially condemning him / her, without effective therapy or meaningful emotional support, to a life of having to endure profound feelings of self-loathing, shame and guilt.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

5 Defenses Used By Narcissists To Hide Inner, Extreme Fragility

 

 

As we have seen in many other articles that I have published on this site, despite superficial indicators of the polar opposite, internally narcissists are wracked by intense feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, vulnerability, fragility, worthlessness and self-loathing ; in essence, their internal, camouflaged self is that of a highly anxious, uncertain, frightened and deeply insecure child.

And, because it is so painful to live in a state of mind which is acutely conscious of these weaknesses, the narcissist desperately needs to  defend him/herself, psychologically,  from living in a state of perpetual awareness of them and so, unconsciously, develops defensive psychological mechanisms in an attempt to keep them mentally subjugated and prevent them impinging upon and  dominating his / her conscious awareness.

Below, I list some examples of the kinds of psychological defense mechanisms the narcissist employs (on an unconscious level) in order to be able to keep his / her potentially paralyzing, self-denigrating inner feelings at bay.

PSYCHOLOGICAL DEFENSE MECHANISMS EMPLOYED BY THE NARCISSIST :

GRANDIOSITY : The defense mechanism of ‘grandiosity’ serves to protect the narcissist from his / her inner feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy.

PROJECTION : Projection is a psychological defense mechanism employed by individuals to deny and repudiate faults that exist in themselves by attributing them, instead, to other people. For example, a narcissist who is controlling and demanding may acuse others of being controlling and demanding.

ENTITLEMENT : This defense mechanism, a kind of ‘the-world-owes-me-a-living’ attitude is used to disguise inner feelings of being fundamentally undeserving of anything good in life.

FANTASIES OF GREAT SUCCESS : Internally, the narcissist feels deeply inferior to others and an object of scorn and contempt ; fantasies of great success help to defend against this. S/he may, for example, believe they are an, as yet, undiscovered genius who will, sooner or later, achieve the recognition of which s/he has, thus far (due to the imbicility of others, naturally), been so cruelly deprived, and become the object an envy, jealousy, worship and devotion (i.e. his/her rightful place in the world). Or, the narcissist may fantasize about having great power and control over others to protect against feelings of impotence and incompetence.

ARROGANCE AND SANCTIMONY : Narcissists can hide behind attitudes of ‘better-than-you’ and ‘holier-than-thou’ to ward off inner feelings of inferiority and shame.

Taking all of the above into account, one way to view narcissism itself is as a psychological defense to distance awareness from an inner, psychological reality that is too emotionally painful, distressing and potentially catastrophic to confront directly.

To read my previously published article about how narcissistic mothers may invalidate us, click here.

Alternatively, to read my previously published article about charateristics of narcissistic parents, click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

8 Dysfunctional Roles Within The Dysfunctional Family

 

 

According to Wegscheider-Cruse, Sarir and Kellogg, within dysfunctional families, each family member develops a dysfunctional role. These roles are as follows :

  • THE ENABLER
  • THE DO-ER
  • THE HERO
  • THE MASCOT
  • THE LOST CHILD / LONER
  • THE SCAPTGOAT
  • THE SAINT
  • DAD’S LITTLE PRINCESS / MOM’S LITTLE MAN

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

THE ENABLER : The enabler maintains the family status quo, irrespective of the costs, and tries to keep family conflict to a mininmum. The enabler may be motivated by fears of abandonment and / or a conviction that other members of the family cannot cope independently. S/he also tends to be in denial of the family’s problems and makes excuses for family members’ destructive behavior rather than confronting them. The enabler may be a child in the family but, more usually, is a spouse.

THE DO-ER : The do-er takes care of the family’s practical needs and is driven by unhealthy guilt and a heavy burden of responsibility. However, s/he has little energy or time to meet other requirements of family members such as their emotional needs. S/he gains self-esteem from being the one to fulfil the family’s practical needs but also feels exploited and lonely. Other family members spur him / her on to maintain his / her role via either direct or indirect means.

THE HERO : The ‘hero’ is the person who is good for the family’s public image and detracts from the dysfunction that lies at the heart of the family. S/he may have been very successful at school and may also have gone on to have an impressive career. However, his / her own mental well-being is poor as s/he carries around the knowledge that the image of the family s/he represents to wider society is deeply misleading. S/he is a driven, Type A personality, a workaholic and a perfectionist which can put him / her, eventually, at risk of developing stress-related illnesses due to the inner anxiety s/he carries around. Normally, the ‘hero’ is the oldest child.

THE MASCOT : The mascot, desperate for approval, is usually the youngest member of the family who is a kind of ‘court jester’ who provides ‘comic relief’ for the family with jokiness and light-heartedness ; however, beneath this thin veneer s/he conceals his / her own emotional pain and vulnerability  ; despite this superficial joviality when interacting with other family members, the family’s fundamental dysfunction remains unresolved.

THE LOST CHILD / LONER : The lost child / loner isolates him/herself from the family (e.g. the child who spends all his / her time in his / her bedroom) and is motivted to do so by his / her family’s need to be apart and separate from him / her. Therefore, the child’s isolation is not, at the fundamental level, his / her own personal choice and, as such, s/he feels deeply lonely. S/he is withdrawn, lacks social confidence and tends to experience relationship difficulties in later life or lives a solitary existence

THE SCAPEGOAT : The ‘scapegoat’ or ‘black sheep (usually the second oldest child) of the family’ is the one who later ‘acts out’ (usually the male acts out through violence and the female by promiscuous sex) the family’s dysfunction. S/he is the one the other family members (wrongly) blame for their dysfunction.

To learn more about this you may wish to read my prevoiusly published articles ‘The Dysfunctional Family’s Scapegoat‘ or ‘Family Systems Theory And The Family Scapegoat’ or ‘Did Your Dysfunctional Family Make You The Identified Patient?’ You may also wish to read my article : ‘Acting Out And Childhood Trauma.’

THE SAINT : The ‘saint’ is (tacitly) expected to personify the family’s religious / spiritual dimension and to refrain from sexual activity although this is not explicitly stated and the other family members’ encouragement that s/he will fulfil this role operates on an unconscious level.

DAD’S ‘LITTLE PRINCESS’ / MOM’S LITTLE MAN : When a parent puts a child into this role it is often referred to by psychologists as emotional incest or covert incest and constitutes a serious form of emotional abuse.  It involves the adult exploiting the child for his / her own emotional needs which, in turn, robs the young person of their childhood. This often leads to severe interpersonal difficulties when the child becomes an adult and makes him / her extremely vulnerable to revictimization as s/he is likely to have developed a lack of understanding about personal boundaries. A closely related concept to emotional / covert incest is that of ‘parentification’ of the child.

Not all dysfunctional families, of course, will incorporate individuals who fit each of these roles and, within any particular family, the same individual may fulfil different roles at different stages of development ; for example, the ‘lost child’ may later become the ‘scapegoat.’

FAMILY THERAPY :

A family who experiences these sort of problems can find family therapy extremely helpful. Family therapists may offer various approaches to treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Techniques family therapists use include ‘reframing’, setting families ‘homework’ (e.g. changing their responses to other family members), role-play and family situation re-enactments (and subsequent analysis).

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Childhood Trauma Recovery