Let us look at some interesting studies done with monkeys. Those who had as their only companions and mother-surrogates a warm, shaggy, cuddly, always available, stuffed doll at first looked as though they did all right.
But then they were followed into maturation and studied further upon reintroduction into a more normal captive monkey colony. It was found that they did not get along with the group; there was a lack of normal or adequate sexual behavior; the females, if they bore children, tended to ignore or attack them.
This last observation raised serious doubts about the existence of maternal instinct and again emphasized the influence of environment on molding the child and on his subsequent role behavior as an adult.
Although the importance of environment in the early years is generally accepted, it is such a crucial point in understanding the role of the family that two additional examples are cited:
Of 100 juvenile delinquents studied, only 20 had fathers or father substitutes in a stable job. Alcoholism and physical violence were common among the delinquents families, as were incidences of rape-incest and parental failing.
Of 2,000 University of California students surveyed, it was found that, if neither set of their grandparents had a history of divorce, then only 15 percent of the parents were divorced. On the other hand if one pair of grandparents had divorced, the parental rate climbed to 25 percent; if both sets of grandparents had divorced, the parental rate shot up to 40 percent.
What constitutes the contemporary family? How does the stability of the contemporary family bear upon the health of its members? What is the familys present condition? How did it get that way? What should it be? What can we do to make it what we would like it to be?
A family exists wherever there are people. Nowadays, with earlier marriage, culturally easier separation and divorce, and greater mobility demanded by a technological society, there is a loss of the glue of meaningful familial interactions. Deep, lasting roots do not develop; and there is a disruption of continuity from one generation to another. One begins to feel the loss of closeness and the sense of past traditions. Intimacy and mutuality of relationships grow thin. Roles and functions overlap and blur definition. Expectations are confused; allegiances, distorted.
This can readily lead from frustration to mistrust, doubt, and fear. Parents become stilted, unsure, and unspontaneous and rely more and more on the printed work of the lay journals, becoming not necessarily better parents, but rather, professional parents. Discipline becomes feeble and performed in an atmosphere of parents doubt about their own wisdom. What a pathetic picture it is, then, when external cultural pressures are compounded by an internal lack of understanding of ones own, as well as ones marital partners, needs and role identification and definition. The result is a failure to understand the family problems correctly; and meaningful, healthy solutions become difficult, if not impossible. The tendency, then, is to try dangerous shortcuts to re-establish family unity; and the consequences are often sad.
To understand, alter, and, hopefully, prevent family breakdowns, it is important to look more closely at the kinds of relationships that perpetuate problems, impede solutions, and rob the collective family unit of what it really wants most. There is, after all, a basic desire on the part of every human being to share in and enjoy the blessings of family unity. It is only an individual and/or collective mishigas that permits an unrewarding and unwanted situation to persist.
Because the family starts as a marital unit, it would be helpful to characterize functionally some types of problem marital constellations. Obviously, all these relationships contain elements that may be present in a normal relationship but that are problems because of their intensity and magnitude.
1. Immature or protective '
Here, one partner seeks out and finds another partner in whom an early, deeply buried, unresolved need to be cared for, or to care for someone, results not in a husband-wife relationship, but in that of a child to a parent, or vice versa.
2. Competitive '
In this relationship the unresolved conflict deals with deep-rooted envy and jealousy of the mates gender role and function, and there ensues a never-ending competition or one-upmanship.
3. Neurotic complementary '
Each partner supplies for the other a scene in which not realistic roles, but highly neurotic ones can be mutually acted out and, in the Shakespearean sense, all the world can become a stage for the re-creation and re-playing of old conflicts.
4. Complementary acting-out '
Here, tacit agreement is reached that some form of dissocial behavior will be tolerated, indeed, expected, either in order to permit one partner a vicarious release or to create a desperate situation, thereby permitting reversion to a parent-child relationship.
5. Mutual emotional detachment '
A tolerable balance between two partners is struck on the basis of emotional distance and isolation.
6. Master-slave '
One partner seeks omnipotent control over the other and the natural goals of love-sharing are perverted to domination and degradation.
7. Regressive '
There is a shared fear of, and prejudice against, life. A totally negativistic attitude dominates all life relationships; most often this kind of marital relationship produces psychotic offspring.
8. Healthy '
There is a sharing of realistic goals and compatible values. An ability exists to co-operate in the search for solutions to problems. Temporary disturbances do not result in persistent accusations, guilt, and scapegoating. Each genuinely accepts the other as a person and tolerates differences - indeed, uses them for creative growth.
Because all humans communicate not by words alone - there are tone, inflection, gesture, posture, facial expression, and so forth - the new entrant into one of these types of marital situation soon gets the message. For example, if a mother frowns, stiffens, and draws back while saying come here, and kiss me, dear, what does she really want? What is the child to do? This situation becomes even more confusing when the father says nothing! If he says, kiss mother, it supports the positive aspect of the message; if he says, do not bother, she obviously does not really mean that, though he promotes a feeling of rejection, the child at least knows where he stands.
Sheldon H. Kardener, MD, has written, lectured and taught extensively while practicing psychodynamic psychotherapy for over 40 years. Always on the cutting-edge, he is often called father of Focused Dynamic Therapy. His book, Breaking Free: How Chains From Childhood Keep Us From What
We Want, is a breakthrough book, the biggest breakthrough in psychotherapy since the 60s. Learn more at http://www.shkardenermd.com
or call 310.399.8727