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The Human Family

Processes In The Context

Extensive cross-cultural surveys have shown that some form of family is found in every society. There is no known society which has not institutionalized sexual and parental roles in a formal pattern of small nuclear groups integrated with other nuclear groups in an extended kinship system. The patterns vary with respect to size and kinship lines but the basic structure is universal. Furthermore, in all societies the family system is structurally related to all other units of the social system. It is universally integrated with other systems such as residence, or community organization, the stratification system (i.e., the class structure), the occupational system, the educational system, and the religious system of the society. More often than not it is integrated with the power structure or political system of the society.

This quotation is from a scholarly treatise prepared by Florence Kluckhohn and John Spiegel for The Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry. In this review, the authors state that in almost all societies, members of the nuclear family group, that is, husband, wife, and their children, live together in the same residence. Also, of the many interrelated functions which the family supplies both to the individual and to the social system, two are specifically allocated to the family: reproduction and socialization of children. The behavioral dynamics of socialization, the importance of child-parent and general family interactions in the shaping, maintenance, or extinction of a number of different social behaviors are summarized in Chapters 17 and 18. Doctors Kluckhohn and Spiegel remind us that from a comparative cultural-anthropologic standpoint, a wide variety of family structures have been studied, among these, the structural characteristics of the family in the various American and American Indian groups; in a variety of so called primitive or non-technologically developed societies, as in certain of the Pacific Island groups; within certain Oriental subcultures; and, more recently, in the Kibbutzim of the modern State of Israel. The profoundly important preliminary data derived from such studies have not been adequately appraised, but the inferences reviewed seem to be generally supported, although the Kibbutzim experiments still remain to be critically and definitively evaluated.

Although our cultural anthropologists tend to stress the relative uniqueness of the behaviors and value systems of different societies, there seems to be a general lack of recognition of the fundamental fact that human societies have found for some problems approximately the same general answers the world over. Moreover, in many of the studies noted, the common value element in the many patterns of a culture, the dominant values of the people, has been overstressed and the variant values largely ignored. Thus, the essential and ever present problem of deviation from the norm of the population representative has only too consistently been ignored. We are struck with the cogency of this criticism when we are tempted to make a generalization about the "typical, middle-class, urban family" or the "typical Eastern, urban, white-collar worker." Nonetheless, it is precisely the variations which are crucial for the conceptual systematization of psychologic and socio-cultural processes. We know, for example, that nowhere does a so called average urban, middle-class family exist. In any urban center, a wide variety of typical urban families representing members from two up to four generations can easily be found. Even within one extended family there may be widely divergent cultural, religious, social, and economic value systems and substantially inconsistent childrearing practices, occasionally, all under one roof.

Recent studies of family structure and function have stressed the importance of extending our individual formulations concerning personality development and maturation to include a consistent appraisal of the complex interactional elements within the family itself. The extraordinary complexity involved in representing the interplay of so many forces has attracted physical field theorists, and physical models of such interactions have been used. Though such models may serve a useful didactic purpose, there is as yet little scientific justification for the extension of electromagnetic and gravitational field theory to the problems of family interaction. Of far greater relevance, in the present state of knowledge, is the application of simple general behavioral principles to such group interactions, since such can be tested in the clinical laboratory.

In order to bring to life the array of interacting elements at work in a model type urban American family, certain aspects of the interactional impact of a three generation complex will be reviewed. The three generation formulation is most pertinent here because medical science and prophylactic technics have advanced to a point where the life expectancy of the ordinary male or female comfortably spans three generations. Therefore, from the vantage point of the developing child and the social milieu in which he develops, this child should be projected into an environment which includes not only himself and his contemporary siblings but also his parents as they interact with him and with each other (the family of procreation). Of equal importance, and sometimes of even more importance, are the parents of the parents as they influence attitudes toward pregnancy, religion, childrearing, economic planning, and security, as well as religious, moral, and social values. The grandparental generation should be included in spite of the increasing tendency toward disruption of families, and it should be included because of the major impact of such members on family values during the periods when the children are developing.

The Segmental Analysis Of Unit Components Within The Family Field

Grandparents. Certain racial, cultural, and religious traditions increase or decrease the impact of matriarchal or patriarchal figures and point up the relative importance of grandparents within the family constellation. The specific effects of the mother as she reacts with the crying, hungry, wet, or ill child have already been described and further technically analyzed in behavioral terms. At this juncture, it is important to emphasize the impact of the grandparents on the specific roles assumed by husband and wife within the family constellation. The influence of the grandmother, as well as grandfather, on each parental side in affecting responses to pregnancy and to the number of pregnancies and to whether the child is male or female is of great importance. An adequate behavioral analysis of a mother-child interaction must include not only a systematic analysis of the specific activities of the mother in her relationship to the child under a variety of complex and changing circumstances but also an analysis of these specific behaviors in the context of the socially reinforcing or aversive environment provided by the mother's own parents as well as her husband. On the father's side, the role of grandparents in defining, sustaining, or undermining the dominant or submissive position of the husband and father, and in shaping his attitudes and responses to his wife, cannot be overemphasized. In turn, his performances, so shaped, exert a profound effect on the maternal, feminine, and homemaking behaviors of his wife. Within a certain family constellation, for example, a first pregnancy can acquire a very specific significance as an occasion for joyous reinforcement when the pregnancy terminates in the birth of a male child. The anticipation of this event may serve as a highly anxiety provoking circumstance during the pregnancy itself. By contrast, the birth of a female infant or, more stressfully, three or four female children in a row within the same context may create and maintain the occasion for a variety of aversive conditions and circumstances exerted not only by the husband but also by disappointed grandparents. Ultimately, these effects are focused on the growing child. It is evident that only an extended analysis of this specific, highly idiosyncratic environment can provide adequate information for understanding (diagnosing) as well as hopefully changing (treating) defective families.

The Environment Created by the Parents. The parents create the immediate social environment which serves for the presentation and maintenance of certain values consistent with their "life style." Certain behaviors characteristic of different family types have recently been analyzed in descriptive and anecdotal terms by research investigators at the University of Cincinnati and also by Spiegel. The typical behavioral sets and activities which can be seen over and over again in the "suspicious" family, in the "muscular-outdoor" family, in the "somatic symptom preoccupation" family should provide a very useful typology for the clinical analysis of patient problems. Families so typed have been discovered to provide a consistently reinforcing environment for certain types of behavior, as, for example, chronically sustained illness roles for one family type; activities involving table pounding, demanding rights, and mistrust in another type family; and the channeling of energies into physical diversions and "do-it-yourself" activities in the other type family.

The complex generation of competitive or vying activities between parents as well as between their own children deserves special attention. The immature mother, who continues to maintain pathologically dependent attachment on parental figures and to manipulate them as well as her husband with behaviors characteristic of the child or adolescent, has a strong tendency to invest in an unhealthy way in substitutive emotionally rewarding relationships with her child because of the inevitable frustration she must experience in attempting to relate on an adult level with her husband. This, as will be recalled, is the mother who is inclined to treat her child as her private property and as a compliant baggage which exists for personal satisfaction and gratification. The behavior of the child of such a mother in playing off one parent against another is virtually inevitable. Such activities are readily identified even in a child of two years. Needless to say, the performances of such immature parents in supporting, intensifying, and exploiting such tendencies within the child are worthy of note. In a similar vein, acting out tendencies can be shaped and reinforced in the child by parents who fail to recognize the magnitude of their angry feelings or resentments toward their own parents, as has been eloquently described by Dr. Adelaide Johnson. Common everyday technics for shaping and maintaining such behaviors are exemplified by the parent who talks repeatedly about the fact that a young visiting grandchild must be very careful not to disturb or irritate the grandparents in a variety of familiar ways which are then spelled out in exquisite detail by the parent. Such an introduction, of course, provides a catalogue of behaviors for the child in the event that the child may have forgotten about these prior to such a visit. During the visit itself, there may be a variety of subtle technics by which the parent in many verbal and expressive ways reinforces the anticipated destructive or irritant behavior. Finally, to assure the persistence of such performances in subsequent visits, the parents may discuss in giggling or humorous vein the naughty or intolerable behavior of the children with such remarks as "I just knew you'd do that again" or "I can't understand how you can do this to grandmother when I told you so many times that you shouldn't."

A certain amount of parental vying for affection from their children within the family unit is an inevitable element in normal family life. Where the basic relationship between husband and wife is a mature and stable one with substantial mutual gratification, the occasions for persistent competitive activities between the children are understandably few. Where, on the other hand, the relationship between mates is an immature and fragile one, this vying may be intensified, with the child serving to maintain the disturbed relationship between parents over and beyond their own individual activities. The conflict which results as it affects the male child in his relation with the mother is referred to as the Oedipus conflict or complex of classical Freudian analytic metapsychology. The intensity and durability of this conflict is directly affected by the nature of the parental relationship. Manifestations of such conflicts may appear as early as two or three years of age, and they extend through the period of middle childhood from the fourth to the ninth or tenth year. In many instances, where neurotic elements are added, such conflicts are never successfully resolved. An accompaniment of this vying for the affection of the parent of the opposite sex and for this parent's attention and possession is resentment by the male child for the parent of the same sex. This resentment is often enough expressed in frank verbalizations of wishes for the absence of or even for the annihilation of the father. It is revealed, for example, in a competitive vying for the favorite position next to the mother on the television-viewing couch or, in fact, in the marital bed, and the successes which may occur in the context of physical illness or absence of the father occasioned by business or professional activity provide a favorable climate for the continued reinforcement of such competitive activities. Such unhealthy and emotionally invested competition may be strengthened and maintained at very high levels. The analogous relationship between daughter and father referred to in Freudian analytic metapsychologic terms as the Electra conflict, in which the female child displaces the mother in fanciful rivalry for the affection and attention of the father, also results in the appearance of angry or destructive attitudes and even behaviors toward the mother.

To what degree biologic and endocrine processes shape and affect such classical interactions within the family is not known. The great likelihood is, however, that the major shaping is through the social experiences of the child with his parents and that simple principles of reinforcement learning are more than adequate to deal with most conspicuous instances of such behaviors. The fact that such emotionally charged relationships are not universal, as demonstrated in cross-cultural studies, would tend to verify the socially learned and reinforced aspects of such behavior. These conflicts are clearly definable only within family constellations where the social relationship between mother, father, and children is a close and intimate one, one in which child rearing and nurturing, as well as home training, are provided exclusively by the biologic parents. In certain cultures, these roles are taken over by much broader and inclusive family groups or, as in certain Kibbutzim, by professional and semiprofessional workers. Under these circumstances, the dilution of such conflicts is noted. As a corollary, however, certain other by-products of the intimate and sustained family interaction are also affected under such conditions of altered family living. Thus, the clarity of parental identification behaviors is seemingly obscured in children raised within Kibbutzim as compared with so called control children raised in closely knit Jewish farm families.

It is a serious mistake to conclude that family influences are of importance only as they are manifested in the generation and maintenance of complexes or conflicts. Deviant conflict situations are most clearly representative of neurotically or psychotically disturbed adult relationships, and this fact bears emphasis. The child's relationships with both of his parents are ordinarily not only set in a conflicted mold but also are positive, gratifying, supporting, and socially useful. A developmental psychology which stresses only the negative aspects of personality development is not precisely relevant to this treatment nor to the adequate understanding of healthy personality development. A male child, for example, betrays not only competitive and vying activities within the mother-father triangle, but he also experiences positive reinforcement, progressive approximation and shaping of desirable behavior, inspiration, guidance, and a variety of other influences subsumed under the general heading of identification in his relationships with his father. Where the fundamental family unit, which is composed of mother and father, is a healthy and essentially mature one, identification also tends to be a healthy and socially maturing process.

Interrelationships Between Children Within the Family Context. According to classic analytic metapsychology, the predominant relationship between siblings within the usual family is a rivalrous one considered under the general heading of sibling-rivalry. Such treatment implies that the only experience siblings have in growing up with one another is an experience of competition for attention, affection, approval, and reinforcement by one or both parents, with perhaps subtle behaviors intended to generate or maintain maximum aversive stimulation for competing siblings. Here again, the classic formulation is highly limited and pathologically oriented. The family, as we know and study it, provides the basic proving ground for the development of many social performances. Many positive elements in personality structure are also developed in the context of sibling interactions. The normal human infant is not born with innate social repertoires. Socialization itself involves the gradual recognition of the rights and needs of others. Social behavior must be shaped through experience, inspiration, and training, and does not simply develop "like Topsy" in the proper nurturant environment however adequate the food, sleep, warmth, and protection from the elements which may be provided. It is in the social laboratory of the family that the first experiences in mutual giving and in cooperative work are shaped and reinforced. It is within this context, too, that the first satisfactions in personal achievement and creativity are experienced. The role of older siblings in providing examples and in bridging developmental gaps cannot be overemphasized. Such older sisters and brothers provide study models, physical developmental goals, occasions for the acquisition of maturing social skills, and secure havens for expanding social experiences with peers. The performances of older siblings commonly set the limits, as well as the timing, for the progressive approximation of desirable social activity which serves important ends for the environmental shaping of behavior. The behavioral interactions between the parents themselves serve as the prime example of social relationships and as the model for the shaping of the relationships of each child to the parents and of the siblings to one another. The most intense rivalries and angry competition occur under circumstances where parents provide the covert or overt models, as well as reinforcements, to support and maintain these destructive activities.

General Influences On The Family Unit

The family climate appears to be strongly influenced by the general social and cultural climate. A totalitarian regime tends to engender a family with highly autocratic organization from the father down. In a country with many conflicting subcultures, as is true of our own, there is a stronger tendency toward unstable family life. Contrast the instability of many urban American families with the marked stability of the Chinese-American or the Oriental-Chinese and Japanese family. The closeness of the family group varies inversely with the degree of security, interaction, and technologic development of the larger society. True, the closeness and loyalties within a family may differ quite widely from the mature and affectionate bonding which occurs in a stable family to the "loyalty among thieves" which occurs in many delinquent and sociopathic family climates. In general, the stability of the family is related intimately to social and religious systems designed to maintain various standards regarding legal, moral, sexual, or economic practices. It may only be a restatement of the obvious, but a necessary one to emphasize, that the function of the family unit is markedly influenced by economic and immediate living conditions, by the state of privacy, the size of the family, the income, and the impact of progressive educational experiences. A variety of other factors must also be included, such as popularization of family theories through the usual media of communication which has succeeded in making Freud, Jung, Adler, and Malinowski virtual household figures.

9 and Allaying Guilt in Childhood Each developmental step in the direction of autonomous activity in the growing child elicits in the child a certain measure of apprehension over threatened loss of support, approval, and acceptance from parents and other significant persons in the home. Such moves toward autonomy are especially threatening to a child who already has come to experience the world as a threatening or inconsistently supporting one (see Chapter 6). Common occasions for conflict which may arise over physiologic behaviors such as eating, sleeping, exploring, and excreting have been noted. Very early in the life of a normal child, and perhaps before the age of two, both anxiety and guilt are generated over conflicts with the parents concerning control of such activities. Where anger or fury is experienced, the struggle over the outward (overt) expression of such emotions is strongly controlled by usual parental behaviors in response to such expressions and ultimately in relation to the child's need for parental acceptance and approval. In such initial conflicts, the first inhibitory activities emerge. These probably serve as the prototype of repressive activity in later life. It is not usual for a child of two or three years to suppress, consciously, unacceptable feelings and impulsive urges. Even the very young child who is just beginning to develop verbal communication tends to test out or explore the extremes of his behavior which may or may not be acceptable to parental figures. Such testing behavior, of course, has a very potent impact on the development of the child in implementing his moves toward discovery and achievement in the world outside of himself and on a positive schedule of reinforcement as well. Testing or "acting out" with the purpose of exploring the range of acceptable activities may be perpetuated as an enduring behavioral pattern where environmental reinforcement is appropriately provided. As mentioned in Chapter 8, this is most likely to become manifest where major conflicts occur either between the parents themselves or between parent substitutes, as grandparents, unmarried uncles or aunts, or other surrogates, in the same intimate family environment. While behaviors which test tolerable extremes that can be borne by the immediate environment are regularly encountered in the repertoires of neurotically and psychotically disturbed individuals, they are also seen frequently among adolescents and adults who are otherwise productive and reasonably well ordered in their general life adjustments.

Innumerable units or "molecules" of behavior can be identified by time sample or running account observation of ordinary active children during one day's living. Attempts have been made to enumerate the separate identifiable behavioral sequences engaged in by somewhat older school-age children. One study conducted in a small metropolitan Midwestern community on three children, ages 10 to 11, indicated literally thousands of such behavioral sequences or units for each child within one 14-hour waking period. Those units which impinge on the immediate social environment may exert either aversive or reinforcing effects and generate characteristic responses from that environment. Since specific examples of many such interactions will be considered in detail in Dr. Ferster's section, it is necessary here only to re-emphasize that the actual activities of ordinary children provide a superabundance of opportunities for the shaping, maintenance, and, at times, extinguishing activities of environmental agents. In the younger child, where the mother is much more intimately bound to the child and his behavior during every waking hour, a significant proportion of these sequences will inevitably elicit some response from her. The impact of this cumulative learning experience on the child is only now beginning to be understood, and it can only be dealt with effectively in the appropriate technical frame of reference. It should be added that the impact of the child's performances on the mother herself has not, as yet, been systematically explored.

Anxiety can be defined, in the private sense, as an intolerable experience of apprehension, with accompanying anticipation of danger, threat, or possibly even annihilation, but from sources and for reasons completely unidentified. This experience is eminently private in its introspective characteristics, but its behavioral concomitants can be identified in the growing child quite as surely as in the adult. It is an exquisitely disturbing and disorganizing experience at any juncture in life, and may have as its biologic substratum many of the conditioned emotional responses which are associated with experiences of unstable or unsteady support or with variable auditory and visual environments, especially inconsistent and rapidly changing ones, provided by the child's world very early in life. The young child may experience anxiety in solitary or social situations which generate or intensify inclinations to express hostile, aggressive, or erotic impulses. The more impelling the inclination to expression and the more forbidding the climate, the more intense resultant distress will be. Environmental circumstances where overt expressions of such impulses are considered to be in bad taste or, on the other hand, to be manifestations of weakness, inadequacy, or immorality are particularly favorable for the maintenance of apprehension. The intensity of feelings which results must be measured in terms not only of the environmental circumstances which occasion them but also of the reactive equipment of the individual who experiences them and of the developmental history of anxiety-provoking experiences. Therefore, it is obvious that reactions to the same environmental constellation or internalized conflict situation must vary from child to child. Attempts to stereotype conflict and to quantify the intensity of response on the basis of the environmental circumstances themselves are unsatisfactory, though such easy and inaccurate generalizations are often exploited in clinical evaluation. Thus, it is a vast oversimplification for one to suggest that separation from mother and home is a uniformly anxiety-provoking experience for all preschool children; or that a visit to the pediatrician's office for immunization, temporary illness of a parent, the birth of a sibling are equipotential environmental phenomena capable of generating biophysical responses. Clinical experience demonstrates that such generalizations are not justified and that the responses of the individual child have both internal as well as external determinants.

Because the child is an active participant in a periodically threatening environment, he develops and exploits certain defensive maneuvers to insulate himself from recurrent threats of rejection, loss of love, withdrawal of support, or physical punishment. Certain of these defensive mechanisms, which are shared by all normal children and find their residues in all people throughout life, are reviewed in the following section. The fact that these mechanisms are encountered in neurotic and psychotically disturbed individuals does not make them pathologic mechanisms per se. As will become evident in subsequent contacts with grossly pathologic disturbance, the degree rather than the fact of dependency on such mechanisms spells the clearest difference between pathologic and physiologic adaptation. In simplest terms, the degree of dependence is itself directly related to the intensity of anxiety and guilt experienced.

Additional topics

Human Behavior