Intrapsychic Conflict and Dysfunctional Family Patterns

Conflicts within parents' minds over certain behavior can lead them to give double messages to kids, who in turn develop dysfunctional mental models about what is expected of them.

Family Dysfunction: How Therapists Get the Whole Story

Therapists have several useful techniques for getting shameful, protective, or guilty patients to open up and tell the whole story regarding dysfunction in their families.

Your Children Will Give You What You Seem to Expect

When parents are overly preoccupied with something their child does, the child may think the parents need to be thusly preoccupied, and so increase the behavior's frequency.

Questionable Study About Implanting False Memories

A study shown on "Nova" puts a subject in the position of having to call her parents liars. The experimenter ignores her behavior during the study in drawing conclusions.

Borderline Personality: Why They May Not “Get Used to It"

A recent study showed that persons with borderline personality disorder do not "get used" to the sight of unpleasant pictures as others do. Error management theory tells us why.

Genes, Environment, and Strategic Planning in Human Behavior

Today's mental health professionals are over-emphasizing biological determinants of behavior and minimizing the importance of the environment, learning, and our ability to think.

Parents Cut Off by Adult Children: Clueless? Part 2

In a previous post I opined that most parents whose adult children have cut them off know the real reason. That is not always the case. This post describes one common issue.

Psychodynamic Vs. Cognitive Therapy: Defense Mechanisms

Different schools of psychotherapy often use multiple names for the same phenomenon — and act like they're discussing completely different things. Here's a prime example.

Ambiguous Family Communication: Explanation, or Description?

People involved in repetitive dysfunctional family interactions may non-answer questions about why they did something by paraphrasing an earlier description of their state of mind.

Ambiguous Family Communication: Descriptions or Judgments?

People involved in repetitive dysfunctional family interactions may use the intrinsic ambiguity of language to mislead interested third parties. One way is make global judgments.

How Parents Prolong the "Terrible Twos" Into Adolescence

Mental health professionals label as mental disorders child misbehavior that is created by certain parenting practices that have increased in incidence over the last few decades.

Ignoring Social Context in Studies of Borderline Personality

Whether an individual seems to be overly cautious or overly optimistic regarding their expectations of others is determined by experience and learning, not by brain abnormalities.

Family Discussions About Dysfunction: Use of Disclaimers

In discussing repetitive dysfunctional patterns with important family members in order to improve relationships, one helpful strategy is the use of certain introductory statements.

The Last Time Biological Psychiatry Over-Reached

Purely genetic explanations for a variety of psychiatric and behavioral disorders are currently in vogue in many mental health circles. It is not the first time.

The (Sometimes) Myth of the Wicked Stepmother

New spouses often volunteer to take the blame when divorced parents want, for whatever reason, to avoid their children from a previous marriage.

Immigration and Family Dysfunction

The children of immigrants to the United States from traditional societies often get double messages about which cultural norms they should follow, creating serious conflicts.

Do Panic Attacks Really Come Out of the Blue?

It is often claimed that panic attacks are not triggered by specific environmental or interpersonal stressors because they seemingly happen at any time. This is misleading.

I'll Enable You if You'll Enable Me

The concept of enabling in alcoholism is just one example of a much wider phenomenon seen in couples, and it is two-way street. It both connects a couple and drives them apart.

Family Dynamics in Song: "A Boy Named Sue"

Sometimes, writers come up with insights about psychology and family dynamics that seem to escape most practitioners in the field. The song "A Boy Named Sue" is a prime example.

Hateful, Abusive, Neglectful Parent, or Doting Grandparent?

How does someone react if his or her parents, who had been guilty of abusive, neglectful, or invalidating treatment of them as children, dote on their grandchildren?

Inflexible Behavior in Personality Disorders

People who rigidly engage in the same behavior over and over again despite the consequences are often acting out a false self for the sake of their families.

Neglectful Parents and Eldest Siblings

When parents neglect a large brood of children and leave child care duties to the oldest among them, dysfunctional patterns of relationships between the siblings as adults emerge.

Parenting: Opposite Strategies, But the Same Results

Extremes of parenting (such as being overprotective vs not protecting at all) may often lead children to act out in very similar ways -no matter which extreme the parents are at.

Risky Behavior and Victimizers: Two Issues, Not One

A teen passes out drunk at a frat party and is raped. A woman whose husband beats her goes back to him repeatedly, despite having the ability to leave. Lately, anyone who even brings up the subject of risky behavior by people like this are accused of "excusing" the victimizer and "blaming" the victim. Nonsense. Though connected, these are two separate issues, not one.

How I Learned About the Family Dynamics I Write About

In the comments by readers responding to my blogposts about dysfunctional family dynamics, I am often accused of naively believing my patient's "distorted" descriptions of their interactions with their family-of-origin members. In fact, I have observed these processes directly in a variety of ways. I describe those ways herein.

Violent Media Creates Couch Potatoes, Not Violent Youth

How many times have readers read stories about how violent video games and movies are causing more youth violence? Youth violence has in fact fallen as media has become more violent. Many studies only measure short-term aggressive thoughts after watching these things, not actions. In fact, most kids who watch a lot of violent media are couch potatoes, not gang bangers.

Whatever Happened to Assertiveness Training?

Getting mellow and relaxed in response to stress can be a good thing, but it can also lead to staying in a bad situation that might otherwise be fixed, particularly in dysfunctional families. Cognitive behavior therapists used to counsel their patients on how to speak up for themselves, but seem to have forgotten the "assertiveness" techniques they used to champion.

What Makes People Do the Same Stupid Things Repeatedly?

If we assume as I do that they are not mad, bad, or stupid, how do we account for people with personality disorders who continue with the same disastrous behavior patterns repeatedly with the exact same disastrous results? Or who go from one extreme to the other, and still end up at the same place? Could it be that the end result is actually their goal? And why?

Public Faces Vs. Private Thoughts: the Actor's Paradox

Many therapists seem to think that patients behave in their offices in ways typical of how they behave in other social contexts. This is very naive. We all present different aspects of ourselves, and hide other things, depending on the goals we are trying to reach with certain others, or because of loyalty to our family system and its beliefs. We lie even to ourselves.

Childhood Sexual Abuse Taken Out of Context

Child sexual abuse is a big risk factor for a wide variety of psychiatric disorders. But why do some victims turn out one way, others a different way, and still others turn out without any disorders at all? So called empirical studies of child abuse are limited to such variables as who the perpetrators were, what did they do, and how often. There's a lot more to the story.