I had a serious problem with school refusal in high school. I lost a lot of days of school. This problem is associated with dysfunctional families — families similar to mine:
enmeshment of family members, interpersonal conflict (father tries to murder mother), emotional detachment, and isolation (my parents didn’t have friends)
The problem is addressed by modifying the dysfunction in all the family members:
“Clinical researchers argue that a change in family functioning needs to occur in order to effect change in the school refuser’s social-emotional adjustment.”
That would never happen in my case. I was scapegoated so I was the only one with the problem. My parents had to preserve their perception of my sister as perfect. So long as my sister remained perfect, I was scapegoated — it balanced the system. Notice how Akin Gump perpetuated the dysfunction — they were drawn into my sister’s and brother-in-law’s need to enmesh others into their pathology.
Then you get Earl involved — somebody who knows as much about people as I know about real estate — and you have a perfect storm.
Note the enmeshment at Akin Gump: A legal assistant administrator who marries an alcoholic partner at the firm. That legal assistant administrator worked for Earl. Tell me Earl is normal.
Everett and Volgy have described the factors commonly found in dysfunctional families. In some dysfunctional families the most striking feature is that the mechanisms of splitting and projective identification are not displayed simply by an individual but pervade the parent-child subsystem. Splitting occurs when positive and negative feelings and thoughts are separated and experienced by family members in isolation of one another. This splitting distorts the family’s perception of reality in such a way as to cause them to experience both internal or external events or issues as either “right” or “wrong,” “black” or “white.” Such rigidly split perceptions occur without regard to the complexity of situations, roles or relationships. Studies of dysfunctional families identified a similar pattern where within the family system “positive attributes of ‘goodness’ and negative attributes of ‘badness’ were separated and reinvested such that each family member appears relatively preambivalent and single-minded in relation to the child.” This splitting appears to protect the system from potential feelings of loss and disappointment as well as from the negative affects of anger and hostility.
The projective identification process within a system operates in concert with that of splitting to form rigid role assignments and expectations among specific family members (as in assigning the role of good child to one offspring and bad child to another). In the dysfunctional family, the threat of conflict or aggression in the marriage, which would also threaten the survival of the system, is projected onto a child who “owns” the projection and behaves more aggressively while returning the spousal subsystem to a calmer level. In assessing a clinical family, most family therapists would identify a central triangle, typically between parents and a child, which serves to balance the entire system.
The role of the triangulated child is often defined by either parentification (idealized child) or scapegoating. Everett and Volgy identified in the dysfunctional family predictable patterns of two central triangles and termed these coexisting triangles. It appears that the unique level of emotional intensity in the dysfunctional family requires multiple central triangles to balance and stabilize the system. They typically take the form of split and projected images of a triangulated “good” child [my sister] and “bad” child [me]. It appears that the tenuousness of the parental bonding and the continual threat of destructive anger requires two children to perform these specified roles in order to dissipate these threats and to ensure the survival of the system. “Borderline Disorders: Family Assessment and Treatment.” in Chronic Disorders and the Family, Walsh, F and Anderson, C.M., eds. (1988).