Family Graphics courtesy of Cooks Hill CounsellingOpens in new window

A family is a group of people who are affiliated or related (by blood or marriage). Many theories about emotion and interpersonal relationships cite the importance of early childhood experiences, including behaviors and dynamics modeled within one’s family of origin.

The family of origin is the family into which an individual was born (or adopted).

British psychiatrist John Bowlby proposed that attachment—the early bond between a baby and its primary caregiver (parents and others who cared for the baby)—sets the stage for future emotional relationships, especially intimate relationships (Fraley & Shaver, 2000).

Unhealthy relationships may exist in dysfunctional families in which conflict or abuse (e.g., domestic violence) occurs regularly.

Codependence, often seen in dysfunctional families, describes a pattern of detrimental behavioral interactions. In codependent relationships, one person’s behavior leads to a reaction, or accommodation, by other people within the relationship.

A family’s ability to resolve conflict depends on communication skills and family schemas—ingrained beliefs about family functioning and individual’s roles within the family.

Family schemas include a set of shared beliefs about interrelationships between family members, division of labor, standards for dealing with conflict, boundaries, privacy, and how to deal with individuals outside the family unit. Family members influence each other’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

Family schemas shape family dynamics (interaction patterns) and influence the ways in which family members learn to manage and express emotions (Dattilio, 2005). Dynamics in an individual’s family of origin influence future relationships. People who grow up in dysfunctional families may repeat detrimental behavior patterns in future relationships.

Parenting practices and styles are important to the development of self-esteem in children. In a study looking at construction of family narratives (stories), it was found that a higher level of mothers telling stories about positiveOpens in new window and negative emotionsOpens in new window was related to the development of positive self-esteem in preadolescent children (both sons and daughters; Bohanek, Mann, & Fivush, 2008).

Children learn about emotional regulation—how to manage their emotions—by observing, especially modeling of behavior by parents and other family members.

Emotional regulation is affected by the emotional climate in the family, including parenting style, the parents’ relationship, and the level of emotional expression within the family (Sheffied Morris, Silk, Steinberg, Myers, & Robinson, 2007).

For example, when parents often display anger toward children in frustrating situations, children are not likely to learn effective ways to regulate their own emotions or socially appropriate ways to respond to frustration.

Children exposed to a high level of negative emotionOpens in new window within the family (e.g.., when a mother suffers from depression) may have less effective coping strategies to deal with negative emotions. Parenting practices that influence a child’s abilityto regulate emotion include emotion coaching and emotion dismissal.

  • Emotion coaching occurs when parents are attuned to their child’s emotions, see emotions as opportunities for intimacy or teaching, help the child to verbally label his or her emotions, empathize, and help the child problem solve.
  • Emotion dismissal occurs when parents are uncomfortable with a child’s emotion and discourage expression of emotion.

Parenting practices that are punitive or dismissive of emotions tend to promote inappropriate emotional regulation abilities in children, while emotion coaching promotes positive emotional regulation strategies (Sheffield Morris et al., 2007).

See also:
  1. Bohanek, J. G. Mann, K. A., & Fivush, R. (2008). Family narratives, self, and gender in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 28, 153 – 176.
  2. Dattilio, F.M. (2005). The restructuring of family schemas: A cognitive-behavior perspective. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 31, 15 -30.
  3. Fraley, R. C., & Shaver, P.R. (2000). Adult romantic attachment: Theoretical developments, emerging controversies, and unanswered questions. Review of General Psychology, 4, 132 – 154.
  4. Peterson, G. W., & Fabes, R. (2003). Emotions and the family. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.
  5. Snyder, D. K., Simpson, J. A., & Hughes, J.N. (2006). Emotion regulation in couples and families: Pathways to dysfunction and health. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.