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Primary socialisation is widely recognised by Sociologists and Psychologists as the fundamental platform for our future behaviours. Durkheim referred to this stage of our life as the ‘personality factory’ where our parents can begin to mould both the positive and negative characteristics of our behaviour. So, what impacts can this vital stage have on an individual?
Yesterday, I was called upon to sympathise with a neighbour about her “bad” dog. Told repeatedly to go into the house, the animal runs wildly round the garden. Eventually in exasperation when the woman goes inside, the dog immediately follows her. According to my neighbour the dog is not only disobedient but stupid for giving in by going in, when it has obviously won the battle of wills and could choose to stay out as long as it likes.
Secretly my sympathy is with the dog. He has confided in me that he is made very anxious when his owner tells him to go in, as it is the leader’s job to go first and the dog’s to follow. But the owner is asking the dog to lead. Any self-respecting dog knows that to usurp the leader’s position is to invite a punishing bite. The owner is unintentionally setting up a “double bind”. The poor dog runs round the garden trying to dissipate stress until his leader goes in. Then he is free to go in. Often, in cold weather, it is what he has been wanting to do all the time.
The anthropologist Gregory Bateson first used the term “double bind” in his research into social causes of Schizophrenia. His team found that in many cases Schizophrenia patients came from a family in which the communication pattern often used the double bind.
A double bind is a dilemma in communication in which a person (or dog) receives two or more conflicting messages. The situation is such that a response cannot be avoided, discussion of the problem is not possible and whatever response is given will be met with disapproval from the authority figure. Bateson believed that such frequent interactions only have a pathogenic effect when involvement is intense and the victim (child) is dependent on an authority figure (parent) as in the nuclear family.
An example is the parent saying to the child: “You can always talk to me, but don’t bother me with unimportant problems”. Here the contradiction is explicit.
Think of a food you particularly dislike. Can you imagine how you would feel as a child if a parent or authority figure said: “You must eat all the ………….but only if you want to”. An implicit example is when there is conflict between the verbal and non-verbal levels of communication. The parent may speak words of comfort while using threatening body language.
Bateson reasoned that Schizophrenic symptoms such as incoherent thinking and speaking, delusions and hallucinations, arise from distorted perception. This develops as a way of adjusting to frequent exposure to a no-win situation and is therefore learned behaviour. To avoid the stress of trying to distinguish between mixed and non-mixed messages, the child assumes that all messages are conflicting. Confusion becomes normal.
Unfortunately Double Bind theory is difficult to test. Double binds can be subtle and difficult to recognise. Also family observation studies need to be carried out on a much bigger scale. Unfortunately families are often resistant to such intrusion and imagine that they are being blamed for the patient’s condition when actually research is aimed at developing models supported by empirical evidence which could be used to bring about behaviour modification in the family with benefits for all. It may even be possible to learn how to prevent dysfunctional patterns of interaction.
There is some evidence that mothers use double binds with children who are later diagnosed as Schizophrenic but not with their other children. A possible explanation for this is “scapegoating”. Unconsciously one member of the family is chosen as “the weird one” thereby freeing the rest of the family to feel normal by comparison. Alternatively it may be that there is a genetic predisposition for distorted communication so that the interaction between the mother and child is driven by the child’s behaviour rather than caused by the mother. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to collect data to test this hypothesis.
Presumably my neighbour does not consciously want a bad, mad dog. But perhaps he is the scapegoat for the family. Therefore there is a need to perceive the dog’s behaviour as unacceptable. Why does there need to be a scapegoat – dog or human, in a family? Why is it that some children are picked on at school? This might amount to bullying or be an unspoken secret group decision to ostracise a particular individual as though in a group someone has to be the odd one out. The fear of being the outcast can be so great that it drives people to conform to the group at the expense of individual freedom of expression. A friend told me that 40 years ago as a school girl, someone made a sarcastic comment about her wearing brown on a day off. “I see Fiona’s come in school uniform” Although brown suits her she has not been able to wear it since.
Some advertisers take advantage of our anxiety by implying that to not buy product Z or switch to fuel provider Y, is to miss out, to be left behind, or to be excluded. Coincidentally, while I was writing this, I received a phone call from Continental Telecom telling me to switch to their service because the line rental was cheaper than B.T. It was a gift of an experience, plunging me into the surreal world of the vulnerable child in the face of manipulative experts. Someone with a marked Indian accent introduced herself as Mary Dixon and passed me on to her manager, also definitely Indian, called Kevin Marsh! Without pausing for breath or checking for my interest or agreement, I was asked whether I wanted to pay by Direct Debit or credit card and reassured that they would “do everything for me”.
As an independent person I was free to prevent exploitation. I imagined what it must be like for a child dependent on a controlling parent, to be bombarded by demands which disregarded his opinions and denied his options while claiming to be helpful. This situation in itself creates a double bind as the urge to run away from abuse, conflicts with the need to stay for food and shelter.
Obviously adults are responsible for their children and dogs. It is acceptable to expect obedience from a dog but the question of how to influence a child’s behaviour is complex. When my younger daughter was 4 years old she decided that she didn’t like bread. Biscuits were preferred. One day tea was to include “a grandma egg” – a hard boiled egg in a special cup. Concerned about her nutrition, the psychologist in me said: “Do you want your bread toasted or untoasted?” This ploy failed as she replied that she didn’t want either. The trickster in me said: “Well Grandma always has bread when she has a grandma egg”. After a pause came the reply: “That isn’t a rule with me”. Vitamin B deficient or not, she knew her own mind and quietly stood her ground.
Since the 1920’s there has been academic interest in the effect of parenting style on the competence of children. Diana Baumrind’s (1989) research is based on the idea that parenting is an attempt to control and socialise children. Style variations reflect the control methods used and the level of control employed. Maccoby and Martin (1983) examined two factors:
a) parental demand to conform and obey and
b) parental responsiveness.
Factor b) refers to the extent to which parents encourage individuality through sensitivity to the child’s needs and requests. Four parenting styles were recognised: Permissive, Authoritarian, Authoritative and Uninvolved.
Barber (1996) included a third factor: Psychological control. This refers to the practice of inducing guilt, withdrawal of love, or shaming. It was found that both the Authoritarian and Authoritative parental styles rated highly in behaviour control but only the Authoritarian style rated highly in Psychological control.
Parenting style has been found to predict social competence, academic performance, psychosocial development, and problem behaviour. Some conclusions drawn from child reports and interviews and observations of parents are that:
• adolescents whose parents are authoritative are rated objectively and subjectively as more competent than those whose parents are nonauthoritative (Baumrind, 1991; Weiss & Schwarz, 1996; Miller et al., 1993).
Authoritative parents are both demanding and responsive. "They monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative" (Baumrind, 1991, p. 62).
• Children and adolescents whose parents are uninvolved, are least competent in all measures
• Offspring from authoritarian families (high in demandingness, but low in responsiveness) tend to perform moderately well in school and are co-operative, but have under-developed social skills, lower self-esteem, and are more likely to experience depression.
The film “The Magdalene Sisters” set in Ireland, demonstrates an extreme version of authoritarian parenting style. Families sent daughters who had borne illegitimate children or were thought likely to disgrace the family, to these workhouse laundries. The institutions were run by Roman Catholic religious orders and existed for 150 years until the 1990’s.
• Adolescents with higher self-esteem, less depression and better social skills, who tend to underachieve and are involved in problem behaviour, are associated with indulgent parenting which is characterised by high responsiveness to the child but with little demand from the child. What we commonly think of as “spoilt”
• Authoritative parenting is one of the most consistent predictors of competence and low levels of problem behaviour. The benefits of this parenting style are evident from pre-school years and continue into adulthood. These parents appear to be able to balance respect for their child’s individuality with demands for conformity. Schwarz et al., 1985; Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Baumrind, 1991; and Barber, 1996).
Research on parenting style has produced consistent findings. However there remains the need to understand the underlying processes that link parenting style with competence. For example the children of authoritative parents may internalise the parenting style so that they can function effectively and happily as adults. Having had their individuality respected as young people, they naturally seek self expression as adults while recognising the need for boundaries.
Eric Berne developed Transactional Analysis (TA) in the 1950’s. It has been of interest ever since, having undergone many revisions. TA aims to explain the motives for human interaction. Transactions occur when one person (A) relates to another (B). A transaction starts with a stimulus from (A) and continues with a response from (B). Both parties will act from one of three different ego states: Parent, Child or Adult. Each state has its own characteristics.
When we are in the Parent ego state, we think, feel and behave in line with one of our parents or other authority figures from childhood. In this state we are judgmental and rule focused. The Parent may be in the form of the Critical Parent or the Nurturing Parent.
No matter how old we are now, when we are in the Child ego state, we think, feel and behave as we did when we were a child. There are three Child ego states:
• The Natural Child is unselfconscious, vulnerable, playful and spontaneous.
• The Adapted Child is the part of us that has been conditioned through fear, shame and guilt. It is acutely aware of social approval or disapproval.
• The Little Professor is creative, imaginative, curious, experimental.
The Natural Child and Little Professor can combine to become the Creative Free Child.
When in the Adult state, we make decisions based on present circumstances, without contributions from the Child or Parent.
If person(A), looking sorry for herself, starts a transaction with:
“I don’t feel well. My head hurts”
(A) is operating from the Child ego state. If (B) replies:
“Oh you poor thing. Let me get you some Aspirin”
This is a complementary transaction as (B) responded back to the same state in (A) that presented the stimulus. TA predicts that this communication is likely to continue with more similar transactions.
However if (B) had replied to (A)’s Adult ego state:
“Is there a bug going round at work?”
This is a crossed transaction and will not continue. (B) received the stimulus from the Child but responded to the Adult. Crossed transactions can explain failures in communication.
It can be frustrating when communication fails. Have you ever been in a situation in which someone’s reply leaves you confused and lost for words?
I once overheard a woman wanting sympathy from her partner after a shopkeeper had offended her, say:
“I’ve never been so insulted in all my life”
To which her partner replied: “You must have”
Females often complain that their male partner lacks empathy. When she has a moan about her boss at work, her Child state simply wants to know that he has heard her discontent and has some sympathy for her plight. However his Adapted Child may feel blamed for her negative state. If he sees her as the Critical Parent he is likely to be resentful rather than sympathetic.
A type of crossed transaction called a discount transaction is typical of communication with Schizophrenic patients. In a conversation between mother and daughter while packing a suitcase, the mother asked the daughter if she had packed some soap. The daughter replied:
“Soap. You want to know if I have packed the soap. Do you eat raw eggs? Have you ever eaten raw eggs? Egg yolk is good for the complexion. So they say. You can get soap on a rope now. But eggs come in boxes”
The Schizophrenic daughter discounts the content of the stimulus in the reply. thereby disrupting communication. This type of language used by some Schizophrenic patients has been described as “word salad”. The message lacks coherence.
Ideally there needs to be a balanced use of ego states. It is useful to have the Parent state’s set of inner rules to refer to until the Adult is able to develop its own skills. The Child state is valuable for its creativity and capacity for enjoyment. However, when one ego state becomes dominant, the personality suffers. A dominant Critical Parent stifles the Natural Child in favour of the Adapted Child. The energy block in the Adapted Child creates a dangerous suppression of energy which needs to be drained off in some way. The energy is distorted and is likely to be destructive. It might be expressed in the form of anger or violence directed at vulnerable people who can’t retaliate. It may be in the form of words in arguments or as malicious gossip or threatening letters. We may turn the energy onto ourselves which then expresses itself as mental or physical illness. This energy could be called the CRAZY Child state.
Perhaps authoritative parents allow their children to keep in touch with the Natural Child and provide a good model of the Adult ego state to be observed and imitated. Perhaps authoritarian systems split the Natural and potentially Creative Child into an Adapted Child and a Crazy Child.
On Sunday I made a rare visit to Tesco just before closing time. It was chaos. Apparently after a quiet day for sales, crowds had turned up in the last half hour. The staff were overwhelmed. After 15 minutes’ wait in a queue, I was third in line, when the checkout girl said she would be closing the till after the person before me. As the “shop closing” announcements had been made some time before, the other queues were now half-way down every aisle.
This authoritarian style of handling a checkout crisis, immediately triggered my Critical Parent, Adapted Child, Crazy Child. I projected my CP onto Tesco and the assistant. The AC had to obey but CC was enraged. CC wanted to walk out in a fury and leave the trolley but my Adult knew I would regret this when I got home empty-handed. CC wanted to smash eggs and squirt salad cream everywhere. But fearful AC knew I would get arrested and probably sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Thanks to Transactional Analysis my Adult came to my aid. It encouraged me to claim the Critical Parent in me so that I could override it. This involves sacrificing the pleasure of being judgmental and self-righteous and renouncing the role of self-pitying victim. (It isn’t fair!) With CP disarmed, the Adapted Child subsides to make room for the Creative Free Child. In other words the Adult steps in to say: “Why don’t you stop moaning and make the most of this situation?” The Adult finds the drama queen boring. The Adult lives in the present and therefore is able to free us from our tendency to replay old wounds and so contaminate the present with ancient grievances. As the Creative Free Child took over I realised that I had been given the opportunity to go in search of the items I hadn’t been able to find and couldn’t be bothered to look for and to stock up on bargain buys. By now I had the shopping area all to myself. I eventually left the shop feeling the trip had been successful and enjoyable.
If Philip Larkin is right, are we doomed to forever suffer the consequences? Transactional Analysis helps me but doesn’t appeal to everyone. After I had explained to a lady how it could help her in a particular situation, she said in horror: “You mean I’d have to think about what I was saying when I talk to him?” It could be seen as a price worth paying when you discover how words are tools that can change how you feel. If my cello teacher says: “Play the last note using the whole bow”, this feels like an order to the Adapted Child who sees the teacher as the Critical Parent. A simple task becomes filled with the fear of failure and disapproval. I have regressed to the ego state of a 6year old. However I can use my Adult state to elicit response from the Creative Child by saying: “How would it sound different if I play the last note with a whole bow?” A test becomes an experiment, fear is replaced by curiosity. We can’t control how people speak to us but we can always choose to reframe the message into a form that elicits the Creative rather than the Adapted Child with the Crazy Child shadow. Words can be magic wands or weapons.
We don’t like to think that we have a Crazy Child state. When we are in Crazy Child state, we use our inner Critical Parent to blame others for our irrational behaviour. The wife beats her husband convinced that it is his fault. Perhaps bullying and scapegoating is the Crazy Child in action, destroying the integrity of another rather than using the distorted energy in self harm.
When we are in the Adapted Child state, the offspring of the Critical Parent, we agree to see the Crazy Child in a negative light. The existence of the CC becomes a shameful secret to be hidden in the basement. Thus condemned, the unconscious CC expresses itself as stress, physical or mental illness or some other type of self-destruction. Our Critical Parent is quick to point out the CC in other people, to the relief of our Adapted Child. Professional comedians make a living by inviting us to laugh at their own Crazy Child or by getting us to join together in laughing at the Crazy Child in others. For a time we feel freed from the constant threat of embarrassment from our own CC.
However, if we have the courage to acknowledge our own Crazy Child, it awakens us to the severe restrictions in self expression which the Adapted Child accepts when living under the rule of the Critical Parent. When the CC is consciously recognised and accepted as a formidable force for life, it no longer needs to find expression in disorder and is able to serve as an energy transformer. Willing to break free from the Critical Parent, the Adapted Child receives the energy of the Crazy Child so that the Creative Free Child can be reborn.
Looked at in this way, although we may be the product of an Authoritarian parenting style, we can choose to live in the present as if we had been raised by Authoritative parents. With practice, frogs can become princes
In the documentary film “The Story of the Weeping Camel”, set in Mongolia, a first time dromedary mother rejects her colt after a difficult labour. Pain and fear has disrupted the natural mother-child bond. The mother behaves as a Critical Parent. Freed from the human demands to disguise the Crazy Child in her, she kicks and spits at the baby, denies it food and leaves it exposed in a sand storm. The mother is transformed through an ancient ritual using music. Sound therapy is gaining popularity for the treatment of human stress. It may be a way of restoring inner balance by directly manipulating the vibrations which represent our thoughts and feelings.
Barber, B. K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct. Child Development, 67 (6), 3296-3319.
Baumrind, D. (1989). Rearing competent children. In W. Damon (Ed.), Child development today and tomorrow (pp. 349-378). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.
Bateson, G, Jackson, D.D, Haley, J, Weakland, J, (1956)
Toward a theory of Schizophrenia. Behavioural Science 1 251-264
Berne Eric (1964) “The Games People Play: The psychology of Human Relationships” Balantine Books
Darling, N., & Steinberg, L. (1993). Parenting style as context: An integrative model. Psychological Bulletin, 113 (3), 487-496.
Guindon, J.E. (1971) Paradox, Schizophrenia and the Double Bind hypothesis: an exploratory study. Doctoral Dissertation (University of Washington)
Harris Thomas (1996) “I’m OK – You’re OK” Avon Books
Koopmans, M. (1997) Schizophrenia and the Family. Double Bind theory revisited. Doctoral Dissertation (City University of New York)
Laing, R.D. (1961) The Self and others: Further studies in sanity and madness” London Tavistock
Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent–child interaction. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.) & E. M. Hetherington (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, personality, and social development (4th ed., pp. 1-101). New York: Wiley.
Miller, N. B., Cowan, P. A., Cowan, C. P., & Hetherington, E. M. (1993). Externalizing in preschoolers and early adolescents: A cross-study replication of a family model. Developmental Psychology, 29 (1), 3-18.
Schwarz, J. C., Barton-Henry, M. L., & Pruzinsky, T. (1985). Assessing child-rearing behaviours: A comparison of ratings made by mother, father, child, and sibling on the CRPBI. Child Development, 56 (2), 462-479.
Weiss, L. H., & Schwarz, J. C. (1996). The relationship between parenting types and older adolescents’ personality, academic achievement, adjustment, and substance use. Child Development, 67 (5), 2101-2114.
Hazel Booth retired recently from a 40 year career in education. She is now enjoying being a student: learning to play the cello, identifying moths and exploring the paranormal.
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Transactional analysis explained
Basil Fawlty gets the better of a critical parent
Philip Larkin 'This be the verse'
Unshackling the 'double bind' of the female leader
Role playing of 4 parenting styles
Have you heard the joke about the mother who gives her son two pullovers for Christmas: one red the other blue. When she next sees him wearing the red one she says: “So what is wrong with the blue one?”
Parenting style theory
The story of the weeping camel
Lee Mack - The adapted child and the crazy child