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Family structure and typology

The family is a natural group in which stereotypes of interactions arise over time. These stereotypes create a family structure that defines the functioning of its members, delineates the range of their behavior and facilitates interpersonal contacts between them. One or another viable family structure is quite significant both for the full performance of its main functions, and for solving personally significant tasks — to maintain individuality, while creating a sense of belonging to the whole.

The family structure includes the numeric and personal composition of its members, as well as a set of family roles and different relationships between them (marriage, parent-child, spouses and parents, relationships between children, relationship of grandparents with their grandchildren).

Family structure
The issue of determining the structure of the family is quite complex in the theory and practice of organizing psychological assistance to the family. As the well-known American family psychotherapist S. Minukhin rightly notes in this regard “ ” the family is something more than the individual biopsychodynamics of its members. The interaction of family members is subject to certain laws that govern their transactions. These patterns are usually not explicitly stated or even realized, but they form a whole – the structure of the family. The reality of the structure is a reality of a different order from that of the individual members.” Therefore, when analyzing the structure of a particular family, it is necessary to study its numerical and personal composition, to focus separately on the characteristics of different levels of the family system, which includes the entire family as a whole, the subsystem of parents, the subsystem of children, as well as individual subsystems. In addition, you should describe the structure of the family, taking into account its main parameters (cohesion, hierarchy, flexibility, external and internal boundaries, role structure). It is important to know who each family member considers a member of the family, because it is not uncommon for family members to disagree about who is part of it. This applies primarily to the boundaries of the family and who is physically or psychologically present in this family system. This problem is particularly important for divorced and remarried families. The structure of the family includes a set of conscious and unconscious rules that determine the interaction in the family. For this mechanism to work (rules were followed, behavior was predicted), a maintenance system is necessary, which consists of two parts. The first is a hierarchical system based on the authority of parents, which is always and everywhere higher than the authority of children. The second is family complementary roles: for example, if one parent is more reasonable and the other is more emotional. Hierarchy and roles are not always clearly understood, but they must necessarily be interrelated and complementary. If this is not the case, the family ceases to function, in fact breaks up.

As for the subsystems (subsystems) of a family, their dynamics are closely related to its life cycles. The first-subsystem of a couple, or spouses, is formed with the conclusion of marriage. At the same time, the process of its accommodation (adaptation) begins, when the roles that the spouses will perform, interacting with each other, are accepted or discarded. Pre-adjustment, adjustment, and the ability to do this are related to the experience gained in the parent family.
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The parent subsystem appears with the transformation of a married couple after the birth of a child. In turn, the parent subsystem changes and adapts to the age characteristics of children. In addition, the parent subsystem must take into account the needs of all children growing up in the family, which, of course, is associated with a number of difficulties due not only to age, but also individual psychological characteristics, as well as sexual differences.

The children’s subsystem provides the child with the opportunity to be only a child, allows to study the relationships of peers, to develop the ability to agree and adapt. S. Minukhin calls this subsystem a social laboratory, where you can experimentally communicate without responsibility and competence that restrict adult communication. Children’s communication becomes a kind of experimental platform that allows the child to form the necessary communication skills for further self-establishment of contacts with peers and adults.

The allocation of subsystems allows you to more clearly identify their internal and external relationships, and these relationships characterize the structure of the family from the position of its borders. Boundaries regulate relations between subsystems, and at the same time within them.

The term boundary is used to describe the relationship between the family and the social environment, as well as between various subsystems within the family.

External boundaries are the boundaries between the family and the social environment. They manifest themselves through the fact that family members behave differently to each other and to the outside world. For example, the head of an organization can harshly reprimand his subordinate and call home a minute later and talk affectionately to his wife and little daughter.

Internal boundaries are created by differences in the behavior of members of different subsystems. For example, a couple behaves differently to each other than with a child.

Within the family itself, there are three types of boundaries: clear, rigid, and diffuse.

Clear boundaries between family subsystems allow family members to support and care for each other. At the same time, a certain degree of autonomy is also allowed, so a balance of freedom and control is ensured. Clear boundaries also improve communication between subsystems and facilitate alignment and adaptation, since many things are known in advance due to such boundaries. In addition, clear boundaries allow parents and children to feel interdependent, but at the same time do not interfere with the manifestation of their individual identity.

Rigid boundaries isolate family members from each other and even from society. In a family with rigid borders, its members are Autonomous, but it is difficult for the family to function. Children acquire skills of fighting for themselves, but do not develop skills of coordination. Communication between subsystems in a family with rigid boundaries is sparse; only intense crises, shared difficulties, or extreme stress bring the family together to help a member. Words that characterize relationships in families with rigid borders are usually reduced to expressions such as “don’t interfere, I have my own worries”, “mind your own business”, “it’s time to take care of…”, etc.This is why families with rigid borders seek help outside their family group.

Diffuse borders stand in a peculiar way against rigid features. In a family with diffuse boundaries, each member constantly cares for everyone and gradually tries to offer and provide help. In such families, the functions of subsystems are unclear. Therefore, they lose their autonomy, and at the same time the ability to experiment. Some parents may be happy with this, but the development of children in such cases slows down. In a family with diffuse borders, the subsystem of the married couple disappears, dissolves into the parent subsystem. As a result, children are confident in their parents and not confident in themselves. In addition, children are deprived of clear guidelines in the world of sensory experiences, do not know which of them are their own, and which are only the echo of parental emotions and feelings. Therefore, it is difficult for them to establish relationships outside the family, and it is not easy to create their own family, especially when they do not receive more intensive support from their chosen one than they did in the parent family.

Family dysfunction as a system is defined by extreme border options. It’s bad when the borders are either too hard or too blurry. If the external boundaries are too tight, the exchange between the family and its social environment is small, and the system becomes stagnant. If the boundaries are too weak, then the family members have a lot of connections with the external environment and little among themselves. For example, the family rarely gets together. In this case, the family members are like hotel guests living together under the same roof. If the internal boundaries (for example, between the parent and child subsystems) are too tight, then parents give the impression of people who are too busy only with themselves. If, on the contrary, too weak, the parents may lack intimacy, they can only function in parental roles, losing the marital relationship.

Along with the concept of family boundaries, there is the concept of generational boundaries, which is used to show differences between generations in proximity and hierarchy. In well-functioning families, the rules governing interactions in the parent and child subsystems differ from the rules in the parent-child subsystems. Parent pairs, for example, generally show a higher degree of cohesion than in parent-child subsystems. There are also clear generational boundaries in the hierarchy, where parents have a relatively higher status in decision-making due to their experience, responsibility, and material resources. Families under stress have unclear generational boundaries. This is expressed in coalitions across a generation, where the cohesion or loyalty between parent and child is greater than between parents. In such families, there is a large number of hierarchical violations, for example, inverted hierarchy, when the influence of the child may exceed the authority of one or both parents. The structure of the family as a whole system largely depends on the type of family group.

Typology of families
The structure of the family as a whole system largely depends on the type of family group.

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