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Family Life Cycle

- Life cycle stage and tasks the family should carry out based on ages of children
-How family is/is not functioning at this stage
-Stage they are operating in and tasks they did not fully develop: "It appears that unresolved developmental tasks from previous stages have hindered current task completion."

Leaving Home: single young adults

Accept emotional and financial responsibility
-Differentiation of self from family of origin (identity)
-Development of intimate peer relationships
-Establishment of self (work/financial independence)

Joining families through marriage: the new couple

Commitment to new system
-Formation of marital system (other's needs first)
-Realign relationships with extended families and friends to include spouse

Families with young children

Accept new members into system
-Adjust marital system to make space for children
-Join in child rearing, financial, and household tasks
-Realign rel w/ ext fam to include (grand)parent roles

Families with adolescents

Increase flexibility of boundaries to permit kids' independence & grandparents' frailties
-Shift parent/child relationships to permit adol. to move into/out of system (boundaries but exploration)
-Refocus on midlife marital and career issues
-Begin shift toward caring for older generation

Launching children to move on

Accept a multitude of exits and entries in family systems -Renegotiate marital system as dyad
-Develop adult rel between grown children and parents
-Realign relationships to include in-laws and grandkids
-Deal with disabilities and death of parents/grand

Families in later life

Accept shifting generational roles -Maintaining functioning despite psychological decline
-Explore new familial and social roles
-Support more central role of middle generation
-Deal with loss of spouse/sib/peers; prep for death
-Review life and reflect on experiences
-Make room in system for the wisdom of elderly
-Support older generation without over-functioning

Vertical Stressors

past events that intersect with current events to stress the family system; patterns of relating and functioning passed down through generations
-Individual: biology, genetics, temperament, disabilities, chemical addiction
-Family history: family attitudes, taboos, expectations, labels, loaded issues
-Cultural history: isms, stereotypes, patterns of power, social hierarchies, values, customs

Horizontal Stressors

developmental and unfolding; events that affect ind/fam at given time
-Individual: emotional, cognitive, interpersonal, physical development over the life span
-Family: changes and transitions of family life cycles (death, birth of child, illness, job loss)
-Cultural: current events (war, economic depression, political climate, natural disasters)

Family Systems Theory

regards the whole family as the unit of treatment and emphasizes relationships and communication patterns rather than traits or symptoms in individual members

Family Structure

the functional organization of families that influence how family member interact


descriptive term for redundant behavioral patterns, norms, and expectations (sometimes clearly stated, sometimes not) that govern the range of behavior a family can tolerate


smaller units in families, determined by generation, gender, function, each member has several roles, family system caries out functions through subsystems: spouse, parental, sibling


emotion and physical barriers that protect and enhance the integrity of individuals and families (invisible barriers that regulate contact with others) allows for information to go back and forth b/w family members


members of a system make adjustments to coordinate their functioning

Flexible structure

adapt their power structure, role relationships and rules, in response to situation, developmental demands, and new information from the environment

Boundary making

negotiate boundaries b/w members of a relationship and b/w the relationship and the outside world

Clear boundaries

boundaries are both well-defined and semi-diffuse permeable, flexible so members are independent but still connected

Diffuse boundaries

permit extreme openness and blurring of boundaries resulting in enmeshment, supportive, but little privacy, individuality, or dependency

Rigid boundaries

permit little contact in disengagemenet, independent, little sharing of thoughts or feelings, family fails to mobilize support on ones needs support, weak external boundaries and seek support outside the family


two or more people getting together to do a certain thing, often viewer positively but can turn into coalitions and become probelmatic


an alliance bw two personas or social units against a third

Cross-generational coalition

inappropriate alliance b/w a parent/grandparent and child (or two people from different generations) who side together again a third member of the family


A three person system (not always problematic)


detouring conflict b/w two people by involving a third person or party (job, school, other life commitments); to decrease anxiety and stabilize their own relationship when under stress


using concern or criticism of a third person to dissipate conflicts within a subsystem


projection of the pain caused by dysfunctional triangles onto one of the family members as a means of detouring conflict

Double bind

a conflict created when a person receives contradictory messages on different levels of abstraction in an important relationship and cannot leave or comment

meta communication

the underlying message; not what is actually being said, but the message that is meant


psychological isolation from overly rigid boundaries around individuals and subsystems in a family


loss of autonomy due to a blurring of psychological boundaries

Diffuse Boundaries

extreme openness resulting in enmeshment and dependence, not enough separation between family members (super-permeable)

Differentiation of self

psychological separation of intellect and emotions, and independence of self from others, opposite of fusion


a person who cannot separate feeling and thinking, are easily moved to emotionality (with submissiveness or defiance) and has limited autonomous identity making the person more vulnerable to stress

Emotional Reactivity

tendency to respond intensely and automatically in a knee-jerk reaction, rather than calmly and rationally

Emotional cutoff

a way people manage anxiety between generations, flight from an unresolved emotional attachment through emotional of physical distance from family of origin

Emotional triangles

smallest stable unit of relationship, three person system, only problematic unless they become necessary for the continuation of original twosome by detouring conflict between them to a third person, when two people are having problems they are unable to resolve, one or both will eventually turn to someone/something for sympathy or draw in a third person to try to decrease anxiety

Undifferentiated family ego mass

excess of emotional reactivity or fusion, lack of differentiation in the family of origin constrains member's ability to regulate emotionality and manage anxiety, emotional cutoff from parents, fusion in marriage, people with limited emotional resources typically project needs onto others, this fusion tends to produce reactive emotional distance between the partners, physical or emotional dysfunction in one partner, marital conflict, or projection of the problem onto children

Family projection process

parents transmit emotional problems or lack of differentiation to their children

Multigenerational transmission process

transmission of anxiety from generation to generation, levels of differentiation are affected through generations based on levels of differentiation of partners as they marry and the level of anxiety that is focused on the children, the child most involved in the family's fusion moves toward a lower level of differentiation of self, while the child least involved child moves toward higher levels of differentiation, individuals at similar levels of differentiation of self seek out and marry one another because emotional attachment between them is similar to what they experienced in their families of origin

Sibling position

belief that personality characteristics are influenced by sibling position

Societal emotional process

emotional process in society influences the emotional process in families

Normal family development

differentiated, anxiety is low, partners are in good emotional contact with own families, emotional attachment with intimate partners will begin to resemble that of family of origin, so becoming autonomous within the family of origin is important

Brofenbrenner's Ecological Model

Microsystem: direct interactions with the child and family
Mesosystem: interactions of different microsystems (how parents work with child's school)
Exosystem: broader environment, (parents working with school board or government)
Macrosystem: racism, sexism

Circular causality

actions are related through a series of recursive loops or repeating cycles, problems are maintained by an ongoing series of actions/reactions, what is maintaining the circle, a change in any part of a system affects all other part of the system

Function of the symptom

symptoms are often ways to distract or otherwise protect family members from threatening conflicts


the tendency of a system to regulate itself to maintain a steady state of equilibrium

Feedback loop

the process by which a system gets the info necessary to maintain stability by using info about its performance as feedback, positive or negative distinction refers to the affect they have on deviations from a homeostatic state not whether they are beneficial

Negative feedback

info that signals the system to correct a deviation and restore the status quo, any behavior that blocks or reduced change within a system and brings it back to its former homeostatic state

Positive feedback

information that signals the need to modify the system, any behavior that activates or amplifies change within a system and takes it further away from homeostasis (to accommodate inputs),may be problematic, when a response to a family member's problem can exacerbate the problem

First order change

change that helps the system accommodate to tis current level of functioning, temporary or superficial change within and system that does not alter the basic organization of the system itself, such as exploring existing solutions, psychoeducation, communication and negotiation, genograms, skills training, homework assignments

Second order change

alters the system and functioning, organization's rules and structure change, process intervention, increasing family awareness and introducing change, avoiding triangulation, challenge family norms, boundary making, reframing,

Joining and Accommodation

therapist allies with family members by expressing interest in understanding them as individuals and working with and form them, win confidence and circumvent resistance

Spontaneous behavior sequences

action that occurs without direction which therapist observes and comment on


an interaction stimulated during the session by therapist, permitting the therapist to observe and then change transactions that make up family structure

Restructuring boundary making

change maladaptive interactions and dysfunctional structures by altering boundaries, realigning subsystems, open alternative patterns of interaction


individual withdrawals from a triangle or keeps outside emotion interchange between two others


relabeling a family's description of behavior to make it more amenable to change and help to lead to a solution, explaining a situation in terms of a different context


therapist supports an individual or subsystem against the rest of the family, goal is to change the relationship of members within a subsystem

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