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107. Неосознаваемое общение между родителями и детьми. Р. Роджерс

107. Unconscious Communication Between Parents and Children. Rita R. Rogers

University of California, Los Angeles, Division of Child Psychiatry, Harbor General Hospital, USA

In Adult and Child Psychiatry the relationship between children and parental psychopathology is constantly being alluded to and considered. Parents have been considered the causative agents of childhood disorders by the early Child Guidance Clinics and parents frequently feel blamed for the problems of their children. Little consideration is given at times to the feeling of degradation and demotion which parents experience whenever they consult an expert to interpret to them their child.

Emotionally healthy children are the best expert analysts of their parents: a parent can fool or bluff himself, his colleagues, his boss, but his offspring is an expert in evaluating him, the parent, in his career of parenting. When emotionally ill children are also very subtly linked to their parents' internal realities, these linkages are difficult to discern and merit closer examination for diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive purposes.

The psychiatric profession has deprived itself of an in-depth understanding of the patterns of unconscious communication because psychiatrists have imposed on themselves an artificial restriction: not to treat (that is not to assess) in-depth members of the same family. Without dynamic understanding of the parent in his parental "sensitization" to what he sees in the child of himself, his partner, his parents, his siblings or more important his phantasies, the profile of parenting is incomplete and shadowy. Indeed the assessment of the child might lack the most important clue as to why the parent is bringing the child, what the child's symptoms mean to the parents, where the child interlinks with the parental deepest hurt and what kind of changes would be emotionally tolerable for the parents and the child.

In order to avoid treating children only for the symptoms presented manifestly by their parents one has to interview parents and children for their unconscious communication of hurts.

Clinical Illustrations

The parents need to be interviewed for their manifest concern of the child, namely their chief complaint about the child. Special opportunity should be given to differences in presentation and viewing of problem by mother and father. One has to assess how this manifest complaint ties in with hidden activities, phantasies, fears or preoccupations of the respective parents, (ex: A. was a cachectic emaciated 21 year old student who dieted fiercely, exercised vehemently and prevented herself from gaining weight by induced vomiting. Her onset, course of illness as well as personality characteristics were those of Anorexia Nervosa. Her mother brought her because of the severe weight loss which threatened her daughter's life. During A's assessment she told me that her favorite activity was photography, particularly taking pictures of food. (She was going to make this her career). She enjoyed particularly taking pictures of the food mother prepared. "This is mother's great thing", she told me. "This is most important to her"!.

(When the mother had been interviewed for history taking, I had not become aware of the fastidious gourmet banquets mother prepared for each family meal). The emotional linkage between A. and her father was on a completely different basis. An incident occurred which revealed this: A. stole food from a market and was apprehended. She rationalized her stealing as being "too stingy" to pay for it. Her unconscious motivation for stealing was A's attraction towards food and the guilt over the pleasure of eating which she considered perverse. A. had a very difficult and ambiguous relationship with her father. She could only see one official link between her and her father, namely his and her stinginess with money. She described father's monetary peculiarities. He could for example never make an investment or spend any money for his family without insisting that his wife and/or children match his expense from their personal funds. It was almost as if he needed their input to neutralize his or camouflage it. Money was as precious to him as food and money was to his daughter. While father and daughter were acutely uncomfortable in each other's company, they had a tie in the symbolic meaning of money.

In the assessment of children, beneath the registering of their manifest problem, one has to understand their secret activities in relationship to their images of their parents and the underlying meaning and relationship between manifest and latent problem. Simultaneously, the psychiatrist has the task to assess the internal reality of the child in its meaning to the parental hurt.

Ex. An 8 year old boy was perceived by his father as the spitting image of his much despised criminal brother who was the favorite of the father's parents. The boy was brought with the complaint of difficulties in school, communication, nightmares, etc. What both parents had not described as a problem was the 8 year old boy's nightly visits to his mother's bed. The father complained about the boy's exaggerated attempts at pleasing him, at wanting to be like him career wise, etc. The father's statement: "When I first saw, Y, I almost fainted. He looked exactly like my brother", was an important clue in the assessment and treatment of this child and his relationship to his parents.

Parents frequently suppress and repress their personal histories in attempts to hide from themselves their most intimate hurts. (Ex. Mr. and Mrs. X brought their 7 year old little girl for consultation upon recommendation of their pediatrician who had been unable to find an organic basis for the multiple body complaints this little girl had daily. Indeed when first seen the child complained about pains and aches in every part of her body. These subsided all dramatically after the little girl expressed her feeling of being rejected by her mother and mother's literally pushing her aside except when she was sick,(mother had gone to work as a nurse's aid when this little girl was 2).

Both parents had been very cooperative about history giving and visits for their child. The mother seemed painfully frightened when I attempted to see her alone and only after the hidden meaning of her work was explored with her she started talking about the death of a younger brother in a car accident. The driver of the car was the father of the little girl, to whom the mother was engaged at the time. Her family had been fiercely opposing this interracial marriage and when the first child of this union was born (with the man whom the parents and the mother considered the killer of their son resp brother) the mother fled into nursing.

In interviewing parent-child interactions, one examines how the child's manifest symptom relates to the latent guilt or fears of the parent, why the parent does not present these as manifest symptoms and how this relates to the parental history, namely relationship with mother, father, siblings and losses, (real, symbolic or fantasied losses). The adult losses reactivate childhood losses but in parenting there occurs a sensitization of the parent to his (her) childhood losses and therefore a skewing of his competence as a parent. This blurs his perception of the child and as the parent needs to hide from himself his latent hurt and its manifestation the parent can deal only with the manifest symptom of his child and distorts its latent meaning to himself because it "fits" too well or too painfully into the parent's hurts.

Ex. B. was an 18 year old student who was obsessed with concern over gaining weight. She was chubby and was attempting to regulate her weight through induced vomiting; at least that is how she explained to herself and others her vomiting. Actually, she was hoarding and ingesting food in huge quantities and then vomiting it in a bizarre ritualistic manner. The entire secretive food orgy and subsequent vomiting represented masturbatory equivalents.

B. on one occasion informed me that she had an uppermost secret to share with me which I could not reveal to her parents. She had stolen from the purses of ladies at a social function.

B's mother had been in individual therapy for several years. She had severe sexual difficulties characterized by feeling amputated, damaged and incomplete. She had been forcefully separated from her mother when she was four, while a younger sibling remained with mother. She had a peculiar dependent relationship towards the therapist from whom she wanted nurturing, approval, and support. She had discussed without hesitation sexual material and dreams. On one occasion she reported having taken from her husband's pocket money and his thinking that somebody had stolen it from him. When asked about her stealing, she became panicky and revealed in great confidence that she had stolen a purse 15 years ago and had been apprehended. Nobody except her husband and the authorities knew about that incident and most certainly none of her children.

This mother did not know that her daughter was stealing at the present time.

Mrs. C. and her daughter D. were involved in a close tight relationship unable to let go of each other. Mrs. C. had an overwhelming fear: that her daughter not feel towards her like she had felt towards her mother. She was constantly proving to herself and her daughter her solicitous concern. D. would fight this overprotection with temper tantrums. During these she put into words the most abhorrent fears of her mother; she would scream: "You are not a good mother and I hate you". She was acutely tuned in to what represented the most overwhelming terror of her mother's inner world.

Mrs. E. was the mother of two little boys who while "happily" married was engaged in numerous extramarital affairs. These were not gratifying to her but she felt compelled to engage in them. Indeed in most of these sexual ventures she felt downgraded and used. She remembered from her childhood her mother bringing men home to their one-room apartment. She had married in order not to be like her mother but simulated almost mirrorlike her mother's life style and indeed exposed her children to the similar sexual confusion and traumata she had been exposed to.


The manifestations of symptoms as well as psychopathology are easily understood in each of these and other cases. The area which requires clarification and a scholarly designed research project is the mode by which parents convey their hurt to their offspring, and why these children feel compelled to act upon it. The parent-child communication seems subtly intense in this particular area of parental hurt. As if the hurt impregnates itself on the parent-child unit as a unique communication which extinguishes at times or at least overshadows in intensity all other modes and styles of communication.

The hurt which is chosen is the most intensely felt and profoundly hidden; the child who is linked to the parental hurt seems to be as easily the one who the parent wanted to be as the one against whom the parent defended. Yet parents do not simply see children as extensions of themselves. Certain characteristics of their children become invested with a peculiar intensity which links the parent to his childhood hurt (ex. a mother who had been raped as a 12 year old brought her daughter for psychiatric evaluation when her 11 year old daughter cried as mother was trying to explain to her the facts of life. Of course, the girl cried because of the style, tone and content of communication of doom which the mother conveyed in her mother- daughter talk). The linkage between parents and children and their children's ability to tune in to the parental hurt deserves close investigation because it could be utilized for the most important aspects of preventive psychiatry.

The child reawakens in the parent several relationships. First of all, it brings back to the parent his relationship with his parents and exacerbates 392 for him the parent's need to reduplicate or undo (or both) his relationship with his parents. The parent relives himself as a parent in the image of his parents or as an antidote to the image of his parents. But the parent relives himself also as a child and can thus find himself competing with his own child. A parent determined to give to his children what has not been given to him might find him or herself jealous of his (her) child for getting what has not been given to him. Ex. a mother who had grown up in an orphanage where nobody read to her bought her daughter all the books by Dr. Seus (way above her financial means) but when her daughter showed difficulties in reading, mother burned all the books in a rage outburst which she herself described as "irrational".

The parenting rekindles also the memories of his (her) parents' relationship with siblings and the child might take on in the parents' eyes characteristics of these siblings (ex. the mother of a 16 year old was unconsciously fiercely jealous of her much more successful younger sister. She was pathologically jealous of all her sisters-in-law and was seeing in her daughter characteristics of her sister. She did this both because she wanted her daughter to be more successful than she herself was and also because she needed to deny in her daughter certain characteristics of her husband she disliked).

She developed acute resentment against this girl who in reaction to this became clinging and acutely possessive of her mother. She became acutely tuned in to her mo ther's hurts and modeled her appearance, demeanor, behavior and life style in exact opposition to her mother. She impersonated bits and pieces from what her mother conveyed to her about her aunt. With these she reexacerbated mother's unconscious resentment and compensatory overprotectiveness.

Children reawaken in their parents also their parents' childhood daydreams, phantasies and ego ideals. These memories come back into focus and can bring satisfaction in relationship to one's life situation but frequently it can stir up dormant resentments and frustrations. The children are keenly sensitive to these hurts. They feel the parental embarrassment of not having a high school degree, of not being socially adept, of being insecure and they feel compelled to bring these to the parents' attention. This is not done because they are vicious and want to hurt their parents but rather because they are chagrined and feel helpless because of the perceived parental helplessness.

The child also reflects for the parent the contours of the marital relationship both in its positive and negative proportions. The child reacts to these perceptions. He (she) wants to be perceived as he or she is. He (she) is keenly sensitive about being dealt with as a substitute for a parent, sibling, spouse, ego ideal, etc. He or she wants to be dealt with as a person, not a substitute. Indeed parents frequently ask: how does he or she know so well how to hurt me? (Ex. the mother of a 14 year old boy was complaining that she was crushed when her son accused her of being selfish when she did not give him her coke. She could not understand why this upset her so much. She explained, "I am so much better than my mother was to me. She was so selfish". Even when she used the same words as her son had used, she unconsciously did not hear it).

The interesting aspect is the expertise which the offspring acquires to selectively attack the parent's Achilles' heel. This skill is acquired because of resentment of vulnerability in the parent. Indeed children can accept weaknesses in their parents only very gradually and if the awareness of these is titrated with personal maturation. They are most intolerant towards weaknesses towards which they had been exposed to when they themselves still felt very weak and vulnerable.

Summary and Conclusion

The blatant intensity of parent-child relationship is known but not fully understood in psychiatry. Indeed its glaring existence is partially responsible for it not being more fully investigated and better understood. A research project is being designed for evaluating the relationship between manifest and latent problems between parents and children. It seems that the child rekindles in the parent his (the parent's) childhood hurts and aspirations. The child can thus be the vehicle for working through and obtainment of emotional gratification. It can though also reawaken dormant rivalries, insecurities, temptations and severe frustrations. The child's ability to "pick up" these hurts and selectively hurt the parent through these avenues is seen as the child's weapon against being engulfed by the parent's weakness. The child does not want to hurt the parent but resents the feelings of hurt in the parent.


1. Rogers, R. R., "Emotional Contamination Between Parents and Children", American Journal of Psychoanalysis, (in press).

2. White, R. В., David, H. K. and Cantrell, W. A., "Psychodynamics of Depression, Implications for Treatment", presented at the Annual Meeting of The American Cob lege of Psychiatrists, Coronado, California, January 28-February 1, 1976, p. 1-61-draft 7.

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