Thursday, August 8, 2013


What Is Family Dynamics ?

Family dynamics is about the study of patterns of relating or interaction between family members. Each family system and its dynamics are unique, although there are some common patterns to perceive. The minimum structure of a family dynamics typically involved three parties – the father, the mother and the child. The family dynamics becomes problematic when the relationship in the family does not flow directly between the family members. Instead it creates a triangulation effect where only one member will communicate with another member through a third family member. This forces the third family member to become part of the triangle.

Case Study –  Child Sex Abuse Leading To The Breakdown of a Family

During my work with a church community, one of the church member brought an 18 year old girl for psychotherapy treatment because she was in a very traumatized mental state where was not only the victim but she was victimized at the same time. 

It all started when she complained to her classmate of her father’s seemingly refusal to allow her to mix with boys. One of the boys who liked her very much, and being a Christian, brought her to the church. Through further probing, they found out that the father had an incest relationship with her. They reported this to the police and had her father arrested. That is when she faced a backlash for it and started the slippery slope downhill.  

She was brought to see me for psychotherapy. By the time she came to me, she had a lot of guilt, shame, fear and regret. Her anxiety was so great that she suffers from insomnia and dare not go to school. From the outside, she has to face a lot of gossips and within the family, no one even sympathize with her but blamed her for the loss of financial support and for tarnishing the family’s reputation. So, she is now squatting with another church member (arranged by the church). Coming from a Chinese family, the reporting her own father to the police against the concept of piety – she was being branded as an unfilial daughter. This has even led her to try committing suicide, albeit unsuccessfully of course. As of now, she felt that if she hadn’t told anyone about it, nothing will happen to change the family dynamics, but now, there is no way to return back to before the incident flair up.

This all started with her mother being an irresponsible individual. Her mother loves to gamble by going out to play mahjong all the time. This made her father the only caretaker and breadwinner in the family. The father in the course of taking care of her as a child formed an intimate attachment to her leading to future troubles that they now faced. The mother was never around, so the father looked after her like bathing her and even accompanying her to sleep. As she approached her puberty, her father started to have an incestual relationship with her, taking advantage of her sexually. This happened when she is around 11 years old. She doesn’t know that this is wrong until she was around 13 to 14 years old. Even when she told her mother of it, her mother simply ignored her and couldn’t be bothered as if it weren’t true. Her mother even blamed her as the source of her mother’s own problem, even the problems of her father. Her mother simply has no trust in her daughter at all.

Her parents relationships was probably in a quite a bad state and her father without a proper sex life, he turned to her due to the vulnerabilities of being her caretaker. This intimacy arose to fuel a vicious power struggle between her and her mother. As the father gave more love and attention to her daughter, the more jealous her mother became, leading her to spend even more time away from the family with the preference to gamble her time away with her mahjong friends. With extended time away from home, the father and daughter would have to spend more time together, doing things with her father as a couple like seeing movies together, shopping, etc. This included the many times they slept in the same bed together and her puberty would allow her father to turn towards her for sex to satiate his desire. 

But as she starts to grow up, her father becomes increasingly possessive especially towards the boys having shown an interest in her would either try to call her or paid her a visit. He began to restrict her freedom, as the father could be in love with her, due to his attachment towards her. 

In the play of family dynamics, she is not just playing a mother role. She has become like some sort of the middleman to her father by playing the role of a lover. This lead to her growing in a family with a very skewed family dynamics. The soured relationship of her parents affected her – her level of security, intimacy and responsibility.

For her situation, by reporting about her father to the authorities, was only the start of the victimization. The story didn’t end there for a fairy tale to start. Instead, she had to face a media circus, gossips and slandering from her classmates and schoolmates, her neighbours, relatives, and even strangers. Even her own family members blamed her for the father’s arrest and predicament currently besetting the family – like the loss of financial support from the sole breadwinner of the house, inability to pay for the expenses of the family and even the legal fees engaged for the father. They even go so far as to accuse her of lying, giving her a double dose of being both a victim and victimized at the same time. The church could only support her with a donation of $10 a day and for the moment she is squatting with another church member. 

Treatment Plan

In my two sessions with her, I worked on her guilt, shame and fear that she is carrying around with her. She was conformed to the family rules to think of herself as a victim which was a wrong perception of the wrong traditional values. I had to bring awareness to her for her right as a human being and her role as a daughter so that she can identify with her own self value. Basically, I tried to correct her perception of the family rules to reduce her guilt and to strengthen the self so that she can survive on her own.


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