7400.201 Courtship Marriage and the Family
Topic 16 - Family Crises

Today we discuss Family Crises of various kinds which comes down to the management of normally stressful events in our lives, as well as very disturbing kinds of dysfunctions. First of all, there is a saying: "If it ain't broke - Don't fix it!" Most Families live long and relatively happy lives without suffering  series of extremely disturbing events. However, there is another saying: "Bad things happen to Good people all the time!" Sadness and disappointment are as much a part of life as happiness and getting our way about things.

Stress = tension resulting from depleted family resources - an imbalance that must be corrected.
Stressors = those life events or changes that are so serious or drastic that they require changes in the family system EX: Death of a spouse, financial crisis, unemployment.

  • Distress = extreme psychological pressure resulting from facing repugnant / unenjoyable challenges.
  • Eustress = extreme psychological pressure resulting from facing enjoyable / beneficial challenges

Imagine how stress you are going to be when you finish college and head out to the professional job market with your brand new B.A. in your hand. People are expecting things from you.  Maybe you are also planning to solidify that romance you've been having into a marriage, so there's the wedding and all that! And you find that your mother is being difficult over your dad's insistence on wearing Bermuda shorts to the reception! That's one kind of pressure build-up - nothing bad, just things.

Now imagine that your father is diagnosed with a serious medical condition, your brother is in jail on a drug charge, your little sister is planning on running away from home, and you find out your fiancé is seeing someone else. It all depends on your family system.

Daily Events (A) are Critical (X) if they are perceived to:

  • 1. create a hardship greater than family resources can manage
  • 2. are perceived by the family as critical

As events unfold, the family constantly monitors its ability to cope with its resources. If events move beyond the family's ability to cope, a crisis results.

Crises have different sources, but in any case, they are closely linked with stressful events and/or behavior.
Reuben Hill developed the ABCX family crisis model in trying to account for differential success in coping. In essence, A is the stressor event and the  hardships it produces. B is the management of the stress through coping resources that the family has. Since an important aspect of the impact of stress is the way in which the stressful situation is defined, C refers to the family’s definition of the event. A, B, and C interact to produce X, the crisis. McCubbin and Patterson later proposed a Double ABCX model, in which they relabeled the A factor as family demands. There are three components to family demands: the stressor, the hardships that accompany the stressor, and the pileups, or residuals of family tension. There are numerous commonplace tensions and strains in most of our lives.

Stressor events per se are not sufficient to cause serious problems. The context in which the event occurs, the way that the family defines the event, and the  resources the family has for dealing with it are all crucial to the outcome.

  • There are different types of stressor events. The stressor may arise from  within or outside the family; it can be expected or unpredictable, controllable or uncontrollable.
  • The kinds of things most likely to be important stressors vary somewhat  over the family life cycle. During the early childbearing years, financial  strains are the most common. Time demands are frequently the source of  strain.
  • Not all stressors are equal. In spite of varying reactions, when we look at  how large numbers of people respond to stressors, we can rank order the  varied stressors in terms of severity. The Family Inventory of Life Events  and Changes (FILE) is one effort to identify the severity. The most severe  stressors involve death, divorce, violence, and illness; the least severe are  such things as the purchase of an automobile or other major items.

Alcohol and substance abuse ranks high on the list of family stressors.
Alcohol abuse is the improper use of alcohol such that the consequences are detrimental to the user and the family. It is the abuse - not merely the use - of alcohol that creates problems. Alcohol abuse seriously detracts from the quality of family life. In many families, particularly when the abuse is long-term, there are negative consequences whether or not the abuser is drinking. In addition, the spouses and children of the abusers may develop various physical and emotional problems. The children of alcoholics tend to describe their families as less cohesive and more conflict-ridden than do children from other families. When the children become adults, their past  experience in an alcoholic home can continue to trouble them. If alcohol abuse can lead to family problems, family problems can also lead to alcohol abuse. Moreover, alcohol abuse can take its toll across a number of generations.

Next to death, separation, and divorce, family violence is the most difficult experience people have to cope with.

  • If the bright side of intimate relationships is their potential for enhancing our well- being, the dark side is their potential for destruction because of physical and verbal abuse.
  • If we define violence to include mild forms as spanking, the majority of parents use some form of violence against their children. A prototype of the abusive parent would be one who is single, young (around thirty or less), and has been married for fewer than ten years, had his or her first child before the age of eighteen, and is unemployed or employed part-time.
  • Incest is a special form of child abuse and involves any type of exploitative sexual contact between relatives in which the victim is under eighteen years of age.  Overall, about one in seven Americans report that he or she was sexually abused as a child. Father-daughter incest is far more common than mother-son incest.
  • The term spouse abuse is likely to conjure up the image of a man beating a woman. Abuse is more than physical, and verbal abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse. Verbal aggression appears to be equally divided between men and women. Women may have values and attitudes that override the physical and emotional damage they are enduring.
  • Although most of the attention has been focused on child and spouse abuse, researchers have discovered that children also abuse their parents. Abuse of elderly parents may also occur at the hands of their adult children.
  • In the short-term, abuse involves serious physical and emotional damage, but abuse also tends to have serious long-term consequences. Witnessing violence as well as being victimized by it has harmful consequences. Whatever the type of crisis faced, different families will have somewhat different reactions.
    Whatever a person does in the face of a crisis is a coping pattern. Even if a person does nothing, that is one way of trying to cope.  There are ineffective coping patterns. “Ineffective” means that it is not a pattern that typically will yield long-term, constructive outcomes.
  •  Denial is perhaps the most common of the ineffective coping patterns and  is a defense mechanism in which people will not believe what they observe.
  •  Admitting the existence of a problem is not sufficient; sometimes, people  acknowledge that the problem exists, but they avoid confronting and  dealing with it. Avoidance can be used in any kind of crisis. Like denial,  avoidance is not always a dysfunctional way of coping.
  •  Sometimes people admit a problem but feel that they have to find someone or something to blame. They select a family scapegoat to bear the brunt of the responsibility for the problem. Scapegoating, unlike denial and  avoidance, is not even useful in the short run.

A family is most likely to cope effectively with problems or crises when the members have worked together to develop certain family strengths. The family that has developed strengths is likely to be a resilient family, one that can resist disruption in the face of change and cope effectively with crises.

There are different tools that people use in effective coping.

  • In contrast to denial, avoidance, and Scapegoating, effective coping begins when people take responsibility for themselves and their families.
  • In a crisis, people may have to remind themselves that they and their  families are also people with strengths and the capacity to cope effectively. People must affirm their own self worth and their family’s worth.
  • People must balance self-concern with other-concerns.
  • People must learn the art of reframing, which refers to redefining the  meaning of something–it is a way of changing one’s perspective on a  situation.
  • Family members must find and use available resources, including all of the family strengths previously discussed. Using available resources along  with other coping strategies can enable families to emerge from a crisis at  a higher level of functioning than it enjoyed before the crisis.
Generalizations about Family Behavior in Crises:
  • - Adversity may increase family solidarity
  • - Flexibility in shifting roles can strengthen individual family members and the family as a group.
  • - Quick adjustments to crisis do not allow closure of the problem, or final adjustments (growth)

Strategies for Coping with Any Stress!

  • 1. Active exploration of the problem.
  • 2. Open and free expression of both positive and negative feelings.
  • 3. Active seeking for help and advice. 4. Breaking down the problem into manageable parts.
  • 5. Maintaining awareness of exhaustion and replenishment.
  • 6. Preserving basic trust.