7400.602 Family in
Topic 15 - 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.
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
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,
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
Generalizations about Family
Behavior in Crises:
- 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
- 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.
- - 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
- 1. Active exploration of the problem.
- 2. Open and free expression of both positive and
- 3. Active seeking for help and advice. 4. Breaking
down the problem into manageable parts.
- 5. Maintaining awareness of exhaustion and
- 6. Preserving basic trust.