On the Blended Family Dynamic
Updated: Oct 21, 2019
By Judith Gleba-Kressmann
A blended family is defined as a family made of two parents and their children from previous marriages.
It is vital to recognize the internal mechanisms within all families, in order to understand the dynamics between each member (spouse / spouse; parent / child; sibling / sibling, etc.). As you can imagine, these interrelationships become more complex in blended families.
The Family Clan
A clan is a tribe that groups together several families, or, when a family claims a common purpose. In fact, the first meaning of the word “clan” is “family”.
The place a child has in his / her family determines his / her role. We expect different things from the eldest compared to the youngest, without forgetting the “mixed” role of the child in the middle. As is often the case, there are traditional obligations imposed on “the first born”, and it is “natural” for the elder to feel protective of his / her younger sibling, and the younger to respect and admire his / her elder.
In Totem and Taboo (published in 1913), Sigmund Freud depicts for the first time the notion of collective psychology, a collective psychoanalysis. In this work, Freud wishes to establish a theory of culture based on the links between primitive life and the personality of neurotics, on the transmission of the Oedipus complex and guilt.
Carl Jung, meanwhile, develops his theory of “the collective unconscious”, according to which man is not completely locked in his personal history, but, on the contrary, is composed of “pre-existing forms”, the archetypes. This collective unconscious is, in a sense, a kind of “baggage” that we all carry. Jung had noticed through his travels and studies of different populations that they had myths and religions in common. The collective unconscious is the deep layer of the unconscious that we all have.
Transgenerational analysis shows that there is a form of unconscious reproduction between generations. When one realizes this, one can free oneself from guilt and destructive behaviors or certain traumas. Transgenerational transmission in a family is carried out in a subtle and subconscious way. A traumatic family history can be passed from one generation to the next without being overcome. The story is constructed according to the way it is told. The transmission of family secrets is done unconsciously through the words “chosen” by the family member who is telling them.
In 1978, the psychoanalysts Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok elaborate the “transgenerational ghost”: a secret, a trauma, an “unspoken” repressed experience. Stories locked in the “crypt”, which are not treated, become “ghosts” that haunt generations in the family. It is essential that a trauma in a family is confronted in order to avoid transgenerational transmission. Children who have experienced a shock in their family will either be the “transmitter” of suffering, or the “repairer”. To get rid of these “ghosts” or to prevent them from manifesting themselves, families must open lines of communication. In stepfamilies, there is a risk of having transgenerational ghosts on each side. A new family tree is created, free from its ghosts, when there is communication and confidence between each member of the “new” family.
One becomes step-parent as one becomes parent: with experience. It is necessary to give time to rebuild a family. When a family is faced with the painful situation of separation, honest communication becomes paramount. Answer the children’s questions, do not lie to them. This does not mean that we must tell them all the “adult” problems, because the child’s psyche is not at the same level as his / her parents; s/he will not understand in the same way, nor reason like an adult. If there is a situation of adultery, the child does not need to know all the details that do not concern him / her. The guilt felt by a parent should not be passed on to the child.
Do not forget the fundamentals of blended families: give time to discover, find one’s place and be accepted.
Changes are a constant in life, and dealing with them can be difficult but rewarding. To face various situations, one must confront them with conscience.
From the first signs of difficulties between parents, children and step-family members, you can consult a therapist, which is a step towards healing and conflict resolution. Applied Psychotherapy gives us tools to free ourselves from our difficulties, and to open communication.