There is evidence that family relationships affect the personality patterns of the various members differently. A person who is quiet, introverted, and socially withdrawn is more influenced than is one who is extroverted and socially active. The former tends to brood over any unpleasant relationship, such as friction between parents or between siblings, while the extrovert has enough outside interests to turn his attention to other people when he finds relationships in the home unpleasant.
A person who is in poor health, regardless of age, is more influenced by family relationships than one who is healthy. He is less active socially and thus who is in poor health tends to brood more and to exaggerate if he were feeling better. A sick person may interpret a casual remark as a criticism, for example, while a healthy person would let it pass unnoticed.
Because girls and women spend more time in the home and with family than do boys and men, there is a sex difference in the effect family relationships have on personality. This difference is well illustrated in in-law relationships and grandparent-grandchildren relationships. Wives, it has been reported, are more influenced by their relationship with their mothers-in-law than with their father-in-law. Husbands are less influenced by their relationships with in-law of either sex than are wives.
Age differences in the effect of family relationships on personality are closely related to the amount of time people of different ages spend in the home and with family members. The more time spent in the home, the greater the influence of family members and vice versa.
The influence of different family members on the personality pattern of the individual depends on such conditions as the age of the person at the time, the amount of control a particular family member has over the person, the amount of time spent with the family member, and the emotional tie between the person and the family member.
In most homes, mothers spend more time with their children, have more control over them, and express their affection more overtly than fathers. As a result, mothers exert more influence over the child’s developing personality. A comparison of children from monomatric families, or families where the child is under the exclusive care of the mother, with those from polymatric families, where the care of the child is shared with another female, has revealed that, at the age of 6 months, babies form monomatric families are less irritable and easier to handle. At 1 year, they exhibit personality traits that make them better adjusted, both personality and socially, than babies from polymatric families. They are more active, are more emotionally responsive in their interactions with their mothers, and make social contacts with people outside the home more easily. They show the basic personality traits of well-adjusted people.
The monomatric relationship leaves its mark on the mother’s personality as well as the baby’s. The mother who assumes full care of her baby and continues to do so after the helpless months of babyhood are passed is more understanding and tolerant of childish behavior than is the mother who has shared her maternal duties with another female. She provides a healthier home climate for confident of her ability to perform her maternal role successfully, and this adds to her self-confidence and poise.
The effect of sibling relationships on the personality pattern of the sibling involved of varies according to their age, the control exerted by one sibling over another and the affection that exists between them. Younger siblings are as a rule, more influenced by older siblings than the reverse because the younger tends to hero-worship the older and tries to imitate him. Siblings of them same sex tend to have close emotional ties, while those of the opposite sex often have a frictional relationship because the boy develops a feeling of superiority, which his sister resents.
Of all relatives outside the immediate family, grandchildren and grandparents have the greatest influenced on each other’s personality patterns. Grandmothers have more influence on and are more influenced by grandchildren than grandfathers. Grandmothers and grandchildren spend more time together, grandmother exercise greater control over the grandchildren, and the emotional tie between the two is stronger than that between grandfather and grandchildren.
In summary, then, while it is evident that family relationships have a marked influence on the personality patterns of all family members, the influence is far from equal. That is why, in considering the effects of the family, one must remember that they very according to the kind of relationship that exists and the family members who are involved.
In the remaining sections of this chapter, some of the most important family relationships and the ones that have received the greatest research attention will be discussed. It is believed that this resume of the evidence will support the statement at the beginning of the chapter that family relationships play a role second to none in the development of the self-concept. First, a brief discussion of the effects of the home’s emotional climate on the personalities of family members will serve to emphasize the pervading influence of family relationships.
EMOTIONAL CLIMATE OF THE HOME
While emotional climate of the school has a strong influence on personality, as was discussed. It is much less important than that of the home. First, the individual spends a relatively short time in school as compared with the time spent in the home, and second, the school affects only the child or the adolescent, not the parents, the grandparents, or other relatives.
It is true that the effect of the emotional climate of the school can carry over to the home. But this effect can be counteracted or minimized by the emotional climate of the home, or if the two are similar, they may reinforce each other. On the other hand, the home climate is a prime determinant of the child’s adjustments to school. And the emotional climate of the school can do little to change the effect or the home on his pattern of adjustment.
Effects of home climate on personality
The emotional climate of the home directly influences the person’s characteristic pattern of behavior and his characteristic adjustment to life. If the home climate is favorable, the individual will react to personal problems and frustrations in a calm, philosophical manner and to people in a tolerant, happy, and cooperative way. If the home climate is frictional, he will develop the habit of reacting to family members and outsiders as well in a hostile or antagonistic way.
Indirectly, the home climate influences the person by the effect it has on his attitudes towards people. If the child perceives his mother showing favoritism toward a sibling, he develops an attitude of resentment toward people in positions of authority. Many who become radial nonconformists do so because their resentment of parental authority has developed into resentment against all in authority.
Conditions contributing to a favorable home climate
When family members are capable of empathy or of putting themselves in the psychological shoes of other family members and viewing situations from their frame of reference, they behave in such a way as to make family relationships pleasant and harmonious.
If you can learn a simple trick, scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You’ll never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
When everyone in the family realize how an aged parent feels about having to move into the home of a married daughter and tries to make him feel welcome, for example, harmonious relationships will be possible and the home climate will be far pleasanter than if empathy were lacking.
Empathy is greatly aided by communication between family members. The breakdown in communication between parents and adolescent children contributes heavily to home friction. Many parents face a dilemma when they must choose between allowing their teen-age children to communicate freely and imposing the rule that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
A good home climate, fostered by communication between family members, is possible when there is respect for the opinions of others. Even if family members disagree, mutual respect helps to reduce friction. Open communication and respect for the opinions of other usually lead to reasonable expectations among family members. When the mother communicates to the members of her family why she needs their help more when she takes a second job and works outside the home as well as in, they show that their expectations for her contribution to family life are reasonable by assuming some of the duties she previously carried. If a person tries to conform to unreasonable expectations, friction is almost inevitable, and certainly tension and discontent will rise.
Among adults, togetherness meets the needs of some family members more than others. The companionship of spouses, children, and relatives is more important for women than men. Adults who come from families with strong traditional religious values, as is true of those of the Catholic and Jewish faiths, stress togetherness more than those of protestant faiths of those whose interest in religion is weak.
Too much togetherness can intrude on the independence of family members and can thus be harmful. While most people believe they are capable of handling more independence than others give them credit for, a reasonable amount of independence keeps them form feeling that they being “bossed” or “regimented”. There would be less friction between mothers and teen-age daughters, for example, if the daughters were given more autonomy in choosing their own clothing. The right clothing means so much to teen-age girls that they often regard lack of independence in this area as no independence at all.
Independence can be carried to the pint where it jeopardizes family stability, however. At any age, to feel secure, one needs stability in his pattern of living and in his relationship with significant people. Especially during the early years of life, a frictional home climate, with constant threats, of disruption due to the divorce or separation of parents, can be so damaging to the personality disorders. All family members are affected adversely, but those who are very young are particularly vulnerable. This matter will be discussed later in the section dealing with deviant families.
Damaging as lack of stability in the pattern of living is to the home climate, lack of stability, or inconsistency, in family expectations is even more so. The child who does not know what is expected of him or the adult who is unsure of the role he is expected to play usually vacillates between one possibility and another. This vacillation, through its influence on family relationships, disrupts the pattern of family living.
Some friction is inevitable in family life. How disagreements are expressed, however, will determine whether the home climate will be favorable or not. The most common ways of expressing disagreements are criticism of the opinions and actions of others, attempts to reform another’s behavior or change his attitudes and beliefs, nagging, ridiculing, and a far less common method discussing different points of view in a calm, rational, and objective way to help others understand them.
There are also a number of ways of trying to solve a disagreement and, thus, ending a conflict having one family member give in for the sake of peace and harmony, and compromising, with each family member modifying his pint of view somewhat after he sees and understands the pints of view of the other members.
Only the last method compromise will lead to a favorable home climate. While a truce or a cooling off period will help temporarily, the friction is almost sure to recur. Giving in to another's demands for the sake of harmony is likely to encourage bullying tactics. The person comes to believe that he can dominate by “making a fuss”. This always leads to deterioration in the home climate.
Criticizing and ridiculing are ego deflation for the person attacked, and he bitterly resents them. In his resentment, he retaliates, and this strains the family relationship, how criticism of a family member affects the home climate is illustrated.