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Schizophrenogenic parents

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In the books Schizophrenia and the Family and The Origin and Treatment of Schizophrenic Disorders Lidz and his colleagues explain their belief that parental behaviour can result in mental illness in children:

In [such] families the parents were rarely in overt disagreement, and the family settings were reasonably calm. But, as we studied these seemingly harmonious families, it became apparent that they provided a profoundly distorted and distorting milieu because one spouse passively acceded to the strange and even bizarre concepts of the more dominant spouse concerning child rearing and how a family should live together. We termed the seemingly harmonious ones as “skewed”.

Lidz illustrates his point with the “skewed” N. family. When he interviewed Mr. and Mrs. N., Mrs. N. dominated the interviews even when the questions were directed expressly to her husband. Though very efficient in his profession, Mr. N. felt he did not know anything about how to raise the children and relegated all judgment on family affairs to his wife. But his behavior transcended mere passivity. Dr. Lidz observed that Mr. N. behaved as a spokesman of his wife; he paraphrased her demands and questions. His wife “tended to treat him as a child”. Lidz concludes:

Mrs. N. was clearly a very difficult and disturbed woman who despite her fluid self-boundaries […] seemed to retain a tenuous balance by imposing her view of the world upon the few persons significant to her, and by keeping her life and her family life confined within the narrow limits she could navigate.

Lidz noted that schizophrenogenic mothers manage to be impervious to the needs and wishes of other family members. “As her psychotic or very strange concepts remain unchallenged by the husband, they create reality within the family”. Dr. Lidz calls this phenomenon folie à deux, a shared delusion between two parents. And if the delusional ideas of the dominant parent are shared by all family members, the result is a folie en famille.

Lidz criticised a culture of blame against schizophrenogenic mothers, however, writing:

I also find it very distressing that because the parents’ attitudes and interactions are important determinants of schizophrenic disorders, some therapists and family caseworkers treat parents as villains who have ruined the lives of their patients.

As the mainstream psychiatric field embraced biological psychiatric techniques, the concept of the “schizophrenogenic mother” lost credibility in the profession. There are still some professionals, however, who believe that traumatogenic modes of parenting cause psychosis.

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