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Breaching of family generation boundaries by schizophrenics, disturbed, and normals


This study tested the hypothesis that the breaching of generational boundaries, whereby the child assumes mate-like or parent-like role relations with parents, is one of the dysfunctional family processes linked to schizophrenia. Presence of child-as-mate and parentification fantasies was systematically assessed in individual and conjoint projective stories of young adults and their parents in schizophrenic (N=23), disturbed non-schizophrenic (N=19), and normal (N=20) comparison groups. The variable parentification was not found to discriminate groups. Child-as-mate fantasies strongly differentiated the schizophrenic group. Significantly more than controls, schizophrenics and their parents failed to see generationally appropriate family relationships between parent-like and child-like figures, instead projecting mate-like bonds, often explicitly sexual and usually involving a love triangle. In the conjoint family process, although members were equally likely to communicate a child-as-mate fantasy, those introduced by parents received more agreement and less disagreement in response. Methodological and conceptual issues are discussed.

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Author information

Correspondence to Froma W. Walsh.

Additional information

This study was part of a comprehensive schizophrenia research program conducted jointly by the Departments of Psychiatry of Michael Reese Hospital and the University of Chicago, R. R. Grinker, Sr., Principal Investigator, supported in part by USPHS grant MH05519-14. Cohler, William Henry, Roy Grinker, Sr., and Martin Harrow for support and consultation.

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Walsh, F.W. Breaching of family generation boundaries by schizophrenics, disturbed, and normals. International Journal of Family Therapy 1, 254–275 (1979).

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  • Schizophrenia
  • Young Adult
  • Family Generation
  • Comparison Group
  • Health Psychology