Theories of Dysfunction

In competitive relationships, the overwhelming desire is to win. At all costs. Even if this means that not all family members begin interactions in a competitive stature to one another, once one member begins to relate to the others in a desire to establish victory and dominance, the other family member must either accept that positioning or react in an attempt to assert their own dominance. And so, the other family members will react to the competitive relationship initiator, and become a part of the competitive system.

There are multiple areas of concern which can result from these types of interactions. To begin with, a defining concept of competition is that there must be a winner. And a loser. Especially in subsystems in families (ex. spouses, siblings, mother-daughter dyads, grandmother-son dyads, etc.), there exists a definition where only these two positions can be held. One winner, and one loser, where the loser feels defeated, helpless, and potentially hopeless to alter this position if repeated attempts at competition are formed with the same individual constantly in the “loser” role. Feelings such as these contribute to levels of clinical pathology including depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and even personality disorders. Extreme examples of competition can even lead to extreme mental health symptoms such as psychosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder and perhaps schizophrenia. While these are hypotheses at this point in scientific inquiry, the reactions to these emotions have been demonstrated in other theories.

More often, feelings of helplessness and depression can lead toward issues of being suicidal or other power and control issues. Psychological symptoms like eating disorders happen frequently, as an adolescent and child begins to learn that they may feel helpless in many ways, but they are able to control certain things – like they’re food intake. Other power and control disorders include cutting, acting out, and violence against others. If these issues are unaddressed into adulthood where new relationships form, those with feelings of powerlessness can try to assert dominance in new relationships; leading toward issues of domestic violence. Most often, these feelings can lead toward individuals trying to cope with them in another pattern of symptoms – substance abuse – where the discomfort, pain, and anxiety of feeling powerlessness is sought to be numbed or escaped from.

While these individual disorders can be symptoms of competitive relationships, they are resultant from competitive family systems. A pecking order is formed within the family for dominance, and acts similarly to pack relationships found in other species. However, humans are more complicated than other species, and our cognitive abilities to reason, think, feel, and plan can make pack-like mentalities difficult in everyday circumstances. A competitive balance is especially difficult if in these relationships, the winner is continually up for debate. If mother and father both vie for dominance, and as a result neither wins, a child can attempt to also vie for control. If the child obtains control and can dictate what their restrictions and rewards are, the child begins to fill the role of “winner” prematurely, and without the direction, experience, and advisement of the parent who correspondingly becomes a “loser” to the child. These types of relationships lead to high levels of stress, confusion, and resentment among all family members, as the child is thrust into a role of leader which they are unable to fully manage, and the parents are resentful of each other and of the child who has taken on this role. A restructuring of the family roles is needed to assert appropriate relationships and correct the competitive drive which has turned this family topsy-turvey.

3 thoughts on “Theories of Dysfunction

  1. I have a sister who is 10 years younger than myself. In our family dynamics, I have been the nurturing sister to her, being a bit older; however, i am very tired of her relentless competitive behavior which has been going on for 20 years. Although friendly to my face, she will undermine me to most males within our family wanting to, as you say, be the winner and carve me out to be the loser. I have always felt responsible for her but am beginning to separate from her, especially in my private and personal life. I do not find her trustworthy although she has a responsible job in an engineering firm and I work in the legal field. This competitiveness has no boundaries. It surfaces in money, home decor, dress, relationships (especially family males) and i am quite frankly tired of it. This level of competitiveness leads to pathological jealousy; stealing ideas, identity, relationships, and will cross sexual boundaries if under influence. It corrupts healthy self esteem in family members and leads to damage in extended family relationships as well. It is lethal.

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