Several theories have formulated to understand family patterns and behaviors.
Of these, Olson’s Circumplex model stands out as one of the most researched, validated and used framework for family therapy. Therefore, it can be an effective tool for explaining how ones family has influenced his or her current behavior. Accordingly, in this paper, I explore this concept and apply it in my family-of-origin experience.
Olson’s Circumplex Model is grounded on the doctrines of the family systems theory that highlights the interrelationship between family members and their actions as well as the family development theory that focuses on the dynamic adjustments in families throughout the life cycle. The model conceptualizes three family behaviors that define their interaction: adaptability, cohesion, and communication (Galvin, Braithwaite, Bylund, 2015).
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The adaptability continuum looks into the willingness of a family to alter its leadership, rules, and roles structure. According to Sprenkle, Olson, and Russell (2014), a functional family should be both firm and receptive to change. Olson’s identifies four dimension of adaptability: chaotic, flexible, structured, and rigid. Rigid and chaotic families are unbalanced while structured and flexible families are balanced.
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Cohesion establishes the degree of emotional ties in a family by exploring the level of restrictions, mutual interests, and connections within the unit. The dimensions for cohesion include disengaged, separated, connected, and enmeshed. A healthy family should properly balance the level of independence and closeness (Steinberg & Darling, 2017). Furthermore, Sprenkle, Olson, and Russell (2014) note that communication should act as a facilitating skill. In other words, it should drive families towards having healthy relationships in terms of adaptability and cohesion. Functional families have mastered effective listening and speaking skills, self-disclosure, clarity, and respect when interacting.
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As already suggested above, Olson’s model promotes a curvelinear hypothesis. The hypothesis posits that functional families have a balanced cohesion and adaptability continua while dysfunctional families on the extreme ends cohesion and flexibility (Joh et al., 2013). Olson also assumes that healthy families change their levels of adaptability and cohesion as they go through different phases of life and changes in the environment (Sprenkle, Olson, and Russell, 2014). Considering the in-depth nature of this framework, it can be effective tool for describing family-of-origin.
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I come from Brasilia and currently live in Honolulu. In Brasilia, I lived in a family of five; my parents, and my two siblings. I have always admired how our parents nurtured us although we have never been immune to problems. Particularly, I can confess that during my adolescence we had several conflicts, making us almost dysfunctional. After studying the cohesion-adaptation framework, I now understand that it is the parenting style adopted by my parents that contributed to this instability.
In terms of cohesion, my family would qualify as disengaged. I had a limited interaction with parents particularly, my father who prioritized his work over our family. He arrived late and would leave in the dawn for his financial advisory job at Bradesco. My mum also spent the entire day serving as an accountant at O Boticário. As a result, we had brief communication, with my mother paying little attention to my opinion and always indifferent to my needs. Often, they would drastically change the topic whenever I start to express some of the emotional difficulties that I was facing during that period. Study shows that these parenting behaviors can cause impulsive tendencies among adults, particularly when relating with their peers (Kumari & Khanna, 2016).
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One of the instance when this low cohesion manifested was when I informed my mother about my dating dilemma. When I turned fifteen, I begun developing a strong attraction for the opposite sex. However, I always felt guilty for engaging in such relationships. As such, when one of the boys in my class asked me to date him, I second guessed and opted to inquire from my mum on the right action. In response, my mother told me to only approach her with issues related academic issues. Consequently, I opted to date the boy and indulged in substance use during the school parties that I secretly attended with him. As expected, I never disclosed to my parents about my unbecoming behavior until late in my adulthood.
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Regarding adaptability continuum, I would say my family-of-origin is classifiable as being rigid. My parents used an authoritarian approach to parenting accompanied with strict rules and disciplinary measures. Despite the differences in age between me and siblings, my parents applied equal standards for our conduct, and were unwilling to ease the rules even as I grew up. As an adolescent, I felt the need to spend more time interacting with my friends and to get more freedom from my parents. However, there was an expectation for me to be home at least three hours before my peers, and I was prohibited from attending most events.
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With the various personality changes that I was experiencing during adolescence, I had many opinions that I needed to voice to my parents. However, most of the things I wanted to address already had strict rules about them. My parents blatantly disregarded them as indiscipline. In such an environment, it was hard to express my opinions, especially on matters that would stand out as being controversial. Insisting on doing things against the prescribed manner often resulted in punitive action such as withdrawal of privileges.
Towards my late teenage, I experienced a little leniency with the curfew and attending events. The events that I could attend were only those that seemed to have strict supervision. This created resentment as I felt that my good behavior ought to be rewarded with leniency. I also did not feel confident to make my own decisions without their input. This is because they had always dictated the actions that I should take.
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Over time, my family has changed into a structurally separated style. My parents learnt about the negative effects of being rigid and disengaged to us. Today, they strive to create a moderate closeness as well as having a stable structure of leadership and roles in the family. We have become interdependent and I often visit them in Brasilia to share some of my emotional difficulties while also giving them moral and financial backing. Besides, we have improved our communication skills, taking time to listen and speak while also respecting each other.
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The family cohesion-adaptability framework is an efficient tool that can be used to understand family and resolve family conflicts. It has a broad scope of diagnosing family issues, and its curve-linear hypothesis is accurate in defining parenting style. As an individual, this framework can help me to tackle future family issues, changes in the environment, and life cycle with my family-of-origin as a benchmark.
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Galvin, K. M., Braithwaite, D. O., Bylund, C. L. (2015). Family communication: cohesion and change (9th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Joh, J. Y., Kim, S., Park, J. L., & Kim, Y. P. (2013). Relationship between family adaptability, cohesion and adolescent problem behaviors: curvilinearity of circumplex model. Korean journal of family medicine, 34(3), 169-177.
Kumari, C., & Khanna, A. (2016). Parenting styles and moral judgment among adolescents. International Journal of Advanced Research, 2(2), 572-574.
Sprenkle, D. H., Olson, D., & Russell, C. S. (2014). Circumplex model: Systemic assessment and treatment of families. New York, NY: Routledge.
Steinberg, L., & Darling, N. (2017). Parenting style as context: An integrative model. In Interpersonal Development (pp. 161-170). Routledge.