The Pearson family consists of Jack and Rebecca who are the father and mother to their two biological children Kevin and Kate and their adopted son Randall whom they adopted at birth. Kevin and Kate are biological triplets with the third having passed away when they were born. Randall was born the day their other children were born and was left at the hospital and this resulted in him being adopted by Jack and Rebecca.
The Pearson’s are very loving and supportive of their children but there are problems within the family dynamics that contribute to some of the problems in childhood that continue into adulthood for the siblings and their mother. During the time the children are young Jack struggles with alcoholism. Rebecca was previously an aspiring singer, but parenting became her primary role with her demonstrating little interest in any other goals.
Randall, as an adult, has a supportive wife and family although he continues to strive to be perfect which often leads to his panic attacks with him continually being supported by his very stable wife. Kate has an eating disorder and is overweight which she struggles with throughout the show. She also aspires to be a singer, similar to her mother, but does not actively pursue this passion. She too has a partner who is very supportive of her and also provides stability although he battles with depression. Kevin has become famous although he’s hurt his career and eventually becomes addicted to opioids.
Regarding Jack’s family history, his father struggled with alcohol dependency and was abusive towards his mother. His brother was drafted and was presumed dead in Vietnam. In his adult life he cut off his father and it appeared that he has had no relationship with his mother whether this be through a cutoff or she may have passed away. Rebecca did not have siblings and often revealed that she felt judged by her mother while her father was very placating to the mother. She eventually experienced an emotional cutoff with the mother (and presumed with the father) after her mother made it known that she felt Randall was not one of their children.
Emotional triangles have been a dynamic of the family prior to Jack’s death. It appears that when there has been conflict between Kevin and his mother or with Randall, Kate has been pulled in to be the third party within the triangle. When there has been tension for Randall concerning Kevin, the mother has become the third party within the triangle. There was also a parental triangle in childhood with Jack often giving in to Kate while the mother would play the role of the “bad guy”.
We can also see the family projection process in childhood. Jack and Rebecca demonstrated often that they were supportive parents, but they often appeared to be insecure in their adequacy to provide for their children’s needs and often tried to compensate for this. Regarding Randall, Jack and Rebecca were often fearful that they couldn’t meet his needs being Caucasian (despite making many efforts) and projected some of these fears onto their child who strived to be perfect in order to fit. He later developed anxiety and would have panic attacks which persist into adulthood.
There also appears to be issues regarding differentiation of self with fusion occurring within the family. Kate seems to be an example of this as she has mentioned previously when she has discussed her relationship with Kevin. There also appears to be fusion between Randall and his mother. This ultimately leads to the family having a higher level of emotional reactivity.
Looking at the multigenerational transmission process, it appears that lower levels of differentiation have been created throughout the generations. This has appeared in Jack’s family with his father having difficulty with substance dependence, as well as Jack, and also leading to Kevin. There is also the pattern of Rebecca being the partner who considered herself to be more fragile and less able than Jack who often provided stability and support to her. This appears to be the case with Kate who often considers herself to be more dysfunctional than Toby and relies on him for support and stability. Randall does appear to consider himself to be more able but he often does rely heavily on his wife for support and stability as well.
These family dynamics create levels of dysfunction within the family which are demonstrated throughout the show. Having an inventory of how these dynamics play a role in each individual’s life and in the life of the family, is useful because it provides important information regarding the entire system. Using these dynamics, the clinician is able to make a treatment plan that will target some of these processes such as differentiation and triangulation in order to decrease the level of dysfunction within the family.
The first goal for the Pearson family would be to increase the level of self-differentiation of each family member. The family members demonstrate a difficulty in separating their thoughts and feelings from other member’s in the family. Randall often looks to his mother to define how he feels about experiences and specific issues whereas Kate looks towards Kevin in how he defines experiences and current issues. Beginning the process of increasing self-differentiation can allow the members of the family to have the ability to define how they feel and what they think about situations and experiences while also having that connection to their family members.
The second goal for the family would be to reduce the emotional reactivity. Much of the family’s emotional reactivity is surrounded by the trauma of losing Jack. The members of the family respond to events, specifically surrounding their childhood and their relationship with Jack, with intensity which has resulted in negative consequences for some of them. Kevin often has experienced these intense feelings and has been helpless against them which contributed to his decision to begin to use opioids. Kate has also experienced emotional reactivity which has contributed to her eating disorder as she has many emotions that haven’t been processed from her past and this has contributed to the intensity of her emotions in the present.
The third goal would be to foster de-triangulation within the family. The purpose of this goal is to strengthen the entire family and to increase their emotionality to one another as a unit as opposed to dyads. This will also decrease other individuals being placed in the middle of a conflict such as Kate being placed between Randall and Kevin at times. This would also decrease the likelihood of Kevin becoming the scapegoat in the family, especially between Randall and his mother.
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