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Murray, M.E. (1979). Family Character Analysis. Am. J. Psychoanal., 39(1):41-53.

(1979). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39(1):41-53

Family Character Analysis

Michael E. Murray, Ph.D.

General systems theory is currently the most influential theoretical construct of family therapists. However, the discounting of psychological constructs in favor of systems models borrowed from physics may be premature. The bridge between intrapsychic, interpersonal, and family system levels may be constructed by a reexaminaron and expansion of formulations of psychodynamic therapists regarding character analysis.8 Character analysis developed out of the psychoanalytic theoretical tradition and has been of major import to neo-Freudian theorists and in ego psychology.5 The basic premises are that the ego, in its attempts to adapt to internal and external demands, develops a distinctive character style which is unique to the individual and relatively independent of situation or context. Character presents itself in typical patterns of coping, in both the manner in which a person perceives and interprets the world and in the defense mechanisms employed to deal with demands and conflicts. An individual's character is viewed as a mental structure that determines behavioral and affective responses. In his attempt to master life and cope with stress, the individual develops a character that will bind anxiety, protect against conflict, and allow him to meet physical and interpersonal needs. Although people do vary from one situation to the next, the character structure is responsible for the relative consistency observed in a particular person. Each individual has a unique style of thinking, feeling, and acting.

Pathological character is seen in a response style that is either too rigid and fixed to adapt to the ever-changing demands of life or is so inconsistent and disjointed that the person is unable to initiate effective, decisive, and consistent action. A healthy character structure is one in which the person maintains stable perceptual and behavioral patterns, yet has the flexibility to adapt to change and to the unique properties of situations. Character is manifest in the form of character resistances which determine how the person speaks, acts, perceives, distorts, condenses, and censures.8

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