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Zinner, J. Shapiro, R. (1974). The Family Group as a Single Psychic Entity: Implications for Acting out in Adolescence. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 1:179-186.

(1974). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 1:179-186

The Family Group as a Single Psychic Entity: Implications for Acting out in Adolescence

John Zinner and Roger Shapiro


The authors are engaged in investigations to determine in what ways family group behaviour facilitates or inhibits the satisfactory completion of developmental tasks by the adolescent offspring. In this report, impulsive acting-out behaviour in certain adolescents is viewed as a product of transactional processes occurring within the family as a whole. The family of the delinquent youngster behaves as if it were a single psychic entity, with derivatives of drive and functions of superego dispersed among different family members.

Internal psychological conflicts within family members is transmuted into interpersonal strife between those who have come to represent the conflicting mental structures. By the mechanism of projective identification, the family generally comes to perceive the adolescent as the agent of its impulses. This is not invariable, as family roles may be reversed with the adolescent speaking for the superego.

The roots of parental dissociation of drive and prohibition lie in their own unresolved conflicts around sexuality and authority relations which are rekindled by the onset of adolescence in their offspring. The parents are viewed as recapitulating with their child the very conflicts which they had experienced with their own parents within their nuclear family.

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