Family functional and dysfunctional communication patterns

Family functional and dysfunctional communication patterns

Functional and dysfunctional pattern in the family

Interaction patterns are guidelines in which several people participate with their communications in a recurring manner, and are part of family life.

These patterns usually favor the development of family members, but the systemic model He has identified some that he considers dysfunctional. Among these, we will deal with the paradoxical communication and triadic and dyadic interaction patterns.


  • 1 Paradoxical communication
  • 2 The dyadic interaction patterns
  • 3 The triadic interaction

Paradoxical communication

Paradoxical communication is seen as a dysfunctional modality. or, at least, incongruous of communication that, if installed as a predominant pattern of communication, has disturbing effects on those who participate, more visible in the most defenseless, children and adolescents. In fact, the double bond hypothesis It is precisely that, it is postulated that this is the predominant communicational pattern in schizophrenic families. This hypothesis describes a dysfunctional form of communication that according to Palo Alto team members is characteristic of families with schizophrenic members. In essence, the concept refers to the issuing incongruous messages at different logical levels, also known as paradoxical messages. For example, stimulate or elicit a response in the other and then complain that it has occurred, in a climate in which you cannot metacommunicate (or talk about what has happened), and in a context of vital importance to the child, that is of his parents.

In this interactional context, the child or youth can never be confirmed in their messages, because the digital level (content) and the analog (nonverbal) disagree If you respond to one, it is wrong according to the other, so there is no way to get it right, or to be confirmed, and this seriously affects the establishment of a sense of identity.

In fact, irony and humor use the paradoxical message a lot, but the relational contexts are very different. Even between parents and children these messages can be given without anyone being very disturbed, but it is dangerous when paradoxical communication installs in a predominant way and affects the development of a sense of identity.

When, for example, the mother's verbal (digital) communication contradicts her analog or nonverbal communication, it results in a incongruous communication. The child or adolescent also adopts this modality, but over time he is very disturbed. Certainly, if he attends to the verbal message, he must understand the mother's message as a sign of affection, but if he does, the mother will probably feel even more tense and reject it. If, instead, he attends to the nonverbal message and distances himself, he will also be rejected or at least criticized.

The dyadic interaction patterns

Gregory Bateson During his anthropological years in New Guinea he proposed a way to classify the interactions between pairs of people (dyads) that has continued to be used until today and has shown great utility:

Complementary interaction

The complementary interaction is based on the acceptance, and often enjoyment, of the difference between the upper position of one member and the lower one of the other. The behaviors they exchange are different but fit. For example, one orders and the other obeys, one asks for advice or help and the other provides, one cares and the other seeks care, one takes the initiative and the other follows. These patterns can be given between parents and children, teachers and students, doctors and patients, and in couples (among others).

Symmetric interaction

In the symmetric interaction, participants tend to be at the same level, to remain in equality. Either one can offer advice, take the initiative, etc.

Generally, these patterns are not rigid, but they evolve or vary depending on the contexts or the stage of development of the interacting.

For example, the relationship between a boss and his subordinate is complementary to the job, but it can be symmetrical while having a coffee and talking about football. Also, the relationship between a child and his parents begins to be very complementary (it could not be otherwise, they feed him, dress him, decide everything in his life), but over time this should vary as the child grows , so that when the parents are great, the child adopts the role of assistant and the roles are gradually reversed.

The dangers of complementary and symmetric interaction

The danger of complementarity is that it becomes rigid, that the difference between the upper and lower position does not evolve and thus prevents the development of who is "down".

The danger of symmetry is climbing. If one of the two begins to make movements in which it is "above" the other - for example, giving instructions, so it does not allow some alternation or negotiation as would be typical of an equal situation - this entails an irresistible provocation for the other. In fact, each message of this type stimulates a similar response in the other, in a pattern known as symmetric escalation.

If we consider them as such, symmetric escalations are an interactional pattern that in itself leads to the dissolution or destruction of the dyad. In fact, there are some cases in which this type of interaction leads one spouse to kill the other. On the international scene, it is common to see how the exchange of threats ends in war. But there are also many dyads that coexist with symmetric escalation, and the conflict that it entails, for years.

Unstable symmetry

In fact, often in the clinic, not only are situations characterized by stiffness (bleeding symmetric escalations, rigid complementarities), but also others characterized by instability. It is what is known as unstable symmetry, situation in which one is usually imposed on the other but the other does not just conform and struggles to maintain the position.

In these conflict situations, the most common is to go in search of third parties that serve as allies. Therefore, it is usually said that there are a third party to form a system. The dyads usually articulate according to a third party. And in a family the most likely candidates are children, but it can also be the dog, the television, the Internet, a lover, work, mother-in-law, etc.

Triadic interaction

In systemic terminology, a distinction is made between alliances and coalitions.


They are the natural proximity between family members (for example, the father and son enjoy watching football, while the mother does not).


They are associations between members against another. These are usually explicitly denied (although everyone knows there are) and are not apparent in the eyes of an observer.

An example of this would be:

A mother complains to her ten-year-old daughter about how her husband treats her, without him knowing. This is an invitation to the daughter to enter the coalition that, if accepted, may generate discussions between the girl and the father on trivial matters, in which the mother comes out in defense of the daughter (which may increase, by in turn, the difficulties and differences between the couple), and this will establish an interactional pattern of negative consequences. A girl, the fact of being a military in a coalition, while having the attractiveness of the role of playing the game of the greats, subtracts resources to solve her own evolutionary difficulties.


When the coalition involves recruiting one of the children against the other parent it is known as triangulation, and usually has detrimental effects for the child in question, since much of his energy is devoted to parental conflict, instead of dedicating it to face the evolutionary challenges of his own life.