Sunday, November 25, 2012

Unwritten Rules in Botkin Syndrome Families

Christians weighing in on Botkin Syndrome:
Excerpts from "Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves" by Drs. Stoop and Masteller.

From page 107:

Unwritten Rules

Children who grow up in dysfunctional families quickly learn the unwritten, unspoken rules of the household. Here are some that are especially common:

1. We don’t feel.
  • We keep our emotions guarded, especially anger (though often there is one person who is allowed to express feelings openly, especially anger).

2. We are always in control.

  • We don’t show weakness. We don’t ask for help, which is a sign of weakness.

3. We deny what is going on.
  • We don’t believe our senses or perceptions. We lie to ourselves and others.

4. We don’t trust.
  • Not ourselves, not others. No one can be relied upon, no one confided in.

5. We keep the family’s secrets.
  • Even if we are told, no one would believe us – or so we think.

6. We are ashamed.
  • We are to blame for everything bad that happens – and we deserve it.
Excerpt from
Dr. David Stoop & Dr. James Masteller's
"Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves:
Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families"
Regal/Gospel Light, 1996 (Servant, 1991)

Roles and Rules

Christians weighing in on Botkin Syndrome:
Excerpts from "Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves" by Drs. Stoop and Masteller.

From pages 105 - 106

A “role” is simply any fixed pattern of relating that forces us into set actions, behaviors and responses, out of “habit” rather than as a freely chosen response to changing circumstances and situations. When roles work like this, they dehumanize us. People do not relate to us as full, free human beings with individual dignity and free will, but only in terms of our role. We are treated, not as “Dave” or “Joan” but as “the Black Sheep,” “the Scapegoat,” “the Kid Brother,” and so on.

Every family system operates according to a set of rules, or what are known in the business world as “standard operating procedures.” Rules may be spoken or unspoken. Nevertheless they exist, and they affect our family’s activities and behaviors. Even without saying a word, our family lets us know what is and is not acceptable, how various circumstances are to be assessed and responded to, and how different individuals out to act and react in different situations.

From Robert Subby in “Lost in the Shuffle:

“Don’t rock the boat” is the all-encompassing rule, the master rule and gatekeeper who rides herd over all the other rules in the family. “Don’t rock the boat” becomes the rule that rules. This simple but stern injunction, “Don’t rock the boat ” locks each individual family member in a set of unhealthy rules. If left unchallenged, these rules will inevitably suppress change, hinder growth, and obstruct any hope of recovery. (pg. 46)

Excerpt from
Dr. David Stoop & Dr. James Masteller's
"Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves:
Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families"
Regal/Gospel Light, 1996 (Servant, 1991)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Roles That Enmeshed and Abandoned Children Play within Families

From the writings of Pia Mellody on Facing Love Addiction and Love Avoidance (The dynamics of non-sexual covert/emotional incest)
Note: A child can fill both positive and negative roles.
“Positive Roles”
Roles Assigned to Child With Enmeshing Abuse

"Positive Roles":

  • Hero or heroine (good child)
  • Counselor
  • Surrogate partners
  • Surrogate parent
  • Mediator
  • Mascot (comedian role)
  • Daddy's Little Girl (a ROLE, not a name said in passing)
  • Daddy's Little Man
  • Mommy's Little Girl
  • Mommy's Little Man

In Enmeshment,
In a relationship, this person will be “very good at being good.” Because he/she is so adaptable as a child, when they become an adult, they will seek intensity in order to feel alive and do it in a “positive” but COVERT manner.

They derive both shame and a false sense of empowerment from these roles which imparts a sense of value. They objectify those whom they care for by devaluing their partner while also elevating self.

Negative Roles”
  • Scapegoat (problem child)
  • Rebel

In a relationship, this person will be “very good at being bad.” This adult will seek intensity in order to feel alive in a “negative” OVERT manner.

Roles Assigned To Child With Abandoning/Neglecting Abuse

Negative Role”
Lost Child:
In a relationship, this person will act in a dependent, needy manner and try to create intensity inside the relationship itself as he/she perceives that it is the relationship that keeps him/her alive.

Irrelevant Child:
Deeper level of the lost child.

Xenophobia for BOTH SUBTYPES:
  • Fear in general.
  • Fear of strangers.
  • It is a biological imperative and sometimes is necessary for survival, and we then tend to be relational with what is familiar.
  • For the person who has been neglected or abandoned, he/she will try to be relational with people who create distance in relationships through the use of walls. (They will naturally be attracted, ironically, to those who are emotionally unavailable to them.)
  • For the person who has been enmeshed, he/she will feel compelled to be relational with people who are needy and who believe that they are worthless.

From Pia Mellody's writings and lectures,
and professional training with "The Meadows" treatment facility.

And from
by Mellody, Miller and Miller
HarperOne, 1992.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Multigenerational Faithfulness Really Is: An Empty Way of Life

Excerpted from Rooted in God's Love by the Ryans:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or
gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handled down to you from your forefathers, 
but with the precious blood of Christ,
 a lamb without blemish or defect.
1 Peter 1:19 

The 'empty way of life' we are attempting to change was handed down from our parents and their parents before them and their parents before them. In a family committed to the 'don't talk' rule, for example, saying even a simple sentence may require overcoming distracting behaviors or other avoidance behaviors which have been refined over hundreds of years!. Talking honestly to a parent or sibling may be breaking family rules that have lasted for generations.

The Good News is that we have been redeemed from the empty way of life handed down by our forefathers. Jesus redeemed us so that we can be free from this kind of bondage. We can learn to talk honestly . We can learn to experience our emotions. We can learn to trust genuinely. We can engage in life. We can love and be loved.

We live in a battle between the empty way of life passed down to us and the new life that has been provided for us. Living in solidarity with our new life in Christ is a daily struggle, but as we practice this way of life we break the vicious cycle of family dysfunction.

Read the entire meditation for the day online HERE.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Note to a Reader: Daughterhood Movement Dynamics Outside of a Christian Context

I recently received a private inquiry from someone who visited either Under Much Grace or Overcoming Botkin Syndrome, but when I tried to email a private response, I received a delivery failure notice. As it is always good to review some of this kind of info and in the hope that the person who made the inquiry will see this post, I offer it here on both websites.

The reader writes to ask what “Botkin Syndrome” is called when you pull the dynamics out of a Christian or religious context. The reader hopes to find as much information about the problem from a variety of perspectives, particularly secular ones, and Borderline Personality Disorder was specifically mentioned in the correspondence.

Here is my response:


Dear _______,

About the Christian Perspective

In terms of Christianity, I think that the patterns of behavior recommended by the Botkin Family constitutes an idolatry of parents and family. (Please take note that this is not a mental health or medical“diagnosis”of any type but was a name that was applied to the followers of this ideology and was bestowed upon them by a group of homeschooling moms. Read more HERE about the origins of the “term”.)

The group of Christians that propagate the idea of the “Daughterhood Movement” within a Christian homeschooling sect described by what is referred to as “Biblical Patriarchy” sees family as somewhat salvific or an essential and critical element of the spiritual “salvation” process. The ideology draws from principles of adopting the submission doctrines that were made popular in the Shepherding Discipleship Movement, aberrant theology that resulted as a reaction to the Charismatic Renewal of the late '60s/early70s. (Read more about the history of the Shepherding Movement HERE and the theology of submission HERE.)

In terms of Christianity, another way of describing the belief system might include the pursuit of the virtues of family not by following the guiding of the Holy Spirit or the principles that are found in the two greatest commandments, but rather by a program which draws on the works of the flesh as Paul described them in the Book of Galatians. Elements of the process and the formulaic life prescribed by the group may have many Christian elements and often espouses aspects of Christian virtues, but those who pursue the endpoint of the system use dynamics and means are not expressly or necessarily Christian. It is a system of salvation by good works which is very similar to the system advanced by Bill Gothard's organization, widely discussed at the Recovering Grace website. A list of blog posts pertaining to Gothard's system on this site appear HERE.


The Secular Perspective

In terms of psychology, these patterns of behavior and the dynamics taught by the movement are entirely consistent with what is generally described as family dysfunction.

Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist in the '60s became the pioneer of family therapy, coining the terms of "triangulation"  (ineffective and passive communication among three people instead of direct, assertive communication between two) and the "undifferentiated ego mass" (describing the natural state of children within families who are too young to have developed their own identity but a pathologic state when continued into adulthood).  Both of these descriptors and key concepts of family dysfunction are well described by Bowen's original landmark work. Christian author David Stoop draws heavily on Murray Bowen's model in describing conflict within Christian families in his series of books on this subject.

In the '70s, Salvador Minuchin whose works popularized the term "enmeshment" wherein he further described and delineated the same types of dynamics within families that Bowen observed and taught within his model of family therapy.   He described the loss of individuality and identity of family members within such families or with one or more members within the family system.  Individuals are denied a healthy sense of autonomy and decision making because of the over involvement or one or more family members resulting in a functional handicap for that enmeshed individual.  Affected family members fail to develop a clear, healthy, and functional sense of self.  Personal boundaries become obscured or are non-existent between family members in enmeshed systems.

In the '80s when "Codependency" became a popular term, it went on to further describe enmeshment and the problems that result from the dysfunction – factors generally seen as the root problem noted in individuals who struggle with addiction, whether it be through compulsive behavior or substance abuse.  Several authors in this genre used the terms "covert incest" and "emotional incest" to describe enmeshment that occurs between parent and child when a parent uses a child to meet their own needs that are only appropriately met by another adult.  Children lack the sophistication, experience, and resources of adults needed to set limits on appropriate behavior, as they rely upon adults (particularly their primary parent) to teach them these skills and appropriate standards of conduct.  The child is duty bound to please the parent and rely upon them for their survival and basic needs, so they have no ability to protest or question the adult's behavior.  When a parent uses the child to draw from them to meet their own adult needs instead of supplying those things to the child, they draw the child into the world of adults and obligate that child to provide for their adult needs.  The child ends up paying the price for the parent's deficits by feeling responsible and by becoming consumed with meeting the needs of the parent.

I've written about this on the Botkin Syndrome Blog HERE, and I would take note of the tag list there noting “authors” to get ideas about books that will help you understand these dynamics.  I also wrote this long series on this effect on earlier this year describing the ways this situation develops by using Pia Melody's work, though there are many other authors who write on this subject.  I liked the way Pia broke down the problem into categories and focused on the neediness of the child. I also like her writing on Love Addiction and Love Avoidance which describes the pathology that enmeshment tends to produce in enmeshed adults and how it affects how those adults relate to the opposite sex.  Love Addiction/Love Avoidance are a deeper set of problems and a subset of codependency, according to Pia Melody.  Another author who writes extensively on this topic is John Bradshaw. Another book that I particularly like but have never discussed online is Hurt People Hurt People by Sandra Wilson.

Psychology and the addictions/recovery specialty describes the dynamics of “Botkin Syndrome” using many of these terms:
  • Family Dysfunction
  • Undifferentiated Ego Mass
  • Enmeshment
  • Co-dependency
  • Toxic Shame
  • Covert Incest
  • Emotional Incest
  • In some cases, Love Addiction and/or Love Avoidance also apply if the therapist accepts these models and opts to use them.

In terms of the DSM, the manual of criteria that is used for the diagnosis of mental health disorders, these conditions can foster the development of dependent and avoidant personality types. They could possibly promote the development of other types of personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive traits, some types of trauma, and addictive behavior as well. Skilled and credentialed mental health professionals must diagnose these types of problems through a detailed process of history and assessment, though the development of these kinds of conditions in individuals are often very complicated and don't usually boil down to a single or simple factor. As a registered nurse, I can assess traits that are reflective of certain traits and findings, and I can teach information about certain disorders, but I am not licensed to diagnose or treat any such conditions. If you have a loved one that suffers with problems that information on this blog describes, in addition to the resources listed here, I highly recommend private counseling with a licensed therapist. A therapist can help you work through your specific problems with your loved one by serving as a sounding board to help you broaden your perspective, helping you to develop effective coping strategies, and providing emotional support.

I cannot recommend Surviving the Borderline Parent (Roth, et. al.) and Understanding the Borderline Mother (Lawson) more highly, as well as a book called Trapped in the Mirror (Golomb). There are also many other newer books dealing with personality disorders, and I've written several blog posts about narcissism and personality disorders HERE also offers message boards and helpful information pages. I'm very grateful to author Randi Kreiger who hosts BPD Central for her help and assistance. In the past, she's privately provided occasional peer review on some related projects and writings that appear on this website. Randi authored several excellent books on the topic and focuses on effective communication.

The Overcoming Botkin Syndrome blog specifically explores aspects of enmeshment in general, the mission of that blog.  Any info about narcissism also addresses the problems faced by the loved ones of those who suffer Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) which you expressed as a subject of interest. I recently came across this informative site, Light's House, that is loaded with easy to read, practical information. Even if you have a BP in your life who does not have a diagnosis with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), make sure to look over the narcissism pages at Light's House website as well. (About a third of people with BPD also meet criteria for an NPD diagnosis.)

Hope that helps!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Interesting Review of Covert Incest

Libby Anne writes about covert incest in an insightful, three part review series about the topic at Love, Joy, Feminism which is hosted at

Part One concerns the definition of terms.

Part Two discusses how the patriarchy movement markets this dynamic of a dysfunctional family as a "Biblical model" of what God demands of parents who are raising young women.  She specifically notes the Botkin Family as an example of this aberrant belief system.

Part Three notes another author's measures to avoid falling into the traps of enmenshment with his daughter, and Libby notes how any family can fall into these patterns, not just those involved with the patriarchy movement within some sectors of Evangelical Christianity.

Update 05Apr12:

There's apparently more than three parts, since Part Four appeared.  :)   Keep following there in the event that there are some additional installments.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Hopeful Message for those Affected by Health Problems Associated with Stress and Childhood Emotional or Physical Abuse

An excerpt from the Afterword
"The Body's Silent Weeping"
by Cindy Kunsman
in Hillary McFarland's

(Note: This copy of my pre-edited text
which was not previewed by the editor of the book
may differ from the published version.)

~~ I encourage all to read the book which contains many more recommendations and additional information about specific ways to heal, but I wanted to send an additional message of hope to follow up after the previous post. ~~

There are many options available to bring healing after loss.  I would like to encourage you to remind yourself that emotional healing is different from physical healing.  Emotions heal in layers, and you will often find yourself “backtracking” to what seems like lessons you learned before, as though you are failing to make progress.  Think of emotional healing like peeling an onion.  As the onion grew, the framework of every layer drew water and nourishment from the same source, putting some of those nutrients into each layer as it grew.  
 As you progress into deeper levels of healing, each layer will greet you with reminders of the old paths of pain that shaped your past.  When you peel each new layer, your eyes will burn and tear with the grief over the disappointments and loss concerning that past.  This is normal and healthy, and it is not something to be feared.  That is just how emotional healing takes place.  There will always be a few tears of grief as you mature, getting down into the deeper places when deep calls unto deep.  This is a good sign of positive growth, something that should encourage you with hope.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Physical Health Problems Experienced by Adults Who Suffered Childhood Mental and Physical Abuse

An excerpt from the Afterword
"The Body's Silent Weeping"
by Cindy Kunsman
in Hillary McFarland's

(Note: This copy of pre-edited text 
which was not previewed by the editor of the book may differ
from the published version.)

Depression precipitates neurohormonal imbalance in the brain which heightens the experience of pain and fatigue, and the physiologic effects of depression are also associated with a cluster of other physical health problems. There is a strong correlation between depression and overlapping health problems in children who live in highly stressful conditions.  For example, parents with personality disorders that cause erratic parenting styles have children with a high incidence of allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and headaches.  These types of findings were general and based upon anecdotal information that was not specifically subject to statistical analysis.  New research indicates also specifically that children who experienced neglect, mistreatment and abuse also manifest a higher incidence of both migraine and osteoarthritis. 1, 2

Other studies that require more intensive and specific investigation report strong preliminary correlations of childhood mistreatment with cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation associated with elevated C-reactive protein which mediates all sorts of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke. 3

Based on what we now understand about the effect that our emotions have on our body medicine now recognizes that our minds and our emotions are intimately connected to our physical health.  As one specialist in trauma notes, “the body keeps score,” 4 and our physical bodies will grieve and mourn if we do not deal effectively with our psychological and emotional baggage.  Our bodies will cry through illness and pain if we do not learn to do so ourselves.   

Unfortunately, it seems that once our minds learn to translate our emotional pain into physical illness, the damage can never completely be undone. The body then learns to cope by way of disease and this survival and coping mechanism opens up a Pandora’s Box of health issues with lasting consequences.  Because we tend to fall back to our more basic weaknesses and "paths of least resistance" when under great stress, translating emotional and psychological stress into pain and illness tends to recur for those who experience it, an immature but familiar means of coping that the body tends to recall.   A person can best deal with this tendency by working through their underlying emotional and psychological pain and by sharpening their emotional and physical awareness, learning to see this tendency as the body's way of voicing what may go unrecognized. Unfortunately, many parents have caused physical diseases in their children despite their best intentions of fostering their child's spiritual wellbeing.

  1. Fuller-Thomson E, Stefanyk M, Brennenstuhl S. A robust association between childhood physical abuse and osteoarthritis in adulthood: findings from a representative community sample. Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Nov 15;61(11):1554-62.
  2. Tietjen GE, Brandes, Jl, Peterlin BL Eloff A, Dafer RM, Stein MR, Drexler E, Martin VT, Hutchinson S, Aurora SK, Recober A, Herial NA, Utley C, White L, Khuder SA. Childhood Maltreatment and Migraine (Part I). Prevalence and Adult Revictimization: A Multicenter Clinic Headache Study. Headache 2010; 50:20-3
  3. Danese A, Moffitt TE, Harrington H, Milene BJ, Polycanczyk G, Pariante CM, Poulton R, Caspi A. Adverse childhood experience and adult risk factors for age-related disease: depression, inflammation, and clustering of metabolic risk markers. Arch Pediatri Adolesc Med 2009 Dec; 163 (12): 1135-43.
  4. Van der Kolk B. The body keeps score: memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 1994 Jan-Feb; 1(5):253-65.

The Effects of Stress on the Body

Additional related information
from a previous post at Under Much Grace:

Our thoughts and emotions have a profound effect on our automatic body systems, and these systems are regulated and balanced in a steady state or “homeostasis” by the Autonomic Nervous System or “ANS.” This information from our thoughts and emotions informs the ANS, automatically preparing to help us adapt and survive. When we feel threatened or if we think about and anticipate circumstances, our mind stimulates the immediate release of certain neurotransmitters and/or “stress hormones” that are mediated by the ANS. Our neurotransmitter levels fluctuate to help our bodies respond, doing things like raising our heart rate so that we can pump plenty of blood and oxygen to our muscles in order to run from danger. Our pupils widen so we can take in more light and see more clearly. Our bowels can either become less active or more active, depending on our emotions and how the ANS responds to threat or information (like worrying about taking a test the next day). The ANS stimulates the adrenal glands to release both epinephrine to bathe the whole body in stimulation as well as cortisol (a natural steroid) which regulates inflammation and affects blood sugar, making more fuel immediately available for energy production. The system works quite well when we experience only limited episodes of periodic excitement and when we have the opportunity to discharge the energy that our body produces in response to this excitement.

Chronic stress is quite different, and it creates a high degree of ANS stimulation all the time. Some of these symptoms are more well known, contributing to problems like high blood pressure or irritable bowel syndrome, all due to the stimulation of these body systems by the ANS, a system informed by the mind and the emotions. Healthcare is now learning more and more about the “less immediate” effects of stress on body systems that are effected by this high degree of ongoing stimulation, particularly on the hormonal system. This includes high cortisol production and altered action of insulin, now a major problem in the US because of the dramatic rise in obesity, diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and immune system disorders like chronic fatigue (all of which are also aggravated and exacerbated by poor diet). Cortisol in high amounts alters how the body regulates sugars, insulin release, blood pressure, immune function, and inflammatory response. The release of too much cortisol on a continual basis results in diabetes, immune system disease, heart disease, arthritis, chronic pain syndromes, autoimmune diseases, headaches, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, female reproductive disorders and depression. We see effects of this kind of chronic stress in populations of people like children of parents that have certain personality disorders. For example, children of parents with Borderline Personality Disorder demonstrate high degrees of allergy, asthma, headaches/ migraines and irritable bowel syndrome, likely owing to the effects of chronic high levels of cortisol (Roth, Friedman & Kreger, 2003).

Researchers have identified a new field of study of “Heart Rate Variability” (HRV) as an indicator of the function of the ANS in order to identify those at high risk for later development of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes (diseases linked with high cortisol and stress). HRV measures certain subtle electrocardiogram findings and characteristics, evaluating the electrical impulses generated by electrical system in the heart. Certain groups of professionals with high degrees of daily stress manifest greater degrees of HRV, as do those who suffer with certain psychological problems including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and panic disorder. Based upon more than 30 years of the objective, rigorous scientific study of thought reform, we know that those who emerge from certain controlling relationships and spiritual abuse settings demonstrate high degrees of PTSD and other related psychological disorders such as anxiety and panic. Though no studies have focused on spiritual abuse victims and survivors directly, we can speculate that because of the overlap in findings between the psychological symptoms of spiritual abuse with those who experience documented high levels of chronic stress, PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders are also subject to a similar risk for the development of cortisol-related physical disease.

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