Good diagrams not only clarify complex concepts but also form a bridge from raw verbal expression to clear scientific-mathematical understanding. In this article the principle is demonstrated for the often verbose and notoriously fuzzy field of human relationships.
Visual models of complicated psychosocial mechanisms not only help us better recall clinical patterns but also are an important step towards the rigorous scientific portrayal and understanding of otherwise obscure concepts.  The above diagram, for example, depicts how the vast majority of anxiety in the world is generated. It will be explained later on.
For a lot of people who deal with human behavior, words are enough. Not so for me; I like pictures, too. They reduce the need for words in a notoriously wordy discipline.  Granted, words as metaphor are lovely, poetic and creative, and are best in getting an idea across to the ordinary person. But more is needed for professionals and researchers. In this article I will translate a number of conceptually difficult interactive concepts (some social etiologies of psychological phenomena) into easily absorbed and recallable pictures.A caution: Words, pictures and mathematics are nothing without underlying observation and verification. A Platonic tendency to substitute pure reason for reality is the biggest danger that any theorist can fall err to.
With that in mind, we’ll start with two-person relationships (dyads), move on to trios, and jump back and forth as necessary.
At the purest and simplest level, a dyad is two-persons, dyadic transactions are the verbal and kinesic exchanges between two people. The two people can be spouses in a marriage, two friends, two enemies, a teacher and a pupil, etc. At a higher conceptual level two ‘people’ may mean two groups, two countries, etc.
Marriages & barroom brawls
Here are thumbnail sketches of two very common events—a husband-wife quandary and a barroom brawl:
A husband, when accused of hiding behind his newspaper, justifies his action as the only defense left to him against his wife’s nagging. She, in turn, considers this a gross and willful distortion of what ‘really’ happens in their marriage and points out that it is precisely his withdrawing from her which makes her angry and critical of him. The dispute goes round and round ad nauseam.
Two barroom buddies, lubricated with alcohol, ramble on about this and that, but finally get into a heated argument and explode into fisticuffs. Doctors know the story well. They suture up the results in the local ER every Friday and Saturday night. Police are familiar with the story too. At least one bad actor, back at the bar, is repeatedly arrested, thrown into jail or dumped off at a psychiatric unit.
Both of these situations are paradigms of fundamentally different communication stances. The first conjures up the picture of a repetitive process—of a man and woman going around in frustratingly endless
circles. The second suggests a rapidly escalatinglinearprocess. Let’s start with the latter. Here’s how I see it in my mind’s eye:
The DDA sequence—a common, step after step anger-generating violence machine. /wfh  Colorl: 1) Green = talk’s okay, GO. 2) Yellow = CAUTION, disconfirmation. 3) Red = not just STOP-it’s too late.
People talk. People disagree. That’s OK (1–green, go!). But, if agreement cannot be reached while disagreement cannot be tolerated, people often start to hurt each other’s feelings with thoughtless put-downs. They try to win the battle of words by knocking down the other with sly insults or gross disparagement. Lawyers call this mean kind of conduct ‘ad hominum’ argument; it is a variety of disconfirmation (2-yellow, caution). Disconfirmation basically is a verbal assault upon another’s credibility or self-esteem. (It may be nonverbal, better termed kinesic, as in sighing or eye-rolling.) When simple, honest disagreement changes to personal disconfirmation, serious trouble is afoot. The disputatious protagonists escalate their now spurious differences in an upward vicious spiral. Anger emerges and turns to rage. Disconfirmation ultimately reaches a point where either one person backs down or a physical fight breaks out. In any case it is mutual alienation (3). I call this linear pattern the ‘DDA sequence,’ Disagreement to Disconfirmation to Alienation. Here are two examples of the DDA’s common domestic variety (as you read, try to ‘picture’ them as in the green-yellow-red diagram):
Brenda and John just had new linoleum laid in their kitchen. The job is flawed. Brenda reminds John as he comes in the door after work. She wants the contractor chastised and the floor replaced. John figures that a repair to one small area is enough. After batting it around for a while both are frustrated. They can’t agree. He shrugs and starts walking away. Brenda, irritated, baby in one arm, tiredly draws the back of her hand across her forehead and asks, “Why can’t you just put your foot down for once?” At this point, her mother pokes her head in from the dining room, nods and silently stares. Says John, “Well, I AM busy at work all day.” Brenda retorts, “You think that I’m NOT busy?” He, “Well…I’m tired right now,” and backs toward the stairs. Brenda moves closer, chin thrust out, and says, “Well…you’re just a wimp.” John, in a rising voice, “And you’d spend us into the poorhouse!” She, “Oh, what a stupid ass you are!” Eyes glaring, he moves a step towards her. Hugging the baby tight, she juts her face closer yet, right into his, and yells, “Sure, hit me. Just hit me! I dare you.” Fists clenched, face red, he lunges, trips on a throw rug, and they all three, father, mother and baby, tumble down together. The baby starts crying. Brenda’s mother exits and calls 911. The police arrive. John is arrested. Next day Brenda keeps her regular therapy appointment. The story comes out with lots of tears and remorse. Within a week conjoint marriage counseling begins.
During one drunken fight a wife threw a TV set over the railing into the stairwell, hitting her husband on the shoulder. While he was pulling himself together, she called the police who quickly arrived to promptly arrest him. As they were dragging him out in handcuffs he turned his head and threw a final insulting remark back at her. She picked up an empty beer bottle and let fly with it. He ducked and it hit the cop. The husband was released and she was hauled off to jail.
The DDA sequence probably is the commonest source of violence and even murder in domestic life. But, as Francis Bacon said in 1625:
No man is angry that feels not himself hurt.That is also certainly true. Now linear pictures fail to convey the intuitive notion of circularity. So, what do barroom brawls and marital disputes, under the surface, have in common? How do these thingsreallyhappen? Pragmatic Communication Theory (pCT) provides the answer.
At any one point in time, any two-person relationship is either egalitarian or authoritarian,  with no stance in-between. (We’ll later see what awful messes attempts at ‘in-between’ can cause.) In the moment, it is always one or the other—egalitarian or authoritarian. These two basic stances are tformally termed symmetrical and complementary.
The model for all normal marital relationships./wfh Its streamlined universal version./wfh
Symmetry is equality (H=W or A=B) with an element of tit-for-tat competitiveness thrown in for good measure. Add mutual respect and a dash of tolerance and we have the most essential components of a stable symmetrical relationship. The DDA sequence represents an unstable ‘S-type’ relationship. Complementarity (H/W or A/B), on the other hand, highlights differences, contrasts, opposites—as night is to day or mountain is to valley. Typical ‘C-type’ relationships are parent and child, teacher and student, boss and worker, officer and soldier. There may be mutual love and worship in a complementary relationship, but there is no real freedom in the ‘one-down’ position.
Within each cyclical loop, feedback acts upon both people in the relationship as both cybernetic control and behavioral reinforcement. This cybernetic aspect, characteristic of all human communication, makes for quick and engraved learning, and renders a nonlinear (circular) system more effective in power allocation than any simple linear stimulus-response (S-to-R) paradigm, especially if colored by strong emotion.
Any well-oiled relationship—complementary (C) or symmetrical (S)—is able to switch back and forth between each of the basic stances, C or S. The horizontal arrows signify the so-called ‘parametric switch function’ or PSF between the two predominant C and S stances. If the normally competitive aspect of give-and-take equality (i.e., H=W) is getting out of hand, then, in a functional marriage a timely switch-over to H/W or W/H ensures relationship stability. Thus, one person backs down as the other briefly takes over in a particular area of competence. And vice versa, authority may nicely give way to equality. But, in fact, the C-to-S switch is slower and more difficult than the S-to-C switch. Now, a specific PSF may be consciously determined or far beyond awareness.  It may be permanently lost or temporarily malfunction. Then, cybernetic runaways/meltdowns occur.
The DDA sequence of anger-rage is a symmetrical runaway. Violence, a sad switch to complementarity, may end it. If the S-to-C safety switch fails, obviously nasty things happen. S-relationships tend to spin their own wheels round and round and spiral up into unstable runaways with angry, potentially violent exchanges. On the other hand, one nice thing may also lead to another in an S-runaway;
happilyspinning symmetrical wheels may end in mutually passionate love. A symmetrical runaway spinning its wheels is shown at right.
It is fascinating how much of this applies at the international level.
The Cold War
The Cold War was like two tigers chasing each others tails around in an endless circle for fifty years. That’s simile. While it is a colorful description, it explains nothing. Words are not enough! With a symmetrical diagram in mind the explanation pops out.
The Cold War was much akin to an escalating marital or barroom brawl; its arms race was a very precariously balanced symmetrical runaway—with formula: USSR = USA. In the Cold War the escalation was in increasing numbers of atomic bombs on each side poised to blast off. MAD (mutually assured destruction) was its all too fragile parametric control. I love Stanley Kubrek’s masterful movie,
Dr. Strangelove. It shows a breakdown of MAD-control, symmetrical escalation and frantic attempts to de-escalate in a gruesomely hilarious way. Michael Gorbachev’s courageous back-down into a C-type stance (a parametric switch-over) ended the Cold War, but the US-Americans prefer to give ‘one-up’ Ronny the credit for an S-win! It went from symmetrical USSR = USA to complementary (asymmetrical) USA/USSR, that is, with the USA one-up over the USSR.
In the final analysis (after 50 recent years of MAD) consider what Seneca, the ancient Roman, said about furiosus:
He was much in the right that first called anger a short madness.
Complementary relationships, while inherently more stable than symmetrical ones, tend to grind down into rigidity. Typical examples of C-relationships are military command structures and police authority. Old-style authoritarian marriages, where husband is boss and wife contentedly subservient (or vice versa), are also C-style. Less benign but not always totally bad is sadomasochism, which can occur when complementarity happily ‘spins its wheels’ in place. The double madness of ‘folie à deux’ (1892) is a C-stance meltdown.
Obviously, diagrams help to make these complex concepts clearer. At this point, before putting the nagging wife and her withdrawing husband, case #1, under the visual microscope, it will be helpful to pause for a brief rundown of the basic premises (or hypotheses or laws?), or better yet, the ‘grammar’ of human communication. 
One cannot NOT communicate(even silence is a message).
Message sent is not necessarily message received(due to garbled expression, multiple intervening channels between sender and receiver, misperceptions, etc.).
Interpersonal exchanges are at two distinct levels—normally harmonious, always simultaneous—1) the main or content message (often, but not always ‘stated’ i.e., verbal-digital) and 2) its modifying emotional metamessage (in ordinary conversation usually unstated, nonverbal/kinesic-analog). Foul-ups between levels give rise to contradictions and paradoxes (binds).
Communication is cybernetically patterned.Relationships are cyclical and mutually reinforced. Cyclical feedback acts as both behavioral reinforcement and cybernetic control! A powerful application of this premise is in assessing power allocation in relationships.
The content of communication tends to ‘decay’ towards entropy or chaos.(This notion is theoretical, derived mathematically by Claude Shannon from the 2ndlaw of thermodynamics in physics.)
The nagging wife and withdrawing husband scenario, as described by case #1, is a perversely complicated variety of complementary meltdown. To understand it fully, we need to take a few steps back—to ultimate beginnings in life. The prototypical complementary relationship is between a mother and her baby—M/B—in which mother is caring, the baby cared for, dependent. Human beings tend to develop from complementarity towards symmetry, with some expected back-and-forth rough patches (or testing-out) during adolescence. As a person matures, the question of complementarity or symmetry, while conditioned through past experience, is normally a voluntary choice. That is, if one is used to being treated as an equal by the time of late adolescence, one does not easily buy into the ‘one-down’ spot in a complementary spousal relationship. But people are quirky…
If one marital partner tries to define their relationship as symmetrical, while, at the same time, the other insists it is complementary, a brittle contradiction arises; for dissonant stances are mutually exclusive. “We are equals,” versus “I’m boss, my word goes.” These protagonists, as in the adjacent diagram, effectively occupy separate symbolic planes of communicative space. Such a relationship, a dysfunctional paradox, and very toxic (noxious is the word), is aptly termed
metacomplementary(meta-C). Parent-Adolescent rough patches arereallybrief meta-C episodes. Similarly, a seemingly straightforward request such as ‘love me’ or even ‘you must love me’ is by its very nature meta-C. Love must come spontaneously from within. It is hopeless to plead for it. It is foolish to demand something that can only be given voluntarily. By the same token, injunctions such as ‘be spontaneous!’ are obviously meta-C silly, for spontaneity can thrive only in a climate of free choice. Emotions and naturally spontaneous conduct cannot be simply ordered up.
If, within a C-relationship, both partners always claim to be one-down, i.e., the hurt party, while at the same time insisting the other is always the one-up villain, we have a ‘gruesome-twosome.’ The case of the nagging wife and withdrawing husband is complicated in this way. Instead of wheels spinning (as in S-runaways) there is a constant flip-flop between perceived C-stances. Each, husband and wife, considers his/her action only as a response to the other and is quite blind to the fact that it is also a cause and a reinforcement. She essentially says, “I nag because you withdraw.” He, “I withdraw because you nag.” So, he sees himself as the passive, one-down ‘victim’ of her nagging, i.e., W/H; but, she also is a ‘victim’ of his passive withdrawal, which may be considerably more active than it appears, i.e., really H/W! That is, each is disclaiming responsibility, “You have the power; I’m just a victim.” In this familiar situation there is no functioning parametric safety-switch over to real symmetry in which H=W. The relationship has ground down into a rigid, perpetual cycle, a never-ending sequence. As a unit, the spouses are inextricably locked together in a seemingly complementary
flip-flopin which H/W changes to W/H changes to H/W…etc.
Because each perceives its nature diametrically differently, the impasse is not purely complementary at all. It is by definition
metacomplementary. More specifically yet, each partner, at the crossover point (which is not a bona fide parametric switch), personally, idiosyncratically, identifies different starting and ending points—orpunctuation—in this very vicious cycle. Thus is launched a hopelessly spurious blaming-contest ofwho did what first, who is most helpless, who is most victimized. The situation is shown in a visual nutshell (below):
Punctuation may be viewed in two ways: real and idiosyncratic. If the whole thing originally did start, say, with the husband withdrawing, then the
realsequence is, 1) he withdraws, 2) so she nags, 3) and he withdraws, 4) she nags, 5) withdraws, 6) nags, and on and on. But, he, blind to his wife’s perspective, sees this sequence of punctuationidiosyncraticallyas starting with her nagging, i.e., 2-3-4, 4-5-6, 6-7-8, etc., while she sees it as beginning with his withdrawal forcing her to nag, i.e., 1-2-3, 3-4-5, 5-6-7, etc. Both stick tenaciously to their own narrow-angle view of the start and end of the punctuation sequence. Punctuation, real or idiosyncratic, eventually becomes spurious; that is, the two endless interlocked pathways can be numbered at the start-end of each cycle in any way wanted. Both self-perceived ‘victims’ can change the origin at will. Reality becomes irrelevant. Complain or blame: It really makes no difference; the starting point of such an ongoing cycle was probably so long ago that memory is fuzzy and blame or even praise are no longer important;the cycle now drives itself. Along it goes, around and around, till death or divorce do us part. In fact, this idiosyncratically punctuated and metacomplementary spousal dispute can and does go on ad infinitum. That is the domestic gruesome twosome.
The Arab-Israeli impasse
The Arab-Israeli conflict is a gruesome twosome at the international level. Just as wives and husbands get locked into meta-C flip-flops, the Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews are hatefully enmeshed in each others midst and lives. They literally live on top of each other; ordinary people have little or no scope for choice or escape. At a leadership level the situation is defined idiosyncratically. Each side claims its actions, terrorist or military, are perfectly justifiable responses to the other’s spiteful provocation. At the common level it is simply seen as hurtful and damaging. Because history is viewed from a totally ethnocentric perspective, there is no real understanding of punctuation. Embedded beginnings are blurry; punctuation is spurious. The system is a primitive impasse, quite outside of admitted awareness. Thus, the Arab-Israeli conflict is an ‘endless’ cycle of the kind: I/A over to A/I over to I/A…? Is the conflict genuinely metacomplementary? Yes. Israel is an autonomous and powerful nation state (one-up). The Palestinians, in their midst, perceive themselves as displaced and occupied (one-down)—yet they claim equal autonomy, demand it, through terror (suicide bombers, etc.). There can be no parametric switch to respectful symmetry as long as there are no
twogeographically separate states. (Even then there could be repetitive symmetrical runaways and ‘legal’ war.) The resulting impasse has every earmark of a particularly gruesome twosome. All the best efforts of one high-level diplomatic mediator after another have come to naught over the years and decades.
There are several axioms to pCT’s Premise 4 that are relevant to our discussion:
4.1 Communication is nonlinear, i.e., circular, with feedback. The feedback acts as both a cybernetic control and behavioral reinforcement. Hence it is more complex and powerful than simple SR sequences.
4.2 Human communication has punctuation that organizes sequence—starting and endpoints. Over time, as in an infinitely oscillating series, punctuation may become spurious in practical reality. Blame & praise are pointless.
4.3 The interpersonal context of human communication is either symmetrical (egalitarian) or complementary (one-up, one-down, i.e., authority/dependency), at any one time, with parametric, back and forth, safety switches. The nature of these safety switches, whether automatic or under voluntary control, and how, is an interesting topic outside the scope of this article (except as touched upon in the next section). Difficulty in the area – of symmetry-complementarity – is inherent in all power issues (power-exchange-and-allocation,) domestic and international. If one person defines a relationship as one-up while the other sees it as equal, metacomplementary trouble is afoot.
4.4 Communication systems gone awry tend to chase around in vicious circles. Cybernetic control
isthe breakdown. Relationships do not self-correct as readily as diseased or damaged tissue heals.
In conclusion, the gruesome twosome has 1) historically spurious punctuation in 2) a meta-C stance with 3) a failed parametric switch function. Reinforced by 4) circular feedback, it emerges as 5) a potentially infinitely oscillating sequence that is, by proof of clinical and diplomatic experience, notoriously difficult to remedy. Marital counselors need not feel too badly if they run up against a wall with nagging wives and withdrawing husbands. 
I’ll now, for those interested, take the gruesome twosome a big step farther—towards mathematics. The depiction of the GT as a Lemniscate of Bernoulli (like an infinity sign), p 2 = a 2 cos 2Theta, while neat and pretty, is not strictly accurate. All the diagrams thus far, except for the last, are static—spinning wheels—frozen in time. A proper linear time-dimension is in order. The ‘nutshell’ figure approximating a sine wave does not do the job all that well as the situation is not strictly trigonometric. How might one translate a repeating circular communication process into a truly representative linear time-sequence? After some thought I figured that a cycloid, which truly traces a point on the circumference of a moving wheel, more aptly applies:
Distance from 0 to C is one circumference of the circle. An exact numerical dimension is irrelevant. Arbitrarily assigning the diameter to unity, as C = 2pi.r = pi.d, then C=pi. The ongoing situation is denoted by ‘cycling circles’ stretched out horizontally—leapfrogging as repeating cycloids—touching down on the ‘time axis’ at real punctuation points pi, 2pi, 3pi…n. The idiosyncratically perceived cycles are 1, 2, 3…n. A strange leap of intuition suggests that strategically placed primes have some relevance to PSF’s in GT’s. The last half of each cycloid is critical to a proper Parametric Switch Function and the primes 3, 5, 7, etc. represent decision points of no return.
Twinned primes may be points of opportunity. A leap of mathematical intuition suggests that strategically placed prime multiples have relevance to PSF’s in gruesome twosomes. In a couplet diagram (shown next) the number sequence [3/k & 5/k, 5/k & 7/k… where k=2] indicates twinned primes for the failed switch-over to symmetry. One wonders if the two curves are slightly out of phase, enough to interfere with natural, normal responses between the locked-in participants.
The middle number sequence (3, 5, 7…) indicates the ‘primes’ for the failed switch function over to symmetry. The lower number sequence (
1, 2, 3…) is the now spurious ‘real’ punctuation (no one really remembers the start of the impasse). Or, stated more efficiently: from zero, in combined, alternating form, we have a mathematical sequence (which can be converted to an infinite series). 0, 1k/2, 1k, 3k/2, 2k, 5k/2, 3k, 7k/2 … towards ∞, death, or some equally dramatic singularity. A special ‘distortion constant’, k, may be equal to 1 in a normal dyadic relationship, equal to p in a cycling (circular-cycloidal) runaway dyad, or equal to the square root of 2 in a rigid triangle.
My own suggested solution to the 2-person mutual feedback problem is based on both linear and nonlinear math and the new physics. The latter postulates that organized systems (e.g., living organisms) generate their own structure (which makes possible both determinism
andchoice) out of disorganized chaos, eventually to die and return again to a disorganized state. Linear math alone cannot describe such; nonlinear can complete the picture. Normally interacting people maintain a switch function that facilitates parametric changes between symmetry and complementarity; not locked into a perpetual, rigid cycle they have choice. Two people locked into an infinitely oscillating sequence have no scope for choice; each tries to define the situation as complementary and they have no understanding of the punctuation of their dilemma. Their rigid system thus is a primitive metacomplementary impasse, outside of awareness. It is characterized by simultaneous linear differential equations, interacting in a nonlinear way—sequential, un-damped sin-theta curves 180 degrees out of phase. Thus the ‘cycle’ goes on forever. How do prime numbers fit in? They shift the point of intersection and alter the timing of the possible point of self-correction of the cycle. Thus, prime numbers perhaps have a bearing on and shift the point of intersection and alter the timing of the possible points of self-correction (potential true PSF’s) of the cycle. Stated more efficiently: from zero, in combined, alternating form (easily convertible to an infinite series), we have an interesting conjoined number sequence: 0, 3, 1p, 5, 2p, 7, 3p … towards separation, death, infinity or some equally dramatic singularity.
Whew!! As you can see, moving from pictures to mathematical formulae does not necessarily clarify things, especially events in the realms of sociology and psychology. Math is for research, not mundane clinical work.
Now we’ll look at some
triangularpatterns of human interaction. Everyone is familiar with the ‘eternal triangle’ between a wife and a husband and an outside lover, but some of the most important triangles are within families, involving dependent children. In fact, triangles are the most ubiquitous mode of family communication!
When both parents love each other and are in close harmony a framework for optimal development, growth and intensified learning (as shown at left) is automatically created. Care and nurturance of their baby is smooth. Feeding problems are minimized and growth potential optimized. The emergence of language skills is on a firmer footing. Furthermore, unconditional mutual parental love leads to the child’s developing high self esteem. A child thus feels valuable, contented … happy.
But it is important to realize that families subtend as many parent-child triangles as there are children. Each of these triangles is different, if ever so slightly. As a result, each individual child grows up in its own unique family environment. This is so in both single parent and traditional families. Contrary to often voiced parental claims, no two children in the same family, even identical twins, are ever treated exactly the same! I emphasize that this is a very important principle to understand, for most people erroneously think that their own family’s social environment is the same for all—the only significant source of difference being genetically inherited. This absolutely crucial notion is shown in the next diagram, on the right. Impress the picture in your mind and you’ll never forget it.
Induction of anxiety – the SF:RS triangle
Triangles generate emotions. They are malleable early on, initially inducing the most basic of emotions, certainly pleasurable contentment and happiness as in the universal rearing setup. As well, fear, anger, sadness, and disgust may emerge according to prevailing or changing circumstances. Furthermore, in the presence of a so-called paradoxical metamessage a triangle becomes perversely dysfunctional, harmful, and may become fixed and specific in its outcome.
As a case in point, now consider the triangular diagram shown at the beginning of the article. In this seminal family triangle, mother (M) and father (F) are in hostile disagreement with each other ( + & – ). They no longer are talking about some mutually critical key issues. Such a
two-person covert conflict is termed asplit social field(lightening-bolt). If the parents have stopped talking about concerns important to their child, we have a nasty situation brewing. Failing to speak directly with one another, each parent does so separately with their child, who in turn covertly relays the adverse message on to the other parent (arrows). Relaying may go on and on ad nauseam (1, 2, 3,…n). Should the child question the untenable position s/he is in, a threatening metamessage (mm) of denial, to ‘be quiet,’ is conveyed by one or both parents (converging dotted lines). Thisthree-person setup is called aSplit Field Relayer System(or SF:RS). A dysfunctional family triangle, it entraps all three actors, both parents and child. The SF:RS induces anxiety in thechild-relayerwho is depicted with hair standing on end and labeled ‘A’ for anxiety. This triangular setup is ubiquitous. It accounts for the vast majority of personal anxiety in the world.It also underpins Socially Induced Hyperactivity (SIH).Consider this next little vignette:
Induction of hyperactivity: Multiple Split Fields
A schoolchild finds it difficult to sit still, can hardly concentrate and attend to the task at hand and is constantly reacting to every little thing going on. Marks are poor, conduct aggravating. It doesn’t take long for a smart teacher to boil such behavior down to the medical-psychological trio of ‘hyperactivity, distractibility, and short attention span’. A light turns on in her head, “Eureka! This must be ADHD.” The parents are called and a trip to the family doctor is set up—for Ritalin.
The teacher in the above scenario has a 25 to 1 chance of being wrong. The reason is that a hitherto unrecognized clinical entity accounts for the vast bulk of hyperactivity. This new brand shares almost identical symptom/signs with standard, over-cited ADHD, but most importantly, it is a social-psychological disorder carrying with it absolutely
no brain malfunction. A number of logical alternatives to reflexively routine drug therapy thus flow from its prompt and correct diagnosis. As family doctors and pediatricians write most prescriptions for stimulants, they should be fully aware ofSocially Induced Hyperactivityor ‘SIH’ as I call it. It is generated through a biphasic—SF:RS-MSF—social-family mechanism. This newly-discovered source of hyperactivity stems fromoutsidethe child; a ubiquitous self-reinforcing process incubates in the family and spreads to ‘infect’ the child’s wider social milieu. The school is usually a major, if innocent, player. If a child is caught in more than one SF:RS, the degree of anxious hyperactivity progressively increases. This happens very easily when one or both parents are at covert odds with a teacher—or any other significant person outside the immediate family. Suppose a child is in temporary protective care and its parents are separated … Soon, foster parents come into the picture, then drivers, then lawyers. As the number of peripheral care-givers increases, so does the number of potential split fields between them (1, 2, 3…n). For a child at the nexus of all this, intensity of hyperactivity goes up exponentially in direct proportion to the number of entrapping split fields. Write in hyperactivity with a large ‘H’! This augmented setup,Multiple Split Fields(MSFs), is the source of SIH. SIH and neuro-ADHD are distinct clinical entities. Their ratio of incidence and prevalence: SIH/neuro-ADHD=25/1!
The Resonating Parental Bind can induce teen-rage.
Triangulation also plays a large part in
adolescentanger-rage. A unique and highly specific family triangle called the Resonating Parental Bind (or RPB) generates episodic teenage acting out.Here is a typical long-winded clinical word-picture:
Mrs. Y., on referral, sought help for her 13 year old son Allan. Among other things, he had dropped a large rock off the edge of a bridge, smashing the windshield of a truck passing below. This resulted in an accident and the boy’s involvement with the police. Allan was seen first, then the mother. Individual treatment was expected. However, the delinquency. distress signal was rephrased as a problem affecting the entire family and both parents were next interviewed together. Then, by degrees, two older brothers and a sister were involved.
On the surface the family appeared reasonably well-adjusted: an able hardworking husband, a wife who sold Avon on the side, a slightly over-mortgaged home, close church affiliation, involvement in sports. Behind this veil of propriety, however, was a mishmash of dysfunctional themes. The wife was lonely and overly involved in child-rearing and discipline. The husband was domineering to the point of overbearing arrogance. He was feared and resented as well as loved. The oldest son was on the verge of leaving home. The IP, Allan, was ‘overprotected’ by mother. Intense arguments about him characterized the spouses’ pillow-talk. Father was angry at Allan’s siding with mother and only being nice to him when he wanted a new bike or other material possession. Mother was upset at father’s rejection and isolation of Allan. This family also had great concern about individual privacy and property rights. For example, the middle son had actually placed a padlock on his bedroom door to escape the depredations of his siblings. After a couple of group sessions the many apparent dysfunctional family themes were teased out and documented, and it became apparent that treatment might assume many concurrent forms and could last indefinitely. Emotional distancing between spouses was a major concern: Gestalt approaches to improve their relationship were contemplated. The simmering hostility, usually overtly displaced and involving all family members, suggested a communications approach as a feasible method of treatment.
A clue to the most important underlying factor came on a Sunday. Mother phoned in distraction. Despite improved disciplinary consistency, Allan had just purloined the church collection plate while angelically robed as a choirboy! Several seemingly successful family treatment sessions had apparently worsened the original signal behavior. Allan had dropped the rock off the bridge when his parents were contemplating separation. He then stole the money from the collection plate when his parents started pulling together as a result of the initial salutary effects of family therapy. The family was discouraged, but we were not perplexed, for before our very eyes and in our hands we had a typical RPB situation.
Words are not enough! They often obfuscate rather than clarify things. What goes on between people can be pretty intense—and extremely complex: in a split second, billions of bits of information confront the concerned observer. The triangular diagram helps sort it all out:
Along the upper side of this composite depiction of the RPB triangle (parallel arrows), the parents are seen to be in
openconflict with each other about any crucial factor that has to do with the control of their teen, who assumes a position at the triangle’s apex. Each parent separately conveys patently contradictory injunctions to their teen (depicted by (+) & (-) signs). These messages may be concurrent or sequential and may cover the complete spectrum of teen activities from drinking to homework to housework. At this early building stage of the RPB, it is easier and more convenient for the youngster to go along with the game by playing the parents off against each other or by siding with one in order to gain a particular ‘selfish’ end. As theintensityof parental disagreement increases, the adolescent may shift allegiance from one parent to the other, depending on the position taken by each. At the next stage of RPB development, thefrequencyof parental disagreement increases and the situation becomes more uncomfortable for the teen. The teen is able to recognize and point out the obvious parental incongruencies causing the feeling of insecurity, but, because of still limited social skills, this questioning is likely to be rather tactless. Then, characteristically, the parents suddenly revert to an ephemeral pseudocoalition and flatly deny the existence of their disagreement. This denial is carried off on an abstract and emotional level and bears a distinctly threatening metamessage directed at their ‘audacious’ adolescent. (Note the dotted lines emanating from the now agreeing parents.) Such a message is usually a signal, in one form or another, verbal or nonverbal, implying forthcoming punishment and/or withdrawal of affection and privileges unless attempts at clarification are given up forthwith. Continuing bombardment of conflicting messages from one or both parents traps the youngster in an impossible bind. Cognitive and perceptual evaluation of reality may be thrown into disarray and his/her emerging self-identity is also disqualified. The result is withering frustration and anger. A few initial tantrums may occur, but usually the adolescent’s stronger emotions are truculently suppressed, at least for a while. While a family may remain in such a dysfunctional steady-state for some time (as in the green triangle 0-0 below, where F is father, M is mother, and T is teen), it is more likely that there will be further changes in the emotional distance between the mother and the father.
Parental conflict may escalate or reach such proportions as to provoke moves toward separation and possibly even divorce (i.e., mutual emotional distancing as depicted by the orange triangle 1-1); or, on the contrary, through family or marital therapy the parents may begin to agree and get closer to each other as symbolized by the yellow triangle 2-2, or at least disagree without entrapping their offspring through a pseudocoalition. The parental edge of this variant triangle can now be visually depicted as expanding (distancing) or contracting (closing), suggesting its description as resonating back and forth between triangles 1 and 2 with short stop-overs at 0. (Note the top arrows in the large composite diagram.) In either case this situation of fluctuating change, the mother and father getting closer or farther apart from each other depending on circumstances, becomes quite unbearable for the teen. Sudden and swift shifts and reversals of parental attitudes and stances may now occur, further increasing the instability of this resonating system. The effect is dramatic and drastic. Uncertainty floods into the changing picture. The
alreadyangry adolescent, in an attempt to avert any more parental relationship changes (i.e., to maintain dysfunctional sameness or to preserve the family integrity), erupts with a rage that is displacedbeyondthe family fold in bursts of markedly antisocial behavior. Such acting out, frequently to the extent of uncontrolled rampages, quite effectively serves to pull the parents back into the familiar old, safe but sad, alignment at triangle1. Simmering stable hostility again reigns for a while. All of this gradually waxes and wanes over some considerable time, beyond the awareness of all concerned…
In conclusion, we have looked at some complicated hypothetical-theoretical phenomena, mechanisms, that truly rationalize aspects of human relationships. Principles discovered to be operating at the dyadic interpersonal level can be extrapolated to the international scene! I’m sure you will agree that picturing renders them readable and more understandable. To help pin down complex patterns of communication, diagrams do help. These visual concepts may ultimately lead to mathematical modeling, but, clinically speaking, that is not the preferred way to go. That’s the job of the pure researcher, for in a nutshell: words alone are for amateurs, words plus pictures are for pros, and math is for masters – and research. Thus, pictorial representations of complex interpersonal mechanisms (from marital dyads to family triangles to international relations), once they are well-digested, almost stand on their own in one’s mind’s eye. Such images imprint within our brains to improve our understanding and hence contribute to assessment and diagnosis (‘evaluation’ of a problem, dispute or dilemma in a non-clinical sense). And, most important, that may lead to rational intervention!
Notes and references
The ideal developmental sequence for the expression of any scientific concept is from words through pictures to formulas. WORDS: With words we always can ask and formulate any kind of scientific or existential question: what, where, when, how, why. But, most modern clinicians write dull case reports; one notable exception is the neurologist, Oliver Sacks, author of the book
Awakenings(1973). It was so good that a movie was made of it. Otherwise, poets and novelists do the best job describing human behavior. But their writing can be flawed; e.g., the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s great novel,Anna Karenina, is patently wrong. MATH: Nor are mathematical equations always the be-all and end-all. But mathematical formulas carry logical authority. PICTURES: Good diagrams, well thought out, are integral to a first understanding in science, but in and of themselves, can also be end-understanding. This is particularly so at higher system levels—in psychology and social communication. I am not alone in this assertion: The noted physicist Richard Feynman firmly believed that visualization is essential in all of science. He pointed out that his paragon, Einstein, was a visual person. Pictures afford us a uniquely useful tool for elucidating and expanding the various small how’s of scientific investigation. (A why diversion: The ultimate existential-metaphysical question is the big why. Religions believe in and dictate the ultimate big-letter why–God. The only scientific theories that even approach ultimate questions of why are subatomic quantum mechanics dealing with probabilities, big bang astrophysics and cosmic space-time relativity which are deterministic and, some think, bio-evolution. Alfven’s infinite universe theory, which may be replacing the finite big bang theory, returns astronomy to hows from whys. Most humble why-concepts are small-letter as in psychological detectives’ speculations into a person’s motivation—why did s/he do that? Generally preferable, at least scientifically, is to rephrase why-type questions in terms of how, i.e., instead of asking “why is the sky blue?” ask “how does a blue sky come about?” An important system clarification: Any hypothesis at a system-level once removed from the psychic unit in question (chemistry at a lower level, sociology at a higher level) can be misinterpreted as a why-type answer.) Finally: At the outset, it is crucial to realize that the pictures and equations developed in this short article can give us universality, but only for the how, not the why, of things.
The Logic of Scientific Discovery.London & New York: Routledge Classics (1935-2006). In 500+ condensed, wordy, pictureless pages, Popper, a renowned philosopher, argues that scientific induction need not be; that logical deduction is enough. His main assertion, that it is a fallacy to generalize from the particular, is unconvincing. Statistics make the difference, for many (enough) particulars can make for a reasonably valid generality. But, for most clinicians, statistics are dreary reading. Well thought out picture models can remedy this particular shortcoming.
What Barroom Brawls and Marital Disputes Have In Common(the DDA Sequence), American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry (2007).
Watzlawick, Paul Ph.D.
An Anthology of Human Communication, Science and Behavioral Books, Inc., Palo Alto, CA (1964).
Sometimes a parametric switch function (PSF) can actually be raised to a conscious level and brought under voluntary control. Awareness of some of these PSF factors may facilitate some degree of control under normal circumstances: 1)
Optimal proximity: If the participants are too far away from each other the PSF cannot click in (an extreme example: a bomber pilot cannot see the terrified eyes of innocent civilians and little children far below.); if, on the other hand, one person or the other gets too close, invades the other’s body space, a switch may be trigged or, conversely, either damped down or completely overridden. 2)Direct eye contact: While eye contact is an obvious aspect of proximity, it most likely is an independent PSF factor. The eyes instantly give out and take in their own special, as yet poorly understood, signals. (A most perplexing one is the teenager’s vacuous bland stare.) 3)Posture, gestures, expression: Nonverbal signals can prime PSFs. Leaning slightly back with widened eye fissures, arms apart, palms up, may defuse an aggressor’s hunched and scowling posture. And vice versa! 4)Tone of voice: A gentle, soft and even tone may be a parametric switch-signal to counter growling, snarling aggression. 5)Verbal supplication or injunction: A truly heartfelt plea may work by essentially saying, “Spare me!” When a straight-up disagreement (civilized argument) turns into the nasty, even crooked thinking of ad hominum disconfirmation, however, anger-rage starts to generate and the stage is set for more hurt feelings and ultimate violence. But, “STOP IT!” suddenly barked out, often snaps another person out of a deteriorating stance.
Cracking the Family Code, a book on marital-family diagnosis (not therapy!), in press (for 2010). Most marital and family therapists fly by the seat of their pants from one undisciplined session to the next. This book introduces rationality to the process.
 The infinity symbol was suggested by 17 year old high school senior, Patrick James Hogg. Note that the diagram looks a bit like the Lemniscate of Bernoulli (p 2 = a 2 cos 2Theta).
Priming The Gruesome Twosome(Patterns of Communication—as Mathematics), an unpublished paper by wfh.
If this prime-point hypothesis seems far-fetched, try analyzing the cycloid’s parametric equations [x = a (t – sin t), y = a (1 – cos. t) (t Î
R), where ‘a’ is a constant (equal to the radius of the rolling circle) for possible critical points of practical real-life intervention.
The Split Field Relayer System as a Factor in the Etiology of Anxiety(matched study of 48 cases), Psychiatry (Journal for the study of interpersonal processes), Vol. 35, No. 2 (May 1972). This study gained world-wide acclaim at the time of its publication. Unfortunately, funds for research into social-psychological phenomena dried up and interest flagged as brain chemistry and genetics (DNA) came to the fore. It is noteworthy that Freud’s famous Oedipus complex is an internal psychic representation of a hypothetical external social situation, essentially a triangle in which a male child fears his father’s disapproval of purported sexual love for mother. The Electra complex is the female counterpart—a girl-child’s forbidden love for father. Of course the big difference between these mind-complexes and the SF:RS is that the latter can actually be seen in real life. The SF:RS, in addition, is more generic for what was once termed ‘free-floating’ anxiety and does not embrace speculation about sexual proclivities.
Socially Induced Hyperactivity in Children(an epidemic), in Knol (2008).
Hogg, William and J. E. Northman.
The Resonating Parental Bind in Delinquency, Family Therapy Vol. 6, No. 2 (1979).