As we are learning this week, some of the television shows, both past and present, can seem dysfunctional in obvious-- and not so obvious ways! This week, Imagine Hope's blog topic is discussing dysfunctional families in television. One of my favorite shows that portrays an enmeshed family system better than any other is "Everybody Loves Raymond". Their family has bad boundaries, clear family roles that show favoritism and can be quite shaming, and a passive-aggressive tone to their communication.
First of all, we have the mom, Marie. This is a classic example of the over-bearing, narcissistic and intrusive mother in law who still treats her oldest son like he is a child. Marie acts all sweet and loving, but she is very critical and demanding. However, she does it in a syrupy sweet tone that sometimes makes it confusing as to what she is really saying... I mean, how can you give such a put-down to someone (like her daughter-in-law) with a SMILE on your face? Not to mention how she barges right in Ray and his wife's house without knocking or calling. Her obsessive control and concern over her grown son's lives is the definition of enmeshment, and helps her to keep up, what she views as the appearance of the perfect family (which is very important to her! How you appear to others is much more important to Marie than being "real" people).
Marie and her husband live right across the street from Ray and his family, constantly intruding into their lives and making it difficult to have privacy with Marie's bad boundaries. Marie's husband, Frank, is a man of few words (other than one-liners), who uses humor and gruffness to cover up any vulnerability. He probably does this to cope with the intrusiveness of his wife. The couple bicker and pick at each other, but never come to any resolution. They are constantly keeping secrets from the kids-- even as adults! In one episode, it was revealed they had lied to Raymond about his actual birthday! He was actually a couple of months older than he had previously thought, because they had held him back in preschool. His mother didn't do this because he wasn't ready for the next grade, she did this so she could keep walking him to preschool every day. It was all about her-- not what her child needed. When Ray confronts her about this after learning the truth, he is really upset. He tells her that other parents don't lie to their kids, and Marie responds: "Yes they do! That's what parents do!" This clearly minimizes any feelings Ray has about the situation.
Then there is Ray. Being the first-born, he is clearly the "family hero" of the sons. His younger brother Robert is constantly being put down and compared to Raymond by the parents, and treated as though he is never as good as Raymond. Raymond is a very negative person, and extremely pessimistic, despite his role as the "family hero". I wonder where he learned this from? He is following right in his parents footsteps on how to behave emotionally. You can see how Ray's character changes when his mother is around... he turns into a child around his mom (who treats Ray like a child), not standing up for his wife or defending her when Marie makes snide remarks and put downs directly to Ray's wife. As a result, Ray has never truly psychologically separated from his family of origin, and Ray's stay-at-home wife, Debra, has turned into a cranky, bitter wife at times, who fights to gain any resemblance of power in the family system (and the marriage). Her codependent anger comes out in rude and passive aggressive remarks that are shaming, and she is constantly using manipulation, and insults Ray regularly, but they never confront the process of how it feels-- they just keep acting out the behaviors that keep them "stuck".
While "Everybody Loves Raymond" is a clear cut form of a dysfunctional television family, this is actually more "normal" than the shows we tend to equate to being "perfect" (e.g. "The Brady Bunch"). I think this shows us how all families have some form of unhealthy patterns... they just differ in the levels of how severe the unhealthy behavior is. Some of these programs also show a different side of a dysfunctional family, though, as well-- how families can pull together in difficult times, despite how unhealthy they can often be. We hope you enjoy your family this holiday season... dysfunction and all!
Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.