Psychopathology and semantics

Families differ profoundly from one another even when they belong to the same culture. So far, the model of family semantic polarities has identified four coherent sets of meanings, each of which is fed by specific emotions, called semantics of freedom, goodness, power and belonging. Each of these semantics expresses a characteristic premise of Western culture that can be summarized, respectively, in “the ideas of freedom as independence from relationships, of “abstinent” goodness, of equality as removal of differences, and of belonging irrevocably to a group of relationships. These “ideas” have a precise history in the wider cultural context and play a fundamental role in families where the semantics of freedom, goodness, power and belonging dominate the conversation” (Ugazio, 2013/12,p.16).

One of the main theses advanced by the model of semantic polarities is that these semantics dominate the family conversation of people with phobic (semantic freedom), obsessive-compulsive (semantics of goodness), eating disorders (power semantics) and  depression and other mood disorders (semantics of belonging). For example, in a family where one member has an obsessive-compulsive disorder, good-bad and dead-alive polarities, fed by the emotional polarity guilt-enjoyment of senses/pleasure, dominate the conversation that frequently centers “around episodes which bring into play the deliberate intention to do harm, selfishness, greed, guilty pleasure, but also goodness, purity, innocence, asceticism, as well as sacrifice and abstinence. As a result, members of these families will feel, and be seen as, good, pure, responsible or alternatively bad, selfish, immoral. They will meet people who will save them, improve them, or, on the contrary, who will initiate them into vice, lead them to behavior that will then make them feel guilty. They will marry people who are innocent, pure, capable of self-denial or, on the other hand, cruel egoists who will take advantage of them. Their children will be good, pure, chaste or alternatively will express their feelings without restraint, be aggressive in affirming themselves and their sexuality. Some of them will suffer from the selfishness, and malice of others, or for the intrinsic badness of their own impulses. Others will be proud of their own purity and moral superiority. And some will feel gratified by the satisfaction of their own impulses” (Ugazio.2013/12, p.129 ).

In many families, for example, “the semantics of “freedom” predominates but no one has any kind of phobic psychopathology, even though various members of the family develop narratives about self, ways of relating and values similar to those who develop agoraphobia. A crucial role in the transition from “normality” to psychopathology is played by the particular positions mutually assumed within the critical semantics by the subject and by those people who are significant to him or her”(Ugazio,2013/12). This is equally true for the other three mentioned semantics.

The model of family semantic polarities outlined specific co-positioning, at least triadic, assumed by family members within each semantic. These co-positionings can induce a family member to experience specific conflicts in relation to critical semantic polarities. When this happens the subject can oscillate between mutually exclusive positions and eventually develop an overt psychopathology.