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Psychology in Fiction Q&A: Schizophrenic Families

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is intended for writing purposes only and does not represent psychological advice.

QUESTION: What would a sibling of a person with schizophrenia function like? What are the traits of a schizophrenic family bind that I used to hear about?
ANSWER: Because schizophrenia is a biological disease, siblings of people with schizophrenia are 10 times more likely to develop the disorder than other people;  they are also at greater risk for schizophrenic spectrum disorders like schizotypal personality disorder and schizoaffective disorder.  In other words, some siblings may have schizophrenia-like tendencies of their own, even if they don't have the full-blown disorder.

Double-bind theory is Gregory Bateman's 1950's-era proposition that what causes schizophrenia is repeated no-win dilemmas in the child's family life.  In other words, the child was repeatedly confronted with statements that contained two contradictory statements (i.e. a double bind).  Because of the child's attachment to the caregiver, he was eager to do as the caregiver asked -- the problem was that by meeting one demand, he would be defying the other.  Because he was presented with such double binds on a regular basis, and because he doesn't have the cognitive maturity to know how to choose one statement over the other to escape the double bind, he eventually escapes from the extraordinary stress the double bind causes by retreating from the "real world" and into psychosis (i.e. delusions and hallucinations).

Double-bind theory has fallen out of favor with regards to schizophrenia for two reasons.  First, we have so much data that demonstrates a biological cause for schizophrenia, not an environmental one.  Second, double-bind theory is nearly impossible to test, so there is little empirical research that can support it.

There is research, however, to support the idea that a problematic family environment can contribute to the relapse of someone who's been treated for schizophrenia. Most notably, people with schizophrenia are likely to relapse when their family is high in expressed emotion (EE).  Expressed emotion consists of three parts: criticism, hostility, and emotional overinvolvement.

People with schizophrenia are extremely sensitive to stress, and being treated with constant dislike, disapproval, rejection, disrespect, and the assumption that they are not capable human beings is enough to stress anyone out!

So even if the siblings in your story don't have schizophrenic tendencies themselves, you could make them somewhat critical and hostile people who show a lot of expressed emotion toward their brother or sister!

Hope that's helpful!

Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want to see answered here, use the Q&A form on the Archetype site or send me an email at w e b m a s t e r (AT) archetypewriting (DOT) com. (Take out the spaces in the first word and please use Q&A in your Subject Line!).  If you would prefer to have the question answered on the Blog, you can email your question to c k a u f m a n (AT) querytracker (DOT) net. Again, please use Q&A in your Subject Line!

Psychology in Fiction Q&A: Repressed Memories

QUESTION: How realistic is it for a man in his early twenties to have few conscious memories of his childhood? What could account for this volume of lost information (if it's even possible)?

Additional Information: The protagonist was put up for adoption at age two, because his mother had died and his father was unable to support him. After only a few months, he was adopted and raised by an older couple. He has convinced himself that his childhood somehow doesn't "count" because of his father's absence. He is also convinced that he can restore a traditional father/son relationship, and is obsessively looking for him. It seems he holds little or no value in his life with his foster parents, so I can see how he could ignore those years to the point of outright forgetting them.

ANSWER: It's plenty realistic, if it's happening for the reason it normally happens.

What you're talking about is referred to as "repressed memories," or memories that have been pushed down/away from the conscious because they're too painful to recall. Repression, in other words, is a defense mechanism. Painful can mean a lot of things. Humiliating, scary, incredibly sad, confusing, etc.

Not knowing much about your story, I would suggest that perhaps you put the protagonist up for adoption just a bit later in life. I think you need to give him a bit more time to attach to his dad and theoretically have made some memories to repress. I mean, let's face it, most people's first memories are from age three or four or even five years old in the first place. This is arguably because a) The brain hasn't developed far enough to retain memories in an adult way or b) The child hasn't yet developed enough language to store the memories in a way that can later be retrieved by the adult brain.

If your protagonist is put up for adoption at age five or six and then has few memories of his childhood, perhaps including after he got adopted, you've got something pretty darn realistic as far as repressed memories go. It would also help if the couple who adopts your protagonist is not an ideal family. They can be good people, but perhaps they don't really know how to relate to a child and so they're distant, or aloof, or just extremely busy with their own lives. Or maybe they're not great people--not abusive, per se, but maybe they're cold and critical, and your protagonist unconsciously puts his father on a pedestal and that's why he's obsessive about finding him as an adult. I could see someone discounting his life with his adoptive parents if they were never really "there" for him emotionally, and yearning for a connection with this father he's built up in his head.

I hope that's helpful! Let me know if you have additional questions!

Remember, if YOU have a psychology in fiction question you want answered, use the Q&A form on the Archetype site or send me an email at w e b m a s t e r (AT) archetypewriting (DOT) com. (Take out the spaces in the first word and please use Q&A in your Subject Line!)

So now you know how to use some of the great Google tools. Want to know how to do a super specialized search?  These tricks are so advanced that even advanced researchers use them less than 5% of the time.  But they unleash a huge amount of power.  They're what make you a full Google ninja!

Here are two of my favorites:

Phrase Search

Erich Fromm is one of my favorite philosopher/psychologists.  He wrote this fantastic paper called "On Disobedience," in which he explains why disobeying authority is sometimes the truest form of doing what is right.  If you Google erich fromm on disobedience (I'm too lazy to capitalize sometimes, and Google doesn't care) you get a list of sites that list, quote, or talk about the paper.  But say that's not what I want. I want to see if the paper itself is online.

The trick is to put quote around a short phrase from the paper itself exactly, including any punctuation. (Personally, I try to avoid using punctuation, but if there is any, you  must use it exactly.) Now, I'm geeky enough to know the first couple of lines of the paper by heart, so I put a phrase in quotes beside my original search.  Now my search query looks like this:

Now I'm only getting sources that include that exact phrase.  Unfortunately, it's a quotable quote, so what I ended up with is a bunch of websites that sell bad term papers to students.

So I need to pick a more obscure phrase from the paper.  I get out the handy-dandy book that contains the paper and search

Bingo.  Now I have a Google Books result.

But that's still not good enough.  So I'm going to pick an even more obscure phrase that's less likely to be someone's quotable quote.  So I pick something that really captures the style of Fromm's writing but isn't likely to be quoted anywhere but in the actual article:

"my conviction and my judgment, if authentically mine, are part of me"

Now I have three results, including a web-based copy of the article.  Ta-da!  You can read it here.

Excluding Terms

From time to time I Google my name.  (Come on, admit it, you do it too.)  My excuse is that sometimes when I work with journalists, they don't tell me they're using a quote I gave them.  And sometimes Google Alerts don't catch those articles when they're posted online.  So I Google myself in search of them so I can print them for my expert portfolio.

Until the internet age, I thought I had a unique name.  Turns out there are other people out there named Carolyn Kaufman.  (Humph.)

If you search my name, my information pops up to the top (ha! take that, other Carolyn Kaufmans!), but it turns out that there's also a Carolyn Kaufman who's a former professor and the CEO of a corporation, another who's an RN, and another in Orange County who says she has "Indigo Children" -- kids who have special powers to see the future.  (Holy oh noes.  What will this do to my professional credibility?)  There are a few others out there, too, mostly Twitter and Facebook links and marriage announcements. There's a Carolyn J. Kaufman (not me), a Carolyn C. Kaufman (not me), and a Carolyn A. Kaufman (also not me). Which leaves me a lot to sort through.

So the first thing I'm going to do is make my name into a phrase search to exclude any results with middle initials, because I don't usually use mine: "carolyn kaufman"

Then I'm going to start excluding phrases.  In other words, I'm going to tell Google not to give me search results if they include this term or word. So to remove all the Indigo Children listings, I type a minus sign in front of the word I want to avoid:

"carolyn kaufman" -indigo

Fantastic, now all the Indigo Children listings are gone, but let's say I want to exclude all those other CKs I mentioned, too?  Well, I just keep excluding terms:

"carolyn kaufman" -indigo -ceo -rn

That search leaves me with a Google search page that includes only one listing that isn't about me.  I'm pretty happy with that.  But let's say you're even picker.  So I note that the other CK in the list of my results is from California, so I just add that to my list of exclusions:

"carolyn kaufman" -indigo -ceo -rn -ca

And so on.  I can also make things more specific by including my unique credentials.  For example, I have a doctorate in clinical psychology, a Psy.D., so I can add that (note that I am adding it, not excluding it, so there is no minus before the psyd):

"carolyn kaufman" psyd -indigo -ceo -rn -ca

Ooh, now we're really getting somewhere.

If you're name-searching someone, you should also use common variations of their name.  If you're looking for a Dave, for example, also try searching with the name David.  If you're searching for a John, also try Jonathan, Johnny, and Jon.

Congratulations, you are now a Google Search Ninja!  There are more weapons in the Ninja Arsenal, and as I said before, if people find this really helpful, I'll see about writing about more of them

Google Power: Finding ANYTHING on the Web Part I

I am a Google ninja. I can find darn near anything (or anyone) on Google, because I know how to use all its secret tools. And it has a lot of secret tools. Journalists I’ve worked with sometimes call or email me asking me to help them find something on the internet. I'm just that good. (And totally modest about it, too.)

I'm going to do a short series today and Monday to teach you how to use the same mad ninja skillz.

Today we're going to look at basic searches and Google search tools. On Monday we're going to look at my favorite advanced search tools. If I get an overwhelming response, I can add additional parts to the series.

One little caveat: It can be scary to realize just how much information about you is available on the internet. You are not anonymous online. If someone really knows what they're doing, they can track down all kinds of free information about you by using just your email address or just your name. We'll look at name searches tomorrow -- you may find them especially useful if you have a detective in your story.

Google Basics

Most people know how to conduct a basic Google search. You type a word or words into the Google Search box and go. You can even type your query in the form of a question.

So let’s say I want to learn more about plagiarism. I just type plagiarism, and I get results like, which explains what it is and how to avoid it; the Wikipedia entry; and the Purdue OWL, which is the college’s writing help center.

Maybe I want to learn about anti-plagiarism software, which compares a paper's contents to a huge database of written material. I change my query to anti-plagiarism software.

Basic Built-In Google Tools

Did you know you can use Google as a calculator? A dictionary? A spellchecker? Here's how.

Calculator: Simply type the equation into the Google search box, and Google will give you an answer.
  • For example, 5*9= or 6/3=
Dictionary: Type define and the word you want to define, and you will get back a list of definitions.
  • For example, define anorexia
Spellchecker: Just type the word you have in mind, and if you're close, Google will respond with "Did you mean: (correct spelling)?"

Built-In Google Search Tools

If you want to search for a term and its synonyms, use the tilde sign (~) before your search term.
  • Example: ~anorexia pulls up information not only on anorexia, but also on eating disorders.
If you want to find web pages that have content similar to the site you're on, type related: followed by the web address.
  • Example: pulls up alternate blogging systems, including WordPress and LiveJournal.
If you want to search within a particular site, use [search term] site:[site]

Once you've got these tricks down, come back for the truly advanced tricks, the ones that will help you find anything (and anyone)....

Writing a NF Book - Process and Deadlines

I'm not a procratinator, really. But sometimes I don't push myself hard enough with my writing schedule. Writing a nonfiction book with a publisher deadline has certainly taught me that I have to push myself the entire time so I can get to the finish line with not just a complete project, but also one that's of excellent quality.

When I was in high school, I got my papers written long before anyone else even started. Same thing with college. In graduate school I had to learn to stop doing that, because when my classmates started asking questions of the professor, the assignment would sometimes morph into something else. Which meant I had to rewrite it.

But when I had 9 months to write an entire nonfiction manuscript, I was like "aw, no problem." I mean, 50,000 words in 9 months? Come on, I wrote that many for NaNoWriMo in one month!

Turns out that writing the sort of nonfiction I'm writing is just a teeeeensy weensy bit different from NaNoWriMo. Whodathunk?

As you all know by now, my nonfiction project, which is going to be published by Quill Driver Books, is to teach writers--especially fiction writers--to use psychology accurately in their stories in far more depth than my website on the same topic. (Don't worry, I'll let you all know the publication date the instant I find out!) So, writers won't embarrass themselves anymore by confusing schizophrenia with multiple personalities, or by showing people having actual full-body convulsions during electroconvulsive therapy.

The trick to all of this is that I have to do a lot of research to make sure I'm getting things accurate. In other words, it's not good enough that I "know" something in my head -- I had to find written evidence to back everything up. Not because this is going to be like a peer-reviewed journal article with a million citations, but because I'm supposed to be the expert here, and I'd darn well better have my expert information straight. I have two full 4" binders full of journal articles, and then shelves and shelves of books I've referenced. At any given time over the past few months, you could walk into my writing room and find towers of reference books.

Anyway, so I started writing back in February, before the contract with Quill Driver was completely hammered out, because I wanted a head start. I did some great interviews with people who worked in mental hospitals and pounded out about half the chapters (unedited).

In May, my awesome agent Kate, who's reading over my chapters after I finish each one (never, ever let anyone badmouth a boutique agency to you--getting that kind of personal attention is such a help), suggested I create a schedule for when I would complete the remaining chapters so she'd know when to look forward to each batch.  (I also have to mention my fantastic readers here, who are looking at my chapters before I send them to Kate and helping me clear up anything that's confusing.)

So here's the schedule I sent her:

June 1 - Ch 1-5 (5 ch -- these were attached)
July 1 - ch 6-8 (3 ch)
August 1 - ch 9-10 (2 ch)
September 1- ch 11-12 (2 ch)
September 15: TOC, index, etc.
October 1, 2009: publisher due date

July nearly killed me, with 3 chapters. I mean, I wrote more than half of what I'd gotten done so far (ie 5 chapters) that month. I may not be a procrastinator, but I'd been far too lackadaisical about my writing schedule. Still, somehow I got it all done. This month was kind of rough, too, especially because I burned myself out a bit last month, but I managed. Now I just have to get through August and get my final chapters done.

When everything's written, I'm going to print the whole thing out and read through it with a red pen, trying to clean up any rough edges. I believe in having everything as polished as possible before it goes to an editor. I know that when I edit someone else's work, if I'm dealing with big things I ignore the small things. So when I edit my own work, I try to get all the big things so the editor can teach me new ways to be a better writer with her edits.

Oh...and my contract also says that the book will be published within x months of me submitting the manuscript...assuming the manuscript is satisfactory. If a writer submits a rotten manuscript, it can negate the entire deal. No pressure, right?

So what are you working on, dear Reader?  How do you keep yourself on track with your writing?

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