What Is a Family Nexus?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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The family nexus is a concept developed by R.D. Laing, a psychiatrist who was active in the middle of the 20th century. According to Laing, the family nexus is a set of values and beliefs that is perpetuated within a family system. It exists to help keep the identity of the family alive. The problem with this nexus, according to Laing, is that the perpetuation of the family often occurs at the expense of individual family members. Laing believed that psychiatric disorders were often the result of a family singling out an individual in the family as inadequate in some way.

The majority of Laing's work on the family nexus was derived from families with at least one schizophrenic family member. His research assumes that there is very little difference between a healthy family and one that produces members with severe psychological disorders. According to Laing's theories, schizophrenia and other psychological disorders do not stem from the biology of the individual but rather from the relationships that exist within the family.


In its effort to protect both its identity and the status quo, a family will often strive to marginalize individuals that go against the norms established by the family. This trend can clearly be seen in the dynamics of many families. The concept of the family nexus, however, states that the social order of the family has so much power that individual family members suffer to the point of developing psychological disorders under the unwavering and often reactionary family regime. Family members who do not fit in with the norms or who push the limits may be made to feel that they have no value in the society of the family and, by extension, no value in the larger society.

While there is some merit to the idea of the family nexus, modern medicine recognizes many physiological factors that can account for mental illness. In the early 21st century, science focuses on the way that both biology and environment influence the development of an individual and that individual's mental health. While the family nexus may play a role in the social interaction of many individuals, the focus of modern therapy is less about assigning blame, either to the individual or to the family, and more about finding solutions that fit the needs of families and individuals. Modern psychologists often accept the existence of a family nexus but do not agree that the influence of this nexus is always negative or all-powerful.


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