Marriage and Family — 26 December 2013
Dealing with a non-bonded family

Dealing with a non-bonded family

My previous column dealt with the magical bond within families. A loyal, long-term reader pointed out that those raised within non-bonded families may benefit from learning coping skills in dealing with their family members who reactivate their childhood discomfort.

Healthy childrearing begins at birth. Children require specific loving and affirming attention from their parents to become physically and emotionally healthy. Dr. Allan Schore of UCLA writes, “Genes do not specify behavior absolutely…Attachment communications between mother and child are built into the nervous system and promote the infant’s regulatory capacities that are fundamental to his or her healthy affective development.”

From early infancy and through childhood, youngsters who are attended to with patience, validation, kindness and tenderness mature more safely and healthily. In families besieged by anger, frustrations, impatience, exasperation, stress, illness or other burdens, children often do not receive enough love and attention they need and deserve to get. This early imprinting may affect the child’s physiological, emotional and relational capacities and hinder his/her ideal safe, secure and effective development. Yet, many of the individuals raised in non-bonded families have successfully become resilient adults.

Professor Bruce D. Perry of Texas Children Hospital studies resilience in children. He found that there are four factors that aid one in developing resiliency: Innate temperament, attuned caregiving, healthy attachments, hope and a sense that one is special. Resilient children find these elements from non-related adults and reassure themselves that they can survive and thrive well despite the challenges they face.

In adulthood, those who have not received their deserved healthy upbringing may re-experience some of this loss as they interact with their families. Holiday gatherings may not be joyful reunions and may even re-activate the hurt, disappointment and loss they felt in childhood. Yet, tradition and allegiance to their original family may draw them to attend.

In encountering the non-bonded family interactions, adults may choose to consider forgiveness as a coping emotion as they observe the ongoing unhealthy exchanges within the family.  Or, they may choose to model healthy options for others by detaching from bickering, discounting, competitiveness and insensitive behaviors.

When drawn to partake in competitive, belittling or harsh exchanges with members of the non–bonded family members, a healthy adult may be reminded that he/she survived and has attained resiliency by not repeating these destructive behaviors with their spouse, children or other relationships.

When someone exhibits competitive, discounting or unkind behavior during the non-bonded family events, you may abstain from partaking in this unhealthy conduct and model kindness, sincere interest and appreciation for another’s good essence as you resist internalizing the negative input.

Staying centered and confident may help you fend off the negativity and harsh retorts. If you repeatedly experience being treated disrespectfully, limit your attendance to a short visit.


Dealing with a non-bonded family:


  • View yourself as a detached spectator in a play.
  • Model healthy behaviors within your nuclear family.
  • Praise yourself for being a resilient adult who survived and thrived.







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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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