Graphology at Home-lesson 24-kinetic Family Drawings

Published: 02nd September 2008
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Notice Figure 160. Mike was a seventeen year old boy brought to the hospital be¬cause of withdrawal symptoms. His father had a history of a car accident with a head injury and being extremely irritable sub¬sequent to this. Mike felt completely isolated and rejected by the father. Note in the drawing the compartmentalization. This is a method that children use to isolate themselves from people and to deny feelings. Note the distance between Mike and the father in the drawing and his turning to the refrigerator for nurture rather than to people...

Analysis of human figure drawings is a psychological test. In 1926, Florence Goodenoff published measurement of intelligence by drawings. The child was asked to draw a person (DAP) and the drawing was scored for mental age. The scoring was done by adding up the points given for inclusion of parts, that is, head, arms, feet, fingers, etc. The Goodenoff DAP test quickly became an accepted widely used psychological test of intelligence.

In 1948 Buck introduced the house, tree, person (HTP) technique. The child was asked to draw a house, a tree and a person and clinical interpretations of the drawings were made. Buck felt the test aided the clinician in obtaining information concerning the sensitivity, maturity, flexibility and degree of personality integration, through analysis of the person. The house and tree provide additional information concerning the growth and environmental feelings of the subject. The HTP was one of the first human figure drawings used as a psychological projective test.

Karen Machover's book, Personality Projection in the Drawing of the Human Figure published in 1949, discussed some of the qualitative aspects related to psychopathology in human figure drawings. The rules of the aforementioned psychological tests use akinetic instructions. Children are asked to draw a person, or draw a house, tree, person, or draw a family. While useful information may be obtained, akinetic instructions, that is, non-moving instructions usually result in static, rigid, drawings. The approach of using kinetic, action instructions, that is, asking the child to produce a drawing where figures are moving or doing something, has been found to produce much more valid and dynamic material in the attempt to understand the psychopathology of children in a family setting. This chapter aims to improve our understanding of children by analysis of their kinetic family drawings, KFD. The child is asked to "draw a picture of everyone in your family, including you, doing something. Try to draw whole people, not cartoons or stick people. Remember make everyone doing something, some kind of action." Akinetic instructions yield relatively inert figures, the analysis of kinetic drawing focuses on the action or movement, rather than the inert figures.

Some Characteristics of Kinetic Family Drawings and Their Meanings:

COMPARTMENTALIZATION -- Children attempt to isolate themselves and their feelings from other family members through compartmentalizing.

UNDERLINING--Drawing a line across the bottom of the page is characteristic of children from unstable families.


MOTHER -- COOKING -- This is the most frequent action of mother in KFD and reflects a mother figure that meets the child's nutritional needs.

CLEANING -- This action is found in compulsive mothers who are more preoccupied with the house than with the people in the house. Cleaning becomes equated to acceptable or good behavior.

IRONING -- Usually found in the overly involved mother, trying too hard to give her child warmth.

FATHER -- Household Activities -- Reading the paper, paying the bills, playing with the kids, are frequent activities of normal dads.

DRIVING TO OR AT WORK -- Usually found in fathers who are thought of in terms of abandonment or being outside of the family, rather than an integral part of it.

CUTTING -- Activities such as mowing the lawn, chopping, cutting, etc., are seen with tough castrating fathers, occasionally mothers.

RIVALRY - Usually depicted as a force or action between members of the family, that is, throwing a ball, knife, airplane, etc., seen in highly competitive or jealous children. These are a few of the common actions that frequently reappear in the KFD.

Mary, a twelve-year-old girl was brought to the hospital with a repeated history of recent rape by her brother. Mary's kinetic drawing is shown in figure 159.

Note the intensity of the scribbling on Mary's body. She shows great preoccupation in this area with obvious concern and distortion in her drawing. This reflects her own concern about her body and her great anxiety in her reaction to the rape episode. Further, the scribbling or blacking out, gives us another feeling of the dynamics involved, in which Mary attempts at the same time to deny the existence of her sexuality. Note also the brother in this drawing. His body is cut off below the waist by the chair. This is another technique used by children in terms of denying or repressing areas and an inability to think about these areas.

Mike produced the following drawing (see figure 160:)

Mike was a seventeen-year-old boy brought to the hospital because of withdrawal symptoms. His father had a history of a car accident with a head injury and being extremely irritable subsequent to this. Mike felt completely isolated and rejected by the father. Note in the drawing the compartmentalization. This is a method that children use to isolate themselves from people and to deny feelings. Note the distance between Mike and the father in the drawing and his turning to the refrigerator for nurture rather than to people.

Even mother, although in the kitchen has her back turned. He felt father preferred the older brother and would only approve of Mike if he were good. Mother was always there and took care of necessities, but in a detached neutral way, and was a warm person only when playing the role of mother. He was afraid of his brother and felt isolated from his sisters. It was difficult for him to say that he felt rejected, but it was also apparent that he always felt rejected. In early adolescence, the parents uprooted him and sent him to several different boarding schools, where he continued to underachieve, act out in overt delinquency and always felt shy and unattractive. His close friends were primarily among the delinquent groups in the home neighborhood and at school. All this is so well demonstrated and predicted in his drawing. The separation by compartmentalization, the cutting brother, the isolation from the parents and sisters and even his stealing of food (love?) from the refrigerator.

Figure 161 shows a little girl who loves her daddy and one can only conjecture about the closeness of the relationship.

Sometimes a new baby comes along and drives children close to the parents as in figure 162.

Sometimes a new baby comes along and it is just too painful to accept, so the baby's presence is denied, as "he's in the other room," as in figure 163.

It seems that in such an instance comfortable individual identification is so incomplete, that any addition to this unit is too much of a threat to include in the drawing.

Figure 164 is that of a twelve-year-old boy, hospitalized for severe ulcerative colitis.

He has a history of severe emotional deprivation, because of a depressed mother in the first year of life. The mother is depicted as a stove and the nourishment he gets from her is all-important in his life. A vacuum cleaner appears, and it is in relation to this deprived boy with a pathological intestine. This drawing symbol appears repeatedly in children with a history of oral deprivation.

Sixteen-year-old Tim drew figure 165.

His mother was an alcoholic, usually down at the corner tavern. Because of maternal deprivation, Tim was driven to run through life seeking that elusive butterfly of love and denying the painful existence of a non-mothering mother. Tim had about given up seeking mother love; Tim was also dying of severe intractable asthma. It seems almost superfluous to add words to this exquisite dynamic drawing. The inability to express direct hostility to the mother, but only drawing her "absent" and substituting the search for beauty in the form of the butterfly, as displaced destructive hostility is done much better in drawing than in words.

Kathy, an eleven-year-old girl produced the drawing in figure 166.

It captures the central theme in many girls' drawings. She makes herself an idealized type of beauty, when in reality Kathy is a very homely girl, while her sister Vicki is very pretty. The little girl's wish fulfillment and clenched fist directed towards her sister poignantly reflects her desire to outshine her rival.

The overpowering and dominant mother--Figure 167 portrays a drawing of Nancy, a little nine-year-old girl with an overly close or symbiotic relationship to the mother.

The mother was a very successful businesswoman, who overpowered and dominated her family. This is an example of genuine identity confusion. If the child identifies with the effeminate or weak father, she would of course have run the risk of being rejected by the mother, as he is. However to identify with the mother, she would of course have had to relinquish her femininity, as her mother has hers; so the child in her confusion and paralyzing ambivalence remains symbiotically tied to the mother and development remains static. It is interesting to point out further that in this case as in most cases, development is not really static but goes on. In the case of Nancy serious somatic symptoms developed.

The Seductive Mother -- Sometimes a girl has a mother who is very seductive, and with whom competition is difficult if not impossible. Gail, a fifteen-year-old girl was brought to the hospital because of her dreams and fears that something might happen to the mother. The drawing in

figure 168 shows her preoccupation with the mother and the girl's thinly veiled destructive wishes.

Her ambivalence is paramount. The figure of the mother is the best-drawn figure. Details are explicit and the femininity is without question. However, the mother is placed in the most vulnerable of all positions. She is seductively lying on her back but is exposed to the lawn mower, to the croqueting malls, ball and even to the sun.

Many girls are unable to work through the normal process of identification, and frequently present complicated neurotic symptoms associated with this inability.

Chris, an eighteen-year-old girl was brought to the hospital because of recurrent nightmares of cats attacking her. Chris was a very beautiful girl who was voted the most popular in her high school class. Her mother in contrast, was very much overweight and rather homely. However, in her drawing shown in figure 169, Chris tends to deny her own beauty and attributes all the beautiful characteristics to the mother.

The cat actually seems to be an extension of the mother, and is characteristic of the preoccupation with cats, that we have seen in girls having extreme ambivalence toward the mother. This may also be characteristic of a resurgence of Chris' unresolved oedipal feelings, so that her destructive hostile feelings toward mother, and her own anxiety about her sexuality, may very well result in the desexualization of Chris in the drawing and the over compensatory characteristics of the mother.

In figure 170, we see a seven-year-old boy that has separated his mother and himself from the other males, who are far away in the drawing with a building in between.

He and the mother are interacting in a growth process and the boy has captured the mother from the other males. One can speculate of course about the boy's preoccupation and anxiety around the struggle.

Castration Fears - The normal development in boys of competing with fathers or older brothers for the love of the female, and attempting to be the dominant male, can often be quite frightening to the boy. If perchance he has a very threatening, aggressive or destructive father, or if the older brother fits this role, then the boy's desire to be the strongest is unfulfilled and he becomes anxious about his competition. Figure 171 shows an eight-year-old boy, who is completely overwhelmed by the older brother.

He has cut himself off at the neck and is threatened by the cutting tool, the lawn mower below him. This is a typical drawing of boys, who in the family setting are fearful of the older males and fear castration.

Randy, who produced figure 172, has an alcoholic father, who had a violent temper when he drank.

The boy was unable to compete with him successfully. Notice the shading in the drawing, particularly the shading below the boy's waist. Father is cutting and has very obvious castration threats for this boy. Also significant is the shape of the father's tool and the shape of the object being cut.

In figure 173, we see the action in a drawing of an eight-year-old boy, who is very competitive, however attempts to be the dominant person in the household.

It is noted the two boys are in airplanes fighting, and both competing with the father for the attention of the females in the family. Note that the father is on a ladder and falling, with the feeling of tension. Father is also carrying a lamp, which in many drawings is a symbol of love, warmth or sex. This drawing reemphasizes the not yet resolved oedipal situation and the conflicting ambivalence of the feeling for father, who while threatening, is also loving.

Figure 174, was produced by a nine-year-old boy with a history of emotional deprivation.

Note the prominence of the lights in the center of the picture, reflecting the boy's need for warmth and love.

Perhaps the drawing of Mike, the ten-year-old boy seen because of numerous anxieties, more clearly depicts the light theme. Mike was a boy who lived with his mother, a known prostitute; his KFD is seen in figure 175.

Mother had numerous men in the house and sexual activity was prominent and open, and the boy saw much of this. The prominence of the three lights in the drawing reflects the intensity of this preoccupation in this home and family setting. The fact that the father was in prison and that the dog is protecting the boy from the ominous father is also part of the theme.

The very significant underpinning in the drawing with the crosshatching and the x-ing at the bottom is characteristic of a style in children, where there is a great deal of instability in the family, and the lining of the bottom of the page often reflects this yearning for stability. The low hanging bright lamps on their chains are indicative of the tremendous disturbance within this family and also suggest that much of this disturbance has sexual overtones.

The intensity of the light theme and its relationship to the opposite sex is clearly depicted in figure 176.

Bill is a ten-year-old boy whose father was killed two years previously. Bill is an only child and a very intense relationship between mother and son is reflected in the boy's drawing of the mother, who is encapsulated with the light above her. The heat in the kitchen is intense and seen in the steam and lights, surrounding the encapsulated mother. Over and above this of course, is the fact that the bulbs and the "masculine" shapes of the lamps with the boy holding on to them continue the sexual theme.

Lanny, a fourteen-year-old boy with a history of being placed in three foster homes and a great need for love, produced the drawing in figure 177.

The boy had established a relationship with the new foster mother and did derive some warmth and love from her. She however had a nervous breakdown and was taken from the family for a short time. The drawing of the figure of the mother where she is encapsulated with the intensity of the light directed toward her, reflects the boy's need for warmth and love in this area. He feels rather as a social isolate, as indicated by the drawing, he is faced away from the rest of the family. He derives the warmth in this family from the mother and the central figure of the mother with her encapsulation reflects this need. It is important to point out that only the mother is encapsulated, and in the wish for the mother's love, he has her sweeping away the cobwebs from the brightly shining warm light of love.

The intensity of the need for warmth and love reflected in the light and fire syndrome contrasts sharply with the ironing board or 'x syndrome' found in older children, which often bring about attempts of control at these emotions.

This struggle for control was rather clearly depicted by Allan, a sixteen-year-old boy who was brought in with great fears of staying home at certain times. Allan's drawing is shown in figure 178.

In his drawing, Allan shades the area below the waist of the sister and mother, showing the usual preoccupation of adolescence in this area. In talking to Allan, utilizing cues from the KFD, it becomes clear that he was terrified if left alone with his rather seductive eleven-year-old sister- and abhorrent of any sexual impulse in this relationship. The controls are depicted by the girl holding her stop sign, and by the young brother pointing a gun at him.

The great attempts at control are seen in the 'x' phenomena in the drawing. The table at which Allan sits is in the form of an x, as is the container holding his food. The ironing board below the mother with the x through the shaded area is a constant thing with children attempting to control sexual impulse. The significance of father racing away in a speedboat may be one of the underlying factors as to why the boy needs the number of external controls he depicts in the family drawing. Further, in view of the fact that this boy has only average intelligence within a family of superior intellectual and social achievements, one can also add that his frustrated anger is in the direction of acting out destructive or unacceptable, impulsive behavior in relation to the rest of the family.

Dave's ironing board drawing is shown in figure 179.

This twelve-year-old boy had lost his own mother from stomach cancer and was very much attracted to his stepmother, but had significant controls in this area. It is noted that the iron is also hot like the fire of the lights of the previous drawing. It is further significant that the ambivalence of the boy toward the stepmother is depicted by the fact that her legs are obvious. However, the control of the x-ing of the ironing board acts as a real barrier-as does father. Even though dad seems to be out of the picture with his back toward it, his name is in the largest letters.

Tom, a seven-year-old boy tends to sublimate his feelings. His drawing is shown in figure 180.

When Tom made his drawing he started with a small figure of himself, and when he reached the waist he paused, scribbled and this continued furiously. He turned the bottom part of his body into a powerful boat and in this way, he is close to the mother and controls her. It is noted in this drawing, that the boy insisted on putting the father and the dog on the reverse of the drawing, and wants to save the whole front page for himself and his mother. This boy's oedipal strivings are sublimated only in the drawing, and then in a not very covert way. The shading, the "masculine" boat, the undressed mother, and the relegating of the father and the pet to the opposite side is of obvious significance. However, here again the age of the child must be considered. If one thinks of the degree of pathology-he is in the midst of his oedipal strivings.

Fourteen-year-old Billy drew figure 181

One notes in his drawing, the forces between the two families. The boy is attempting to protect the mother from the intruding father. The competitiveness of the males again is shown clearly by the forces in the picture. The child must be aware of the relationship between the stepfather and the mother, as the sword is the largest weapon in the drawing. The boy, shooting his small darts, cannot hurt the father who protects himself with a shield, while the boy's darts break harmlessly, so the boy recognizing the sexuality of the relationship, also at the same time recognizes his impotency, which might very well account for his angry acting out behavior.

The force between siblings is often depicted as a ball. Figure 182 shows a very primitive drawing by a six-year-old:

He has great rivalry with his ten-year-old sister. This six year old is apparently still struggling within the oedipal situation, struggling for identification and one can surmise that the shading of everyone's 'private' area, using a ball as the instrument of force, may very well depict the child's sexual preoccupations.

In figure 183, we see an eleven-year-old boy who is extremely competitive with the father.

The force between him and his father again is of a healthy type, but this is the drawing of a very competitive boy. There is another interesting part of this drawing. The fact that he crossed out his first picture of himself, which depicted a very aggressive face and turned himself around, so one could see only the violent drawing of the ball, which is acceptable, but the violence of his face is turned away.

Drawing 184 shows what happens when a very competitive child is placed in a highly competitive family, but has no object against which to compete.

Diana, an eight-year-old girl, was placed in a foster home. She had previously lived in another foster home with her seven-year-old sister. She completely dominated the sister and was described as extremely competitive. In the school setting, the teacher mentioned that she always wanted responsibility and to be a leader in class. Diana was placed in a foster home with four boys, the youngest of whom was thirteen. She very much wanted to compete with them, but did not know how, and was thus acting out in school, where she was extremely competitive. The drawing again reflects the force of the ball, however it is directed towards the ground. The girl has not yet found a person with whom she can compete with in this family.

Figure 185 drawn by a fourteen-year-old boy, depicts another problem in the sibling rivalry or forces between siblings.

Mike has a brother age thirteen who is mentally retarded. It is noted that there is no force between the boys; rather the ball or the force stays with the retarded brother. It is of course difficult to compete with someone, who is handicapped, as it induces guilt feelings. While the boy does have competitive feelings with the brother for the father's affection, he is unable to have active competition with him, and tends to sublimate this through the painting he is doing in the drawing. Even though this family is not compartmentalized, the outstanding theme seems to be poor communication. No one faces another, people have their sides or their backs to each other, and each is preoccupied with his own thing.

The 'A' syndrome is associated with the love and affection that one often receives from parents, through very high school achievement. Figure 186 drawn by nine-year-old Mike demonstrates the 'A' syndrome.

The father in this case was the principal of a school, and put a great deal of pressure on the boy to do his homework, and to achieve at a very high level. Note the 'A' which is the dominant force between the father and the son, and again the cutting attitude of the father and the precarious position of the boy, in relationship to the father and the 'A.' It is also significant that the boy was caught between the mother and father, while the two teenage brothers have gotten out in a car. The nine-year-old still needs mother's cooking and balances precariously in his relationship to father on an 'A,' even though father threatens this balance.

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