Since news broke that Katie Holmes filed for divorce from Tom Cruise, there has much speculation about why their highly publicized celebrity marriage ended.  People magazine reported that Holmes had become increasingly unhappy in her five-year marriage to Cruise and that “she no longer had the life she wanted, in terms of her career, her way of life, everything.”  While the media has widely cited Cruise’s beloved Scientology to be at the center of the split, Cruise’s attorney Bert Fields insists the Church of Scientology was not involved, stating “Let me be very clear about this. The Church of Scientology played absolutely NO ROLE in the divorce settlement talks at all…”  But could Cruise’s early history of family dysfunction, which likely played a large role in his adoption of the Scientology faith, be the root of his failed marriage?  Would seeking professional psychological treatment have been more effective at helping Cruise break his old patterns of family dysfunction?

There remains many unanswered questions about what led to the breakdown of Cruise’s marital union with Holmes.  While Holmes was raised in a stable Catholic family upbringing by loving parents with whom she currently remains close, Cruise has shared with the media that his own family upbringing was laden with chaotic family dysfunction dominated by an abusive father, whom his mother eventually divorced when Tom was just 12 years old.  Cruise has described his father as “a merchant of chaos“.  Cruise described him as a bully and coward: “He was the kind of person where, if something goes wrong, they kick you. It was a great lesson in my life—how he’d lull you in, make you feel safe and then, bang! For me, it was like, ‘There’s something wrong with this guy. Don’t trust him. Be careful around him.”

Further, Cruise’s education was highly fragmented- he was enrolled in a total of 15 schools during his 12 years of education.  Coupled with a diagnosis of the learning disorder dyslexia which at the time, was often misunderstood and mistreated by mental health experts, early life for Cruise was troubled and difficult.  Cruise admits “I was a functional illiterate” upon graduating high school.  Cruise states his mismanagedwas an ongoing source of great distress and an life.  This experience appears to be the origins of his , which was reinforced through his later involvement with Scientology.   Cruise attributes his eventual success with literacy to the L. Ron Hubbard Scientology Study Tech.  Scientology is publicly and often vehemently opposed to both psychology and psychiatry, and view psychiatry as a barbaric and corrupt profession and encourage alternative care based on spiritual healing.

Clinical research has shown that adults raised in dysfunctional families experience difficulty forming and maintaining healthy, trusting intimate relationships, struggle to maintain healthy self-esteem/depend on others approval to determine their self-worth, and often fear losing control and allowing themselves to experience genuine emotions.  These individuals are highly susceptible to falling into unhealthy co-dependent relationships not just with people, but in the case of Tom Cruise, with rigid lifestyle choices that can push loved ones away.

Our early childhood experiences can lead to lifelong patterns that continue to shape us for the rest of our lives. While patterns of dysfunction can be very difficult to break, it is possible learn healthier forms of functioning.  In my work as a clinical psychologist, I have effectively worked with people of all ages who’ve experienced various levels of family dysfunction.  Without professional psychological intervention, many individuals eventually fall into old patterns of dysfunction and relationship failure, in spite of their efforts to change.

What are the goals for professional psychological treatment with someone like Cruise, who experienced early childhood family dysfunction and other stressors?

  • identify and challenge irrational patterns of thinking
  • develop and heal intimate relationships
  • learn to identify and express emotions in safe ways
  • learn to effectively and respectfully communicate with others
  • develop healthy self-esteem
  • work towards identifying and reaching rewarding life goals
  • balance work and personal demands
  • develop healthy and pleasurable forms of self-care
  • establish boundaries with others that feel both safe and supportive

The following quiz was adapted at Kansas State University in their counseling services dept., and may be helpful in determining if you are experiencing long-term effects of living in a dysfunctional family.  If you find yourself answering “Yes” to the majority of the questions, you might consider seeking professional psychological help.

  1. Do you find yourself needing approval from others to feel good about yourself? Yes_____ No_____
  2. Do you agree to do more for others than you can comfortably accomplish? Yes_____ No_____
  3. Are you perfectionistic? Yes_____ No_____
  4. Or do you tend to avoid or ignore responsibilities? Yes_____ No_____
  5. Do you find it difficult to identify what you’re feeling? Yes_____ No_____
  6. Do you find it difficult to express feelings? Yes_____ No_____
  7. Do you tend to think in all-or-nothing terms? Yes_____ No_____
  8. Do you often feel lonely even in the presence of others? Yes_____ No_____
  9. Is it difficult for you to ask for what you need from others? Yes_____ No_____
  10. Is it difficult for you to maintain intimate relationships? Yes_____ No_____
  11. Do you find it difficult to trust others? Yes_____ No_____
  12. Do you tend to hang on to hurtful or destructive relationships? Yes_____ No_____
  13. Are you more aware of others’ needs and feelings than your own? Yes_____ No_____
  14. Do you find it particularly difficult to deal with anger or criticism? Yes_____ No_____
  15. Is it hard for you to relax and enjoy yourself? Yes_____ No_____
  16. Do you find yourself feeling like a “fake” in your academic or professional life? Yes_____ No_____
  17. Do you find yourself waiting for disaster to strike even when things are going well in your life?  Yes_____ No_____
  18. Do you find yourself having difficulty with authority figures? Yes_____ No_____

Dr. Christina Villarreal is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in the Bay Area, California and may be reached at [email protected]


By christinavillarreal

Dr. Christina Villarreal offers professional support to help you reach your life goals at any stage. She provides personal and executive coaching and consultation for adults, with specialties in: emotional intelligence, relationship management, sexual health and dating, creativity/ innovation, time management/organization, peak performance/leadership, organizational diversity/cultural awareness, professional business development, and network growth/leverage. Specialization in working with the Bay Area’s tech community, including start-up founders and their employees, executives in finance, design marketing, attorneys and engineers, and wide range of creative professionals. LGBTQ and diverse populations welcome.