What Happens When Helicopter Parents
Are Hit by Boomerang Children?
“If you keep doin’ what you’ve been doin’,
you’ll keep gettin’ what you’ve been gettin’.”
Societies vary in functional levels of differentiation
and amount of chronic anxiety
in a manner similar to families
. Emotionally reactive behaviors in a societal context
follow the same attack—defend, pursue, withdraw—interactions as do familial relationships. Coalitions and group conflict are analogous to fusion and cut-off.
Omelet and Soufflé, Same or Different?
A man is but the product of his thoughts
- what he thinks, he becomes.
― Mahatma Gandhi
Most dichotomies are false ones; the mind/body and nature/nurture ones coming most readily to mind. A discussion in the LinkedIn Counselling & Psychotherapy Group concerning the latter revolved around the question “How do you like your eggs?” More specifically, the age-old question was finally resolved: the egg came before either the omelet or the soufflé. And then there was Humpty Dumpty.
How Even the Great Ones Get Confused
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone,
it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Or as Hamlet put it way more succinctly, “Words, words, words,” which Liza Doolittle modernized as: “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through; first from him, now from you; is that all you blighters can do?”
“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship,
which struggles on in the survivor’s mind
toward some resolution which it may never find.”
― Robert Anderson
In a previous blog, The Structure, Function and Emotional Process of Triangles, I wrote “De-triangling occurs when strategically someone comes into a polarized situation and makes an effort to not take sides, and to relate well to each person.” A highly regarded, well-respected colleague who has, with great equanimity, integrity and compassion, withstood all of Hal’s attempts to befuddle and confuse, wondered, “What if they’re Dead?”, most specifically in regards to the primary parental triangle we all struggle to resolve.
Walking the Talk
“This work is a truly personal one;
we only know the whole truth of ourselves.”
— Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein
Murray Bowen began his essay Theory in the Practice of Psychotherapy with “There are striking discrepancies between theory and practice in psychotherapy,” which begs the question: what exactly is the practice of Bowen Family Systems Theory “Coaching”?
What Kind of Company Always Creates a Crowd?
two’s a crowd,
and three’s a party.”
— Andy Warhol
Life rarely happens in ones or twos, but almost always in threes or more; and more specifically and theoretically exactingly, in groups of interlocking threes. From the Bowen Center Web site:
“It [a triangle] is considered the building block or “molecule” of larger emotional systems because a triangle is the smallest stable relationship system.
Real Marriage for Real People
Life is trouble. Only death is not.
To be alive is to undo your belt
and "look" for trouble.
We all know about failure to launch, but what about failure to consummate? No, not that way. Rather, creating new relationships while changing, but not losing, the old ones.
Why Go Directly to Cinco, Start With Dos
“Rituals have the power to mark
or to move us
— Rabbi Roni Handler
— Prayers from the Heart
Evan Imber-Black has written the following “working definition of ritual”:
Rituals are coevolved symbolic acts that include not only the ceremonial aspects of the actual presentation of the ritual, but the process of preparing for it as well. It may or may not include words, but does have both open and closed parts which are “held” together by a guiding metaphor. Repetition can be a part of rituals through either the content, the form, or the occasion.
Meaning Making and Reinvestment
‘And life is a journey:
From childhood to maturity
And youth to age;’
— Rabbi Alvin I. Fine
Previously on the FamilyFocusedSolutions.com blog, we were exploring a colleague’s struggle to ”do this work [of self-differentiation] in the last quarter [of one’s life].” How to make meaning from the multiple losses of people, resources, function and sense of purpose? How to respond when in the face of illness, death,disability and “cut offs,” “one’s world gets relationally more narrow”?
“Do not be afraid.
Do not lose resolve.”
— Deuteronomy (1:21) דברים
A friend and colleague who has chosen to remain nameless wondered how does one do the “work” of self-differentiation or “growing oneself up” in the “last quarter” of life? Given ever-increasing longevity, health related quality of life (HRQoL), and the widening circle of multigenerational caretaking, we might wonder what exactly constitutes the last quarter? Does it start with the 6th, 7th, 8th or 9th decade of our lives? Regardless, by the time we have reached this stage, and certainly before we are done passing through it, we will have encountered most (if not damn near all) of the normative life-cycle transitions and many unexpected, unplanned for crises.
Learning and Doing
“How long can we go on being angry?”
— Elie Wiesel
We all belong to families whose emotional connections greatly impact our lives. The behavior of any member of a family affects every other member in some way. We exist in our relationships and our inescapable connection to our family of origin.
Families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation. The family system resides in the self as much as the self resides in the family system.
A plea for peaceful coexistence
There is no differentiation without connection,
no autonomy without healthy interdependence
(or as Michael Kerr wrote:
…differentiation of self and togetherness
are two distinct, counterbalancing life forces
that can operate as a working team.)
(N.B. see author’s notes below)
In response to my blog post On Differentiation: The Mindfulness of Murray Bowen, Bonnie Hall wrote:
Ron, I really like your succinct explanation of the togetherness and individuality forces. I have a question about this that I’d appreciate feedback on: Bowen believed these two forces to be “equally intense.” I've often wondered about the “equal” part.
Looking Up or Looking Down
Sailing up (sailing up), sailing down (sailing down)
Up (down), down (up!) – up and down the river
Sailing on – stopping all along the way
The river may be dirty now
but it’s getting cleaner every day
— Sailing Up, Sailing Down
— Wyatt & Reed
Performed With Pete Seeger on the Clearwater
In response to several previous blog posts, Marilyn Halls, MA of Counseling Associates of Sarasota, LLC wondered “how you would help parents differentiate from their children and at what age,” to which I would respond that:
The Tao of Self-Differentiation
“Understanding the dark side of ourselves
will allow us to relate more fully to others.”
- Star Wars
In her book, You Can Go Home Again: Reconnecting With Your Family, Monica McGoldrick cautions that in the process of differentiation of self in one’s family of origin, it is important to manage one’s anxiety, avoid becoming defensive, and be prepared to hear negative feelings and observations. In order to achieve this more differentiated, less reactive perspective, you need learn about your family in a different way, becoming curious about all family members and learning how to ask questions. Unfortunately, you may discover that some family members think about you as,
“….arrogant, spoiled, selfish or succeeding by luck.”
How does Bowen Family Systems Theory
translate to the larger societal system?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead (1902-1978)
Societal Emotional Processes, on the face of it, a self-evident oxymoron. What kinds of emotions can a society be said to possess? How does Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) translate to the larger societal system? What insight and guidance might thinking systemically provide for treatment interventions, problem solving and conflict resolution?
Nuclear Family Emotional Process, Projection Process and
Multigenerational Transmission Process
“ …the problem a patient or couple or family walks in with
is less important than the relationship obstacles
that keep them from working to resolve it”.
— Guerin & Fogarty
What is it about family gatherings, holidays and life cycle celebrations that often bring out the worst in their participants? Where do the unspoken rules of family togetherness behavior that we reflexively adhere to, or reactively reject without due consideration of what conscious responses would be in our own best interest, come from?
Whose Life Is It Anyway?
“THERE IS NO DIFFERENTIATION WITHOUT CONNECTION.
‘F*ck you! I don’t care what you think’
is rebellion and reactivity, not differentiation.”
— Betty Carter
Goals of growing one’s self up include (1) the attainment of both financial and emotional self-sufficiency (i.e. being able to live on your own and avoid fusion) while (2) staying connected to the emotionally important people in your life (steering clear of cutoffs) and (3) creating the opportunity to develop a healthy intimate partner relationship that doesn't require the negation of the first two.
When does one plus one equal three?
“We can see life not so much as a series of paths to be chosen,
but as a maze of triangular shoals and reefs to be navigated around.”
— Guerin & Fogarty
Life is lived in relationship, and relationships evolve in association with, and in response to, other relationships. Two-person relationships almost never exist in isolation. Their emotional instability inevitably produces triangles, which are three-person interconnected relationship systems.
The Mindfulness of Murray Bowen
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
— Vivian Greene
In response to my blog post Doing “Bowen”, Rebecca Chesin, MA, LAMFT of Twin Cities Relationship Resources, LLC noted and requested, “Nice thumbnail sketches. Would love to see each one expanded into their own post.” To briefly review, the following are Bowen’s eight interlocking concepts:
We all struggle to repeat the past differently but without Glinda or the Ruby Slippers we might end up with the Wicked Witch of the West. Or crushed under a house like her older sister. In order to know where we’re going we have to first investigate where we've been. This can be best accomplished by working on differentiation of self in one’s original family.
Like most of life, divorce is a process and not an event, a journey and not a destination, a normative road taken by approximately half of all first married couples (though not taken by the other half), and also taken by a somewhat higher percentage of subsequently married couples. A road no less travelled by, a road filled with speed bumps and potholes, hair pin turns and flat out straight aways, with all the back seat drivers yelling “are we there yet” even though none of them know where they are going and fewer know where they've been.
How is Bowen Family Systems Theory Different From All Others
How it looks from here,
is different from how it looks from there.”
A recurrent theme in LinkedIn discussions on many of my blog posts revolves around the distinctive elements of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) and practice.
“And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?”
— Leonard Cohen
— Who by Fire
I am going to die. You are going to die. And with apologies to Country Joe And The Fish, We are all going to die. Aging, Sickness and Death in one form or another will get us all. And yet, many of us try mightily to ignore this inevitable and inescapable fact of life.
How to develop a drunk in 8 or more easy steps (with apologies to Murray Bowen)?
Start with an imbalance of responsibility among family members, toss in 100-year-old patterns of family emotional isolation, simmer over a large base of chronic anxiety, season with some acute stressors and then note:
The Bottom 5 of Cohen’s Top 10
What was it you wanted?
Tell me again so I’ll know
— Bob Dylan
— What was it you wanted?
In response to The Invisible Psychological Contracts We Make With Our Families
, my virtual colleague and friend, Bonnie Hall
wrote; “Now I wait with baited breath for the other 5 on your top ten list in a future post…” So Bonnie, this one’s for you (Be careful what you wish for).
Bridging Emotional Cutoff from a Former Spouse “And you may ask yourself -Well…How did I get here? And you may ask yourself How do I work this?” — Talking Heads — Once In A Lifetime I can sense the exasperated sighs, see the rolled eyes, ears, nose and mouth, and…
“There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home.”
— The Wizard of Oz
How did we ever get anywhere without Google Maps? And for us guys, it’s a good thing we don’t have to stop at a gas station and ask for a GPS. But what do you do when you actually have to know where you’re going before you get there? Well it certainly helps if you’ve been there before. Now if we as clinicians, and especially those of us who subscribe to Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), aspire to engage the folks we work with on a journey of research and understanding, what is the road map we might employ?
Problems with a “Child-Focused” Approach What would it take to sit with one’s own anxiety rather than passing it along to someone else? How often do we as parents make projects out of our children when we’d be better off making projects of our relationships and ourselves? In “We Don’t…
The Unbearable Lightness of Maintaining Individuality and Being Connected
“Whom we are related to
in the complex web of family ties
over all generations
is unalterable by us.”
— Elizabeth A. Carter and Monica McGoldrick
—-The Family Life Cycle
Decisions, decisions. Have you ever wondered about why you do what you do when you do it, where you choose to do it, and how you do it with whomever you choose to do it with? (Hopefully this doesn’t strike too many of you as coming from the department of redundancy department). Me neither. But lets just think about this for a minute. How often do we truly make decisions for ourselves based on our own core beliefs and values? I’d suggest not nearly as often as we’d like to believe we do.
The Post Conscious Uncoupling Conscious Re-coupling Transition
“…. but I was so much older then.
I’m younger than that, now.”
— Bob Dylan
— My Back Pages
OK now. You’ve uncoupled, consciously or not, paid your attorneys, filed your papers, re-mortgaged your house, complained to all your friends, had the necessary pity party, gone on your Club Med vacation to recharge your battery, made a complete fool of yourself before your children and work colleagues, sworn off ever getting married again, and watched more reruns of House than any one individual should be subjected to in multiple lifetimes. What else might you do on Saturday nights for the rest of your life? Maybe, go on a date?