Averting Workplace Burnout

Is this heading towards workplace burnout – what are the contributing factors?

workplace stressRelationship disruption may well be the central unaddressed theme behind people’s burnout experiences. How many of us attend sufficiently to addressing relationship patterns that may be draining our energy, resources and those of others?

The past couple of months at work have been as demanding as any period of work I can remember. With computers crashing and key administrator’s leaving I’ve had to wear multiple hats and extend my working hours to ensure no major balls were dropped. I’ll admit it’s been exhausting however I have known throughout that it was a time limited stress. It was always clear that there was going to be a resolution as our business IT issues were addressed and a new employee had time to settle into their role.
This has prompted reflection on work place stress and what goes into burnout. While a period of overwork can be tremendously challenging it does not take the same toll that relationship disruption and sustained seemingly unresolvable stress does. A leader’s potential for burnout is certainly heightened, if the loss of a team member erupted from relationship discord and the ripple effects of this were infiltrating the organisation. In my recent scenario, the loss of the key staff member was predicted. They had completed part time study and had been open with me about looking for work in their field. The other stressors, while beyond my control, were solvable problems. This is very different from a sense of chronic repeating patterns of people complaining and leaving or of work systems malfunctioning.
I wonder what you think of when you hear of workplace burnout. Usually people associate it with too high a workload. In literature into burnout in ministry positions the most commonly noted contributing factors are: over work, role demand Vs capacity, demands of interpersonal complexity, reliance on solo/self-care and a belief system of selfless service.* Looking into such factors reveals much more than a problem of too much work and not enough leave. The demands of relationship strain and relationship patterns of over – functioning (or over- controlling, – helping) are core elements to the burnout picture. I hear that many overseas mission/aid placements are prematurely ended, not due to cross cultural strain, but to team conflict. Relationship disruption may well be the central unaddressed theme behind people’s burnout experiences. How many of us attend sufficiently to addressing relationship patterns that may be draining our energy resources and those of others.
I well remember some years ago the impact of a tense collegial relationship on my workplace coping. Unlike the recent high work load this earlier period of relational upheaval was infiltrating my sleep patterns and thinking space. The more I focussed on the other the more drained and negative I became. I realised how important it was to see my part in the troubled dynamics and to responsibly attend to the ways I had played a part in mutual misunderstandings and reactions.
For some who are edging on workplace burnout it may be that unaddressed relationship discord at home is driving the intense investment in work. When exhausted collapse occurs it is easier to point to the work load than to the relationship strain that is being bypassed by spending increasing hours away from home.
For myself I have learned to ask the following questions to avert potential burnout at work:
• Is this a factual problem that can be solved in the foreseeable future? If so how can I patiently manage my priority tasks and tolerate the disruption until things are resolved?
• Is this a chronic pattern that repeats and seems to have no foreseeable resolution? If so how can I ascertain my contribution to this?
• Am I contributing to the chronicity by continually worrying about what might happen as opposed to addressing the facts of what is happening?
• What relationship patterns are behind this stress? Is distancing, blaming or over functioning happening? What is my part in this? How can I take the lead in maturely addressing issues with the person/people I am tense with?
• Am I using work as a detour from addressing insecurities in my family relationships as a spouse or parent? How can I ensure that this does not get hidden by my very high workload? Am I being responsible in all my important relationship domains?
I am relieved that the worst of my work stress is now behind me. It was valuable to see that there was no call for panic or reactivity that would spread the stress throughout the team. It continues to be valuable to remember to always address my part in relationship patterns that can drain energy from self and others. This period has also been a welcome prompt to reflect on how I am going to gradually move towards some semblance of semi-retirement and free up space for projects beyond my current work. I am committed to a better balance in how I spread my God given energy around the various domains of my life.

Dr Bowen and different versions of stress & anxiety:

A key variable of family systems theory is the degree of anxiety – this includes the intensity and duration of different types of anxiety. “All organisms are reasonably adaptable to acute anxiety. The organism has built in mechanisms to deal with short bursts of anxiety….When anxiety increases and remains chronic for a certain period, the organism develops tension, either within itself or in the relationship system, and the tension results in symptoms’ or dysfunction or sickness.” P 361-2

* e.g. of burnout literature and clergy
Grosch, W. N., & Olsen, D. C. (2000). Clergy Burnout: An integrative account. Psychotherapy in Practice, 56(5), 619-632.
My literature review in this area comes from the master’s thesis of psychologist Amanda Mason (which I hope will be published at some time)

‘Averting Workplace Burnout’ – Jenny Brown

Wishful Thinking

Heaven- Is this just wishful thinking?faith

I am fully aware of how easily we can find the evidence to confirm any of our biases. Confirmation bias is everywhere and I can be as vulnerable as anyone in applying this to my own questions

I recall as a 6 or 7 year old asking my mother, “How do you know that there really is a God and a heaven?” The answer stored in my memory is, “Jenny I believe it but even if it turns out not to be true I think it is the best way to live my life”. I was somewhat unsettled by her answer which I guess is why it has stayed with me all these decades. It vaguely made sense to me and quietened my questioning at the time but I was hoping for more assurance about what I was taught at Sunday school.

Last month I faced a tragic loss in my broader family. The details are not necessary to write about but what has been a growing up challenge for me is a reigniting of questions about life beyond the grave. I was confronted with a fresh challenge to the basis of my Christian belief, in particular of the hope of a better eternity and a renewed heaven and earth. There is nothing like the invasion of unexpected sadness to either turn a person to considering spiritual faith or conversely to challenge the faith foundations of any believer. Can I really trust a God who allows such pain? Is the hope of heaven just wishful thinking to ease the sharp edge of grief?

A number of people have said to me that they know my faith will carry me through this sad time but this doesn’t quite capture the tumult of my spirit when facing pain. Faith in itself isn’t a comfort, it is the object of my faith that I need to be sure of. Hence over the past weeks I have re-examined the basis and object of my faith. I have needed to revisit the historical life and death of Jesus who claimed to be God revealing himself in human flesh (the word became flesh and dwelt among us John 1:14; John 3: 16-17).

Most importantly I have considered as rationally as I can the evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus; the hundreds of eye witness accounts and the dramatic change in life priorities of his followers as a consequence of seeing first-hand the mind-boggling presence of one who came back from the grave. (Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:6). It would not be sufficient for me to base my hope on just one person’s isolated revelation.

In one of the many recent conversations about my experience of questioning the basis of my faith, I heard another express that she is not looking for any faith that speaks to what happens after death. For her the important thing about any belief system is living a good and ethical life in the present. I get this priority. It reminds me of my mother’s previous ‘back up’ rationale if the heaven promise turns out not to be true – at least its teachings provide a basis for a life lived well now. There are many spiritual, philosophical and religious bodies of wisdom that speak to living better in the present. And yet when tragedy and death confronts us, so often our natural yearnings want more. Social researcher Hugh Mackay reports in his just released book ‘Beyond Belief’, that 68% of Australians claim some kind of belief in God although regular church/ temple/mosque attendance is under 15%. He writes about many reports of how a crisis turns even hardened atheists to praying. Mackay writes, “For some people, calling on God in a crisis is simply a case of ‘nothing to lose.’ For others, it’s a return to a faith they once had….or perhaps a last-ditch test to see if there is a God who might somehow intervene.” (p 19 Sun Herald Sunday Life, May 1 2016) While our society is predominately secular, spiritual questions are prevalent for many, especially in the face of adversity.

With my own spiritual journey I am fully aware of how easily we humans can find the evidence to confirm any of our biases. Confirmation bias is everywhere and I can be as vulnerable as anyone in applying this to my own questions. I am committed to reading widely the reasoning of different positions and making every effort to not just create my own subjective version of belief. Recently I have devoured writing about the varied works of many eminent scientists in the study of the origin of life (i.e. Signature in the Cell, S Meyer). Dr Bowen’s writing about the degree to which emotional and relational process can shape our belief systems has been helpfully provocative for me and challenged me to stay open to information that might not sit comfortably with my inherited or assumed viewpoints. If I am not willing to allow my beliefs to stand up to an examination of contrary thoughtful explanations then it doesn’t say much for the strength of my faith platform. While one reviewer of my book on Good Reads wrote that my discussion of my Christian faith runs the risk of alienating some readers my view is that is the tone of discussion rather than content that unhelpfully alienates people. My effort is to communicating considerately, without emotive dogmatism and to being genuinely interested in differing positions expressed respectfully.

It’s been good to ask questions of the basis of my faith at this time. I am not grateful for the painful circumstances of grief but I am thankful for the opportunities to re- ask my deep and challenging questions of life and of God. I’m in good company with the ancient Israelite King David who often in the psalms directs his troubling questions to God: “Why o Lord, do you stand so far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)While not all my questions can be simply and fully be answered I have come to a deeper confidence in a supernatural resurrection faith. It’s interesting to look back on my mother’s faith journey as she faced the ramifications of her incurable cancer in her early 50s. As I watched her face death it was clear as she spent much time reading her Bible and praying that her trust in God’s promises of heaven were not just wishful thinking. She had travelled well past her ambivalent answer to my childhood probing’s to a personal and confident relationship with the Good Shepherd of David’s Psalm 23. At this time in my own life I have asked hard questions of the God of my faith and have not been left empty. Even though walking through a dark valley I have not been alone. My experience is that I have been met, not with an apparition or mysterious hallucinatory voice but by a historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be God and backed up this audacious claim with many solid eye witnessed evidences*. I have cherished the gift of a presence of God’s love and sustaining and a renewed confidence that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”*

* What constitutes reliable historical evidence? I found this discussion drawing from credible academic ancient historians helpful. – More info

Dr Bowen writes about a mark of higher functioning people:

These are principle oriented, goal directed people who have many qualities that have been called “inner directed”. [While] sure of their beliefs and convictions they are not dogmatic or fixed in their thinking. They can hear and evaluate the viewpoints of others and discard old beliefs in favour of new. They are sufficiently secure within themselves that functioning is not affected by either praise or criticism from others. They can respect the self and identity of another without becoming critical or becoming emotionally involved in trying to change the life course of another. FTCP P 164

 

For any who are interested to explore an evidence perspective on the Christian faith these are books I recommend

  • New Evidence that Demands a Verdict – More info
  • The Christ Files – More info
  • The Reason for God – More info
  • Hugh MacKay’s book referred to: Beyond Belief – More info
  • Another fine Australian journalist and social researcher who has a different conclusion to MacKay is Roy Williams. His book God Actually documents his journey of investigation into the evidence for God – More info

 

‘Wishful Thinking’ – Jenny Brown

 

 

Speaking From Self Rather Than Speaking at Another

SpeakingWhen we want to be truly heard by another it is useful to speak on our own behalf rather than telling another what to think, feel or do. A focus on correcting or directing another is most likely to me met with one of the 3 types of reaction:

  1. Defend,
  2. Attack,
  3. Withdraw.

In contrast being able to clearly say: “This is what I think and this is how I feel about it and therefore this is what I am going to do”; will be most likely to be heard as coming from your inner conviction.

The following excerpt from my book gives some examples of what speaking from self rather than speaking at another might sound like in parenting (you may wish to reflect on how this might apply to other relationship contexts):

Getting clearer about an “I” position; Rather than a “You” focus on the child:

The key principles for holding an “I” position: The parent manages themself, not the child. They don’t try to control what is beyond their own choice to activate. They don’t expect words to achieve much and are willing to action what they say. They don’t crowd a child’s developmental breathing space by pushing or pulling them into behaving as they desire.

Saying to a child that:

  • “You must stop doing that or I will send you to your room”’ might be replaced with:

“I am going to have to go to another room because I can’t concentrate on this task while there’s so much noise.”

  • “If you stop that screaming now I will buy you a treat at the checkout” is replaced with:

“I’m not going to keep shopping with all that fuss. If the screaming keeps up I will go straight home. I’ll come back and do the shopping later instead of going to the park this afternoon.”

  • “I will give you extra pocket money if you put an hour of homework in each night.” Is replaced with:

“I see it as your responsibility to satisfy the schools requirements, and I will not step in at the last minute if you haven’t managed to get things done on time.”

  • If you don’t stop fighting with your brother I’m going to take away your play station.” Is switched to:

“I expect that you two need to learn how to play together co-operatively and I believe you can find a way to do it.   If I come back in 5 minutes and you still haven’t worked it out, I won’t be willing to keep the computers on for the rest of the day.”

  • “How dare you swear at me? You are grounded!” is replaced with:

“I’m not willing to be generous when I experience so much disrespect.   I am pulling out from giving you that lift to your friend’s house today.”

  • “Ok, I can see from you blank look you aren’t getting far with that homework and its due tomorrow, let me help you out.” Is switched to:
  • “I’m hearing your complaints about this assignment. I’m willing to let you talk it through with me when I’ve finished my task; but I’m not willing to do any of the work for you.”
  • “Will you stop that whinging right now or I’ll stop all our visits to the park this week.” is replaced with:

No reaction from the parent who continues to go about their own business.

  • “Great job! That’s the best drawing of a tree I’ve ever seen. You could be a great artist one day” Is switched to:

“I’m really interested in what you’ve created; I’d love to hear about your drawing.”

 There is no magic in using the words of the “I” position. The impact is not so much in the language but in the parent’s inner conviction and their perseverance to continue to demonstrate this in action. The child senses the difference of the parent’s inner conviction and, after a time of testing, begins to manage them self better. It takes some dedicated time to think things through for yourself to know what your limits are and how you will live by them. Be prepared for your child to test out whether you really mean what you are saying you’re willing and not willing to do. After a time of testing your resolve, they will come to appreciate that they are dealing with an adult who is not having a knee jerk reaction but is clear and trustworthy.

‘Speaking From Self Rather Than Speaking at Another’ – Jenny Brown

Resilience: all about relationships

relationships crowd“Are more of my energies going into reading and trying to manage relationships than going into my responsibilities?”

The topic of resilience has been getting lots of attention over the past years. It seems that many have realised that it is more helpful to aim for improved resilience than increased happiness. The core of resilience is seen in how well one deals with life’s setbacks. Think about it for a moment: What will be more useful in equipping a person for life’s daily challenges? Will it be striving for positive feelings? or will it be nurturing the capacity to bounce back after disappointments?

In the day to day efforts to be more responsible in relationships I thought that it might be useful to consider resilience in the context of our relationship sensitivities.

Definitions of the concept of resilience abound! I think it’s helpful to think of it as: The capacity to stay on track with goals and tasks in the midst of challenging environments. The majority of approaches to promoting resilience focus on the individual. They describe how a person can mobilize certain mindsets that allow them to see failure as opportunities rather than as a personal condemnation. This individual cognitive reframing and techniques for self-soothing can certainly be helpful in learning to not be crushed by disappointments; however they leave out the importance of relationship dynamics to our resilience. It’s easy to see external events like loss of job or an illness as the greatest threat to resilience but it is important not to underestimate the way that relationship dynamics can subtly drain a person’s capacity to manage life effectively. A useful question to ask is: Are more of my energies going into reading and trying to manage relationships than going into my responsibilities?

I recently spoke to a woman I will call Leanne, who was increasingly stressed at her workplace. She had taken on a job in a community organisation and was looking forward to making a real contribution. After just 6 month in the job however, she was losing the ability to focus on her work tasks because all of her energy was consumed by trying to work out the relationship dynamics. She sensed that one colleague didn’t value her and had started to seek reassurance from others at the office.  Her boss had initially been available and supportive but she was now sensing a withdrawal of his involvement. She began imagining that he doubted her capabilities and that her colleague might even be bad mouthing her behind her back. Leanne had gone from an enthusiastic confident worker to an anxious and self-doubting person within a short time.

As with so many of us, Leanne’s sensitivities to relationships were a huge part of her lowered resilience. She was able to be productive when she felt valued and validated but any sense of disapproval and loss of attention would derail her from functioning well. All of us have emerged from our families with varying degrees of sensitivity to relationship undercurrents. The most common sensitivities are to approval, expectations, attention and distress in others. Which of these are most likely to destabilize you in your relationship contexts? What perceptions of others are most likely to distract you from managing life’s tasks? Is it seeing another upset and feeling that somehow you are responsible? Is it when you lose a perceived sense of importance or a shift from getting attention?

* this blog appeared in the Family Systems Institute blog July 2014

Here is a summary list of the common relationship patterns (drawn from family systems theory) that can impair people’s resilience.  Each of these patterns deserves a blog all its own but a brief checklist might open up more ways of understanding how relationship context affects us all. See if you can recognise any of these going on in your life at the moment:

  • Through too much togetherness: When people invest in needing to be close and connected all the time it is hard to get on with life’s responsibilities. Sensitivities to being connected, through approval and validation, start to take over all other important tasks.
  • Through too much distance: When people use distance to deal with tensions with others it increases the awkwardness in relationships. Negative distance and avoidance skews people towards blame and superiority. This distracts people from their own responsibilities as well as getting in the way of sharing resources and good team work.
  • Through over functioning for others: When people start to be overly helpful in telling others how to think and behave it can get in the way of them solving their own problems and can promote dependency and reduced competency.
  • Through being part of triangles: When people experience tension and distress in one relationship it is all too easy to find a 3rd party to vent to about this. Venting, complaining and gossiping to others about an absent party can seem to reduce our angst and worries, by having someone align with our point of view. The initial problem is prevented from being addressed in the relationship it belongs in. Detouring relationship tension also reduces resilience as we don’t get good practice at expressing differences and working them out person to person.

Leanne was able to see how her dependence on others being warm and attentive towards her was threatening her capacity to manage in her job. As an individual she had all the competencies necessary to do her work well but in relationships she could so easily lose her sense of capacity and become consumed by feeling left out. It was helpful for her to consider how this developed in her relationships in her original family. She realised that it would not be an easy pattern to adjust but that she could re- build some resilience by taking the focus of trying to get steadiness through relationships and instead get back on track with performing her job duties well. She could stay in friendly contact with her colleagues without getting caught up in figuring out what they thought of her.

We all inherit different degrees of relational and emotional resilience from the families we grow up in. there are many variables that go into this complex process that help make sense of the different capacities family members and people from different families have to cope with the fortunes and misfortunes of life. Bowen theory provides a way to grapple with this and to research in our own lives the ways that we interact within our relationship environment and its impact on our moments of apparent strength and episodes of greatest vulnerability.

For reflection:

Can I recognise any of these going on in my life at the moment?

  • Too much togetherness: Sensitivities to being connected, through approval and validation, start to take over all other important tasks.
  • Too much distance: skews people towards blame and superiority.
  • Over functioning for others: can get in the way of others solving their own problems
  • Being part of triangles: Venting, complaining and gossiping to others about an absent party -we don’t get good practice at expressing differences and working them out person to person.

Some Bowen theory quotes on resilience in the context of relationships

From Dr Michael Kerr:

Instability in important relationships threatens people in two fundamental ways: (1) it jeopardizes the security of attachments on which their well being depends, and (2) it overloads their ability to cope with adverse social stimuli. Given the impact of unstable relationships, it is not surprising that human beings have evolved finely tuned sensitivities to social cues that alert them to threats to important relationships. We watch others for signs of attention and approval, we assess their expectations and whether we are meeting them, and we sense their distress.

The ability to observe relationship processes and one’s part in them more factually is referred to as emotional objectivity. It is a necessary step toward being able to be present in an anxious family without one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions being governed by the powerful relationship currents. If one person can get more objective about how family interactions contribute to the difficulties and change his part in those interactions, it calms the system and opens up new options for problem solving. Paradoxically, being more of an individual in a system promotes closeness and cooperation.

Ref : Why Do Siblings Often Turn Out Very Differently? Chapter in Human Development in the Twenty-First Century: Visionary Ideas from Systems Scientists Editors: Alan Fogel, Barbara J. King, and Stuart Shanker Cambridge University Press – 2008. 206-215. Michael E. Kerr

‘Resilience: all about relationships’ – Jenny Brown

 

Once a Parent Always a Parent

parent generations [1166589]I have come to see that balance of connection and respecting autonomy remains  important whatever life stage the relationship is going through.

The intensive days of parenting are well and truly behind me. I recall them well. So much activity and so much constant change in a child’s life! -Adjusting to changing teachers, friends, subjects, sports, hobbies, technology, trends, – alongside their constantly changing bodies, cognitions, emotional expressions and fears. The challenge was always around how much to intervene in the child’s efforts to adapt to change and how much to step back and allow them to find their own way. Now that my children are well into adulthood my role is indeed very different, and my responsibilities substantially less. Given this, I kind of expected that I would have transitioned out of my parenting role taking up much energy, yet surprisingly I find that my grown children and their goings on are still very much in my thoughts. I have come to see that the parenting dilemma, around when to get involved and when to step back, remains a constant through all stages of life.

Just this last month I realised that I hadn’t had the usual catch ups with one of my daughters. I was wondering how she was going with a number of changes in her life including her work situation and paused to consider: what was the appropriate amount of contact for me to have with her? I always want my daughters to know of my interest in their lives but I don’t want to convey intrusiveness or worry. This is the very same dilemma for a parent of a younger child: How do I stay an interested support for my child while at the same time promoting their independence? Of course children’s developmental capacity for independence is very different in the younger years. In the initial stages of my children launching as adults I knew how important it was to step back and not impede their growth in responsibility and independent functioning. I think sometimes I’ve tended to go too much in this stepping back direction and not appreciated the value of regular contact. In my clinical practice I saw so much of over involved parents and dependent young people which primed me to focus on the independence side of the relationship balance. This meant that I sometimes avoided asking about aspects of my children’s lives that I thought might encroach on their adult launching. I have come to see that balance of connection and respecting autonomy remains important whatever life stage the relationship is going through.

As I reflect on the appropriate contact to have with an adult child I remind myself of my goal to be a loving, interested presence in their life and to also convey respect for their autonomy in making their way in life. It’s less about how much contact –although that question is worth asking – and more about the tone of the contact. I try to think more about my relationship with the child than getting caught up in thinking about their life issues. This might sound a bit uncaring. However when I think about myself in the relationship, instead of just thinking about the other person, I’m reminded of the effect I can have on them and how I want to address this. If my focus is all about them, it’s all too easy to fall into directing the proceedings of their life – which results in either anxious dependence or anxious distancing from the child. Being a calm loving presence can be easy when we know that our child’s life is going smoothly, with few changes making demands on them. It gets much harder to keep a relationship balance at times of perceiving stress and challenge in a child’s life. I make every effort to keep my anxieties to myself since my children and every other person in my life have enough stress of their own. I have learned that I can’t easily hide my worry from my children, it has a way of getting through and therefore I need to responsibly work out my worries away from relating to my children.

As I consider whether or not to make contact with one of my children I consider firstly the practicalities: Is there good quality, non-distractable time for me to make contact? Is it likely to be convenient for them? Then I consider the relationship: Am I calling out of interest and support rather than out of worry? Am I as open to sharing news of my life as I am hearing their news? Am I clear that I want to understand how they’re thinking about life’s challenges before jumping in with my thinking? The other area I keep in mind is not to parent on behalf of my husband. This means that I don’t convey too much news with him from my catch ups with our daughters. We discuss our mutual thoughts about our children and work to stay independently connected. (I admit this is an ongoing challenge to keep in balance)

So even when children have flown the coop and care taking is no longer an active part of the parent role, the work of being a supportive parent continues. Indeed I agree with the adage: “Once a parent always a parent.” There is always occasion for stepping in a bit more and for knowing when to step out of the way. My effort is to convey genuine love and interest without pushing any of my anxiety into the mix. Seeing the back and forth of the relationship rather than just focussing on the child helps enormously in not going too far in an unhelpful direction.

Questions for reflection

  • What do I see as the bigger picture goal as a parent? How much of my relating promotes responsible independence for each of my children (whatever their age)?
  • How do I manage my worry about my children? Does it get sprayed into the relationship unhelpfully?
  • What is the difference between thinking about myself in relationship with my child, rather than just thinking about my child? Which focus is most helpful for my child’s growth in appropriate independence?
  • In what ways did my own parents relate in ways that assisted me to be a responsible member of society? What are ways I can address any gaps in this as an adult?

Relevant M Bowen Quotes on parenting (from family Therapy in Clinical practice)

The motivated parent must carefully define his /her responsibility for self in his/her family, the operating rules and principles within the area of his/her responsibility, and what he/she will and will not do in relation to those who go beyond those rules.

The important principle is that the parent calmly defines self and rules and consequences, communicates them when they are sure of them and is prepared to stand on the consequences of broken rules if need be. P235

The parental problem was transmitted to the child through making a project out of the child…… parents who could make a project out of themselves was a turning point in both the theory and practice of family psychotherapy. P96

The anxious parental effort goes into sympathetic, solicitous, overprotective energy, which is directed more by the mother’s (parents) anxiety than the reality needs of the child. It establishes a pattern of infantilising the child who gradually becomes more impaired and more demanding. P381

“Once a parent always a parent” – Jenny Brown

 

Working on a Marriage not an Event

145276763151268Towards the end of last year I celebrated my 35th wedding anniversary and was able to mark it with a weekend getaway with my husband. It was a delightful, romantic respite from the end of year pressures. I was prompted to reflect on events that mark important relationship milestones or transitions. We can invest a lot in the experience of the event itself and loose the meaning of what the event is marking.

I recall a comment made about an upcoming wedding in my broader family – the soon to be groom wisely stated that for him this is all about a marriage and not all about a wedding. The wedding as an event and can be injected with disproportionate amounts of expectation for perfection that can leave a couple and family completely exhausted and somewhat flat afterwards- along with the depletion of their bank accounts (or parents bank accounts). In contrast to a focus on the event – a marriage is about a promise and a long haul commitment. It is not just about 2 individuals fuelling romantic expectations and creating a series of such experiences. It is about a transition of generational family relationships that restructures the broader family system. A marriage marks the beginning of another generational level.

For my anniversary break away I was certainly up for relishing the event. More than this however, my focus was on recognising the priority I place on my marriage and the mutual ongoing commitment that is involved through the many phases of life. The time away did boost emotions of joyful affection but more importantly it was an opportunity to reflect on the principles behind our original commitment and the lessons learned along the way.

There are many predictable deterrents to prioritising and working out a commitment promise. Marriage certainly exposes one’s selfishness. It also exposes ways of avoiding feelings of anxious emotions. Let me describe the typical ways avoidance of emotional discomfort plays out in marriages:

Rather than tolerate the discomfort of expressing differences of opinion in an open respectful way it is often just easier to avoid and distance into other activities; or ‘band aid’  anxiety through one way conflict. When emotions get stirred because of the inevitable absence of affirmation and attention from the other it is easy to impatiently pursue the other to steady ourselves rather than work on being less dependent on the other for self-esteem. If our spouse doesn’t respond as we’d like to our pursuits we easily become critical of them rather than clarifying what is going on for ourselves. Predictably this leads to complaining to third parties about our spouse being inattentive or unreasonable. Our anxieties lower as soon as we hear a third party support our point of view (Triangles).It is also common for one spouse to allow the other to solve their problems for them. Both the problem solving ‘expert’ and the one who gives way to the other’s ‘expertness’, have lowered tension through this adjustment.

And then come children!  It is predicable that a couple (to varying degrees) will substitute their effort to know each other with the detour of focussing on their children. Children need our attention but they can too easily provide a sneaky justification for neglecting the adult partnership. If there are not children, the detour of work, hobbies and pets can fill the breach.  Rather than work on being open about one’s challenges, hopes and dreams with the other it is just more comfortable to talk about the child’s latest milestone or perceived vulnerability. Commonly, a husband senses that his wife is less anxious for his attention when children come. As she is steadied and strengthened by caring for a dependent child she looks less to her husband when she’s unsettled. The husband is typically relieved that his wife is less critically attuned to whether he is measuring up and willingly participates in the distance that fosters more ‘mother to child’ focus. He may have opinions about child rearing or fostering their connection but avoid expressing them for fear of his wife’s critical response. The mother characteristically calls on her husband to help when parenting is overwhelming but as soon as he starts doing things differently with the child she is critical of him and is glad for him to resume his distance. The husband may just passively go along with his wife’s focus on the children to keep harmony or he may be passively critical and parent in a polarised manner. These anxious sensitivities and patterns to manage them in our marriages happen outside a couple’s awareness. (the opposite gender patterns may sometimes be present)

I think that every marriage partnership, and marriages with children, goes through varying degrees of at least a few of these patterns. It has certainly been the case in my own marriage and mostly I was oblivious to it. One such time was when my children left home in their 20s. It took me by surprise to watch how I became increasingly irritable with my husband. This revealed to me how much I had been stabilized by the presence of my children and their activities. It also challenged me to see where I had been neglecting to foster genuine connection with my husband. The past years have required renewed effort to know and be known to my husband in a deeper way. To address my part in immature management of discomfort.  My original promise over 30 years ago underscores this imperative.

I often hear, in my clinical practice, a spouse declare that they have no motivation left to prioritise their partner. The years have allowed for so much distance and detouring that they find it hard to feel affection and positive regard for the other. I endeavour to assist them to see how they have co-created this void and to envisage the possibility of playing a part in cultivating a fond acceptance of each other that enables them to grow old together. For myself, at the times I have struggled for motivation to be kind and in real contact with my husband, I recall the grace I have received in my life. Grace reminds me that love is a commitment. It is not based on another measuring up. This commitment was marked at a joyous event 35 years ago but it is not dependent on a series of happy events. It is sustained by an effort towards humility, confronting selfishness, immaturity and learning to stay truly connected in the face of tensions rather than take the easier detours that are on offer.

* The patterns described are observable in all long term committed relationship to varying degrees.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How much do I look to my spouse/important others to bolster my happiness? Is the state of my relationship measured by good times or an inner commitment to the good of each other?
  • How do I mark an anniversary? Is my focus on creating an experience or on affirming the achievement of sticking at promises made?
  • Which patterns have I been part of that contribute to distance and detours in my marriage? =

A focus on getting needs met through the other? Distancing (physically and/or emotionally) when feeling insecure? Snippy conflict, which is emotional venting rather than working through things? Detouring my discontents to third parties? Becoming the expert on how the other should manage life or allowing the other to do this for me? Subtly allowing children to be the main topic of conversations? Allowing the experience of parenting a dependent child to be a substitute for staying open with my spouse? Staying silent to avoid the discomfort of the other’s criticism?

Relevant quotes from Bowen theory

These quotes referring to patterns in marriage are from Dr M Kerr’s book: Family Evaluation 1988.

It is predicable that [anxious immaturity] will be bound in one or more of three patterns of emotional functioning: conflict between the mates, disproportionate adaptation by one mate to preserve harmony, or focus of parental anxiety on a child. P225

People are willing to be “individuals” only to the extent that the relationship system approves and permits it. Giving up some togetherness (fusion) does not mean giving up emotional closeness. It means that one’s functioning becomes less dependent on the support and acceptance of others. P 107

People select mates who are at the same level of differentiation of self. Each person has the same amount of need for emotional reinforcement from the relationship…..Both have the same amount of emotional separation (differentiation) from their respective families of origin, an amount that parallels the amount of emotional separation (differentiation) that exists in the marital relationship. P171

People are keenly responsive (not necessarily conscious) or sensitive to one another’s emotional states and make automatic adjustments in response to the information received….The emergence of a symptom in the other can, in turn, reduce the anxiety of the first person as he/she begins to minister to the now symptomatic one. This alleviation of anxiety in the first person can also have a calming effect on the symptomatic one; it is easier to be symptomatic [needy] than it is to tolerate one’s internal reactions to another’s distress. P 129

People do not have trouble getting on because of issues (such as children, money, sex)…These issues tend to bring out the emotional immaturity of people and it is that immaturity, not the issues, that creates the conflict. P 188

‘Working on a marriage not an event’ – Jenny Brown

Families Facing Death

Hornsby_Hospital_Main_Entrance-existingfacility

Avoidance in the face of a family death

Without clear principles for relating to others in the face of a painful loss I would be prone to operate out of my deep family programming – that is to emotionally avoid the gravity of pain.

‘Chief among all taboo subjects is death. A high percentage of people die alone, locked into their own thoughts which they cannot communicate to others.’

—Murray Bowen MD

On a recent work assignment I visited the grounds of the hospital where my dear mother died of breast cancer, aged 54, November 1980. The hospital has changed drastically, with large modern buildings dwarfing the original 1930 dark brick edifices. I paused in front of one of those old buildings, now used for pathology. It seems unsettlingly familiar. I recall entering such a building to visit Mum in her last week of life. While heavily dosed with morphine she managed to gesture an acknowledgement of my presence. I recall buying her a chocolate paddle pop to give her some kind of sensate comfort. She was only just able to muster strength to respond and take a few licks. Some 10 years earlier my parents had done the same for me when I was in hospital after the removal of my tonsils and adenoids – Oh how the caretaking tables had turned at this moment! The Sunday night before Mum died I felt compelled to visit her quite late in the evening after visiting hours. I discovered she had been moved from her hospital bed onto a trolley and into some kind of windowless storage room. It was as if her personhood had already been set aside and the nursing staff were filing her way for the next day’s tasks of dealing with a dead body.

It’s now more than 3 decades on and these confusing and troubling memories have become somewhat hazy. The whole episode of her dying is certainly blurred by our family’s coping style at the time. The modes operandi was to carry on with life and thereby avoid the realities of our loved one’s rapid decline. In a way each of us in the family did what the hospital staff had done in the face of her death – we shifted the painful reality into a closed off windowless room. How mournful I am to think that she died alone in that cupboard of a room some 5 hours after my final visit. My father and siblings struggled to know any better way to manage; especially given our mother had been the family rock who conveyed stability to us all when things were tough.

The following excerpt from my book, “Growing Yourself Up” tells some more of the story of my own family of origin’s reaction to death. It illustrates an example of a family system closing up in the face of loss.

“The most painful time in my life to date was the death of my mother to breast cancer when she was just 54 years old. Her untimely loss was heart wrenching, but alongside her painful death there is another level of sadness for me. This is the layer of how her death was handled in our family. I remember being in denial about her imminent death right up to her last ambulance ride to hospital. None of our family talked about her dying and how we were going to support each other.

My mother kept up a courageous presence and spoke of future plans. My father went on a planned trip to a sporting event with his male friends a fortnight before she died. All of us were using distance to cope with what was too painful to confront. We just shut out the facts and the aching emotions in order to keep moving forward. Well-meaning friends made efforts to talk with me about my mother’s deteriorating condition and the prospect of her death being near but I didn’t want any part in such pessimistic conversation.

Shutting down feelings in order to move on

When I look at the generations of my mother’s and father’s families, I can see that this stoic way of dealing with death goes back a long way. Children were not included in funerals, adults did not show their distress in front of others and normal routines were resumed as soon as the funeral was over. This pattern of moving on without dwelling on loss has helped the family to survive in many ways. When my dad’s father died suddenly at the age of 50 of a heart attack, it was vital for my father to quickly take the reins of the family business to prevent financial ruin for himself and his mother. Having just come through the Great Depression, financial survival took precedence over dealing with personal pain. Similarly, when my mother’s eldest brother died as a young child, the whole society was rebuilding from the loss of a generation of young men in World War I. People had to find a way to move on without falling into despair or having their livelihoods collapse.

Moving so far in the direction of shutting off feelings to survive has had its cost. I regret that I could never talk to my mother about what she was going through. It would have helped to have been able to cry together. The family could have been a supportive resource if individuals were able to balance their efforts to keep going with time to talk with each other about our struggles in the midst of grief. Thirty years later I can still awaken the deep hurt and helplessness that I felt after Mum’s death, hearing my father crying in his bed at night and calling out my mother’s name. I knew how to support him through busily helping with tasks but I had no idea how to talk to him about our shared loss. The shockwave of my mother’s death and the limits to being able to grieve openly were evident in my family for a long while. Some family members went through some significant emotional symptoms and there are still traces of anger and blame from this time.”

I sometimes think about my principles for confronting a family death. Without clear principles for relating to others in the face of a painful loss I would be prone to operate out of my deep family programming – that is to emotionally avoid the gravity of pain. When facing my own diagnosis of breast cancer 5 years ago I immediately pondered how I would handle my own death if I were to receive news of a grave prognosis. I considered how much I would want to speak openly to all family members about what I was going through – what I was feeling, thinking, praying, fearing, hoping in; and how I would want to hear the same from my loved ones. I remember praying with the psalmist: “teach me to number my days”, to not take life for granted, to appreciate that death is an inevitable part of every family’s experience. I reflect on my older sister’s vital profession as a palliative care nurse and on ways the health care system has redressed lack of sensitivity for dying people and their families. Compassionate health care and sustained person hood to all dying people is such a gift in assisting family members to be in genuine contact with their dying loved one. As with all areas of strengthening relationship, the effort is to improve toleration of pronounced discomfort in order to sustain open connection with those who mean the most to us.

Questions for reflection:

  • What do I remember about important deaths in my family?
  • How open were family members about the facts of the illness; and about their experience of the sadness and impending loss?
  • What were the indicators of ways family member shut off from the reality of death? What has been the effect over time of this way of coping?
  • What guiding principles have I developed for relating to a dying family member and for how I would want to relate if I were facing my own death?

Bowen Family System theory and Death and Loss

Reading Bowen’s reflections on how families can best open up their system in the face of death gives food for thought on alternate ways that this generation of my family can strive to manage grief; remembering of course that this is not a simple formula but requires an effort in all of life to manage strong emotions while staying in contact with important others.

*The following Bowen Theory ideas are from an excerpt of a book chapter: Bowen Family Systems and Grief: Thinking about variation in the grief response and recovery:

“Bowen wrote about the role of rituals of grieving, such as funerals, in assisting a grieving family. He stressed the importance of making as much contact with as many people as possible as opposed to the anxious drive to shut down and avoid people as a coping mechanism:

The goal is to bring the entire family system into the closest possible contact with death in the presence of the total friendship system and to lend a helping hand to the anxious people who would rather run than face a funeral.

Bowen thought that funerals could provide an opportunity to resolve emotional attachments and for people to define themselves more openly to other family members by being present and accounted for; To get alongside other family members, even those who may have become estranged, is an opportunity for growth. It enables people to be clear that they choose to be present with others even when emotions are charged, that they have a part to play in the family and that they are not willing to allow themselves to avoid difficult times. In contrast to taking up the opportunity to be in contact with family members after a death, any patterns of relating that serve to deny death can prolong unresolved attachment issues for family members well into the future.

The following is a summary of Bowen’s suggestion using a family systems lens for managing a death of a family member:

  • Visit dying family members as often as possible
  • Include children (children aren’t hurt by exposure to death as much as they are hurt by the anxiety of survivors.)
  • Involve as many extended family members as possible
  • Open caskets in order to provide as much contact between the dead and living as possible.
  • Prompt obituary notices and communication with relatives and friends.

References:

Bowen M., “Family Reaction to Death” in, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice (New York: Aronson, 1978)

Brown, J. “Old Age & Facing Death: denial or honest preparation” in Growing Yourself Up: How to bring your best to all of life’s relationships (Wollombi: Exisle, 2012)

Brown, J. “Bowen Family Systems and Grief. Thinking about variation in the grief response and recovery.” published in “Loss and recovery responding to grief with the compassion of Christ and the skills of all Gods people.” Ed. Wesley M, Mosaic press, 2012.

* Part of this blog appeared in another blog by this author in 2014:

* Bowen Family Systems and Grief

Thinking about variation in the grief response and recovery

Jenny Brown: This article (in this excerpt form) is published as a chapter in “Loss and recovery: responding to grief with the compassion of Christ and the skills of all Gods people.” Ed. Wesley M, Mosaic press, 2012.

‘Families Facing Death’ – Jenny Brown

 

Distance, a well-trodden path

DistancingFunny how these experiences in relationships don’t seem to go away! My immature patterns run deep and hence regular practice opportunities abound.  I continue to have to more work to do on remaining in real contact with others who trigger negative reactions. This is an important path to responsibility.

I hear that Dr Murray Bowen has reportedly said that there are 3 “C” words that are key to working on differentiation (maturing) of self. (At the moment I share this with others, I notice people hastily get their pens ready to write down the secret formula). Apparently Bowen’s 3 “C’s” were:

Contact, Contact & Contact.

I understand this to point to the value of remaining in connection when things are challenging in a relationship. This effort to reverse the automatic tendency to use distance to relieve tension gives any of us a good growing up workout.

In a recent conversation I listened to the rewards of such an effort to keep non anxious contact in a difficult relationship.  A church minister described how he had been practicing staying connected with a congregation member who always seemed to be full of complaints about his leadership. For some years he had followed his automatic tendency was to avoid her whenever possible which had led to others being co-opted into the switchboard of vented grievances. Through studying Bowen theory he had thought more about the value of reversing this anxious pattern by reducing his distancing and working to deliberately connect with the other. He reported that over the past year this effort was reducing his stress levels and increasing his energy for relationships in his church. While the other person continued to be a voice of discontent, this leader was able to reduce his reactions to them by remaining friendly and interested in their goings on.

This got me reflecting on my own life – a benefit of a job where I get to hear other people’s “growing up” efforts.  Are there any people I’m keeping a distance from?  What’s the anxiety that I’m trying to relieve through distance?  These questions help me see that whenever I think negatively or judgementally of another about how they are operating I tend to move away from that person. I don’t go warmly towards them in the normal conversations and interactions that would happen in the community we’re a part of. This can happen in my nuclear and extended family, in my workplace, friendship group and in my church. I thought about a person in my community who I’ve been thinking is handling some things poorly. My silent emotional stance towards them is critical. I am being polite when our paths cross on (kind of a pretend friendliness that never fools anyone) but certainly not in open contact with this person.  I’m sure they would be picking up a confusing tension that can lead to walking on eggshells – which of course can compound the twitchiness between us. So what’s the more mature path for me?

  • Firstly I need to figure out what is my responsibility in addressing the things I am critical about? Do they belong with me or have I picked up on someone else’s issues? Perhaps I’m triangling (expressing my criticism to others)?
  • Is there a topic of conversation that would be constructive to have but I’m avoiding because it’s too uncomfortable? Have I worked at enough contact to build a thoughtful platform for such a conversation?
  • What are my principles for communicating concerns to another?

These questions about myself help me focus on reversing my pattern of avoidance and being genuinely in contact with this person; to view them with respect for the challenges they’re up against; including dealing with critical distancer’s like me; to find a way to speak my concerns in a manner that’s not anxious or pushing my perspective; to be open and interested in how they see the situation- to keep proportion about what concerns me rather than inflame or minimise it; to seek the good of us both and our shared community, rather than to contribute to unnecessary escalation of tension.

I can recognise that this is not a new growing up opportunity for me but one I’ve been up against in family and work.  Funny how these experiences in relationships don’t seem to easily go away! My immature patterns run deep and hence regular practice opportunities abound.  I continue to have to more work to do on remaining in real contact with others who trigger negative reactions. This is an important path to responsibility.

Questions for reflection:

  • Are there any people I’m keeping a distance from?
  • What’s the anxiety that I’m trying to relieve through distance?
  • What effort could I make to keep non intense contact with this person?
  • How would this effort teach me more about myself in the face of a tension in a relationship?
  • What was each of my parent’s patterns in relationships that were challenging? Did they keep contact? Did they avoid? Did they triangle in others by venting to third parties? How were these patterns similar to how they related to their parents?

Relevant Bowen Theory Quotes:

Bowen about himself in his family: “I was using emotional distance and silence to create an illusion of non-responsiveness. Distance and silence do not fool a relationship system.” FTCP p 491

The human “has long used physical distance as a way of getting away from inner emotional pressures.” p441

Significant “social relationships….are duplicates of their relationships to their parental families. When they encounter stress, and anxiety increases, they cut-off from the social relationship and seek another.” P539

Michael Kerr quotes from: One families Story

“The concept of emotional cutoff describes people managing their unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other family members by reducing or totally cutting off emotional contact with them…….Relationships may look “better” if people cutoff to manage them, but the problems are dormant and not resolved.”

“A person with a well-differentiated “self” recognizes his realistic dependence on others, but he can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality.”

Kerr, Michael E. “One Family’s Story: A Primer on Bowen Theory.” The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. 2000. http://www.thebowencenter.org.

 

‘Distance, a well-trodden path’ – Jenny Brown

When an Acute Traumatic Event is Difficult to Shake Off

Anxiety, getting it into perspective: The impact of the Germanwings crash – When hearing about a traumatic event is difficult to shake off.

plane in airIt’s nearly 2 weeks since the murder- suicide that brought down the Germanwings flight over the Alps. News bulletins continue to report on new findings and the grim reality of the terror and helplessness that would have gripped the crew and passengers as their plane accelerated towards the mountainside. The retrieval and revelation of the contents of the 2 black box recorders and reports of a phone video of the last moments for the 150 people are chilling to hear.

What is the vicarious traumatic effect of such a repeated story of horror? I’ve been aware of how much this story has raised my own anxiety. While the horror of the Kenyan university murders is similarly, if not more complex in its horror, there is something more familiar in the 1st world of a plane going down.  This is particularly the case when victims are from our own country- it brings it all closer to home.  I’m due to fly overseas this Saturday and am aware of carrying more apprehension than usual about this. I think it will be harder to detach from the inevitable turbulence of my plane flying across the Pacific compared to the last time I was on a long haul flight. Mind you, I’ve always had a degree of tension about the experience of flight, where the sense of lack of control and the vulnerability of being at such elevations is not comfortable. I over-ride this with a reminder of the frequency and statistical safety of air travel. Added to this logic is the imperative of travel to faraway places to see loved ones; and to attend conferences or enjoy a special vacation. When confronting an anxiety about dying (a universal human fear), I also remind myself of my spiritual faith bearings and let go of my tight hold on the illusion of control of my own life. But this latest plane crash has unsettled my usual strategies. It challenges me to work through my fears in a healthy, proportionate way.

As I have thought this through I’ve noticed that not everyone is impacted the way I have been by this traumatic plane crash. For example, my husband, who is flying with me, is easily able to compartmentalise the news story from his own life.  He has different triggers for anxiety.

This reflection reminds me that there are 2 types of anxiety (in individuals and relationship systems):

  1. Acute Anxiety: The anxiety of facing a real threat, where our brains trigger the chemical associated with fear (glutamate) that enables us to take swift automatic actions. Short periods of stress response activation are helpful for tackling problems and changes circumstances. This can be thought of as a “WHAT NOW?” anxiety.
  2. Chronic Anxiety: The anxiety of imagined threatening events that elicit the fear responses in our autonomic nervous system even when not facing a real threat or challenge. This kind of anticipatory anxiety is called CHRONIC ANXIETY. I have come to call it “WHAT IF?” anxiety. It can become a bottomless pit kind of agitation that spreads a sense of danger to many ordinary domains of life.  Many debilitating symptoms can stem from this contagion of anxiety: symptoms of burnout from the effects of an overworked adrenal system and/or symptoms of obsession as one tries to create the illusion of control in one area of life.

The “what if?” chronic anxiety is the kind of response that has been triggered in me by the germanwings crash…it is not happening to me, but has triggered an imagined fear of it happening. When chronic anxiety is evident, I remind myself that a time limited anxiety only belongs in real events that I am facing; not all the possible events that can be faced by humans. I remind myself of the importance of distinguishing between the “WHAT NOW?” and the “WHAT IF?”

Bowen family systems theory makes the important distinction between acute (factual) anxiety and chronic (imagined) anxiety. The degree of imagined or chronic anxiety is linked to the propensity to life difficulties and symptoms. This reminds me of a tape I have watched of Dr Murray Bowen interviewing a troubled family where the parents remained deeply disturbed by the assassination of US president JFK some years after it occurred. Chronic anxiety has a way of attaching to events that happen outside of our own life domain. It means that our stress response is easily triggered by any perceived uncertainty. Our hypothalamus co-opts the pituitary gland, and the adrenal medulla in keeping us in a prolonged state of stress, with our immune system compromised. This kind of anxiety is infectious in relationships and can be picked up by the most vulnerable members of the group or drag down the functioning of an entire group.

Acute, short lived anxiety, as opposed to infectious chronic anxiety, is a useful part of life. As Bowen has written, anxiety itself does not kill anyone. It is an inevitable part of making progress in life by taking on new pathways and working out challenges. This quote from Bowen’s original research is particularly helpful in an ever increasingly anxious world:

Anxiety is inevitable if you solve problems. When anxiety increases, one has to decide whether to give in and retreat or carry on in spite of it. Anxiety does not harm people. It only makes them uncomfortable. It can cause you to shake, or lose sleep, or become confused or develop physical symptoms, but it will not kill you and it will subside. People can even grow and become more mature by having to face and deal with anxiety situations. *[Bowen. OFP: 119].

I reflect on the factors that have gone into igniting my own chronic anxiety at this time. In my family of origin there have been premature deaths over a number of generations that clearly adds to the sensitivity to this tension. Additionally some close friends have lost their son in a motor bike accident late last year. This will have inevitably stirred up some existing chronic anxiety in me. I accept that this is part of the legacy of my family history and patterns of coping, but that I can make some wise choices about how I deal with imagined fears. I ground myself in prayer and handing over my anxieties (Philippians 4:6). I then commit to not investing my thinking energy in any imagined or unhelpful possibilities. I will briefly and firmly remind myself of the statistically proven, increasing safety of air travel, in spite of the disproportionate amount of TV and internet time that gets focussed on the details of crashes that do occur. I will focus on the privilege of air travel when I board my plane this Saturday and of the valuable opportunities it affords me in this increasingly reachable global community I’m part of. Once on my way, I will relish the unique vista of the sun drenched boundless carpet of clouds, while considering the important decisions of the moment: which movies I will catch up on?

Questions for reflection:

  • Can I distinguish the difference between a WHAT NOW anxiety and a WHAT IF anxiety? (a factual challenge Vs. an imagined one)
  • How prevalent was a sense of stress in my family system growing up – what issues triggered the greatest tensions?
  • When I sense tension about a real issue to be tackled, how can I use it as an opportunity to grow, rather than a trigger of regression – into ruminations and avoidance?
  • What principles do I have for responding to the infectious anxiety around me?

 

Relevant quotes from Bowen:

(From Family Therapy in Clinical practice)

“Families in which the parents handle anxiety well, and in which they are able to stay on a predetermined course in spite of anxiety, will turn out better than the families in which the parents are more reactive and shift life courses in response to anxiety.”  P 537

We have “built in mechanisms to deal with short bursts of anxiety….When anxiety increases and remains chronic for a certain period, the organism develops tension, either within itself or in the relationship system, and the tension results in symptoms or dysfunction or sickness. ..anxiety can spread rapidly through the family or through society.” P361-2

*OFP: Origins of Family Psychotherapy, Bowen, edited by Butler, 2013.

‘When an Acute Traumatic Event is Difficult to Shake Off’ – Jenny Brown