Maturity for the single young adult

Growing up through the life cycle – these podcasts are deigned to prompt thinking about one’s own life adjustments as well as reflecting on the experiences of members of the broader family.

NOTE: this podcast is longer than my previous posts. This wasn’t intended as I started to record – however I realised that the issues to navigate for young adults (and their parents) are quite weighty and deserved a bit more time.

To listen on iTunes, click HERE.

Episode 3 – Maturity for the single young adult

Our family of origin – each sibling grows up in a different family

Growing up through the life cycle – these podcasts are deigned to prompt thinking about one’s own life adjustments as well as reflecting on the experiences of members of the broader family.

To listen on iTunes, click HERE.

Episode 1: Our family of origin – each sibling grows up in a different family

A Parenting Crisis: My child has accessed violent pornographic stories online!! – From panic to thoughtful realignment of the parenting role.

A panicked mother discovers that her 12 year old daughter is writing stories with some sexually graphic and violent descriptions. How could this be? Has she been abused in some way? How do I approach her about it? The tumult of questions in response to this parenting shock point is seemingly endless for this parent. Understandably so!

After some distressed mother- daughter discussions it emerged that various internet sites had targeted her daughter through her social media use. Over a period of months the invitations to engage in written responses to the narratives and pictures had become increasingly graphic. It left this mother feeling naïve and ignorant of such targeted, grooming processes that are part of the internet age our children are swimming in.

What do you think is an appropriate response for this parent? (Aside from legal reporting of activity online that is unsafe for children.)

When I chatted with this mother I suggested that she start by clarifying what her response would be if her daughter wanted to hang out with a group of strangers. This was to reduce the extent of panic that was crowding her clear thinking. She was able to be clear about her principles in response to this hypothetical –

*No mixing with people that the parents had not met and gotten to know, *No socialising without adequate adult supervision, *Being interested in who these people were and how it was that their paths had crossed, *displaying curiosity, and caring principles rather than panicked confusion.

From this more thoughtful base it was possible for this mother to apply the same concerned curiosity to understanding the back story of her daughter’s exposure to these harmful online sites. She reported that while her daughter was initially distraught and defensive, her parental concerned but calm investigation cut through the reactivity. She wasn’t interrogating her daughter but acknowledging that she had not been the kind of guiding parent that she wanted to be for her children – to be a loving boundary setter and guide in the rapidly expanding realm of online relating.

When in a panicked state at the initial discovery, this mother’s entire energy went into imagining the awful possibilities for her child and think about devastating effects on her child’s development: “My child has been disturbed for life!!!” Her focus was anxiously focused on rescuing her daughter and getting all the external fixing help she could muster. This started with asking the school counsellor for a referral to have her child assessed (which is how we ended up talking together – I never saw her daughter).

When she recovered some thinking space she could regain a focus on her parenting principles. She could acknowledge her part in not being adequately in the loop about her daughter’s computer use and ‘virtual’ interactions. If it had been the real world of socialising she knew she would have been better informed about her children’s activities. Rather than beat herself up about this she clarified how she would need to add some extra responsibilities to her parenting job description. She conveyed her loving re-commitment to being a wise supportive parent in a changing world. This is such a different process to anxiously lecturing or ‘therapising’ her daughter. She reached out to her spouse and parenting partner to help her to process her shock and allowed him to talk through his own shocked response. While both had their distinctive reactions to work through they each came to acknowledge that parenting was a learning process that required some regular re- thinking. What did they each want to tweak about their parent leadership in the changing phases of their children’s lives?  They weren’t going to get it right all the time but would be able to recover their wisdom if they didn’t become fearfully focused on their child.

There were encouraging outcomes from this concerning episode for this parent.  She was able to tolerate the period of her daughters distress and angry defensiveness and stay in calm contact. She was able to demonstrate to her daughter that she loved her and was committed to being appropriately informed and protective of her as she was learning to navigate the early stages of adolescence. She was able to share the basis of her concerns about having relationships and sex conveyed in distorted, ugly ways. From this she opened up conversations with her daughter about what she thought was positive social media input and what was ‘rubbish’ input.  Opportunities arose for her to share how she had confronted different kinds of confusing and distorted relationship experiences during her own growing up years. They could think together about different levels of safe and unsafe communications and information.  She was able to work out with her husband some clear guidelines for computer and internet use – regular involvement in online interactions and devices in living rooms not bedrooms.

This mother’s story is such a clear comparison between thoughtful parenting and fear driven parenting in this radically changing technological age. Fear takes parents away from embodying their own role – it focuses anxiously on the child which easily contributes to the child’s distant defensiveness – which in-turn reinforces the parent’s worry.  Fear also drives parents to over-depend on external experts to search for evidence of developmental damage, then in turn to diagnose and treat the child. In contrast, the thoughtful parent focuses on their job description when faced with a child’s challenging episode. They figure out what they want to convey about their commitment to their child’s good and how they are going to action this. They are not swayed by initial reactive protests but persevere towards their guidance goal. A parent who recovers their leadership when facing a challenging revelation about their child’s experience is a parent who can grow through such predicable episodes. In response a child gradually grows more respect for their parent and learns to open up to them in order to access their wise support.

ANNOUNCING NEW MONTHLY PODCAST FROM JENNY BROWN

Growing up through the life cycle – these podcasts are deigned to prompt thinking about one’s own life adjustments as well as reflecting on the experiences of members of the broader family.

Podcast Series Overview:

1: Our family of origin – each sibling grows up in a different family
2: Maturity in leaving home
3: Maturity as a single young adult
4: Maturity in adjusting to marriage
5: Maturity in adjusting to children
6: Maturity in mid life and when facing disappointments
7: Maturity in ageing and adjusting to the empty nest
8: Maturity in facing death

An overview of Bowen family systems theory – a different way of thinking

Given how much my book is about applying Bowen’s theory to understanding the commonalities of the families we all grow up in, it’s timely to use this excerpt (from ch. 3) as a mini blog to provide a crash course in family systems concepts. You will recognise them, described in everyday language, all the way through this book. 

Bowen researched his own family over the generations and came to see similarities in coping patterns with those families with more severe psychiatric symptoms. He noticed that there were two forces at work in relationships that drive predictable patterns of behaviour: these are the togetherness force and the separateness force, which are both essential for individuals in their relationships. The core concepts of Bowen’s theory describe the ways that family members react to the threat of loss of togetherness and explain the variations in how different families and individuals manage life challenges. These core concepts are: triangles, which describe how tension between two people gets detoured to a third party, such as when a wife discusses marital grievances with a friend rather than their husband or when a parent discuss parental grievances with a child rather than their partner; differentiation of self, which describes the extent to which family members can stay in their own skin — maintain their individuality — while relating to each other and still being part of the family group; fusion, the opposite of differentiation of self, where boundaries are lost in the pull for family togetherness; the nuclear family emotional system, which outlines the three ways that one generation of a family can reduce individual relationship discomfort — these are the conflict-and-distance pattern, the over- and under-functioning exchange between spouses, and the anxious detour onto a child. The family projection process explains how insecurities in adults can be managed through shifting the focus to the next generation; the multigenerational transmission process describes how parents’ anxieties are not transmitted equally to each child as each gets varying degrees of a parent’s worry focus; emotional cut-off is a common way that family members use distance to reduce the sense of loss of individuality in relationships; sibling position was seen by Bowen as formative in an individual’s relationship sensitivities; and societal regression process showed how the same anxious patterns in families can be seen in institutions in the broader society. All of these ideas, linked together, help show how every individual is part of a much bigger stage of actors in the same improvised play, building a storyline through their interconnections.

To see things from a systems perspective requires getting out of a ‘cause and effect’ way of thinking to seeing how every person’s impulses are part of a circuit of reactions that flow like electric currents around relationships. It’s as if relationships are a kind of dance, with each person responding intuitively to the dance steps of another. These circuits of emotional and behavioural responses in relationships shape how each individual develops. Hence getting real about ourselves in our original families requires us to get honest about how our emotional responses and behaviours flow onto others and influence how they appear to us. The good news, from a systems way of thinking, is that changing our emotional reactions and behaviours eventually flows onto changing the entire circuit of the system. That is if we can hold onto the principles that drive our change efforts in the face of others’ anxiety. This is how we can make a positive difference over time, not just for ourselves but for everyone we’re connected to.

 

Photo with permission: A Schara

Interventions and Confrontations – REPOST

Interventions and Confrontations – Are they the most helpful ways to respond to severe problems in a person we care for?

Because I view a person’s symptoms as part of their system of relationships I now focus on expressing my own position in the relationship rather than focus on the problems in the other. 

Last week a relative called me to talk through their ideas for an “intervention”. They wanted to challenge a friend to admit to their symptoms and agree to get some professional help. I appreciated the deep care behind this request. I heard about how a long term friend had been exhibiting increasingly severe symptoms that were threatening many aspects of their wellbeing. I was happy to be a sounding board for my relative and to share some of my principles for communicating such important concerns to someone we care about. The term ‘intervention’ usually refers to the effort to gather a group of people together and confront a person about their need for help. It is often used in the case of serious drug and alcohol dependence. Web sites on how to do interventions describe the context:

People with serious addictive behaviours are often in denial that they have a problem. When heart to heart talks and other attempts to help prove ineffective, you can join forces with friends, families and a professional interventionist to confront the person with the truth and a detailed plan of action.

Many years ago I was a participant in such a strategy and experienced a long term fall out in the relationship as the years progressed. In more recent years I have come to a different view of such strategies. Because I view a person’s symptoms as part of their system of relationships I now focus on expressing my own position in the relationship rather than focus on the problems in the other. Here are the key principles – some of which I shared with my relative:

  • The goal is to express to the other that they are important in my life as opposed to challenging how they are living their life.
  • Rather than confront the other with the problems in their life – which evokes intense defensiveness – I want to express my wish to have them as part of my life well into the future.
  • In conveying my care for having them as a living and important part of my life I will share some of the observations I have had that have triggered my concern.
  • I use the language of “I” rather than “You” in describing what I have observed and what fears for their wellbeing have been activated.
  • I describe the effects on me and our relationship and how this is different to the strong loving bond I am committed to as we continue as part of each other’s lives. This is different to describing my view of the effects on their life – positioning self as the expert overseer of another’s life can be heard as patronising and drive a wedge into the relationship.
  • I aim to talk one on one with the person rather than pull a group together to confront them. A group confrontation easily leaves a person feeling ganged up on.
  • I commit to ongoing contact with the person to show that my care for them is more than words. I don’t expect that just a conversation will change anything. I am committed to addressing my part in any unhelpful aspects of the relationship pattern over the long haul. This means I will not resort to distancing.
  • I will be truthful and not accommodating but my effort at honesty will be from my perspective and principles rather than a dogmatic declaration that I am an expert about the other. My effort towards speaking honestly will be grounded in real examples not in my subjective judgements and opinion.
  • I will watch my tendencies to be an expert about others rather than staying mindful of my own immaturities. I will stay clear of treating another person as a ‘diagnosis’ but rather will view them as a fellow human being who can be an important resource in my life.
  • If I were to focus on just a diagnosis in another it is all too easy to hand them over to an expert program as a way of reducing my own sense of distress- and my responsibility to work on myself in relationship with the other.

I appreciate that it isn’t easy to know how to address serious concerns about another’s life course or symptoms. Are there exceptions? I certainly conveyed to my relative that they know their relationship with their friend and will find their own way to deal with it best. Every situation is different and there may be occasions when a more direct intervention is the most caring thing another can do. At certain times it may be most loving to call in an emergency assessment service. Even in such cases I would aim to be transparent about my willingness to do this if I ever thought that my loved one’s safety or those of another were under threat.

My view is that a group or individual confrontation of another is almost never constructive. It sets up a one- up/one- down relationship where the person feeling challenged is evoked into high reactivity rather than being able to listen. They hear judgement rather than heart-felt concern. They can be fixed into the postion of a ‘patient’ in their relationship system. My system’s lens reminds me that people get into vulnerable symptomatic places in life via their position in their relationship/family systems. This means that if I change how I relate in that system I can contribute to a less regressive and anxious field for the most vulnerable person.

Bowen on confrontation in a family system:

ON CONFRONTING FAMILY MEMBERS

‘As an oldest son and physician I had long been the wise expert preaching to the unenlightened, even when it was done in the guise of expressing an opinion or giving advice….During my psychoanalysis there was enough emotional pressure to engage my parents[others] in an angry confrontation…At the time I considered these confrontations to be emotional emancipation. There may have been some short term gain…but the long term result was an intensification of previous patterns.”

Family Therapy in Clinical practice P 484

ON RELATING TO A PERSON IN THE SICK ROLE

‘In those families in which both parents could eventually tone down the sickness theme and relate to the ‘patient’ on a reality level, the ‘patient’ changed. After one family had emerged from their unreality, the ‘patient’ said, “As long as they called me sick and treated me sick, I somehow had to act sick. When they stopped treating me sick, I had a choice of acting sick or acting well.”’

P 86 ‘Interventions and Confrontations’ – Jenny Brown

Adopting a research attitude to your life in your significant relationships: a template to guide you

Dr Murray Bowen wrote, “A goal of this therapy is to help the other make a research project out of life” (Bowen, 1978, p. 179). What do you think of this as a counselling goal? – Not to fix, but to motivate a person’s learning journey about themselves in their family system. Nurturing a posture of curiosity through gathering as many facts about your family challenges and life course as possible is a worthy effort in growing a more aware and resilient self.

The personal research project below has been developed by a teaching psychologist in Washington DC, Dr John Millikin. It appears with his permission in the Appendix of the second edition of my book: Growing Yourself Up. I think it is a helpful template for learning to understand self in the bigger picture of one’s family of origin. It is a very different direction to the conventional mental health approach to focussing on symptoms. My own experience in life and clinical practice is that the effort to gather data about family is much more productive than investing in “fixing” effort directed at an individual or a relationship. Paradoxically the bigger picture approach can actually result in sustainable reduction of symptoms.

Perhaps you might like to begin your own family systems research project using the example below as a springboard. It requires a patient effort over time but may be one of the most growth enhancing projects you will undertake:

Another example of an excellent self -research template is:

Appendix 6

An overview of human development across the lifespan from a Bowen family systems perspective

A learning project for individuals and academic groups. Adapted from curriculum developed by John Millikin, PhD, LMFT, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Department of Human Development.

Cast of family and important people

  • Referring to the attached guideline in Appendix 5, construct your family diagram.
  • List other significant (positive or negative) friends, family friends and professionals such as therapist, lawyers, clergy.
  • Name other important or influential people.

Nodal events (births, deaths, illness, leaving home, marriages, divorces)

  • What were the nodal personal events that happened?
    • How did you respond to them? How did other key family members respond to them?
    • What were other nodal family events that happened?
    • How did you respond to them?
    • How did other key family members respond to them?
    • Describe any change in you and the family as a result of nodal events.
    • What were the family circumstances around the time of your birth? (Answer in the appropriate phase)
    • What was leaving home like for you? How old and under what circumstances? (Answer in the appropriate phase)
    • What was leaving home like for your parents? How old and under what circumstances? (Answer with the question above)

Stressors

  • What were general personal stressors (e.g., money, work, relationships, friends, school, sports)?
  • What were general stressors for others in the family?
  • What were significant stressors in the extended family?
  • Rate the intensity of stress and emotion in the family from 1–10.

Other changes and emotional events

  • Describe any abrupt changes personally and in the family.
  • Were there legal issues?
  • Were there sudden or chronic illnesses?
  • Were there episodes of abusive behavior?
  • If so, what were they?
  • Were there infidelities?
  • Describe any other extreme behaviors or events.

 

The Family Emotional Unit Relationship System

The primary triangle (parents/self)

  • How emotionally close did you feel to each parent? (Answer on a 1–10 scale)
  • How were you involved with each parent? (Also think in terms of conflict, distance, over- and under-functioning/involvement)

How were they involved with each other? (Also think in terms

of conflict, distance, over- and under-functioning/involvement)

»»Who did you take sides with more? (Your common triangle position)

»»Did you help one parent in difficulties with the other? How?

»»Who generally gave you positive attention? How much?

»»Who generally gave you negative attention? How much?

»»Who gave you approval? How much?

»»Who did not provide attention or approval?

»»What was each parent’s involvement like with their own parents (briefly)?

Siblings and sibling position

  • How was your sibling position and functional role in the family different?
  • How did sibling/s relate to you?
  • Were you or any sibling over-focused on? Labeled as a problem?
  • How did this affect your interactions (or perception of your sibling/s)?

General family emotional process (nuclear and extended)

  • Describe major conflicts in the family (blaming, criticism, hostility).
  • Who was involved and what was it about?
  • Describe major distance(ing) in the family.
  • Who was involved and what was it about?
  • Describe major cut-offs in the family.
  • Who was involved and what was it about?
  • Describe major over- and under-functioning in the family (imbalanced taking care of or being taken care of).
  • Who was involved and what was it about?
  • Describe major over- and under-involvement in the family.
  • Who made important decisions?

Together and separate

  • Who was closest to whom in the family?
  • Could you be alone for long periods of time?
  • Could you be together with significant others for long periods of time?
  • How were you responsible for other family members?
  • Did other people get involved in your problems? How?
  • Who would typically bail you out of difficulties? Relationship difficulties?
  • Who were you most dependent on? (How would you scale it from 1–10?)

Feelings, reactivity and sensitivities

  • What were you anxious about?
  • How did you work with it?
  • What were others anxious about?
  • Did anyone worry about you? Who?
  • Who did you worry about?
  • What did you typically get reactive about?
  • What were you sensitive about?
  • What were some of the labels made about you?
  • Who said those?
  • Describe the basic impact of labels.
  • Did any family members think poorly of you?
  • Did any family members not pay enough attention to you?
  • Who got the most attention in the family?
  • Were you able to meet key family members’ expectations?
  • Did you feel you were a disappointment to others?
  • Were others upset with you or you with them? Did you feel responsible for their upset?
  • Who else was generally upset with whom?
  • How did you regulate and work with emotions? Go to someone? Cope by yourself?
  • Describe any other emotionally challenging events or interactions?

Medical, health and addictions

  • List any medical/health issues and major health issues for all family members. Did you have unhealthy habits, addictions?
  • Did any member have unhealthy habits, addictions?
  • Were there developmental issues for you or anyone in your family?
  • Were there any (standard) psychological issues or diagnoses?
  • Who showed more symptoms/disrupted behaviors? What were they?

 

Autonomy, Effectiveness, Principles and Defining a Self

Autonomy and acts of self

  • List areas of self-directed activities/pursuits.
  • What were self-directed activities not necessarily chosen or supported by others?
  • How much autonomy did you have in achieving goals?
  • Did you generally have space to be yourself with others?
  • How open were you with others about your core thoughts and
  • beliefs?
  • Did parents and siblings have a good sense of direction?

Personal and interpersonal effectiveness

  • How did you respond to the personal challenges in your adolescence and leaving home phase? To what effect?
  • How was the family a resource for you in meeting your challenges?
  • What were your talents? How were they connected to family?
  • How effective were family members in meeting challenges, especially parents?
  • What did the family do well as a group?
  • What did the family do well in encouraging autonomy?

Principles and defining self

  • How could you have functioned better in this growing up phase?
  • What do you see now as your responsibilities to yourself during this phase?
  • How can you have taken better responsibility with significant others?
  • If you could now change something about self in this phase, what would it be?
  • What were some the guiding principles involved in your interactions?

REPOST FROM THE FSI – Our Dog and our Family Systems

This blog began as a casual conversation in the kitchen at our office between Lily Mailler and Jenny Brown.  It was prompted by the site of Lily’s golden Labrador sitting in the back of her car for over an hour while Lily was working. She was sitting quietly and calmly on her blanket with a breeze cooling her through a partly open window. Lily had organised for her to be picked up by a family member some time that afternoon.

Jenny:  “Lily, I was quite struck to see your Labrador sitting so patiently in the back seat of your car. Two things struck me.  Firstly I can’t imagine my cocker spaniel Hendrix sitting so calmly knowing I was in the building and secondly, I can’t imagine myself being comfortable leaving him confined for an hour or so.  I would be working in the office with an ear out for his wining.  Neither of us would be as calm as you and your dog!  What do you make of this?”

Lily: “Yes, I have observed that my dog Bella has less separation anxiety than other dogs I know, for example she comes with me to the beach every morning and I tie her to a post at the surf club whilst I swim and do my thing, she does not whinge or bark like other dogs that are also tied up and waiting for their owners to come back. I think though that she does have a level of sensitivity to me, for example I have observed that she watches me intently whilst I swim and refuses to walk with someone she does not know when I am around.  I agree with Dr Bowen that no one is totally free from the sensitivity and attachment, I kid myself when I think that I am not disproportionately attached to my dog, recently I have found myself feeling a sense of panic when she did not bark at my arrival at home and found myself rushing outside to see if she is ok. , I believe her hearing is not as sharp as it used to be”

Bella came into my life at a time when I was too preoccupied with making a living and surviving.  I did not particularly want a dog as I felt that it would be another demand upon me. My eldest son and his girlfriend got the dog and they assured me that they would be responsible for it, of course things did not work out that way, they broke up, my son left to work in the Whitsundays and I was left with the dog. I learnt to love Bella but I made sure she was not to be another imposition on me, by making a conscious effort to be clear about what I would and would not put up with from her. I believe that as a consequence she is not demanding and she knows I am top dog. The kids do not understand how come she is so loving and obedient to me when I do not show her the level of attention they show her.

Jenny “Isn’t it interesting to think about what else is going on in our family’s at the time a dog enters?  Hendrix came along at a time when I was adjusting to adult children leaving home?  There is no doubt that he filled something of a void for me in terms of being needed and enjoying my attentions.  We have certainly developed reciprocity of sensitivity to each other. He is so alert to me giving attention to our older dog.  Our much older dog was quite self sufficient and non- demanding.  I agree with you that our pets are a part of our family emotional process.  After all emotional process is what we humans share in common with lower life forms…the limbic part of our brain that is instinctual rather than making thoughtful decisions. The position they occupy has a lot to do with what is happening with shifts in other relationships.

Lately I have been working on being a bit more functionally differentiated (less fused) and more thoughtful about my responsibilities as owner/pack leader with Hendrix.  May be seeing your calm with Bella and Bella’s calm with you, is an additional bit of a wakeup call for me?!  I had been coming to realise that I was to some degree drawing from Hendrix’s attentiveness and affection to steady myself during a time of change in our family.  I’ve been focussing more on being a leader to him—not letting him jump on our bed, or walk in front of me, or come through the door first.  He’s becoming a much calmer dog as a result.  Ironically I can enjoy him more when I’m not so wrapped up in him.  This sounds similar to what you observe with your relationship with Bella in contrast to your children.

I’ve been wondering if those of us who are vulnerable to a disproportionate child focus are also prone to a more fused projection onto their pets …especially when children are less present in our lives?  I can also see how Hendrix can be part of a triangle in my marriage.

Lily- “ My capacity to stay in my own skin with Bella does not mean that I have the same type of reciprocity with my children, I actually was so focused on my kids that there was less of the focus left for Bella and I believe that as a result she has functioned much better than all others in my immediate family system. It is interesting to note that Bella has not had any physical symptoms during the 9 years of her life but for the odd tick she has picked up from the bushes. It makes me wonder about how the relationship variables expressed in levels of sensitivity may be important predictors of her good health, besides her biological predispositions.  Her brother, who belongs to another member of my extended family, has had a number of physical ailments. There is plenty in the writings of Bowen and Kerr around this issue although the evidence is not conclusive”

Jenny “ I’ve heard an very interesting presentation at a Bowen Centre conference on triangles and domestic dogs, presented by  Professor Barbara Smutts, University of Michigan.  She studies the dynamics of social relationships in dogs (and other social mammals) by observing video-taped interactions in fine detail, using frame-by-frame and slow motion analysis.  Imagine being able to study our family process in this way!

http://www.lsa.umich.edu/psych/people/directory/profiles/faculty/?uniquename=bsmuts

There’s an interesting chapter in Peter Tiltelman’s (ed) book on triangles by Linda Flemming on triangles in a human, canine pack.  She describes the formation of an emotional triangle with 2 dogs with the dynamics of insiders and outsiders.  When she starts dating her future husband, new interlocking triangles are evident.  When one of her dogs becomes quite symptomatic, she draws from Bowen theory to deal with the system instability.  Her first step was providing more leadership, which helpfully shifts focus from the reactive pack member to managing self in a steadier manner.  She resisted focussing on the symptoms in her dog.  She writes, “As long as I was focussed on Shayne (dog) as the problem, we made no progress in changing behaviours. When I began to see the problem as residing in the system rather than on Shayne, we began to make progress.”  p237-8

Isn’t it interesting the parallel to applying Bowen theory when there are symptoms in a child? I wonder if sometimes it’s easier to see an effort towards more differentiation (more autonomy in relating) in our relationship with our dogs than with our children.  It’s a notch harder to make objective observations of ourselves in our own species.  It would be great to hear other’s observations about their dogs in their families.”

Refs-Flemming L. “Observation of Triangles in a Haman-Canine Pack”. Ch 9  in Titelman, P. (Ed.) (2008). Triangles: Bowen Family Systems Theory Perspectives. New York  Haworth Clinical Practice Press

See also the section in Jenny’s book “Growing Yourself Up” titled= lessons from puppy management. P119-20. www.growingyourselup.com

 

 

Original post on The Family Systems Institute website: http://www.thefsi.com.au/2013/01/20/dogs-family-systems/

A day at the tennis with my husband: Taking responsibility for moments of irritability in my marriage

I have well-honed sensitivities to those I’m particularly attached to, which triggers judgements, followed by intrusive corrections. Such corrections don’t always get verbalised but could be conveyed with a nudge or a look. I wonder, can you identify with this in your marriage or important relationships?

I recently sat next to my husband at the Australian Open Tennis. We were fortunate to have booked all day tickets at the main arena on the first week of matches. Such a treat to have a mini break in cosmopolitan Melbourne and enjoy the atmosphere of a renowned sporting event.

Early in the first match I noticed David scrolling through work emails on his phone. Instantly I experienced a bolt of irritated reactivity, thinking:

“Why isn’t he paying attention to the match? I can’t believe he’s letting his work override our watching the tennis together!”

I pulled my thoughts up quickly and prevented myself saying anything. My message to myself was:

“It is not my business whether or not my mate chooses to look at emails. He has every right to that choice and it doesn’t impinge in any way on my being able to enjoy the tennis.”

With this inner correction I could relax and keep my boundaries. This is something I have been working to improve over many years. Keeping within my own skin when alongside the important people in my life is a real workout. It hasn’t just been a challenge for me in my marriage. My parenting has had a good dose of sensitivity as well. Sitting next to a teenager biting their finger nails was always excruciating for me. I have well-honed sensitivities to those I’m particularly attached to, which triggers my judgements, followed by intrusive corrections. Such corrections don’t always get verbalised but could be conveyed with a nudge or a look.

This is a classic expression of relationship fusion where we monitor the other as opposed to being responsible for self. It is always interesting to consider how different our reactions are when mixing with people we are just associated with – they haven’t become important to our experience of self. Hence they can be checking their phones and displaying all sorts of nervous habits and it doesn’t bother us one bit. I wonder, can you identify with this?

The effort to observe one’s excessive sensitivities to others behaviours is of great value in the “growing up” journey. Dr Murray Bowen set this as the main destination for the counselling process writing:

“The over-all goal is to help individual family members to rise up out of the togetherness that binds us all” (Bowen FTCP 1978, p.371).

I can see the difference it makes to my marriage that I can refrain from reacting to the mannerisms and behavioural choices of my husband (most of the time). I can let him be him and me be me. This enables us to do life side by side as opposed to merged in each other’s emotional sphere. It certainly assists in achieving a relaxed day at the tennis and prevents the spread of irritability into other domains of marriage.

 

 

For more on dealing with fusion in a marriage here is an article by myself and Jo Wright: Inviting each partner out of the fusion: Bowen Family Systems Theory and couple therapy

http://www.thefsi.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Inviting-each-partner-out-of-the-fusion_Bowen-Family-Systems-Theory-and-couple-therapy.pdf