Healthy Relationships 1.9: Societal Regression

Societal Regression

The concept of societal regression emerges from Dr Murray Bowen’s (1913-1990) observation that emotional problems in society reflect the emotional problems in the family. After all, society is simply made up of a multitude of families. When a family experiences chronic, sustained anxiety, it begins to lose contact with its intellectually determined principles, and increasingly resorts to emotionally determined decisions to quell the anxiety of the moment. This results in symptom generation and regression over time to lower levels of functioning.

Society in the latter half of the 20th Century, Bowen contended, was in a period of increasing chronic anxiety, and he postulated that societies tend to resort to emotional reactivity to deal with its anxiety. This in turn results in societal dysfunction, including Band-Aid legislation, which complicates the problem rather than solves it, and the cycle keeps repeating, with further and further regression. Society, as Bowen conceived it, goes through good periods and bad, and he postulated that the chronic anxiety of his generation stemmed from population explosion, decreasing food supplies and raw materials, and environmental pollution.

Other Societal Stressors

I suspect that Bowen was correct–that those issues have generated significant stress in society. I also suspect that there are many others that we may not even recognize as societal stressors. For example, the movement of women to be recognized and treated as equals to men–the Feminist Revolution with its seeds planted 250 years ago–is now a towering tree and a spreading vine. I’m grateful for that, as I am a woman who’s had opportunities available to me that women before me did not.

For many men, however, this movement has disrupted a way of being that made sense to them and felt natural to them. Husbands who enjoyed taking care of their wives financially; who went into marriage thinking that they were exchanging their income-earning potential for her reproductive capacity; who saw marriage as a division of labor divided on public and domestic lines–such men are reeling from the blow of a social order gone belly up. Such men–good men though most are–are experiencing an identity crisis of monumental proportions.

Future Shock

There are plenty of men who have adapted to the desire for women to be treated equally in all spheres, but not all men are adjusting to this reality at the same pace, and those who are resisting the inevitable change in the social order are struggling to know who to be in their intimate relationships and in the workplace. As Alvin Tofler identified when the Feminist Revolution had finally reached undeniable proportions (1960s and beyond), society was changing so quickly that people were experiencing a psychological condition he called future shock.

Some 60 years later, intimate relationships are in worse disarray than ever, partly from the inability of many men to catch up to the rapid progress of this change and for the inability (or angry indifference) of women to understand the impact of the movement on men. While the Sexual Revolution was/is a necessary movement in the interest of human rights, in my view, there was no way to envision the disruption it would kick up on so many social levels.

How to Repair the Damage?

How can we repair the damage done to good men along the way who feel unappreciated for the way they have run the world for millenia? Perhaps we could start by making sure that the good men out there know we appreciate them, and I think we’re actually communicating an opposite message. Although I’m a rape survivor, I’ve come to realize that most men out there couldn’t rape a woman if their life depended on it. So the militant feminist phrase “rape culture” just doesn’t fit reality. It seems to me that if I were a good man these days, I’d be torn between defending my own goodness, along with the goodness of others like me, and condemning those who use their strength to overpower others.

Perhaps we need to find ways to communicate to our good men that they are still needed to protect and provide, although in ways that are different than they were in agrarian and tribal days. Perhaps we need to help men realize and appreciate that their very presence is as meaningful to many of us women as their paycheck. And perhaps we women need to realize that this may not seem like enough to a man who is compelled, by both nature and nurture, to do things, to fix things, not to just be present with us.

A Movement with a Twist

The agenda of third and fourth wave feminism has gone beyond equal human rights and has entered the sexual arena where the leaders of the movement present heterosexual marriage as oppression. I don’t see this to be a helpful twist to the human rights agenda that picked up steam some 60 years ago, and the hatred of men that seems to be driving the movement in the 21st Century is stirring up discontent that is based on a reality that doesn’t resonate with most people.

The Anxious Mother Mind

Furthermore, the over-correction from the dominant father-mind to the uber-nurturing mother mind is generating strange laws and practices. Laws are not just about prohibiting discrimination anymore; they’re also about legislating feelings. In schools, for example, any kind of competition is often discouraged so as not to highlight that some children are better at some tasks than other kids are, because the reality that we don’t all have the same capacity is distressing to some.

These choices aren’t based on the real needs of people. They’re based on the anxiety of the over-nurturing mother mind, and that has eventuated in a whole generation of demanding young adults who feel entitled to goodies they didn’t earn themselves. Frightening. And partly because we didn’t realize that even good and necessary social movements must be kept in check by responsible, reasonable, highly differentiated people who are not ruled by (mostly unconscious) emotional processes.

Perhaps you have some thoughts about how society reflects the emotional processes that people have developed as a result of relational upheavals on smaller scales?


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