The Transcendent Observer
The holiday season is upon us…a time when many extended families spend more time together than usual. During this holiday season, consider taking an objective, non-judgmental look at your family–making yourself and your family into a research project–using the family systems principles that we’ve been discussing in this blog. Becoming a transcendent observer can help bring perspective to the emotional processes that flow in the unconscious arena of family systems.
All families have spoken and unspoken rules. Because they were in place before we were born, it’s hard to identify them sometimes. But as you do, you get to decide whether those rules work for you, or whether you need to make new rules that you can buy into.
Competencies of Healthy Families
Over the next couple weeks, we’re going to look at 12 competencies that characterize healthy families. What do healthy families look like? How to they operate? What makes them healthy? How to they maintain a healthy system together?
As we discuss the competencies of healthy families, try to be objective in evaluating how well or how poorly your family of origin and your nuclear family measure up to these characteristics. Keep in mind that most families simply do what they’ve been conditioned to do, so try to be gentle as you evaluate the systems in which you’ve participated.
Welcome Change and Growth
One competency of healthy families is that they welcome change and opportunities to grow. They aren’t interested in keeping the status quo, doing things the way the family always has, or keeping up with the Jones’s. They maintain an open mind and are able to accept that everyone in the family will have their own unique way of doing life.
Structure and Guidance
Of course, this competency doesn’t mean that there’s no moral guidance or ethical training. It’s not a laissez faire approach. Children need structure and a solid foundation upon which, and against which, they can eventually test their own values. Welcoming change simply refers to the willingness to test the status quo, to continue thinking about life and relationships without getting into ruts and grooves that only represent stuckness and lack of critical thinking.
The willingness to change is evidence that a family system is open to new ideas, even though not everyone in the system will agree on the same values. Even so, the ability to continue growing, the capacity to stay engaged with others who are different, is characteristic of healthy family systems.
This attitude is the first step to creating a climate where differentiation is highly valued, and such an environment sets up everyone for a secure attachment style (see post titled, “…Attachment Styles”).
A Common Challenge to Welcoming Change
Every parent is more drawn to one child than to another. Sometimes a parent is more drawn to the child whose temperament is most similar. Other times, a parent is more repelled by a child who’s similar, and is compelled to a child who’s different. Either way, it can be challenging for parents to encourage children to be and become who they truly are, addressing their real needs, without succumbing to the anxiety of unresolved issues, which then get projected onto the child.
When we operate by the principle that our relationships are primarily to help us grow, and only secondarily to make us happy, we can welcome that tension that growth inevitably brings with it.
Imagine what your family would be like if everyone were to welcome change…