Access Thinking and Feeling Systems
Today we discuss the seventh competency of healthy families: Each person accesses both thinking and feeling systems with other members of the family.
One thing that makes human beings is consciousness: we’re able to think about reality, rather than simply react instinctively, primally, to it. This capacity increases with natural human development, and healthy families foster this capacity in each member of the family.
The Anxiety/Stress of Growing Pains
Being able to distinguish between our thinking and feeling systems helps us when our emotions cloud our perception of reality, which is inevitable in just about any relationship. No two people are alike, and as people grow and change, everyone in the system is impacted, requiring everyone to grow and change.
This natural process naturally produces anxiety or stress, which we can learn to manage by becoming increasingly adept at accessing both our thinking and feeling guidance systems. As the forces of togetherness (fusion) get challenged by the forces of separateness (differentiation), our ability to consciously think through the intra- and inter-personal conflict that gets kicked up between people can help us stay engaged with others who don’t necessarily share our perspectives, without having to adopt their viewpoints.
Emotion vs. Reasoning
Bowen Family Systems Theory defines emotion as anything that comes from the automatic forces outside of our conscious control. Most of the time, we’re unaware of these drives, urges and instincts, but we can develop the ability to intentionally access our intellectual guidance system–our reasoning–to help us navigate those forces to the advantage of ourselves and our relationships.
When everyone in the family is trained to do this and practices this capacity, the whole system can thrive. Everyone in the family can be his or her unique self while contributing to the overall functioning of the group.
Conversations vs. Conflicts
Conversations that are governed by the balance of reasoning and instincts don’t turn into conflicts. They’re characterized by low reactivity and are invulnerable to undue stress. This allows dyads to retain their one-on-one.interaction, preventing the reactive response of triangulation, and allowing closeness without enmeshment.
Individual and family systems that aren’t conscious and intentional about accessing their intellectual guidance system tend to have more conflicts than conversations, more debates than dialogues. Their relationships are characterized by reactivity, judgment, criticism, approval-seeking, dependency, triangulation, difficulty with decision-making, and repeated problematic relationships.
How adept are the members of your family in accessing both intellectual and emotional guidance systems? What can you do to be more conscious of your own reactivity and your capacity to think about how you interact within your system?