Archives for October, 2010
Out here in Australia, Halloween is an inherited festival that’s only just starting to catch on. And though is still seems a slightly foreign ritual to me, there are also benefits in approaching things like this as an outsider. For sometimes you can see into things a little differently with fresh eyes… So maybe we can look at this tradition afresh together and find out what else Halloween might offer us (other than the tricks or treats). What meaning lies beneath it? And how can you perhaps draw some of that meaning back into your own life.
In Part 1 of this post, in an effort to understand more about how black sheep and scapegoats are created, we looked into some of the theory behind “triangles” in families. We explored how Murray Bowen, the founder of family systems theory, thought that families fall into these key triangular patterns of relating to try to reduce tension. That by focusing on a “problem child” or black sheep or scapegoat, other family members can avoid looking too deeply into their own problems, or the tensions in their other relationships. For all of us, black sheep included, Bowen felt it was vital to try to “detriangle” and gradually extract yourself from these habitual roles. To stop reacting automatically, and to start seeing the patterns themselves. He believed that with “emotional neutrality” and the ability to spot these family patterns, you can keep yourself from slipping into your previous role, no matter how strongly you might be ‘invited’ into it by others. And that’s another key: the ‘invited’ bit. For even though family scapegoating can start up when you’re a child, many systems theorists suggest that if it’s continuing in your adulthood, then at some level you might be a part of perpetuating the process, too. Even if you don't realize it. Even if you don't want to. So how can you start to undo some of that?
Do you have a black sheep in your family? Someone who’s considered the odd one out or a bit weird or not quite living up to the family ideal somehow. A misfit. An outsider. Maybe a ‘failure’. Maybe you’re it… Black sheep seem a fairly common phenomenon. Many families have one. Someone who the others might fret about or devote a lot of energy discussing when they’re not in earshot. Someone they’re generally worried about or furious with. Someone the family is united in their difference from. And maybe that sense of unity is key. For at the risk of getting too many farm animals involved here, scapegoating the black sheep can be a uniting force in families. It’s a pastime that brings everyone else closer together. Something that swings attention away from other, potentially deeper, tensions in the family and builds allegiances instead. And it’s also thought to be a great soother of anxiety in groups. So the black sheep can actually perform a very important role in families. It’s just a shame that it usually doesn’t feel that way… So what can you do if you’ve ended up filling this spot in your family? The ‘father’ of family systems theory had some ideas… In this post we’ll look at some of the background to how he saw families working (or not working so well…), and in Part 2, we’ll explore some potential solutions to this black sheep effect.
These two hearts were drawn together on the pavement near where I work; one with cobwebs, one without. They’re just a couple of children’s chalk drawings – yet, they’re also food for thought. And they remind me of another way of understanding the experience of infatuation. When infatuation or unrequited attraction or a ‘crush’ is awakened within us, how much of that is actually really about the other person occupying our thoughts, and how much is perhaps saying something about the condition of our heart? Our life? The forgotten, un-used, cobwebbed parts of our passion? There’s an old saying that these things are called ‘crushes’ because they hurt. And, aside from those moments of euphoria, they often do. So is there also a way of taking some of the crush back out of infatuation? Of healing some of that hurt? And with it, perhaps, healing some of the stuff that might have invited the crush into your life in the first place?
It’s raining today and hundreds of droplets cover the windows of the train I’m in. If you come in really close and look inside each raindrop on the pane, you can see a whole world captured in there – an upside-down and slightly refracted reflection of the world outside. So by looking into these liquid prisms, you’ll get a condensed, sometimes sharper or brighter vision of what’s going on. Perhaps it’s the same with tears… Maybe it’s possible to look into them in much the same way. To get in close to them and focus on what they, too, might reveal.
This collage of 'no's was collected on a very short walk around the suburb this morning, so it seems like there’s no shortage of ways to say it. So why is it so hard sometimes? For such a little word, it can seem like quite a big one… Sometimes, in an effort to ‘get along’ or be polite or to smooth things over, we can find ourselves saying yes to all sorts of things we’d rather not do. Like taking on extra work, when we’re already overrun with it. Or accepting invitations to events we’d rather not attend. Or doing the family’s emotional housework. But the funny thing is that, even if you imagine yourself to be the kind of person who has a lot of trouble saying no, odds are, you’re already saying it. Plenty of times. How can this be true?
In Part 1 of this post, we looked at some of the conversations about gender that have played out in the media recently. It seems like a single, over-arching answer about whether gender exists in nature or in nurture might still elude us for now. But perhaps one place you can get some answers about gender is much closer to home: In you. So perhaps it’s worth taking a minute and investigating what gender means for you, and how it impacts your life. How it colours who you are and maybe even who you might let yourself become.
Where do you keep your gender? (And no, I’m not being euphemistic and lewd here). But where do you actually house that inner knowledge about what gender you are and what that means to you? What it might mean about you. It seems there’s lots of science and opinions swirling around this gender stuff at the moment. People weighing-in on the side of either nature or nurture; suggesting that we’re born with our gender or that we learn it. One or the other. (Which is often how society generally sees sex and gender in the first place – male or female, gay or straight, masculine or feminine – when it seems there are also plenty of places outside those prescribed roles too…). And how can all of this be reliably measured anyway? By whose yardstick?
Money can be a complex thing. So often, it’s about a lot more than just itself. Instead, it can roll a whole lot of other exchanges into the deal. It can be highly charged, imbued with meanings and values. (Perhaps especially so soon after the western world faced the recent financial crisis). So what does money stand for in your life? Maybe freedom. Or a burden of debt. Or something in between. Maybe a sense of safety. Or risk. Or loss. Maybe it’s connected to luxuries or fun or duty or regret. Whatever money means for you, there’s a concept that might be worth investigating. It’s the idea that we might carry our favourite ways of relating around with us and then re-create these patterns anew with others. That we might unconsciously craft opportunities to play these roles out over and over again. If this is true, then each of our relationships provides a kind of miniature re-run of our preferred ‘script’ in relationships – a kind of ‘microcosm’ of the way we generally are in the world. A reflection of the way we see ourself fitting into the scheme of things. And some suggest that if this can be said of our relationships with people, then perhaps it’s also true of our relationship with things. Including, perhaps, money. So what’s your relationship with money like?
I caught a bit of a cold recently so I’ve been feeling a little unwell (and not attending to this blog as often as I’d like). This physical unwellness got me thinking about the nature of emotional ‘unwellness’, too – wondering what the signs and symptoms of that might be for each of us, and how it might impact us all in different ways. (And what kinds of things it might lead us to not attend to so well…). It’s funny that when sickness makes an appearance, we often remember what it is to be well, and yearn for it. And funny how quickly that same wellness can fade into the background when we have it back in our lives. How easy it is to overlook when it’s there. Similarly, sometimes therapy cops criticism for looking away from wellness, for looking more towards the past and picking the scabs of old wounds, as though pain is somehow worth more than pleasure. But it’s not necessarily so. For therapy can also be used to explore and strengthen the helpful, buoyant, restorative aspects of life – the resilience – the things that have gotten you through so far. The things that can sustain you. So I wonder if it’s worth actually taking a moment to really look at emotional wellness. What does wellness actually mean for you, in your life?