The Family Crucible
a book by Augustus Y. Napier and Carl Whitaker
(our site's book review)
As the world of psychotherapy shifts slowly from the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm to the new, ecological-holistic paradigm, it begins to see from a systems perspective and the first thing that strikes it as it moves from a focus on individual dysfunction to a focus on family/kin/network dysfunction is, to quote the author: “Ye Gods, everybody in the family is sick!” The individual that had been (and this is still common) presented by the parents as the sick one was usually just the scapegoat of the dysfunctional family, and it soon became apparent why their previous reductionistic focus on treating the individual was so ineffective: after therapy, the other dysfunctional people in the system would pull the patient back into dysfunctional patterns, because few can function well in a dysfunctional system.
What was wrong wasn’t about egos, complexes, or the like; what was amiss was the way the family was organized, the way it communicated, the way parenting was done, and the way it problem-solved. R.D. Laing used to say that until people began investigating families of schizophrenics, the condition was wholly incomprehensible.
There is interpersonal stress, in which the individuals of a family clash because of bad communication patterns, and intrapersonal stress, in which the person who experiences negative communications from family members (e.g., a verbally abusive father oppresses a son) continues to give himself the same kinds of negative communications internally, via negative self-talk. An important part of the cure here is to stop the bad self-talk and replace it by good self-talk.
The authors found that when there are serious family problems, there are usually negative relationship patterns which preclude any one member from being independent and autonomous. In spite of the fact that one of the core functions of the family is to nurture and support autonomy, most normal families do as much to prevent it as they do to support it. People in many families have experienced little nurturing and therefore have little security and therefore are prone to becoming overly dependent on one another, or codependent. People get symbiotically involved with each other and they all hold the family members back from either exiting the system in a healthy manner or growing towards independence from within the system.
Most normal families do as much to prevent autonomy as they do to support autonomy
Such a sick system needs contact with outside social supports if it has any chance of maturing and becoming a nurturing force. Sometimes the outside social supports are family therapists, and often they get the family to expand social contacts and let new blood into the network system. Other times a complete revamping of communication, relationship, conflict resolution and parenting patterns can make a huge difference—but only if the family is open to it.
Often the system simply hasn’t the resources to nurture itself back to health. How can insecure, stressed-out people help one another? Better relationship patterns can lead toward good coping, but not necessarily toward growth or autonomy. Often it’s a matter of empty people feeling inadequate to help other empty people. Good self-talk can help them realize that no one is really “empty,” and good counseling can supply enough of a nurturing stimulus to get their emotions out of the negative or paralysis category and into the task of working for the members. But adding a larger and diverse social support system can give the best chance of all for long-term emotional health since what a system can do, a system can undo. The ecologicl-holistic paradigm is omnipresent in this book.
The authors strongly advocate the new, ecological-holistic paradigm replacing the old, reductionistic-mechanistic paradigm
Insecure people that are subnormal tend to obsess on getting the people in their lives to act in parental ways in order to fill unmet childhood needs. But normal people almost always have some unmet childhood needs as well, and to varying degrees they’re likely to attempt to get spouses, lovers and friends to be substitute parents as well. Helping people develop insight into this area of relationships is useful in shedding light in confusing emotional conflicts and marriage difficulties. People being able to truly express their feelings and really being heard when they do so are two of the most important conditions to create for the purpose of nurturing healthy relationships. That’s why P.E.T and Winning Family Lifeskills so strongly support such things.
41% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce
One cannot love others until one first learns to love oneself
Many people who’ve never learned to like themselves find out during relationship failure the hard Frommian lesson that one cannot love others until one first learns to love oneself. People who feel empty find out that marriage or coupling in order to fill emptiness is as hopeless as having a baby to fill emptiness. Both are doomed to precipitate a rude awakening and filling one’s emptiness is an individual process that requires self-to-self communication and insight, self-nurturing, replacing bad self-talk with good self-talk, etc., until one loves oneself enough to be able to accept love from others and feel one deserves it. (Counseling may also be required here.) A full self can love and be loved and feel full of love as well as identity, being, strength and motivation. “If there is a single predetermining factor in divorce, it is probably that individuals marry before they have firmly established a sense of independent selfhood.” The more autonomy in spouses, the more likely the marriage will work.
Counseling may be required to point people toward actions that will help nurture autonomy
Dependency and immaturity combine to form one of those vicious cycles where the more a person is stuck in the tape-loops of past pain and unhappiness stemming from an unhappy childhood (reliving this suffering and never “being in the here and now,” and always projecting this situation onto those people in his environment that he tries to be close to), the more he becomes sure that his present-time experiences are the same as the ones he had in the past, that the people today are treating him as badly as the people did back then, and that his accusations and emotional catharses directed at people around him are justified because such people are treating him “just like” people did back then. In other words, the negative patterns not only perpetuate themselves, they feed on themselves, prove themselves, and often precipitate worse and worse feelings, act-outs, reactions, and eventually violence, depression, and/or people/substance abuse.
Your old tapes not only perpetuate themselves, they feed on themselves, prove themselves, and often precipitate failed relationships and lack of self-esteem
Choice is a critical factor in all this. As long as a person is run by his past, by feelings from another time, by dependencies acquired via the failure to get secure from adequate nurturing and development of a secure sense of self, and by needs for parental love that get projected on all and sundry in the present, the person’s life runs him and he doesn’t run his life. He needs to seize control of it and begin to make real choices instead of having his needs lead him around by the nose like a slave. Self-respect and existentially facing that he is alone in life, regardless of who he’s with, are both needed before he can get to this point. A good supportive family/network system can support such autonomy, but such systems aren’t found that often. Happily, the knowledge required to insure that one’s family/social network is that type of system is readily available. We have only to use what we know to have the life we most deeply desire. (Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.)
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