My training (graduate school) is predominantly in family systems theory. (Interestingly, my undergraduate education — Physics– is wholly systems based too). What this means is that I was trained, and honestly I deeply believe, that we are independent beings who are integral parts of larger infrastructures.
This means, that how others interact with us impacts us. This means, how we interact with others impacts them.
It also means we all have our “roles” that we play within our smaller family units and within our larger communities and globally.
One of the premises of systems is that they tend to want to keep moving along as they are. Everyone plays their role and the system continues to function. Whether this “functioning” is healthy or not is not important. What is important is that the system is functioning.
Because systems only care about continuing to be able to function, they are highly resistant to change. In physics this is the Newtonian Law of Inertia (an object in motion, stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force). This “Law” applies to all systems, not only physical ones. It applies to how systemic racism, misogyny and bigotry continue on in our culture. There has not been enough outside force to create a complete overhaul (yet).
In Family Systems Theory (Bowen), when a family is “dys-functional” there usually is created what we call the “identified patient (IP).” This is the child who always acts out and gets in trouble. All the dysfunction of the family is placed at the feet of this singular person. This allows the system to continue to function, without change, because the focus is on how “bad” this one person is. Even though the person was created by the system. And until there is an outside force, like the IP goes in to counseling and starts to unravel all the training they received from their particular family system, the family will keep chugging along.
Once the IP, or any family member for that matter, begins to question the dys-function of the family, all hell breaks loose. The system does not want to change. Relationships will be cut off, blame will continue to be laid, and things will become very, very ugly for a while.
HOWEVER, if the IP continues his/or her work, there is a strong possibility for the entire system to start to shift. Other individuals start to see how the system played them, what their roles were, and so on. This is the process of individual “individuation” and healing for the whole family.
Sadly, it’s doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes families can’t or won’t heal. The IP continues their work separate from the system and creates or finds a new system to be a part of. Personal healing happens and I believe this brings about shifts in our greater social systems even if it can’t change our personal family system.
My point? What you do with this one life of yours matters. As you bring about your own self-awareness and healing, shifts are happening in the world. They may be subtle. You may never know about them. You may not see them in your microcosm, and they do exist.
Desiree Lynn Adaway wrote on her Facebook page that systems do not dismantle themselves. This is true, according to systems theory and any of our lived experience. AND we CAN be the outside force that brings about change. We may not ever know the greater impacts we each have on the world, and yet we have an impact.
AND being an outside force means we also need to look within and be a part of the outside force that changes our Self. This is not glamorous work. It is messy. It is heartbreaking. As we do it we uncover the wrongs we have actually committed right along side the wrongs that have been committed against us. And it is easier, so much easier, to not do this work at all. To go with the flow.
Being an outside force means not only seeing and understanding the stories of too much and not enough that were forced upon us; the shame we were fed. It means acknowledging how we have passed those stories on, intentionally and unintentionally, to others. And this work hurts. Because, I believe, most of us don’t want to hurt others and it breaks our hearts when we finally see the ways we have.
For me, this heartbreak and messiness aren’t reason enough to not do this work. To not bring about the change I want to see in this world. To sit on the sidelines and just let it all keep on keeping on. Because the keeping on keeping on is making us all ill, and frankly it’s about fucking time we all do our healing work. For ourselves and our communities and our world.
What about you?
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