Coming to grips with Bowen Family Systems Theory in a collaborative learning environment.

Distance can seem like an attractive option during the holidays.

Here’s a short blog – since that’s all there’s time for at this busy Christmas season. Our team recently shared lots of fascinating recollections of family Christmas and holidays at our end of year get together. There were stories of maggots in Christmas puddings and a range of unique customs.   All good fun and great conversation!  Another recent reflection was with a group of our Certificate Program participants who were reflecting on family food traditions at Christmas. You would have thought this was a light hearted topic but one of the group declared that the subject of Christmas menus raises her anxiety as she recalls all the tensions in her family over who brings what food.  Many reflected on the common Australian Christmas lunch catastrophe of someone forgetting to bring the prawns!

For many of us Christmas is a joy filled time of traditions and relaxation. I relish pausing to strip away the commercialised hype and to savour the original Christian Christmas reflection of overflowing grace and generosity shown to us by our creator God. The familiar Christmas carols help to bring this to life for me and connect me to our childhood neighbourhood nativity plays in our front yard.

I am well aware that many find the holiday season fraught with family tension. The idea of fleeing the country at this time can seem like an attractive option. Bowen observed that distance is the release valve of relationship stress–and for a time it can bring relief and a sense of reclaiming our clarity. However there are some downsides to using too much distance in relationships–even with the people in our lives we feel offended by.

I found the following blog helpful in thinking about the up side to staying in relationship with the most challenging people in our broader families. It is particularly good food for thought at this time of family reunions. The effort to connect in the face of tension can bring surprising longer term benefits.

Here is the list outlining 10 reasons to have a relationship with a family member who you feel slighted by. It is from a blog by an experienced Bowen therapist Lorna Hecht- Zablow based in California. Click here for a link to her site.

“How could it be helpful to get to know people I don’t even like?”

1. When you use cut off or emotional distances to manage the tension in relationships, those relationship issues remain unresolved. The unresolved tension will play out in your existing relationships.

2. By bridging cut offs, you can begin to decrease the emotional intensity in all your relationships. Lowered intensity results in greater flexibility, openness, and freedom to be the person you want to be.

3. People use cut off to escape negative patterns in the family, but without resolving the patterns you are likely to repeat them in new relationships.   By reconnecting with family, you can learn to see your part in negative patterns.  The truth is, everyone participates.  Change comes from recognizing and then altering your role in the family dynamics.

4. By getting to know more family members, you’ll learn what different branches of the family have in common.  This can help you to feel less isolated or victimized by your own circumstances.

5. There is no greater boost to self-esteem than the ability to manage yourself around difficult relatives.  That increased self-esteem will benefit you in all areas of your life.

6. Most people find that with consistent effort over time, even the most troublesome relationships become more harmonious.  The true goal of the contact, however, is to get better at being able to regulate yourself.  This is far more empowering than having to rely on the “good luck” of having a nice family.

7. Connecting to family will actually change your physiology over time.  People who are isolated tend to have more chronic anxiety, which leads to increased physical and emotional symptoms.

8. Every family is the product of all the families and circumstances that have come before it.  Learning about the past helps us to understand and deal with the present.

9. Cut off runs in families through a Multigenerational Transmission Process.  By staying in good contact with family, you’ll be altering and improving the legacy you pass on to your children.

10.You will come to understand that you cannot rely on distance to achieve true independence, which only comes from being yourself while also staying emotionally close to important others.

*Safety First. Never put yourself in harm’s way in the name of helping or personal growth.  “Emotional abuse” is not the same as physical violence and can often be addressed with the coaching of a trained therapist.”

I am grateful for Lorna’s clear thinking in this blog.

Happy Christmas – and, happy holidays – Grace and Peace to you and yours

Jenny Brown & all at the Family Systems Institute

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