Families Matter

Why Societal Origin and Family Structures
Are Important

Premise 1 Section 2

Wolf Packs, Human Packs

Mother with Daughter

The Darwinian phrase "survival of the fittest" usually refers to various observable physical or physiological processes or abilities. Here we underline “the not-directly-observable human quality of social adhesion” ( as well as primate, canine and other species' ); for the sake of survival, the deeply wired tendency to form groups, called nuclear families, extended families, village packs, larger herds, tribes and civilizations = societies.

Like wolves, there is no known human location of singular hunters as is found in certain feline species. Like these other pack-society species, one's place in the group is an automatic priority for each of its members. To see this universal human phenomenon through a systems perspective means that we will be contrasting a biological wired tendency (tribalism) that can remain unchanged, slightly modified or somewhat transformed over time. For some societies, it has so far culminated into a "modernity" society that favors a seeming reversal from the tribe, called "individualism."

Unlike the “agrarian-village tribal" life style, “modernity tribal” cultures families do not experience life-long intensely connected and intimate interactions. In predetermined stages; like certain birds, the fledglings are deliberately kicked out of the nest and the offspring can't wait for the opportunity to fly on their own.

We believe these contrasting societal patterns entail differences in economy, governance, national conflict, gender, parenting, family structure and individual character.

In a nutshell, macroeconomics and societal institutions are influenced nonlinearly by basic family structure just as family dynamics and structure cannot be fully understood absent reference to the economic, political, and social realities ingrained in that family’s history over generations.

Familiarity with macroeconomic and governance principles has underlined a similarity of processes taking place in families and in the larger concentric circles of macrosocial formations.

Mary Sykes Wylie writing in THE PSYCHOTHERAPY NETWORKER describes major components of Bowen’ life and work:

"Bowen was the first to realize you can't translate individual psychoanalytic concepts into the language of families, and the first to see the family as a structure in itself, which had its own wiring." The family, in short, wasn't just a collection of mutually influential but separate psyches living together under the same roof. For Freud, unconscious motivation was the unperceived prime mover of intellectual and emotional life; for Bowen, the submerged ebb and flow of family life, the simultaneous push and pull between family members for both distance and togetherness, was the driving force underlying all human behavior.

"While Bowen did not invent systems thinking, he was the first to conceptualize the family as a natural system—more like an ant colony or an elephant herd than most people cared to admit—which could only be fully understood in terms of the fluid but predictable processes between members. Such major parts of the official family therapy canon have Bowen's ideas about the family system become, that it is almost impossible to imagine the field without him…

"Bowen's ideas have been used to improve the functioning of businesses, religious congregations, and other organizations, applied to ethnic, cultural, economic, and gender issues, and synthesized with object-relations and other psychodynamic models.

Describing Bowen’s observations of dysfunctional families she states:

“In spite of what Bowen called the "flow and counter flow" within the (family) triangles, the members of these families experienced very little sense of freedom and independence. Indeed, there was an almost glue-like quality about these family conglomerates that was, to Bowen, practically a definition of their problem. The less the dysfunctional child was able to separate from her mother—to "differentiate" herself from what he called the "undifferentiated family ego mass"—the less capable she was of independent, adult behavior, and the "crazier" she became. He found this same process true, though less marked, in healthier families as well.”

To what extent is there an overlap in that statement and a description of the ideal family in a tribal, autocratic, hierarchical (think ISIS) society?

As stated in 1975, by the late Thomas Fogarty, MD, a highly regarded psychiatrist and family therapist, "With the development of the computer ...the complexities of life were given recognition. Systems analysis started out as an engineering concept to try to tie many parts into a whole picture. It recognized that one could not separate the parts from the whole."

He described working with families creating a "picture much like a latticework."

As a psychiatrist, he and his psychiatric colleagues (Philip Guerin, MD, et al) worked away from the individual or paired Freudian outlook, towards a more family and triangle focused framework. His focus was couples and families. The present essay seeks to widen that framework to the concentric circles that envelop the individual, the couple and the extended family.

As our prime and concrete example of this phenomenon, we believe the current Euro crisis was caused in large part by the mistaken belief that a single Euro (currency definition being a basic component of all macroeconomic theories) would meet the needs of all European societies and their citizens. As stated, this assumption ignored very different family-based, popularly expressed beliefs and behavior established over generations by specific geographic, historical experiences.

Two broadly different sets of cultural assumptions and enmeshed economic traditions may, for simplicity’s sake, be seen as characterizing Northwest vs. Southeast Europe respectively.

As a family therapist trained in and practicing in a Bowenian family systems theory framework, I came to see certain interpersonal, gender and parenting patterns, with both symptoms and solutions differentiated by ethnic geography. At first, following the examples of Betty Carter and Monica McGoldrick, I sought answers in the ethnography of individual countries. After some macroeconomic education I soon realized it boiled down to political-macroeconomic trends in the northwest vs southeast.

Over a period of time, I came to refine my definition of ethnic differences that were relevant to helping and understanding families. I came to understand the stance, the vocabulary, the prescriptions and solutions I needed to offer. I came to modulate a different "therapeutic stance" that would be most helpful in healing wounds and conflicts of families of different geographic-ethnic origins. Most generally it was northern Europe vs southern and eastern Europe (club med) that determined these differences.


We emphasize the need for a new integrated vocabulary; we believe human affairs are always determined by societal-family nonlinear, reciprocal, self-reinforcing principles, which cannot be studied without a vocabulary that labels their interrelated substance and nature. For instance, the European community decided to modify and restructure its macroeconomic reality believing that econometric change (determined by studying numbers) alone would achieve its goals.

At the time there was no useful non-bigoted vocabulary or intellectual structure to prompt consideration of any competing factors within (or in opposition to) the econometric model -- no multidimensional humane outlook not open to accusations of bigotry, to lead the way. Hence, the unarticulated forced assumption that one economic size can fit all, prevailed without serious objection.

Many knew better but had no objective (non-bigoted) vocabulary to express their reservations so they too resorted to numbers.

We argue that one economic size or style cannot fit all; that the political and sovereign economic picture is significantly colored by family and tribal dynamics rooted in generational history, and expressed in culturally driven institutions, attitudes and economic behaviors of individuals and families.

This assumption relies in large part on our understanding of economic theory. It also incorporates the thought of Fredrick Perls, Ernst Gellner, Harry Stack Sullivan, Murray Bowen, John Bowlby, Allan Macfarlane, John Banfield, W. Edward Demming, Yuval Harari, Elizabeth Carter, Monica McGoldrick . It is also informed by our understanding of family systems theory as observed in family and parenting therapy practice over 40 years.

In short we wish to specify a wider definition of the why’s, how’s and WTFs of ethnicity (national character) and integrate that with the fields of parenting, geography, macroeconomics, history, sociology and political science. Ironically, most professionals in each of these separated fields have no more than undergraduate courses in any of the other fields.

Graduate education in clinical psychology and psychiatry do not usually offer a single advanced course in any of these other subjects. Are these fields relevant to helping children and families in my clinical practice? No doubt.

We advocate a unified vocabulary, outlook and practical approach including elements of the fields mentioned, (as in a wide ranging anthropology) which will integrate, and make more practically useful, the substantial work already done in theoretical contexts. In other words, we humbly hope this approach will bring better understanding to decisions like those that shaped the European Union.