There are two caveats before you read this.
1 – This blog is all about parenting in today’s world. It is not about individual or couples-marital therapy. In my forty years of working with individuals, groups and families I have found that a mass audience is not the place to discuss how to help individuals or even couples. There are simply too many factors in play in helping an individual situation. I leave that to the post-graduate institutes.
2 – Having said that, I have also found that children’s difficulties often boil down to helping the parents unravel and fix issues in their child’s non-family environment, such as school, or their own adult family adult circumstances. Not necessarily to “solve” them, but often just to focus, offer guidance, articulate and bring them to the kitchen table for conversation. Often this brings some stabilization back to the couple and in turn this re-balancing helps the child’s anxiety; no matter the symptoms that expressed this anxiety. That was a constant challenge; to remember that the purpose of my work was to help the child and not to “change” the parents. I finally concluded that for the child’s sake, helping the "family balance" was different and more effective than "curing" the couple or the individual parents. That bought me to family systems theory and family systems therapy. Working with the ethnic groups that live in NYC and suburban areas, I have found it much easier to refocus and rebalance well intentioned parents in order to help their children, than to help them help themselves (almost all parents, 99%, in my forty five professional years have been willing to sacrifice for their child's benefit, even when personally damaged). My parenting work (seeing only the parents and not the child) was usually for less than 12 months, and after 4-6 months, averaged less than once per week in frequency. Results (reflected in the child’s symptom removal, not necessarily changing or helping the adult problems; simply bringing the issues to a conscious articulated state) were usually dramatic and became long lasting. There was also a selection factor. For various reasons related to parental ego-strength, roughly 20% of initial interviews were not accepted for treatment.
Because we see all significant human processes through a systemic lens, we proceed in a nonlinear mode of explanation. This necessarily involves redundancy as we describe phenomena from different points on the circular-spiraling points of the system. Please excuse the redundancy.
“East is east and
west is west,
and never the twain shall meet.”
Rudyard Kipling, 1889, from the poem “The Ballad Of East And West”
Endless times we hear about “the western way” of this or that. We then hear of “the eastern way” of that or this. Is there any consistency or predictability in how we use these terms? Are there terms, in a meaningful vocabulary, that can distinguish and clarify these differences that most people observe and take for granted? Is there any agreed-upon “consensually validated” approach to discover more about them?
Actually, in the west, the “ ’PC’ – politically correct” approach runs counter to and possibly impedes any meaningful exploration in this area.
Perhaps because the subject doesn’t matter all that much?
In our present era of globalized economies, businesses, education and population movements, most writers and theorists would be hard pressed to clearly define what those two descriptive terms (eastern vs. western) actually mean. Are these differences worth exploring? Making progress towards clarifying a definition of these two ways of living would clearly benefit various areas, including business HR departments, the military and the political fields. Mental health, therapy, anthropology and sociology, as well as related medical-psychiatric approaches, would also benefit. So what’s the problem? Why can educated and articulate people not productively discuss Rudyard Kipling’s 19th century observation.
Answering some of these questions for ourselves, became a necessity. Our goal of helping parents and their children, drew us to looking into certain family pattern differences that, on the surface, divide certain geographies. The traditional definitions and procedures of the historical therapy approach (one therapist, one patient, discussing personal feelings and memories) did not seem to work well when it came to helping kids and adolescents.
Needing to look for new approaches was both a burden and a blessing. Helping adults through understanding their families was a fundamental starting point. More questions were raised than answered if we tried to delve deeper than symptoms and family connections.
Over time we found a consistent pattern of separate areas of life, that come together in certain predictable clusters. We found a new way of looking at anxiety, not only as a symptom but also as a method of alarm and communication that was neurologically built in to our homosapien wiring. Perhaps more immediately we saw in our work with parents a view of offspring dysfunction that had not been observable in our direct treatment of individual or even coupled adults. Proceeding slowly and with one step at a time we eventually felt called upon to exercise not science, numbers or knowledge. We felt called upon to exercise courage. What was staring us in the face was a predictable pattern of intimate (family) behavior that was systematically related to larger real world and historical phenomena. The zeitgeist of western social science needed to be confronted because the tribe (and its subtle tune) seemed universal and in direct contradiction to western individuality themes. So here is the new music as we hear it.
We believe that the family process is the mechanism that enforces pack principles. The pack’s (historically the extended family) job has always been to funnel tribe compatible citizens into the "society". A German pack cannot develop citizens compatible with Somalian society. And visa-versa. To the extent that this is true, it follows that the family framework is a crucial and indeed powerful component, in understanding the various elements (economy, economic institutions and laws, schools, police, and social or work relationships) of any social system.
Systemic family therapy, and systems theory in general, postulates that all relationships within a system are reciprocal and mutually interactive. That means that these larger systems are powerful components in understanding the workings of families and the lives of individuals.
Our goal of helping children through working with their parents, drew us to looking into certain family pattern differences that, on the surface, divide certain geographies. We found a fairly consistent pattern of separate areas of life, that come together in certain predictable clusters.
Northwestern European, North American and British based societies (in other words, the English and German speaking world also known as "the Anglosphere") have historically valued adult male and female emancipation and independence from family. Socially we may call these societies “individualizing.” Most of the planet's other inhabitants (more than several billion people and their societies including Central Europe, Russia, much of Asia, Africa and South and Central America), do not value a separate adult identity from family and clan. Some see the “merging” of generations and extended kin, as the bedrock of the good life.
As an example of family boundary definitions I quote from an interview by the Financial Times Of London. A CEO of a Russian major media company is being interviewed by the Moscow based www.FT.com reporter.
" The Kremlin media star on the world according to Russia"
"Margarita Simonyan, editor of the Kremlin-funded 24-hour news network RT and a cheerleader for Russia’s propaganda efforts in the west, has come prepared. When I enter Zharko!, the restaurant her family runs on the outskirts of Sochi, she is waiting for me armed with a beer, a tape recorder and her family for support.
“Behind that wall is the house where my mother was born,” Simonyan tells me. “She’s sitting over there.” Her mother and her aunt nod shyly from the next table. At 3pm on a Friday, the restaurant is otherwise empty."
Now imagine a western CEO coming to a politics-related interview with a major international newspaper, accompanied by her mom and a sampling of her extended family. In most of the non-western world, the view of family is drastically different than ours, no matter the social strata. The unit of concern in these cultures in their economy, politics, intimate and social life is the family or clan; not the individual.
Some in these geographies (Isis, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia) actually punish attempts at separate identities, beliefs or life styles. Socially we may call these societies “tribalizing.” Each of these socio-cultural groups yields certain benefits to its citizens. Each also asks different things from those citizens. More later.
These two societal types also differ in their views of women, gender equality, child rearing, trust of the stranger and other interpersonal and family patterns. Psychologically we may call these attitudes, values and behaviors “individuation favoring” vs. “merging favoring.” Alternatively, they may be called “post-industrial” vs. “pre-industrial-agrarian” family patterns.
These two groups of geographies (partially described in The West and The Rest by Niall Ferguson, historian.) also differ significantly in non-family, non-interpersonal societal areas, such as: the rural vs. urban population ratio, industrial vs. agrarian (pre-industrial) economies. Economically we may call these patterns “capitalism” vs. “mercantilism” as well as industrial vs agrarian.
They also differ in educational gender opportunity, governance policies, rule of law, and citizen’s protected rights. Politically, we may call these two styles of government and governance, “democracy” vs. “authoritarianism.”
Perhaps most importantly, these two sets of societies differ in the long history of their political and economic experiences. Before 1700, the northwestern countries of Europe were destabilized by civil wars and the repeated barbarian invasions from the Huns, Mongols, Magyars, Turks, Arabs and other intruders and occupiers from the south and east. The battle of Vienna put an end to these repeated destructive, destabilizing external attacks. This allowed certain long lasting stability and order to develop economically, societally, industrially and individually. By and large after 1725, because the industrial revolution empowered North America and Northwestern Europe, the northwest became what may be called the attacker or imperializer. The south and east were the imperializees. That may be changing as globalization spreads the economic and educational benefits of industrialization.
Please read a description of different attitudes and behavior along these societally defined lines.
On Tues April 19, 2016, the poli-economic journalist, Gideon Rachman, in the Financial Times wrote:
“The way the press treats political leaders marks a crucial dividing line between free and authoritarian countries.”
He is addressing an issue affecting globalization and the attendant cultural conflicts of that process.
“In an authoritarian state, presidents demand and receive reverential treatment. In democratic countries political leaders know that they will be subject to satire…”
He goes on to contrast the European Union as an example of a democratic approach, with “Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China…Hungary …and Asian authoritarianism…”
Referring to ever greater clout by these authoritarian countries he concludes: “In the coming years, protecting press freedom is likely to cost Europeans contracts and money…”
If family and individual boundaries are added to the mix, the larger circles of the two systems, east and west economies, governments and laws, are seen to be divided along the same lines as the smaller more personal and intimate circles.
Moreover, these two very different societal types differ in the most important features relevant to the current lives of their citizens: “The west” is more or less rich and industrialized while the “rest” are more or less illiterate, agrarian and often impoverished. Recently, (since World War II and again after Vietnam) the western victors have helped some Asian countries begin industrialization (Japan, South Korea, China) but they are certainly not considered “post-industrial” in the western societal sense.
Why are these facts important? Interesting perhaps; but why important to therapist?
For several reasons: As a western parent or therapist you may feel fully integrated into this western modernity culture of ours. If you are a foreign born, or first generation non-western parent, you are probably more aware of generational differences in many areas of family and societal life. If the above societal and personal boundary distinctions are true they will have significant implications for how your child experiences you and themselves and their world. When interacting with western institutions and individuals the different definitions of what we call “ego-boundaries” in industrial modernity vs. traditional agrarian settings may be confusing to your child as well as to you. Adolescent/young adult loneliness and alienation, both of which can be experienced without apparent explanation, is a common adaptation manifestation. In younger children “acting out” and other symptom patterns can result.
These sets of parents still face challenges that stem from the lack of articulated societal patterns and influences mentioned above. Their children face contradictions every day when interacting in the family versus larger societal values and expectations. Please see the “multi-generational transmission process” of emotional and behavioral patterns which proceeds outside our immediate awareness. (see MENU>SYSTEMS)
These distinctions are psychologically important because the western mental health profession and the developmental psychology and education industry have as a basic tenet that only through separation from mother and family and through “individuation” in adulthood can a person be happy, mature and mentally stable. The majority of the world's non-westernized citizens would not sign on to that.
Please read excerpts from course descriptions of a major and highly respected therapist training institute in Washington DC. Please note we hardily endorse and admire this institute and its faculty. We also agree with every quoted course description. Where we differ is that this approach, outlook and series of assumptions in our opinion do not currently apply everywhere. They work in certain cultures but may even be life or relationship threatening in other cultures. Is everyone in those cultures (Saudi Arabia, areas of Africa, South and Central America, ISIS, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Russia) considered significantly "damaged" ?
“…A Difficult Past: Working with Facts and Defining a (separate) Self ….
…Differentiation of Self: Evidence for Reversibility of the Impact of Family History…
"This presentation will draw upon evidence from the Observations of Change research project and videotaped interviews to illustrate ways that steps toward differentiation of self in family systems psychotherapy bring about changes associated with improved health and functioning in the family. The discussion will focus on ways that changes in physiological reactions and patterns of interaction within the family indicate reversibility of the impact of adversity and epigenetic influences in one’s own lifetime and over generations in a family…"
…"Leadership in a Family" ..."Through a lecture and videotaped interviews, this conference will explore what it means to be a leader in a family. From the viewpoint of Bowen’s idea of differentiation of self, the leader does not have to be the chief executive officer of the family, but be a responsible and thoughtful member of the system. The differences and similarities of leadership in a family and an organization will be described and demonstrated. …”
These dimensions are important for psychotherapy practice since it is individuation and emancipation from family that is the goal of the western “mental health establishment" for growing children and most adult patients.
Globally, (in fact, billions of global citizens and their cultures) the tribal outlook believes just the opposite. Family cohesiveness as adults as well as youngsters is a bedrock value for most of the world. It is, demographically, the industrialized northwest that is the outlier. Dr. Bowen might describe, a tribal "glob" pattern, as taking several generations to accommodate surrounding western modernity values and patterns. There is thus, often a void in the three-way reciprocal feedback loop of society<->family<->child/adult. As a result, non-acknowledged confusion often reigns, especially in the realms of self-esteem and the definitions of intimacy/love
On another front, the family structures and patterns that facilitate individuation are thought to have a reciprocal and compatible relationship with the economic and political institutions in western societies. The authoritarian and vertical organization in the institutions of a tribalizing society also reach down into creating its "merged-boundary" families.
One of our major goals in this blog is to illustrate the mutually reinforcing mechanisms that interact between the individual in the family, the individuating family in the society, and the individualizing societal structures and institutions. Conversely, we wish to illustrate the tribalizing societal political/economic structures and their effects on the tribal family patterns and structures.
A second major goal, related to the first, is to contrast the details of the “individual focused” from the “tribal focused” economies and governance institutions; they affect the individual, the family, and in turn, the economy and the culture.
There is one assumption that underlies everything written on this site. There are certain human “instincts” that have helped survival of our species, and for which we are hardwired: for example, breathing, hunger, thirst, sex. Compared to these, the hardwired “pack instinct” has not gotten much validation or research attention.
We believe the human social need to affiliate; to belong to, and reckon on one’s standing in “the pack”, is among our greatest mysteries and most influential evolutionary endowments.
We all began in a pack. Evolution selected for survival, those human beings who could function by pack rules. Depending on population size, we can call that a pack or a clan or a society. It is our contention that starting with the child and adolescent experiences in the pack, TRIBALISM (the larger, wider pack) is the natural, original universal state of all human beings. We define “tribal” as a state of multigenerational identity and affiliation that is displayed and acted upon outside of immediate awareness. There are all kinds of tribes.
We all know about ancient and modern African or Native American tribes. Millions in the middle east have lived and died by tribal loyalties. However there is "wired pack and tribe tendencies" in all of us. When someone “acts like a typical Brit” (the English tribe) or “professes a repeated need for more details and clarification of the rules” (the Germanic tribe) they do so in a natural “of course” manner. They are not necessarily aware of the stereotypical nature of their behavior or thoughts. The “Jewish mother” or “Irish mother” result from a tribal process and are different than “the Italian mother”. It may offend the reader’s narcissism, but many of our thoughts and behaviors on a group and individual level are affected by tribal processes. "Millennials have different work habits than baby boomers". Why? How does that tribe work?
We believe that the more we understand the social-tribal process and the reality of its presence in our lives, the freer and more productive we can become. All human groups are self-protective. Tribalism and adherence to group rules is our default setting from birth unless our “enlightened” selves choose otherwise. More of this later, but understanding the tribal process is a big aid to effective parenting.
In keeping with our societal pack concerns, we are centered on understanding the integration of the various “social sciences”. We see all human endeavors as socially connected and interactive.
The current western approach seeks to divide the sum of human behavior and thought into separate and distinct subject components. This approach continues to succeed in the physical sciences.
We believe that in human affairs, as in all systems, the value of the whole is truly larger (and more useful) than the sum of its separate parts; therefore, we emphasize deliberate integration of the social sciences. We propose restricted and careful definition of "the scientific method" (as used in the physical sciences) when studying social and emotional phenomena.
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 group and geography. At first, following Carter and McGoldrick, I sought answers in the ethnography of individual countries. After some macroeconomic education I soon realized it boiled down to wider trends in the northwest European cultures vs the south and east of Europe and most of the globe. 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 because they worked. I came to modulate a different "therapeutic stance" that would be most helpful in healing wounds and conflicts of families of different societal and geographic origins. Most generally it was the rich urban, industrial German or English speaking countries vs poor agrarian, preindustrial) southern and eastern Europe (club med), Asia and Africa that essentially determined these differences. Eventually this conclusion, based on my observations and informally tested hypotheses, led me to see Dr. Murray Bowen's systems theory through a much wider lens.
As a result, we emphasize the need for a new integrated vocabulary; we believe human affairs are always influenced by certain systems concepts. Among them, "societal-family nonlinear processes" that are reciprocal and self-reinforcing, These cannot be studied without a vocabulary that labels their interrelated substance and nature. We affirm that a vocabulary that works for the linear physical sciences is not only inadequate, it misdirects the search for the nonlinear dimension of human behaviour.
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 political and economic theory. It also incorporates the thought of both clinicians and political economists such as Elizabeth Carter, Monica McGoldrick, Mathew Besdine, Fredrick Perls, , Dr.s Harry Stack Sullivan, Murray Bowen, John Bowlby, Allan Macfarlane, John Banfield, W. Edward Demming, Ernst Gellner and especially Dr. Niall Fergusson and Dr. Francis Fukuyama in the areas of history and governance. It is also informed by our understanding of family systems theory as observed in individual, family and parenting therapy practice over 45 years.
In short we wish to specify a wider definition of the why’s, how’s and wtf's of ethnicity (national character) and integrate that with the fields of parenting, geography, macroeconomics, history, sociology and political science. (Please see MENU>THE PREMISE, for a more detailed theoretical framework) Ironically, most professionals in each of these separated fields have no more than undergraduate courses in any of the other areas of study. Graduate education in clinical psychology and psychiatry do not usually offer a single advanced course in any of these other subjects such as history or political economy. Were the details of these fields relevant to helping children and families in my clinical practice? No doubt.
In my experience there were parents who could be helped most efficiently by focusing on areas other than their children. Tribal mothers cope with a diminished power role by banding together more readily and overtly (triangulating) than western women (who band together more easily than western men.). The more pliant personal boundaries allow for more inclusion and sharing of all aspects of their lives within the pack or even the tribe. Living in the alienated and isolating megalopolis deprives them of what I call "the group ego strength" that they were raised to cultivate and depend on in the family. Certain "ETHNIC ENCLAVES" may be seen as historic and current attempts to restore the village-tribal world. Raising tribal children is a group effort very unlike the two adult picture common in the urban modernity picture. Children are raised to be part of aunts, uncles and cousins on a daily basis. Doors are always open. The adults gladly contribute to this intimate extended circle. There are family situations where helping to institute this kind of social situation is the best thing a therapist can do for a family.
Life entails challenges and anxiety. Resources for coping in the functional western psyche are different than those of adapted easterners. An individuated developmental pattern depends on different skills and developmental structures than those of a tribal developmental pattern. Yes, there are always triangles and the other functional Bowenian systems elements in play, but the discerning therapist will realize that the systemic resources differ greatly in eastern vs western families.
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 in all social science fields.
Getting down to therapeutic work:
In the initial interview, when you first meet the two strangers sitting in front of you, having not met the child, you wonder how will you be able to help them. They are there anxious to help their child with any one of a range of problems. Guilt and self-questioning are often on the front of their minds. The first step is to put that almost universal guilt (an assumption that anything unfortunate must be attributable to bad parenting) on the table and forcefully refute it as an assumption.
What are the most important facts that will effect diagnosis and treatment?
Here are the questions I asked the parents who would consult me for the sake of their children. Besides demographics such as age, neighborhood and school information, and detailed symptom-problem history, I wanted to know their family structure and history. What is family history? It has many dimensions but for the purpose of this essay I will narrow down my questions. Where were both parents born? Who in the family history first came to this country? From where? Not just from which country, I wanted to know from what city (I had the maps) or village. What level of education and occupation even three or more generations back. This wasn’t casual for me. I considered this info very important. Does three generations back really matter? I think it does. Bowen’s "multigeneration transmission process" although still mysterious is real. It often continues through several generations. Inevitably the family of two grandparent Harvard graduates will have a different family pattern than two farmers from Poland. As stated, even three generations of living in the northeast megalopolis will produce strengths and challenges different than three generations residing outside Charlotte, South Carolina.
Below I will try to outline the concepts that underlie these interview concerns.
THE DIFFERING SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL CONTRACTS
One dimension in man's experience is his relationship to and within the human pack. Darwinian adaptation to the physical environment has inclined man to be fusionist (the I-F, "individuated-fused" dimension). It is only certain civilization molds that will favor an individualistic framework for family or individual.
We hypothesize among other societal differences that the (fused) tribalist may be distinguished from the individualist by differences in a social contract; it has a long history but is still basically current. The tribal social contract has many black-white, in-out features. It entails merging the self within the group’s amorphous boundaries. The self is relinquished and disavowed. Both physical and emotional boundaries within the tribe are fluid. Everything is everyone’s business. In return for relinquishing individuality and personal boundaries, the citizen's needs are to be taken care of by the superiors. The opposite is true for those outside the tribe. Boundaries are rigid, there is minimal or no trust or human empathy. (discussed more extensively THE PREMISE I)
In contrast, the individualist social contract emphasizes the self of each citizen. Social and legal rights and boundaries (both physical, legal and emotional) as well as responsibilities, exist along a horizontal plane. Government, parents, schools are there to do for the person what they cannot in particular circumstances, do for themselves alone. The goals are ever greater self-reliance, independent decision making and competence in whatever sphere. In turn, the society benefits from each citizen doing his or her thing. Rather than "everything being negotiable or bribeable” the rights, privileges and responsibilities are enumerated. Overt praise and external rewards and praise are secondary and not common. Humility and self-derived satisfaction motivate. Core values are internalized rather than dependent on external tribal influence. Esteem in the adult is built through an inner filter and internalized in the character.
To produce citizens of this pattern entails very different parenting attitudes, values and behaviors. What's the therapeutic connection? We proceed on the assumption declared in the object relations literature, that there is a stage in development where separation from the mothering one is most effective. If the parents are thought to have been clearly raised in a tribal framework, it would be surprising that a child more than four years old had achieved an appropriate level of separation in the western framework. Judgement and strategy come in to play here. What is important is sensitivity to this dimension and careful consideration concerning appropriate and doable goals.
Is it a coincidence that there are vastly differing attitudes and practices in the field of education between the northwestern and many countries in the southeast? (discussed more extensively in THE PREMISE I) Education in a tribal context, by definition, must limit not only facts but tools and conclusions in "vulnerable" minds. Open inquiry is always sinful in one way or another.
The determination of where an adult male or female winds up on this spectrum at least in part, has historically been determined geographically. The northern tribes of Europe have been the societies that emphasized the individualistic side of man's nature. The eastern and southern localities on the globe have been the societies that have emphasized man's fusionist nature. His nature is obviously a balance between those two extremes. What do we mean by the I-F component of man's nature?
We can look at or approximate this dimension through various lenses. We can describe fusionistic vs individualistic psychology, fusionist vs individualist economies, governance, I-F interpersonal behavior and child rearing. The politics of structures and institutions in a society can result in a fusionist vs individualist economy, and an I-F legal system. It is thus crucial to formulate at least generally, where this particular family sits on this dimension.
At the other extreme from tribalism, original pack-centered identity is transitioned and overwhelmed by personal autonomy in societies that devalue rigid in-group loyalty in favor of independently internalized, personalized, self-selected goals and behavior. It manifests itself in the social science quilt of family structure, parenting, political and economic institutions and history.
We know of no agrarian, preindustrial economy that favors individuation for the mass of its members.
Positions on the group-individual continuum of personal boundaries and tribalism can be affected societally by suddenly imposed but long lasting multi-generation societal calamity; stress such as war-invasion-occupation, civil war, communal long lasting poverty and economic depression. It is also affected by more permanent factors such as the nature of the macro-economy. An agrarian, rural village peasant economy, will be more local and tribal even in the industrial Anglosphere; an industrial urban economy will be less tribal even in southeastern Europe. Industrialization produces urban centers which require more demographic density and more constant "stranger contact" and interaction; tribal boundaries need to adjust from black-white, in or out, to grey and eventual integration.
Adapting away from our pack roots and loyalties has contributed directly to the material success of industrialized economies. Consequently tribal parents once their consciousness has absorbed the two frameworks, need to articulate their own position on the dimension followed by a vision for their children. Almost always, stark choices will need to be decided.
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, MENTAL HEALTH and ETHNOCENTRISM
As an example of the present non-integration of the social sciences, we note that this clearly family-political-economic parallel pattern has also been separately presented and studied but not acknowledged in the fields of western psychology, psychotherapy and human development. The psychological process of individuation has been widely described as the "developing" and "the separated self" and is increasingly taken as evidence of "mental health". In fact, the American and British professional psychiatric literature calls this process "individuation" and posits it as necessary for "healthy relationships." (Bowlby, Winnicott, Mahler, Fairbairn, Spock, Bowen). Their emphasis on developmental stages of separation may be true clinically, but different societal values will be shown to intimately influence these processes.
Even Bowen’s theorizing may have been influenced by his family’s Protestant, northern European, pre-revolutionary “individualized” societal roots in a small Tennessee town.
Discussing Bowen’s view of mental health or disorder in families, Mary Sykes Wylie states:
“In spite of what Bowen called the "flow and counterflow" within the 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.”
Should we assume, do the facts confirm, that this outlook is valid in the tribal majority of humans and societies on earth?
A post-industrial society will not usually reward a tribal outlook and certainly a tribal society will not reward an emancipated individualistic "separated" way of life or thought for its members. The consequences for such inappropriate thought and behavior creates confusion and lessens stability, confidence and self-esteem. (It is often called "anxiety/depression".)
In sum, the economic, political and psychological fields have studied variations on the theme of tribalist (enmeshed, merged, dependent) vs individualist (rule of law, protection of individual rights, adult emancipation). In spite of clear similarities in vocabulary and even content, these findings have yet to be combined and integrated. One of our goals is to point out the very real benefits of such articulated integration. Hopefully, at some point it becomes clear to the therapist why the post-industrial modernity environment is often at odds with a particular tribal family framework.
(discussed more extensively in THE PREMISE I)
For further theoretical elaboration of these themes please see THE PREMISE I, Systems, The Course.
AS OF: Thursday, November 19, 2015
How much can we teach the public about parenting in nationally published books or articles? Actually, not very much. Whether they are parents already or see parenting in their future, believe it or not, most of them already know how to parent. Not really you say? They are conflicted and confused? Bewildered and frustrated?
That's not necessarily because they don't know how to parent, It might well be that what they know, even way deep in their bones, is not acceptable in the western, urban, post-industrial, modernity environment in which most American (and Anglo-sphere ) parents and their kids live. If we are right about the societal influences on parenting and family life (please see MENU>THE PREMISE I) societies are thought to differentiate along clear-cut family interactions:
1 – Early (0-5 years) attitude towards attachment and self-differentiation
2 – Later attitudes toward identity in a self, family and tribal context
The western definition of mental health is at odds with societies that dispute independence and individual determined thought and behavior. Some groups are even willing to kill and die for absolute rigidity of non-adult-choices as prescribed by the west. This is not a recent attitude or social and institutional phenomenon. Tribalism and its societal and individual implications was the main eastern (Persian) opposition to ancient Greek democracy. The point here is that non-jihadi families (most southeasterners) contain this tribal zeitgeist and it affects almost every area of their lives. That is why we contend that to give northwestern parenting advice to southeastern tribalized parents is not the best approach. The adaptation to western societal parameters of living requires a very different set of therapeutic tools. Moreover we find that a mega-urban societal experience even in a post industrial context, is quite different that of a small town more rural experience.
This site will try to be a forum for exploring these societal nuances and their implications for our profession.
We believe that the economic and psychological functioning of individuals, family units, societies, and political economies are intimately intertwined. Moreover, significant events and trends within families, societies and economies are best modified and predicted by disciplined interpretation of their histories and societal institutions. Moreover these elements invariably demonstrate reciprocal, self-perpetuating patterns of thought, action and interpersonal interaction.
Clinical explorations led us to the conclusions mentioned above. In order to come to these conclusions, principles from presently disconnected fields needed to be integrated and organized into a more rigorous and communicative body of theory and practice.
We introduce this essay mainly for the following purpose: There is currently no productive framework, vocabulary or procedure that can aid exploration of the overlaps, nuances and contradictions inherent in the social sciences. If indeed individual, family, and societal life are intimately interconnected we have a problem. The ability to converse meaningfully about different societies’ “way of life” (and all that entails) is severely limited in civilized, educated society.
This exercise in circular logic produces a narrow result.
Another similar logical mirage can fester among even the most educated:
“If one generalizes about a whole group or society one is bound to be wrong. There are good or bad (honest or dishonest, cruel or merciful) people in every conceivable society.”
And that puts an end to any further conversation, well-intentioned or not. This is a mirage because description of societal realities is not, and ought not be about good or bad. If we recognize that society (like family) is a living breathing dynamic entity, no different than a herd of zebras or elephants that strive to survive and take care of its own (again, like a family), than one can see that certain societal realities and circumstances challenge that society over time and produce survival enhancing adaptations. Adaptations (in economics, governance, individual character, parenting and even the definitions of good and evil), which are multi-dimensional and multigenerational. Definition of the endless vectors involved in what brings a societal trait from point A to point B does not involve good or bad. It is a judgment free process and exploration. Nothing more nor less.
Further, there is one question that we find clarifying for this purpose:
Given that you are falsely convicted for a serious crime, in which country’s prison would you prefer to serve?
1) USA 2) GERMANY 3) ENGLAND 4) SAUDI ARABIA 5) SERBIA 6) COLUMBIA
We believe the answers will distinguish the societies of the northwest from those in the southeast fairly consistently. We want to know the why’s and how’s of this reality.
Summarizing, to investigate processes or even have a serious conversation about cultural/societal differences and their connection to citizens is currently a choice: bigotry or politically correct denial of meaningful data and differences. There is a third way.
In an era of globalized politics, communication, business, education and warfare, we consider defining and exploring this area of systemic knowledge as a top priority. We propose six currently separate areas of study that can aid, when integrated, the understanding of both personal and societal life:
1 - macroeconomics,
2 - governance and its institutions,
3 - education
4 - parenting,
5 - family systems theory
6 – Gestalt psychology
These cannot be meaningfully studied without a seventh:
7 - the long-term history of each.
Using Bowen’s Family Systems Therapy Theory clinically, led to exploring his systemic, institutional “larger concentric circles”.
Understanding individuals and families in a framework emphasizing integration of these six fields led to faster, deeper resolution of the presenting family and parenting problems.
We believe that this fundamental principle, responsibly applied, can help modify, explain and predict personal, societal, and economic behavior more effectively than "objective" numbers, however parsed and extrapolated. Numbers can be our eyes but never our brains.
Accordingly, we argue for a comprehensive, interdisciplinary study of social phenomena at micro and macro levels. This approach must analyze and testify to universal human tendencies, functioning at the level of individual, family, local and broader culture, political organization, and macroeconomic structure. Such an approach will help illuminate self-perpetuating connections between family rules, legal institutions, commercial law and theory.
We will show how a tradition of object constancy (faith in abiding relationships) distinguishes and shapes intimate, political, and commercial dynamics; how the dimension of separation/ individuation in family systems theory, reveals personal, social, political and economic development as essentially interactive.
On the level of The Family, our interdisciplinary approach will investigate popular and governing conceptions of gender, parenting, responsibility and loyalty, hierarchy and inclusivity, notions of truth and honor, and finally, individually, how what has traditionally been called Freudian "defense mechanisms" and "character disorders" in fact have both political and macroeconomic dimensions and purposes
Politically, we will show how these themes find mutually reinforcing expression within and between families, local societies, regional and national groupings, and international macroeconomic and governance arrangements.
Societally too, these broad patterns include very different social-cultural understandings of, among other things; government, loyalty, honesty-corruption, the rule of law, family structure, individuation, civic and personal obligation, interpersonal and financial debt, immediate and delayed gratification – most concretely what it means to pay (or avoid paying) one’s taxes.
(At this point, we suggest that a principled distaste for cultural stereotyping ought not reflexively disqualify what we’ve said so far. It is clearly a danger and one that we addressed previously. For now, we ask a brief suspension of disbelief on this score pending digestion of the material below and its counter-balancing value to the dangers of unexamined prejudice. See MENU>Knowledge & Bigotry).
From our perspective, the introduction of family therapy systems insight as a filter into these other previously disconnected disciplines represents a new and we hope enlightening, perspective to well known social theory covering many of these concerns, from Adam Smith, to Marx, to Max Weber and Thomas Piketty. Fairbairn, Winnicott, Maslow are seen as forerunners. This understanding of systems suggests the importance of Bowenian factors interacting with the core of social, political, and economic life.
Nothing here is new or original except this attempt at showing the interaction and integration; the “gestalt “ that makes up individual, family and societal functioning.
Below please see a series of direct, partial quotes for “proper” parenting from parenting web sites in two different societies. Our purpose is not to evaluate or judge these sites or their advice. Rather we wish to distinguish the sometimes subtle influence of an Anglosphere, industrial, “progressive” social atmosphere to that of a primarily rural, tribally influenced, and vertical economy in transition to more industrial values. These quotes are only a minimal part of the two sites.
There is much overlap and consistency of advice. There are also, sometimes subtle differences
We believe every American parent will benefit from observing the diversity in tone as well as substance between these two styles themselves and the difference between each and the typical American parenting advice site
These are the subtle dimensions and attitudes we think separate the two sites.
1 –The more industrial or post-industrial-urban a society, the more it will tolerate differences in values and focus the choice on the family or individual. Things (values and behaviors) become relative and flexible as opposed to rooted in an ancient and tried set of universally valid principles. “Learn to think for yourself!” is not a universal goal.
2 – There is less emphasis on the “individuality and uniqueness” of the offspring. Fitting the tried and tested mold becomes the way to assess his worth in the more pre-industrial, agrarian societies. One outstanding dimension in this regard is the choosing of mates. In the older agrarian pre-industrial groups mates are often still selected or at least filtered by the parents and the extended family. (Please see THE COURSE) In the urban post-industrial settings not only is there an independent choice by the individual, many urban millennials believe several cohabiting, intimate, committed relationships should be “explored” before settling down.
3 - “Giving space ” is a post-industrial and Northern European attitude. For many of the world's verticle political economies "giving space" is seen as dangerous. Please note not only the Indian advice of much greater involvement but also the micro-management of the advice-receiving parents, from the Indian site.
Please read this parenting advice (chosen at random from the first page a Google listing of Australian parenting sites.) from a site in Australia:
(Our comments will be separated from the direct quotes by using quotation marks and different italicized fonts for the quotes. We underline those quoted terms and emphases that illustrate the differences in tone.)
“Behaviour | Suitable for 12-18 years
Teenage behaviour overview”
It’s normal for children to push the boundaries in the teenage years. In fact, this is an important part of their journey towards independence. You can guide teenage behaviour with clear rules, consistency, warm relationships and an understanding of why teenagers act the way they do.”
“Developing independence and responsibility is a key part of growing up."
"To do this, your child needs to test out independent ideas and ways of behaving. Sometimes this involves disagreeing with you, giving you a bit of ‘attitude’, pushing the limits and boundaries you set, wanting to be more like friends and even taking risks.”
“Although it can be stressful for you, this is all a normal and common part of adolescence. And this phase will pass.”
“Confident teenagers have the ability to avoid people and situations that aren’t right for them, and to find those that are. You can build your child’s confidence by looking for practical and positive activities that give your child a good chance of success, and praising your child for putting in a good effort.”
“…effective discipline for teenagers focuses on setting agreed limits and helping teenagers work within them.”
“Rules, limits and boundaries help your child learn independence, manage and take responsibility for her behaviour and solve problems. Your child needs these skills to become a young adult with her own standards for appropriate behaviour and respect for others.
If this kind of behaviour is an issue for your family, setting clear rules lets your child know what you expect. For example, you could say, ‘We speak respectfully in our family. This means we don’t call people names’.
“Involving your child in these discussions means you can later remind her that she helped make the rules, and that she agreed to them.”
Peer influence is when you do something you wouldn’t otherwise do because you want to feel accepted and valued by others. It isn’t just doing something against your will and can actually be positive. Sometimes it might involve following scenes, trends and fashions to feel part of a social group – this is normal for teenagers.
If your child is confident, with a strong sense of himself and his values, it’s more likely he’ll know where to draw the line when it comes to peer influence.”
Risk-taking is an important way for teenagers to learn about themselves. It can go from trying new tricks at the skate park to truancy, smoking, drug-taking, underage alcohol use, unsafe or underage sexual behaviour and gambling."
Now please compare the content tone and attitude to a randomly chosen (chosen at random from the first page of a Google listing of India parenting sites.)
Parenting guide from India:
“A PARENT'S GUIDE TO INTERNET SAFETY
India Parenting and Values
“Parents all over the world are not very different when it comes to teaching children values. The difference however lies in the fact that Indian families have their own set of values which are sometimes in conflict with the values of other cultures. However there are values which would qualify as universal values. All cultures hold courage, independence, honesty to be values that should be inculcated in children.”
"India’s cultural heritage has its base in Indian values like non violence, respect for elders, for the tools of their trade, family bondage, and the very Indian “athiti devo bhava” In spite of the diversity in the Indian continent, these values are cherished. The value of prayer in India in some form or the other is prevalent in all sections of society.” Whether it is at home or at the place of work, the day starts off with a prayer or an aarathi. The old and infirm are taken care of at home and family ties are very strong.
With the increasing influence of the west, it has become very hard for parents to try and keep these values intact, for the younger generation is always in a sense of conflict between the values that they have and the values that are. “
“…In an age where corruption is on the increase, the value of honesty becomes even more important. We may not be able to change the world, but in our daily lives we can definitely practice being honest. Children learn from what they see, so set an example by being honest yourself.
Respect for elders is a very Indian value and it stems from time immemorial.”
Give them room to grow into what they actually are. Allow them to dream and help them to attain their dreams. This is always not very easy for it may mean going away from a well trodden path. Instill in them the courage to take failure in their stride and help them learn from their mistakes.
“Self confidence should be the password which rules their lives. Learn to listen not to what they tell you but what they are trying to tell you. Always have time for them. Encourage them to ask and question, help them to find out the answers if any of the questions stump you and you will find a good ally in your children. In an age where the internet and television monopolize children, a passion for reading must be inculcated.”
Reading helps children to become more refined in their behavior, more aware in their approach and allows them the privilege of armchair travel. Children must be taught to love books right from when they are very young. Gift them books for their birthdays, encourage them to gift books and build a small library of their own,. In the process of discussion of a particular book, not only do you establish a rapport with the children but you make the ties stronger. Encourage them to write about what they read, hear and see and write articles for a newspaper or for the internet. If there is a library nearby ensure that they are members. Books are for all time wonderful companions and teachers.
They should be taught to be grateful for all that life has given them –all the small things that make up their lives which so many others do not have. Showing compassion, having consideration for others, learning to empathize should be apart of their daily lives. Acquiring a sense of responsibility and accountability and learning to behave in properly are values, which should be instilled when the child is young. The value of money and the art of managing finances must be inculcated early. Ensure that children live within their allowances and without making it apparent make sure they spend correctly. LIVE well but live simply should be the motto of their lives.
“National pride must be instilled. While borrowing from other cultures is good, children must retain their national identity. Being a good citizen, being concerned about society,”
The Girl Child
“Daughters are just as good as sons. Though this was not always believed in India, things have changed for the better over the last decade. Women have also started to prove themselves as equals. Let’s see how you can bring up your daughter well.
Is Your Daughter Dark?”
Now getting back to your patients. Where are their roots? Were they given space? Was their selfhood and self-esteem valued or was “fitting in", more valued and even enforced?
More to come. Comments and/or questions are welcome and will be published upon request;
email us at info@parentingandsocieties .com