Families Matter

Why Societal Origin and Family Structures
Are Important

ORIGINATED= 1/16/2017 1:05:04 PM

LATEST= Wednesday, January 18, 2017, 12:05:04 PM

Mother with Strollers

If you’ve come to this web page you are probably interested in parenting and/or family issues. I tried to offer two ways of getting started.

Either way is not easy but one might be shorter than the other.

The shorter way is to keep reading and see if the approach appeals to you.

The longer, in depth way, is to start at the Home page (see Menu or three horizontal lines at upper right of this page.) For more focused discussion of strictly parenting principles just go to the “For Parents” page in the Menu.

The Premise pages ( Menu ) are the most theoretical. 

I believe that the family process is the mechanism that enforces societal principles. The extended family’s job has always been to funnel character compatible citizens into the "society". A German family unit 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, institutions and laws, societal structures such as schools, police, and social or even work relationships) of a society.

Again, the opposite is also true: an understanding of the family's societal/cultural background will enhance understanding of that particular family.

Below is a summary of this way of thinking that I’ve put together after more than 40 years of working with parents, families and individuals.


How should you discipline your child? What’s the best way?

Wrong question!

The first question to ask is “how was I disciplined” and “how was my spouse disciplined?” Why? Because 8 or 9 times out of 10 the natural course of events is that we become the parents that we had. Happy with the way you you were raised? If you are more or less happy with how you were disciplined and want to emulate that, call the caterer. Have a party because you are among the lucky minority. If not, don’t think you can snap your fingers and become essentially different as a parent. Yes you can do it differently but it won’t be easy or quick. That is unless you want to fake it. For many of us our parental method and relationship is in our bones. If it was consistently unhappy or abusive then you’ve got baggage. Want to store that baggage under your child’s bed? I’m thinking you don’t. So what to do? You can’t get rid of your bones. Getting rid of your bones is as unrealistic as thinking you can read a few books, do what they say, and all’s well. If you can pull it off then more power to you. What sometimes happens though, is “inauthenticity.” You become a “wannabe sesame st. parent” and your child become a confused kid because he’s getting confused messages. What are your choices? Find a way to learn about you; how you got here, where you want to go with it; before any books. Want to learn more about this approach? Read on pilgrim.


Here is how our approach began;

Our goal of helping children through working with only their parents, drew us to looking into certain family pattern differences that, below the surface, divide certain geographies. We found ways of replacing traditional child psychotherapy by making the 2 parents into therapists 24/7. Geography and culture mattered.

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 as we tried to delve deeper than symptoms and family connections.

We found a consistent pattern of separate areas of life, that come together in certain predictable clusters

Over time, we found therapeutic results came faster and were long lasting. As we felt more at home in this “Parenting intervention” treatment modality, we found repetitive family issues not only within one family, but across families. Often families that presented similarities in presenting problems were fairly randomly connected to background. But their coping mechanisms, anxiety triggers, and related ways of interpersonal life, did cluster along certain predictable background lines. We eventually found that one major dimension in common that we could reliably point to in our families, was certain types of societal backgrounds. The particular country of origin mattered much less; the larger geographic, geopolitical area mattered more. It was not ethnicity perse but rather the macroeconomic, historical, geopolitical roots of their “society of origin” that mattered greatly. We became aware of a pattern of phenomena that could best be called “tribal”.

We also found certain types of successful therapist interventions and approach solutions would congregate in certain societal groups and macroeconomic ethnicities.

On another level, we started seeing interactions between which “tribe of origin” was interacting with which current macroeconomic societal patterns. For instance, was TV’s Jerry Seinfeld living in NYC or in Cantonville, Ohio.

Agrarian or rural vs. Macro-urban (“citi mouse vs country mouse of origin”, going back several generations) was a biggie.

We found a new way of looking at anxiety, not only as a symptom but also as a method of alarm and communication that might be 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 children, adults 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.

How can geopolitics or economics possibly be connected to family and parenting?

My experiences as a clinical psychologist postulate that they are intimately but mysteriously connected. There is much we don't know. That is where we should begin. Not with culturally determined, make-believe assumptions and solutions, but rather with reality based questions that reveal true ignorance but intellectual fortitude and hope. The whole of social science needs to be integrated and assimilated into a useful body of knowledge not a library of distinct but meaningless numbers. Getting grants and the digitized data that produce these grants has eroded our ability to ask questions and produce answers that make sense. Realistic parenting has, as a result, suffered the same fate.

Even though the family, is a universal civilizing institution that creates citizens out of new born human protoplasm, university training programs in these “non-therapeutic” fields such as “history”, “macro-economics” and “political science” do not show any reference to “family therapy”, “cultural anthropology”, “family systems”, “the multi-generational transmission process” or “the nonlinearity of all human endeavors.”

Conversely, the advanced training programs in psychology, psychiatry, social work and indeed family therapy, claim to know a great deal about parenting and families but do not teach any courses in history, political science, macroeconomics, governance or general modern economic anthropology.

This lack of integration and cohesion in social sciences training is at least partially responsible for a lack of civilized, meaningful theory, vocabulary and framework from which to approach governance, macroeconomics and, most relevant here, to a view of the larger concentric circles influencing therapy, family structure and function. (Please Click Here For further details on Bowen’s family systems theories).

We are interested in understanding more about the parenting process and its relation to cultural patterns. On one hand we explore historical and political-economy factors that contribute to the structures of a society. On the other hand, we use family systems theory to connect a society’s institutional, political and economic dimensions to parenting. Finally, we show the circular self-perpetuating interactive patterns that parenting shares with all components of large systems. This requires serious changes in assumptions and outlook from the traditional psychotherapy and social science literature.

Please read the following from wikipedia.com. It is one of the few descriptions of a concept that relate family patterns reciprocally to societal functioning.

The social character is the central basic concept of the analytic social psychology of Erich Fromm. It describes the formation of the shared character structure of the people of a society or a social class according to their way of life and the socially typical expectations and functional requirements regarding socially adaptive behavior. Social character is essentially adaptive to the dominant mode of production in a society. According to Fromm, the concept integrates Marx's theory concerning how the mode of production determines ideology with Freud's concept of character.

While individual character describes the richness of the character structure of an individual, the social character describes the emotional attitudes common to people in a social class or society. The social character is acquired substantially in the family as an agent of the society but also developed in other institutions of society such as schools and workplaces. The function of the social character is to motivate people to accomplish the expected social tasks concerning work and interaction, education and consuming. Arising in the interaction of the socio-economic social structure and the social libidinous structure the social character makes it possible to use human energies as a socially productive resource.

Please see the writings of Erich Fromm and Michael Maccoby for more details.

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, institutions and laws such as schools, police, and social or work relationships.) of a society.

One of our major goals 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.

From way back, we are all tribal. During our developing years, however defined, we all dance to the pack’s tune: that is, we all reckon with the pack in our thoughts, feelings and behavior. Much more than we know. We are social from birth.

A hunting and farming agrarian village society fit in with that pack wiring.

Industrial society needs and develops very different versions of the wired tribalism that has existed for thousands of years.


Because agrarian tribes and their economies are all built around land (even hunters are based on territories of land). The land doesn’t change. The way to make land productive doesn’t drastically change even though it might improve. Under stable conditions the same land gets passed down from one generation to the next. Humans tend to cluster around the land.

Industrial and especially post industrial economies are not built around land. The industrial and post-industrial way of living does not emphasize multi-generational stability or remaining in the place and working the same farm, that your grandfather and father worked. Opportunities to learn and prosper are not exclusively family or tribe based.

Paper money is intricately connected to industrialization and a global economy. Movement and constant change is how paper money gets printed. This in all its multidimensional manifestations, is called western modernity.

Not coincidentally, other aspects of life also differ depending on the kind of political economy one is born into.

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 and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, 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 identity and 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 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 professional 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.

Emancipation is not a goal on any of these levels.

Some in these geographies (Isis, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia) actually punish attempts at separate identities, beliefs or life styles. This is not considered sick or even malevolent. 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 (without reference to family systems patterns) in The West and The Rest by Niall Ferguson) 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.” Sociologically; ”modernity” vs “traditional”.

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 on the western political groups. This allowed certain long lasting stability and order to gradually develop economically, societally, industrially and individually. Yes, there was constant fighting within the west but no more alien enslaving invasions and occupation such as practiced by, for example, the Mongols, Muslims, or Tartars. Eastern and Southern Europe, the Balkans, had no such stability.

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 parents?

For several reasons: A western parent 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 a child experiences family 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 the child as well as to the parent.

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 the MENU>SYSTEM link)

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.


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. And that is where the mistakes begin. People and societies are not atoms. They are not digits.

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.

George Jonisch, PhD Clinical Psychologist (ret.)

Family Therapist,