The Mask of Family Unity

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Dave: Enforced “togetherness” in families, though largely unconscious, emerges in the way a family tells its story. It is not a unity which augments family spirit, it restricts. The restriction serves a purpose for some. The need for protection is motivated by a history of trauma or too much despair. But often a family member, usually a child, may be sacrificed to maintain this appearance of group unity.

unknown-3Kurt Vonnegut gave us wry advice. He said: We become what we pretend, so be careful what you pretend. The way I look at the world, sometimes families “need” a child to be a problem. It gives them something to be mad about. There is security in having something to be mad about. But when security is rooted in anger, it limits the resilience and creativity that contribute to health. We are not only molded by history, shaped by events; we are pressured to be an extension of the history.

When a family talks about problems they try to understand them, and they often use logic to do so. Their logic shapes and restricts what they can know. The logic undergirds a narrative which helps keep uncertainty at bay. The story tends to be self justifying, eliminating the need for self questioning for some.

Experience in the present can be distorted to fit the narrative. “Making sense”of family upset seems to hold the promise of understanding, like a salve for a images-3wound. Creating a “coherent” story at first helps a family understand its experience of distress. These seemingly rational explanations for family suffering push away confusion. But reason also squelches imagination which is vital to health. Confusion creates uneasiness. Confusion in regard to personal relationships is felt by some to be dangerous, a doorway to craziness. This is especially true for families with generations of trauma. These seemingly rational group explanations provide strong security against meaninglessness and craziness.

Children’s behavior is motivated by worry about their families. Even very young children have good instincts based on their affect sensor-systems. They are like affect barometers. When the artificial “togetherness” is based on distortion or too much compromise, the children are disrupted and produce disruption, it starts with their attempt to grow.

In the next post I will illustrate what this enforced “togetherness” looks like with a clinical story...

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