When thinking about relationships, it is important to understand that there is an emotional process at work in all relationships and families. It is an instinctual and evolutionary process that varies in degree, not substance. Practically, this means that members of any relationship system are reactive to each other, mostly unconsciously.
This reactivity is generally low when anxiety is minimal, but often increases when anxiety intensifies in the system and/or relationship.
Any process or change in the system / relationship that bumps up against its homeostasis (level of emotional comfort) will raise the level of anxiety in the system and among its members. This emotional shift is often extremely uncomfortable, which makes people reactive in ways that decreases the uncomfortableness (e.g., blaming, rationalizing, threatening, distancing, triangulating, etc.)
The greater the anxiety, the greater the reactivity. People manage their anxiety and reactivity in various ways and to the extent of their differentiation of self (maturity). The goal of therapy, coaching, and consultation is to help people increase their levels of differentiation of self (maturity); manage their reactivity and contributions to the emotional process in families and relationships; and get meaningful connected to their extended families.
This is no small task. Old habits die hard. Most people will never grow much beyond their base levels of differentiation (maturity) that was primarily formed in their families of origin. Nevertheless, small incremental changes in one’s differentiation of self (maturity) can make all the difference in the world. This growth often shows up in relationship functioning, clarity about oneself, and more positive life outcomes.
All things being equal, to the extent one effectively manages self and self alone, they are less anxious and function at a higher level of maturity.
Keys to higher levels of functioning and maturity:
- Define Self (Who do I want to be?)
- Take responsibility for one’s actions and reactions (maturity).
- Understand and manage one’s contributions to negative relationship patterns and cycles (we share 50% responsibility for relationships).
- Establish well-thought-out principles, values, and/or beliefs (drawn upon in moments of anxiety and stress).
- Rely more on facts rather than feelings (pay attention to what can be concretely observed and noted).
- Develop and pursue self-directed goals. (give life energy to things that are important and personal to you).
Relationships and families function better when each member appropriately manages himself or herself alone. This predictably leads to less over and under functioning; emotional distancing; cutoff; and conflict among the members and overall family system. Higher levels of differentiation of self (maturity) makes this possible.
These ideas can be effective in changing individual and relationship functioning, both on a family and social level. Its takes committed effort and practice to implement these ideas and changes. They become more difficult to implement and maintain when stress and anxiety is high in individuals, relationships, and/or families.
But, staying the course can really make an incredible difference in overall relationship functioning, family life, and life outcomes.