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Your Mindful Compass: Breakthrough Strategies for Navigating Life Relationships in the Social Jungle
At long last after four years, YOUR MINDFUL COMPASS is available on AMAZON just for you.
In memory of how long I have been making an effort to consider what Murray Bowen, M.D. was trying to communicate, I include below one of the old photographs from 1987.
The picture reminds me that it can be a fun challenge to be separate and useful to others.
I also celebrate that there are many curious people from all over who are better able to contemplate human behavior as a part of life due to the effort Bowen made.
Many smart and kind people have helped the work I have done along. I am grateful for all who have supported this effort.
Now that the book is available on Amazon, both as a kindle book or a paperback, it seems a bit like having your child grow up to have a life of his or her own.
Who knows what the book will do or where it will go?
I am interested in seeing what others think.
Who will review this book?
I hope a few of you will take that kind of interest. Anyone can do it now, as you can order it on a kindle. Or you can wait for a paperback copy.
My own effort to write a summery is below
–Have fun and I hope you enjoy using….
Your Mindful Compass: Breakthrough Strategies For Navigating Life/Work Relationships In Any Social Jungle Paperback – December 1, 2013
-“Your Mindful Compass” takes us behind the emotional curtain to see the mechanisms which regulate individuals in social systems.
There is great comfort and wisdom in knowing we can increase our awareness to manage the swift and ancient mechanisms of social control. We can gain greater objectivity and flexibility by seeing how social controls function in all kinds of systems from ants to humans.
To become more adaptable and less controlled by others, we can learn how emotional systems influence our relationship-oriented brain.
People want to know what goes on in families that give rise to amazing leaders and/or terrorists.
For the first time in history we have the ability to understand the systems in which we live. The social sciences have been accumulating knowledge since the early fifties about how we are regulated by others. S. Milgram, S. Ashe, P. Zimbardo and J. Calhoun, detail the vulnerability to being duped and deceived and the difficulty of cooperating when values differ.
Murray Bowen, M.D., was the first researcher to observe several live-in families for up to three years at the National Institute of Mental Health. Describing how family members overly influence one another and distribute stress unevenly, Bowen described both how symptoms and family leaders emerge in highly stressed families.
Our brain is not organized to automatically perceive that each family has an emotional system, fine-tuned by evolution and “valuing” its survival as a whole, as much as the survival of any individual. It is easier to see this emotional system function in ants or mice but not in humans.
The emotional system is organized to snooker us humans: encouraging us to take sides, run away from others, to pressure others, to get sick, to blame others, and to have great difficulty in seeing our part in problems. It is hard to see that we become anxious, stressed out and even that we are difficult to deal with. But “thinking systems” can open the doors of perception, allowing us to experience the world in a different way.
This book offers both coaching ideas and stories from leaders as to strategies to break out from social control by de-triangling, using paradoxes, reversals and other types of interruptions of highly linked emotional processes. Time is needed to think clearly about the automatic nature of the two against one triangle. Time and experience is required as we learn strategies to put two people together and get self outside the control of the system. In addition, it takes time to clarify and define one’s principles, to know what “I” will or will not do and to be able to take a stand with others with whom we are very involved.
The good news is that systems’ thinking is possible for anyone. It is always possible for an individual to understand feelings and to integrate them with their more rational brains. In so doing, an individual increases his or her ability to communicate despite misunderstandings or even rejection from important others.
The effort involved in creating your Mindful Compass enables us to perceive the relationship system without experiencing it’s threats. The four points on the Mindful Compass are: 1) Action for Self, 2) Resistance to Forward Progress, 3) Knowledge of Social Systems and the 4) The Ability to Stand Alone. Each gives us a view of the process one enters when making an effort to define a self and build an emotional backbone.
It is not easy to find our way through the social jungle. The ability to know emotional systems well enough to take a position for self and to become more differentiated is part of the natural way humans cope with pressure.
Now people can use available knowledge to build an emotional backbone, by thoughtfully altering their part in the relationship system. No one knows how far one can go by making an effort to be more of a self-defined individual in relationships to others. Through increasing emotional maturity, we can find greater individual freedom at the same time that we increase our ability to cooperate and to be close to others.
Aside Posted on Updated on
Thankful and Waiting -
I am so grateful for all of life, and most especially for the love and support from all my family and friends.
For those who follow the blog – this week promises to be the time for the long awaited birth of my book.
Your Mindful Compass: Breakthrough Strategies for Navigating Life/Work Relationships in Any Social Jungle
Special thanks to all those I interviewed, to my colleagues and clients.
For those who continue to teach me about emotional process, triangles, and of course differentiation of self.
Most of all thanks to Murray Bowen, M.D for his original observations, on how the human family functions.
Bowen demonstrated with many people, including me, the various ways that the ancient mechanism of social control could be bent and sometimes even thwarted.
Thanks to the readers of the blog who have continued to give me feedback on my thinking and writing.
I give special thanks to my editor, Judith Ball, who has been working with me for the last eight years.
This book has been a three-year project, which has taken a tribe to publish.
Many individuals have joined in the effort to review, suggest, edit, index, and prepare the document.
Reviewers: Laurie Lassiter, Ann Bunting, Laura Havstad, Priscilla Friesen, Kathy Wiseman, Victoria Harrison, John Engels, John Cammack, and Eric Thompson.
Editing Help: Annie Chagnot, Donna Troisi, Zane O. Odum. and Amy Campbell.
All have been both diligent and kind in getting this book ready for Amazon.
I appreciate everyone’s contribution in making this book come to life.
When the book is finally available I will send out a new notice.
Following is my favorite review.
It can also be found on the back of the book.
This is an unusually good book: intelligent, informed, and engaging. Andrea’s understanding of Bowen’s theory, and, even more importantly, of the phenomena Bowen described, is unerring.
The challenge of understanding just how vulnerable we all are, though to different degrees, as to being regulated by the environment,
is stunning, and Andrea backs this up by looking at many different areas of social research from Stanley Milgram on.
She has also broadened the focus on the family as a system, to the consideration of the work of other systems observers like E.O. Wilson and Deborah Gordon.
There is an interesting mix of her personal story and the stories from the leaders who were interviewed.
They are not Bowen trained people but can see and understand much about how relationship systems work just from living life.
This is a first-rate book.
It includes so much of what is important to say about Bowen theory and practice, that hasn’t been said,
including the use of the triangle toward increasing differentiation of self. It is a relief to me to have it stated so well in written form now.
Laurie Lassiter, Ph.D.
Sneak preview of the cover created by my granddaughters: Alexa Schara,
and the photo by Madeline Mauboussin -
Your Mindful Compass:
Breakthrough Strategies for Navigating Life/Work Relationships in Any Social Jungle
And now a small bonus for those of you who like poetry and photography.
It is with great sadness that the family of Candace Pert announces her death on September 12, 2013, suddenly and unexpectedly, while at her home in Maryland. Candace’s warmth and compassion, her laughter, authenticity, just the way she could light up a room and touch all in it will be forever missed, but forever remembered by anyone who had the fortune to meet her in person or read her books.
She brilliantly shared her scientific research in a form that is readily understandable and engaging for non-scientists via lectures worldwide, documentaries, films, CDs, and in her books, “Molecules of Emotion: The Scientific Basis Behind Mind-Body Medicine ” and Hay House publication, “Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d”.
She taught us how the BodyMind functions as a single psychosomatic network of informational molecules which deeply influence our health and happiness and, in a way that includes yet transcends left-brained scientific inquiry, she guides us in how to utilize this knowledge to enhance our lives with spiritual and emotional paths to healing. She welcomed all spiritual practice into her life, and she loved all people.
Many of you know Candace had dedicated herself to creating new drugs for serious illnesses. She was after all first trained as a Pharmacologist. Over twenty-five years ago Candace had an inspiration, or a vision as it is described in her first book, for how to make a drug for HIV/AIDS, that at the time was not controlled, and was destroying the lives of many.
She has spent the last 28 years pursuing research to create a non-toxic treatment and a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
It would honor her and this work that she believed in so much that donations be sent to the “Candace B. Pert Fund for HIV Research” at Whitman-Walker Health, 1701 14th Street NW, which is the Washington DC community health center specializing in HIV/AIDS care and research, where she conducted some of her clinical research so that others can continue to make advances and discoveries to eliminate AIDS in the world, a big unfinished quest of hers.
MEMORIAL SERVICE will be 27 October 10:00 AM. Historic Jewish Synagogue, Sixth & I, Washington, DC. Please note the following road closures.
For other ideas on her life see -
I am grateful for Candace’s ability to encourage unbelievable ideas: finding specific peptides to understand emotions and the usefulness of or not, of drugs. Her interpretations of the feel good peptides moved many to understand functioning of bliss.
Candace thank-you, for all you did to make your dreams a reality. Thank you for following your intuition and enhancing the potential for the human to steer him or herself, with knowledge guiding the way.
Inspirational to woman everywhere as to her drive to know, to not bend to old beliefs, to find the new and to reflect as she could this “vibration.” By following her intuition she made things happen, embracing life long curiosity as she embraced the earth in her death.
She returned to nature as all of us will. Candace is energetically surrounding us now with her vision of how bliss; thereby, pushing each of us forward.
In 1986, 27 short years ago a small group of family therapists gathered at Georgetown University. My boss, Murray Bowen, M.D. had been the first head of the family research group on Schizophrenia at NIMH between1956-1960. As the only female chief and head of Brain Biochemistry of the Clinical Neuroscience Branch, Candace came to give this serious group her view of an evolutionary based science of human behavior.
Candace walked in dressed in an orange jumpsuit. The crowd stirred. A new vibration had arrived. Someone had violated the dress code. Dr. Bowen was not happy about either the new vibration or the possible dress code violation.
But Candace was untouched by the waves of uncertainty and seemed to deeply enjoy her ability to provoke, to make people pay attention to something that was beyond expectations and deeply emotional. She knew that we are constrained and uplifted and sometimes controlled by social relationships and the emotions they provoke.
That night, as always, she challenged us to see that the intellect was a reflection of our feelings and deep emotions. The intellect was not uncontaminated. But knowledge might still free us to be capable of altering our behavior thereby enhancing the chances of our survival.
When she showed a simple slide of Darwin’s book, Emotions in Man and Animals. Dr. Bowen settled down and said she was right on, and the dress code violation was momentarily forgotten.
Afterwards I want up to Candace and talked about my AIDS project at the Whitman Walker Clinic. I was a nobody, another worker in the trenches. But she listened to my explanation of the shockwave that went through families when people with AIDS had the “guts” to go back home and tell their mothers and fathers that they were HIV positive. This requires GUTS as you have to over come years of distance or even cut off over the generations. Not easy for anyone.
Back then there was no AZT. Individuals had 18 months to live once the T cells dropped below 300. The number of AIDS patients had risen 270% just from 1984. Social panic was everywhere, increasing scapegoating and polarization. If anyone knew you were HIV positive or even if you saw people in your office who were HIV positive, you might be shunned, and with good reason: we were not sure how the virus was transmitted.
Candace was excited and wanted me to come out to NIMH and meet Michael Ruff, her about to be husband. Listening to them talk about the possible discovery of strings of peptides that might blocked the entry of the HIV virus was thrilling. Afterwards Candace told me that for every step forward there were two steps backwards. Resistance was real.
She and Mike worked on testing Peptide T, which was similar in structure to the VIP hormone found mostly in the gut. I thought their work could explain how “gutsy” behavior that I saw in the HIV positive individuals was strengthening the immune system itself.
Candace gave me courage to present my findings at an NIMH meeting, where I won an award only to be told that my research was interesting but correlative and not causal.
Due to the short life of VIP there was no way to see if there was an increase of it in the gut as a function of people being gutsy and compassionate in relationships.
Both Candace and Mike supported the AIDS community and those of us working with families. They drove through a major snowstorm in March of 1993, to once again present their newest research to an even smaller band of family therapists. Candace laughed about how even the weather was conspiring to prevent new knowledge from emerging.
One of the beauties of Candace is that she never gave up on wild and unproven ideas, she followed her own intuition to the end.
One of the most curious people I have ever known, Candace wanted to know everything that you knew. She would ask questions, nod and in some magical way, assimilate it all into her grand plan to reduce suffering and diminish pain.
At our last lunch she wanted me to meet her friend Deb Stokes, saying we would learn from each other. She wanted to learn all about the energy in the brain when people do neurofeedback.
Arriving, slightly late, she announced that the goodness helped her find a good parking space , entertaining all. My last good deed for Candace was to put a few quarters in the parking meter so she could stay a bit longer.
Candace changes us , provokes us – care to love, to solve really difficult problems and to deeply believe in your vision, what ever it is.
Candace is as alive today as yesterday. She will remain a woman who gave other woman a chance, who gave all who came to know her – the love – the hugs, and the optimism to do the impossible. I am grateful…
My family is not my problem… or is it?
We can understand a great deal about nature from observing but what about our relationships with those we most care about, our family members? Between the shootings at Sandy Hook and the Boston Bombing, once again people are wondering how we as a society understand and deal with disturbed individuals. What can knowledge of family dynamics add to how we understand and deal with mental health issues today?
This week the NY Times reported that a court ordered outpatient program is saving New York State half the previous cost for “caring” for extremely difficult patients. When you consider the current cost of mental health treatment, saving half that expense becomes millions of savings of your tax dollars.
According to National Institute of Mental Health serious disability affects nearly 60 million adults costing more than $300 billion per year. If you consider that the average size nuclear family is affected by the “identified patient” with serious disability, the numbers of people touched by serious mental illness approaches 240 million. If you add the grandparent generation, the numbers of people affected by a mentally ill family member rise exponentially.
Such numbers can hide the personal stories, and the personal stores can hide the real issues facing the delivery of better mental heath service today. Anyone can understand the gratitude that one mother feels to the state of New York for developing a program which has been helping her daughter as told in the NY Times article. But the current focus on the “identified patient” does not seem to provide possibilities for problem solving within the family itself.
Ms. Biasotti’s daughter became ill at 23. Now 41, she has been hospitalized more than 20 times, Ms. Biasotti said. (Please take a guess of the cost to either the family and/or taxpayers of 20 hospitalizations.)
Before Mrs. Biasotti succeeded in getting her a court order under Kendra’s Law in 2002, her daughter would be hospitalized, discharged, “take medication for a few days and then decide, ‘What do I need this for,’ and then go off it and spiral down again.” Now, with a caseworker visiting her at least weekly and taking her to appointments and to receive medication injections, she works office jobs, has friends and functions better.
“I really don’t think she would be alive otherwise,” Ms. Biasotti said. “And we don’t know if she would have taken a couple of people with her.” Such successes, say researchers and proponents, indicate that some patients respond to judges ordering them to comply with treatment, even though failure to comply has no penalty except being brought in to be evaluated for possible hospitalization.
In the state of New York in 2012, $32 million was spent on a new program for court ordered increased outpatient care for the 2,000 to 2,500 people seen as seriously emotionally disturbed. This averages out to a cost per person of $12,800. Under the current law New York also spends $125 million a year for enhanced outpatient mental health services for others who qualify for treatment and who are often emotionally disabled. The successful out patient program provides “intensive monitoring” by caseworkers to ensure that patients attend therapy and adhere to medication. These patients were much less likely to end up back in psychiatric hospitals and were arrested less often. Use of outpatient treatment significantly increased, as did refills of medication.
The article does not exactly pin point what the differences are that lead to this better outcome. What is “intense monitoring?” It could be people demanding that you change or it could be people relating to you with less fear, greater respect and more frequency. How people relate to one another to create conditions fostering emotional maturity in the person and in the family is the central question. What is happening when people function better and will this information be useful to family members and the general public?
The possibility is that these trained workers can relate “better” to those emotionally challenged individuals who can and have befuddled their own family members. We have found ways to train people to deal with the mentally ill but still we, or the government or society seems to give up on or don’t know how to teach the families themselves how to deal more effectively with their mentally ill family members.
What responsibility, if any, does society have to the family members? Clearly whatever family education or awareness is in place at the moment, has not been working. As the above story demonstrates, the family members see it as an impossible situation for them and the patients’ problems have now become the states’ responsibility.
What are the professionals doing that family members cannot do? This is not a trivial question. Imagine that family members could deal with those who were in crisis. Suppose we were not baffled and driven crazy by those in our own families, those with strange ideas and behaviors, those who we cannot reason with. In fact, in most cases “reason” seems to make emotionally vulnerable people respond by acting even crazier.
The intense emotionality can go both ways. First, the vulnerable people act out the anxiety that is in the system, and then the serious and logical family members become reactive and emotional. We saw pure reactivity on our a few months ago when the uncle of the Boston Marathon suspects shared his feelings by declaring that the two young men were “losers” and damaged forever the good name and the status of their family. He was highly emotional. The uncle was at a loss about how his attitude and relationship with these young men may have been a part of the heightened reactivity and emotional intensity in the family and therefore a part of the gathering storm.
There are other families, like the one in Sandy Hook, where the son killed the very isolated mother, and then went on to slaughter many other people’s children. Both of these families used cut off as a way to deal with the problem people in their families, believing that distance offered them some comfort from the “unstable” or “difficult” ones. The paradox is that cut off from others is correlated with, and seemingly gives birth to, even greater violence. The urge for revenge against those who wound or will not obey us is very deep.
It is also often beyond our ability to recognize that the way we deal with the disturbing behavior of a family member (which is both deeply instinctual in the family system and in individuals over the generations), affects the family constellation both in the here and now and in future generations. The advantage to the family unit is that by focusing the anxiety on one or two weak ones, the symptoms appear “only” in one or two individuals. As far as evolution is concerned this might be an adaptive strategy for the family as an emotional unit. Therefore we as individuals might be trying to swim upstream to recognize and alter ancient and at least semi-adaptive programming.
It is hard for many of us to deal with the fact that families in which people are extremely distant or cut off from one another are at high risk for symptoms or even of endangering others in society. Those who engage in cutting off from difficult family members see that as their only recourse. They don’t know what else to do. And they don’t link cut off to increasing symptomatic behaviors in the “identified patients”. My guess is they have no knowledge of the price that may be paid for cut off in current and future generations because they are more comfortable now (with the cut off from those “difficult ones”).
So yes, families and how they function automatically to deal with threats and other forms of worry and anxiety are implicated in the challenges that all of society faces in reducing senseless violence. Ideally we all have a responsibility to learn to manage ourselves in the face of unruly and threatening people.
I do not pretend that this is an easy problem for either society or families who have highly disturbed members. I bring this up because it is a complex, challenging and important problem. It is NOT useful for society to continue to claim we only have a responsibility to “help” problem people and to ignore or smooth over the underlying and ongoing dynamics in families.
Raising these questions may raise the hackles of some people since families are so relieved that someone or some program can do something to help them.
These family members have been and often still are in impossible situations and have lived with these situations for years. I have been there myself and was fortunate that I could learn enough about the family as an emotional system to alter my behavior in relationship to others. Therefore it is perhaps easier for me to see that society is missing a crucial ingredient in health when we are blind to how the family might be utilized to bring about a more competent, long-term self-sustaining solution.
Knowledge of family will never replace all the good that is done with psychotropic drugs, mental health hospitals and out patient care, but the available clinical evidence suggests knowledge of family dynamics can decrease the intensity of problems and the projection of problems into the next generation.
One hard question to ask is whether society is doing families any long term good by taking care of problems and leaving the family in the dark both about how these kinds of problems may continue to appear in future generations and how to cope with the problems in the here and now. The family, and maybe even society, is relieved when the responsibility for working with these difficult people is “offloaded” from families to professionals. The problem, however, is that since symptoms are part of the larger family system, when the “identified patient” returns to his or her family, symptoms may return even if the “identified patient” has learned new strategies, his or her family have not.
It is very challenging and perhaps impossible to consider the cost to families who can no longer find ways to speak or reason with or even care for their own children, siblings, or even parents, once these family members are emotionally ill.
It is an emotional tug of war between feeling sorry for family members who cut off from others out of exasperation and anger, and the realization that family members are also failing to see and manage their reaction to those “difficult” others. It is often so hard to see the damage (current and potential to the larger extended family, not just individual family members), when family members feel so justified in cutting off with their symptomatic kinfolk because of the behaviors of those folks.
Seeing this played out on the television over and over again begs the question: Is cut off a leading indicator for emotional problems? We know cutting off from troublesome others can buy us peace for a few years. But when we reflect on the family dynamics of the two families involved in the Sandy Hook shootings and the Boston bombings we have to consider intense emotional cut off as a warning sign of trouble to come.
Of course it would take time and resources to gather more than a few cases as evidence of the shape of family relationships in driving intense and aggravated forms of emotionally driven behaviors.
Prisons and hospitals cost all of us as taxpayers, to say nothing of the emotional cost to the families directly involved. But what to do with and/or for families that can no longer help their own symptomatic members and often have no idea what help is? What is the value to the society, even when the costs are unknown, of helping the family deal with their own family members?
I have yet to see research demonstrating what might happen if families were exposed to ideas about how family dynamics work versus remain in the dark while family members are repeatedly hospitalized. Ideally one would want to look at the differences in families over a generation of two after they have learned about family system dynamics and perhaps have had some individual family members make some efforts to manage themselves and gain more maturity.
It may be that no research will be needed as gradually people come to see that emotional intensity, blaming, gossiping and trying to control or isolate others will be seen as destructive behaviors just like smoking is seen as destructive (though some people still smoke).
Some clinical research has been done looking at the different outcomes in treating the family and in treating individuals. The original research on understanding and dealing with families with a schizophrenic member is recounted in a new book by Jack Butler, The Origins of Family Psychotherapy: The NIMH Family Study Project. (1954-1959)
Bowen noted that: “No one knows what constitutes this thing we call symbiosis. No one has described it satisfactorily except a Tennessee Williams or a Frans Kafka: To be able to live with it is an achievement. To understand it scientifically is a goal.” (Page 52)
Bowen originally had three mother-daughter pairs hospitalized, and asked the staff to avoid immature attachments to those pairs and avoid solving problems for the family members. Group meetings called a family council were held to bring about “mature and open functioning” and over time this was achieved. The US taxpayer paid for the research and there were no control groups at that time.
The greatest challenge for all the “helpers” was “the unwitting response to the immature side in spite of all efforts to control this.” (Page 49) They found that it was easier for the therapist to keep in open contact with the patient when there was an existing family relationship where the immature level was “lived out.” Those outside the intense symbiosis could coach both sides of the immaturity.
This effort to enable the person to be more responsible for self was less successful when patients were cut off from family and could more easily force the staff into reactive or caretaking or over responsible positions in relating to the patients. By keeping the primitive dependency needs within the family itself, the therapist was able to focus on relating to the mature side of the patient and the mature side of the parents.
The goal for the therapist was to stay neutral and to stay out of the conflicts between the family members and rather to define the dilemma that the individuals faced. The job of the therapist was not to solve the family’s problems but to allow family members to solve their own issues.
Family members often presented as being inadequate and helpless, not so much from the reality of the situation but because they were partially blind to the situation they were in. They lacked the ability to take a stand for Self and therefore automatically focused on others, trying to force them to change and in so doing, creating more reactivity.
The researchers could see and communicate that both mature and infantile goals can exist side by side in the same person. The challenge for the therapist or neutral coach is how to relate to the mature side individuals and enable them to figure out how to be a good father, mother, husband, wife, friend or responsible citizen. Feelings of helplessness were not facts. People could talk about and assume responsibility for: “the feelings of helplessness or even the intense longings: to be taken care of, the longing for freedom from responsibility, or to have “adequate, all loving, all giving, non-demanding figures always at your side.” (Page 47) Over time by relating to the mature side of family members and patients, the mature side of each individual was more able to manage the immature side of self.
Perhaps as a society we have either forgotten or don’t know that this kind of detailed research exists. Just the other day a close friend told me of her brother’s sudden death. He died from an overdose and she was distraught because of the position she had taken with her brother over the years. She felt unable to relate to him without anger and she was upset both at him and her parents for enabling him. Now she felt the heavy weight of loss.
Initially she felt justified in her actions. Now she finds she is questioning and judging herself instead of him: What if I had done this or that? He was a baby and I got mad and left him. One could say that the regrets and the guilt are moving the anxiety around and creating other forms of emotional problems throughout the family.
We have the knowledge to help families, but in our public polices for some reason, family members are still seen as the enemy of the mentally ill and only caseworkers or other professionals are capable of entering into more mature relationships with patients. We assume that caseworkers enter into more mature relationships with patients, or so it would seem in the new research that the NY Times published.
People might agree that the family is burned out, overwhelmed and cannot figure out what to do, but perhaps people can still see the possibility that feelings are not facts and that by relating to the mature side of family members there is more possibility that the family itself can mature. More mature family members will reduce the number of symptoms in the family by taking on the anxiety and managing themselves rather than focusing on others and trying to force them to change.
People can see that they have automatic habits that create weakness in the family through the way people relate to one another. People can also see that if they go to the emotional gym and get stronger they will be able to interrupt old habitual ways of responding and find deeper meaning in listening to and eventually understanding others, without agreeing with or labeling the other.
A simple example would be a family where a spouse is drinking or having an affair. The automatic reaction is to tell the other to stop or else. A family leader takes the time to look at self and decide what can I do about my part instead of trying to FIX “them”. It may be that the leader engages in paradoxical behaviors or it may be they cry about the helpless situation they are in with the other. This is very different from being righteous and angry and cutting off from those who are doing things we see as harmful.
It sounds complicated but perhaps family members have just not been given the same opportunity as the caseworker, to learn how to manage emotional reactivity and to relate well to the patient without trying to control them. The only weapon the caseworkers have, as noted earlier, is hospitalization. They have to figure out how to relate to the identified patient in order to get them into therapy or to get them to take their medication.
Perhaps just as we as a society educate the public about the risks of smoking, some day we might educate the public about the downside of intense self or other blaming, cut off and other recognizable patterns of emotional intensity.
There are many rational stumbling blocks to an educational approach to mental health.
Right now the education of the caseworker costs money and the caseworker usually pays for his or her training, or takes out loans to pay for it. Currently any motivated family member pays for the training he or she gets to develop his or her own maturity. Given the state of mental health insurance and our medical system in general who will provide the training for family members, and how much will it cost?
“Mental health spending, both public and private, was about $150 billion in 2009, more than double its level in inflation-adjusted terms in 1986, according to a recent article in Health Affairs. But the overall economy also about doubled during that time. As a result, direct mental health spending has remained roughly 1 percent of the economy since 1986, while total health spending climbed from about 10 percent of gross domestic product in 1986 to nearly 17 percent in 2009.”
How much more money could society save if families were included in learning to manage these kinds of intense relationships in a more careful and disciplined way? There is still a great deal of fear around family members becoming more knowledgeable and a great deal of relief but some dependency in holding onto the belief that someone else can do it for you.
It often seems easier to offload the problem onto a professional. But the danger is that the problem “stays” within the “identified patient”, the family doesn’t see their part in it, and symptoms reverberate in future generations. (It is more complicated than this, but this is one way to begin to see the big picture and to talk about it.)
Describing not solving others’ problems
A small but hopeful sign is research focusing on the reward center inside our brain’s pleasure center, which may explain the reason people are willing to participate in talk therapy and other kinds of self-disclosure.
It turns out the brain itself is wired to give you immediate rewards for talking about or even thinking about your self. We are not sure yet what the rewards are for the listener, but we assume there are rewards for understating our fellow creatures. Evolutionary theory suggests that the value of understanding others is adaptive in forming cooperative relationships, building trust and therefore protection.
“An MRI experiment, the researchers asked 195 participants to discuss both their own opinions and personality traits and the opinions and traits of others, then looked for differences in neural activation between self-focused and other-focused answers.
Bowen’s early work on family relationships demonstrated that there are fewer emotional problems in families where there is less cut off and more ability to communicate openly with important others. Our brains are wired for self-disclosure. Now we just have to learn how to do communicate well with others without becoming dependent or overly responsible for solving others’ problems.
Hopefully people will find it useful to consider that we have more options than giving up on family members or turning one’s family members over to the state. We are social beings and there is a price for us not being able to communicate and a reward for being able to communicate in a knowledgeable and thoughtful way with one another.
 In this study, answering questions about the self always resulted in greater activation of neural regions associated with motivation and reward (i.e., NAcc, VTA) than did answering questions about others. In addition answering questions publicly always resulted in greater activation of these areas than answering questions privately. Importantly, these effects were additive; both talking about the self and talking to someone else were associated with reward, and doing both produced greater activation in reward-related neural regions than doing either separately. These results suggest that self-disclosure—revealing personal information to others—produces the highest level of activation in neural regions associated with motivation and reward, but that introspection—thinking or talking about the self, in the absence of an audience—also produces a noticeable surge of neural activity in these regions.
Why do people spend so much time talking about themselves?
This summer my granddaughter, Madeline Mauboussin, and several other young people from CT traveled to Africa to work with children in the City of Hope (TCOH). Although this blog focus on current events in America the issues that break families apart are in every nation. TCOH’s aim and mission, is to redeem and save young people who have been forgotten by life through unfortunate circumstances. This project is about bringing hope to communities and to nations while changing lives for the better. http://teamworkcityofhope.com/about/
Five months ago I “began” to “finish” my book. As part of that discipline I have not written any blogs. To thank each of you for your patience, here is a summary of the book and a summary of each chapter.
Please let me know if you have suggestions comments or title ideas.
Currently the search is on for a willing publisher. Hoping for the best and ready for the next thing.…
Andrea M. Schara
The public is curious – what goes on in families that give rise to amazing leaders and/or terrorists? How do relationship form and disintegrate? What does it take to “see” the “pressure” in the system and know how to mange being one’s best SELF in any social matrix. Each family has an emotional system that is both fine-tuned by evolution and “values” its survival as a whole, as much as the survival of any individual in it. Families snooker us, encouraging us or other family members to take sides, run away, get sick or just become difficult to deal with. This book will help the reader navigate the hard to see relationship minefield that is part of everyone’s life. The research of social scientists shows how we are all, to different degrees, regulated by relationships. Stanley Milgram, Solomon Ashe, Philip Zimbardo and Jack Calhoun to name a few, have detailed the vulnerability we share to being duped and deceived. Misperceiving relationship cues results in our inability to make thoughtful decisions. In the nineteen fifties, the psychiatrist Murray Bowen, M.D., hospitalized a number of families with a schizophrenic child for up to three years at the National Institute of Mental Health. Bowen was observing and studying what these families actually did rather than what they said. Through this effort, he was able to describe how family members overly influence one another; a factor that distributes stress unevenly and can result in severe illness or other symptoms in selected family members. Armed with knowledge from the sciences, stories from real people in their own words and specific guidance through the “Mindful Compass” (a vehicle to help readers learn how to “see” themselves and their families more broadly), readers learn how they can alter the automatic trajectory, which relationship systems impose on each of us.
Chapter Summaries: In Gratitude
A revolutionary thinker, and pioneer, Murray Bowen, (1913-1990) was the first psychiatrist to develop a theory of human behavior based on the family as an emotional unit. Bowen demonstrated this in his own family encouraging others, like the author, to alter her participation in the ongoing system, allowing change to take place. The interactions with Bowen, to challenge and to think for self and to keep learning and questioning, were useful in altering her automatic responsiveness. Relating differently to family members, whiplashed by loss, was the opposite of believing a diagnosis and hospitalizing people. By relating paradoxically, we can both acknowledge how we are stuck to one another and yet see the possibility to be more for self. By consistently separating from old ways to enable the rebuilding of the family emotional system, Bowen demonstrated where we are in the evolutionary shaped, emotional jungle. From Bowen I learned to “see” systems and to define a new way to be.
CHAPTER ONE: Introduction to Bowen Theory 101
The first psychiatrist to hospitalize members of nuclear families for two or more years at the National Institute of Mental Health (1956-1960), Bowen studied relationships in families as family members dealt with a schizophrenic family member. Observing interactions, not diagnosing individuals, led to his development of the eight interlocking concepts of his theory. These eight concepts explain how the various parts of the family system function. He explained that two forces influence the human: one for “togetherness,” encouraging people to think alike, and to go along with others and the other, a counterbalancing force for individuality, to be all for self. Differentiation represents the observation that there is a middle way – to be for Self and to be for others. Bowen “coached” people to see and manage Self in the emotional system. The family as a unit is a different way to understand and deal with human behavior. The real source of healing was in one’s family system itself. When under the influence of “togetherness” forces, people are reactive and more regulated by the group. By enabling people to see what they are up against, to be more neutral, and to find ways to develop the skills to be better able to relate well during turbulent times, people can increase their functioning. Few things are harder but more worthwhile than this effort to be a Self in a social group.
CHAPTER TWO: “Thinking Systems” – Developing your Mindful Compass
There are ways to enable people to broaden their thinking, and to become better observers of the many ways each of us are a part of a social system, and often unduly influenced. When times are tough going along can lead us into quagmires. A Mindful Compass allows us to know the obstacles to change. By using the compass one can develop a deeper Self with a capital S. Otherwise people responding automatically, as a small self (a reaction to others or following automatic programs). Through interacting mindfully people build a more mature Self, and in so doing encourage maturity and less dependency throughout the family. This has important implications for the future evolution of the family as a system.
CHAPTER THREE: Action for Self and Resistance as Natural
Here we describes the Mindful Compass, highlighting the first two points, (1) The ability to take ACTION and to define one’s vision and; (2) to deal with the RESISTANCE one faces to being more of a Self in any system. Understanding the process of change enables us to reduce anxiety, decrease interpersonal misunderstandings and encourage greater tolerance for diversity. The trip through the social jungle is fraught with challenges. We can all be duped into giving in to please others, or backing down when it comes to articulating and clarifying one’s view points. A family leader calibrates a personal compass by questioning and clarifying the world around him or her, establishing principles for being a more mature self, and becoming less sensitive to the emotional forces in the multigenerational family and in other social systems.
CHAPTER FOUR: Systems Knowledge and Standing Alone
The last two points on the Mindful Compass are: 3) The ability to use KNOWLEDGE to connect meaningfully with others; and (4) The ability to STAND ALONE and to be more separate. Knowledge enables us to stand alone, to be more objective and strategic, to welcome and endure emotional challenges, and to understand deeply the reason for taking on issues in one’s family or work place. In achieving this different way of relating, one grants freedom to another to be the way the other is, while still holding each individual responsible for his or her actions. People have the ability to act in ways to get beyond the emotional road blocks, to know even cut off individuals in their extended family, to get beyond the multigenerational gossip problems, to reduce stress in interactions, to relate from curiosity rather than from a need for social approval or to command or control others. Changing self to be more of one’s best Self requires seeing the system, increasing knowledge, and lowering reactivity. This and more can lead to the building of one’s emotional backbone.
CHAPTER FIVE: The Usefulness of Developing Your Mindful Compass
Another key is to become aware of family or workplace “rules.” These are not unlike the rules of other mammalian social groups or even ant colonies. Interactions determine how the mind/brain/body is influenced, which leads individuals to function in specific roles. People are sensitive to one another. This sensitivity can run the gamut from being totally independent to being totally dependent on others. (Bowen called this “fusion,” indicating the primitive nature of our association with one another.) These overlapping relationships, one can humorously refer to as our life as scrambled eggs, or living in “con-fusion.” Much life energy now is devoted to figuring out social relationships. Our brain no longer has to focus on the lions and tigers in the social jungle, but instead must manage complex relationships. Unwanted, intrusive, and unavoidable social interaction can drive even fairly social creatures mad. And we are vulnerable to sticking with ineffective “rules” (or the status quo), especially when threatened. Aware leaders can, identifying system’s level problems and effectively using knowledge to alter his or her participation in social systems.
CHAPTER SIX: Understanding Triangles in the Social Jungle
Contrary to popular opinion, scientific facts show how triangles are the most stable alliance between people. Triangles consist of two individuals who agree with each other while a third individual is on the outside. Such alliances can both manage anxiety by promoting scapegoating, or triangles can allow an outside person to change the dynamic in that three-person system. One-on-one relationships tend to collapse. Enter the “triangled one” who can reduce anxiety of the twosome. Such alliance building occurs in colonies of bacteria and in learning. Triangles often determine social rank. You can see this at the dinner table. When tension is high there is more gossip, taking sides or blame. If one person is neutral and does not take sides then triangles can enable problem solving simply because of that neutrality and refusal to take sides. In turn, this frees up the threesome to think independently and more clearly. Interlocking triangles can either increase tension (polarize) or decrease tension if there is some emotional neutrality present in the mix. Knowledge of triangles helps individuals understand anxiety and how it can be managed mindfully.
CHAPTER SEVEN: Reducing Con-fusion at Home and Work:
Getting to Know Your Extended Family
Knowledge of Self, family and others in social systems is the key to change. By focusing on self and seeing how one’ family has managed challenges over the generations, we can see the impersonal nature of emotional process. In seeing the system people are far better observers and can relate more effectively to each individual. Knowledge of history enables us to redirect anxiety and to appreciate differences. As one is able to know others in the family, they are automatically freer of the projections and gossip of the past. A mature leader can listen to others without reacting automatically. They can communicate what they are thinking and what they will do in a variety of ways, some of which can be shocking. A Mindful Compass can be more important than an automatic compass. This effort to be more defined in a social group has a multigenerational payoff. It is this capacity to see relationship dynamics and to alter how one functions in them, that result in solving system level problems more effectively.
CHAPTER EIGHT: Relationships Blindness and the Evolving Brain
The emotional system, with its ancient mechanisms, doesn’t function well on automatic pilot, if one is trying to manage Self in our modern jungle. When one is faced with emotional issues how does one become more rational and factual? The tigers are everywhere now. In today’s social jungle we react to traffic jams as thought they were tigers. Our primitive brain is over-reactive to threats, especially when we do not “see the system.” We have in common with reptiles the most primitive instincts: mating, defense of territory, and giving in to the dominant ones. The instinctual brain areas are not in direct communication with the more cognitive part of the brain. Therefore in the sending of signals and the recognition of old clues, one is never sure which part of our brain is in charge of our actions. The brain, after the fact, explains it all to us as though it acted in our best interest. But did it? Or is your brain just singing the multigenerational instinctual song? The brain produces justifications for taking actions to increase comfort, which decreases maturity. Not being able to reflect on the long-term consequences of our actions reduces our ability to know one another and to solve problems. In Jack Calhoun’s animal research, he found that animals could tolerate eight times the social density, if they were taught to recognize other individuals in order to obtain water. Our blindness to the impact we have on one another can a result of our brains short term orientation. In this brave new world there is no one to blame, there are no simple solutions, but many ways to be observant and creative in our ability to see and to respond to one another. We are all vulnerable to being blinded by our investment in our own way of doing things, and it is a risk to become more aware of the social jungle and our part in it.
CHAPTER NINE: The Rise of Systems Thinking in the Social Sciences
There is a pay off for those willing to examine the social research to understand the way the human brain is set up to perceive the environment, and how that then influences decision making. We are prejudiced and can easily be blindsided by innocent or manipulative stories parading as facts. In addition linear, 1, 2, 3 thinking, can encourage us to make poor decisions, One example is the way people coped with Hurricane Katrina as it was pressing towards New Orleans. Based on their past experiences, many people thought it would be possible to ride out that terrible storm. This natural urge to go along with the social group decreases the ability of individuals to accurately gauge the reality of the situation. Reality becomes a “social reality” under pressure. The social group itself may need to become more oriented to providing ways to develop perceptual independence in its members. One can understand the way the human brain is set to both react or to more rationally predict the future. Sorting this out reactivity from rationality will be key to any kind of orderly transition during chaotic times. There can be catastrophic consequences when applying short term, cause-and-effect thinking to an impending challenge. We all have some access to a “bubbling sea” of systems information, but our tendency towards cause and effect thinking influences (in this case negatively) our ability to anticipate and respond realistically to the potential challenges that are likely to occur. Even researchers, like Philip Zambardo, are at times overwhelmed by a tendency to social blindness. During the Stamford prison experiment he was forced to see what he was doing, as to comments from his girl friend, who was outside the emotional force field and who was willing to threaten him in order to wake him up. We can understand how systems work. Leaders can learn to think outside the automatic, and to have the courage to redistribute the anxious focus on the weak and vulnerable. For this skill to become more widespread, leaders need to find others who are aware of the possibility of runaway primitive thinking and or relationships traps. By being more aware of others and the impact they have on us and that we have on them, leaders can better adapt during times of great change.
CHAPTER TEN: Writing Your Story: Learning and Reflecting
As a leader, changing one’s Self to deal with problems rather than trying to force others to change, requires building one’s emotional backbone. Writing or telling a story about one’s life, can help people gain greater objectivity and even find ways to put a positive spin on difficult events. Research notes how journaling strengthens immune cells. Exploring and writing about one’s family is a workout, but these exercises in “the multigenerational emotional gym,” will build your emotional backbone. Those willing to undertake the task of building family relationships, increase their resilience and emotional backbone. The potential payoff for gaining knowledge about both family history and the process of building or repairing relationships, gives us a stronger relationship base for future generations Building more compassionate relationships may overturn some of an individual’s most cherished beliefs. This is a small price to pay to live in a less emotionally driven world. We are too easily swayed by emotional appeals and social relationships. It requires a disciplined to understand others and our deeper self and to communicate, despite rejection, with important others.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: What does it take to be a self in any system?
Just as no one ant can build an ant colony, no one person can create for him or herself all that is needed for survival. We are dependent on the work of others for our food, water, clothes, education and protection, among other things. By cooperating, we benefit. Therefore the pressure to fit in is enormous and can intrude on our equally deep urges to become our unique selves. The emotional system consists of instincts and all kinds of psychological mechanisms. It is an automatic guidance system. Our biology is over reactive to threats. Anxiety degrades relationships and we can see how it works in the way people behave when there are stressors in the system. Anxious people are more likely to maintain a negative or overly positive focus on others, neither of which is realistic. Anxiety can be redirected by: relationship changes, exercise, mindfulness training, neurofeedback and many other efforts, which can help one to manage anxiety, integrate new knowledge, and to maintain the courage to be one’s best Self. By “reorganizing” Self, an individual can find ways to also set others free from any automatic and anxious focuses. By taking an action stance, more for Self rather than following the dictates of the emotional system, we promotes the ability of others to do the same. Leading by example may take longer, but is a more solid commitment to respecting and focusing on how to relate to others well rather than to controlling them.
CHAPTER TWELVE: Learning from other Living Systems
From ants to humans there may be general laws organizing the nature of all emotional systems. Looking at ants you see that if you remove a few from one job, like searching for food, there is a seemingly automatically compensation. The colony decreases the rate at which ants assume the tasks of removing garbage or defending the nest in order to “force” more into searching for food. No one is in charge but somehow ants know what to do. Without much of a brain, ants know what the others in the colony are up to and adjust their role automatically. Neither we humans, nor ants, need much of a brain to pick up signals about the needs of the group or colony and what we need to do for them in the moment. We are shifting in response to others without knowing. The brain is multilayered, evolutionarily designed, and connects us with other mammalian and reptilian species. Because of the “design” of the brain, it is very difficult to become aware of deep emotional states in one’s own brain or self. We honor those who can perceive the environment more accurately. Charles Darwin’s life is an example of a natural leader. He figured a way around the togetherness forces in his family and society. Early on, Darwin had to involve his uncle in order to get his father’s permission to take the voyage on the Beagle. Darwin’s “use” of his uncle is a good example of people naturally knowing about triangles, and what it takes to become a more differentiated Self. Abraham Lincoln is an example of a suffering servant. He was willing to take on the pain of articulating a new way and standing up for principles, while working cooperatively with those who held very different ideas from his own.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Social Pressure and the Ability to Redirect Anxiety
Stanley Milgram demonstrated how people’s obedience to authority is automatic, even when it leads to the potential death of innocent people. He was curious as to how interactions in the social group lead to an event like the holocaust. The research showed that a majority of people will do harm to others based on a command from an authority figure, even if that command goes against a value not to harm others. How can good and normal people be so blind to the consequences of their behavior? Solomon Ash showed that one third of people would alter their perceptions as to the length of line, so as to go along with a social group that formed an hour ago. Last but not least logical is of little use when people are vulnerable to emotional guidance. You may only intensify emotions, with logic. Therefore the ability to understand and use emotionality to both communicate and understand others is skill that has a significant impact on both individuals and social groups. Bowen described a road map allowing us to understand how to be a more separate and well-defined individual, with all the costs and benefits of so doing. If using a Mindful Compass does confer an adaptive response, then we should see more leaders who are aware of the system and the process involved in changing self-become influential.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: INTERVIEWS
One of Dr. Bowen’s ideas was that being able to separate out a more principled, mature Self, while staying in contact with others (the process of differentiation of self) was a natural phenomenon. People could figure out the emotional system intuitively, experiment and know how to lead. I was curious about whether individuals could understand systems and separate a Self without coaching. I wondered if I interviewed leaders, whether they would they tell me how the were able to separate out from the pressures in their social systems and be better defined in relationship to the important people in their family or at work. Would they tell me what it took to be a Self and stand apart from the group? Would they tell me how others, both in the family unit and at work would automatically oppose the growth of a “leader?” To answer these questions I asked friends for names of people they considered natural and mature leaders. I interviewed ten, all of whom were local leaders. None had any knowledge of Bowen Theory nor were they famous or well known beyond their communities. They are people who have made a difference in some area of society, telling us fascinating stories of leading under conditions of uncertainty. Each individual reflected on what they have been up against in trying to move forward through the social jungle
Jim Walsh, 165: Gary Resnick, 175: Art House, 184: Robert Duffy, 198:
Ned and Diane Power, 207: Geraldine McDonald, 224:
Ladonna Lee, 238: Bob Di Florio 243: Steve Waite 251
Acknowledgments (My Story)
I have been working on my book Create Your Mindful Compass:Navigating through the Social Jungle, for the last several years. This is a peek into the book which starts as it should with gratitude:
I am deeply grateful to Murray Bowen. He believed in me when I was struggling, gave me a hand up, accepted me into postgraduate training at the Georgetown Family Center despite my having only two years of college, and then allowed me to take photos in exchange for tuition to various symposiums. After four years of family systems theory training, he hired me to work at the Georgetown University Family Center as the audio visual (A/V) coordinator, saying it was easier to teach me the A/V role than teach an A/V expert Bowen theory.
I quickly recognised that what Bowen said was so far from mainstream psychiatry that taping him and re-listening would be the only way to grasp this totally new way of thinking. A/V coordinator was perfect for me. As a teacher Bowen was at times direct, and challenging. Using metaphors, paradox, and even slights of hand as a Zen master might, he delivered his out- of-sync, interrupting messages. (Each of us has our way of seeing things, our perceptual blindness, our way of getting along with others, and our beliefs as to how the world is. How does anyone interrupt allowing others to think differently?)
Bowen once took my arm and, pointing to a couple, asked in his Socratic way: “What are these people doing? Who is in charge? How do you know?” The first time I heard him speak to an audience he peppered his talk with unanswerable questions: “How do you de-twitch people? How is what you do with people different from what you might do to calm animals down? Do you know what you are up against in yourself, and in relating to your multigenerational family? How about the challenges with your friends and loved ones? Are you ready for the kiss of togetherness?”
Bowen challenged me to deal with tricks – his and others. Like an imp he was watching, smiling, getting upset, and never explaining what he was up to. He explained himself in books, letters and videotapes. Writing about the role of a coach in being outside the emotional system, he explained how such a position allowed one to teach, give suggestions and tell personal stories, without forcing, preaching, or believing he knew the “right way.”
Demonstrating with his own life what it takes to be a lifelong participant-observer, he was quick to challenge and “jam people up.” “Let’s see what you can do” seemed to be his mantra. He was constantly putting others into some kind of an alliance, while separating himself out as different. Bowen would say, “I am listening to you.” Yes, listening to you but not agreeing with you. Bowen made people uncomfortable unless they could stand alone and did not need approval for their ideas. He was challenging people to rise up and stand alone to perhaps say what they would and would not do, to define more of a self. Who knows what research questions were on his mind as he interacted with you. But when his blue eyes were twinkling, and he was looking at you, you knew that questions and unusual, what I call “non-linked” behaviour responses, were about to be unleashed in your direction.
An endlessly curious researcher of human behaviour, Bowen watched me and many others. We were part of the human parade on a multigenerational train ride. Bowen rode alongside family after family, inserting a question here, a story there, just to see how people would react, if they would grow or get off the train. Sometimes he might throw a pearl, and other times some coal. Ready or not, “relationship stuff” was always coming your way.
Toward the end of his life I traveled with him because of his serious physical limitations. Perhaps my family position as an oldest daughter of brothers favored by grandparents, plus luck, allowed me to figure out how to relate well enough, especially to his wife and family. I appreciated this opportunity more than any words can convey.
Bowen would not approve of my explanation of Family Systems theory, of how I have managed myself, coached others or have written this book. Approval was at the bottom of his list as to what was important. Figuring out the right kind of challenge fascinated him, often leading to his noting the creative ways people developed to overcome or wiggle out of intense problems.
Overall watching reading and listening to Bowen I was struck with his ability to observe the human condition and take an action based on his theory to stay interested and connected while separating himself out from the others. As with us all he had his own issues and peculiarities but his real gift was to point us in a direction to see what we had not seen about the human and the mechanisms of family life under pressure. His lasting, jarring question, “How come you cannot see what is right in front of you?” is as important and as unanswered today as it was back then.
I designed this book in his memory to do for others what he did for me: To enable motivated individuals be more for Self, to a have a few systems ideas, to grasp a deeper understanding of our link with other social species and to really see how social systems function. The future is uncertain. But what is certain is that we will always need to understand how to manage ourselves and to see the impact of our very social relationships on each other.
Introduction and Bowen Theory 101
This book is about becoming a more effective, principle-based, mature leader who is less subject to the whims and pressures of the social group. Any of us can become this kind of a leader—either by default or by desire—by designing a Mindful Compass to guide us as we develop and implement our goals. All of us are already equipped with an automatic compass that guides us in how to react to the emotional messages in the social group. Simply because of the way our brain has been built, to be overly sensitivities to changes in the environment, and clues from the social group, we react often without awareness much less thought.
Leaders can increase the ability to develop their own Mindful Compass and thereby lead by self-defined principle and when necessary identify and override their reactive thoughts, feelings and behaviors. A Mindful Compass requires a broad knowledge of Bowen’s “Systems Thinking” to identify what is authentic and real about one’s Self and how to build up one’s emotional backbone and decrease the part of “self” that is mostly mired in automatic reactivity. There are many ways to grow one’s Self up. One of them is by having a Mindful Compass, which allows us to understand our actions in the light of our multigenerational family relationships. The emotional field that connects the generations has an unseen influence on us. A systems viewpoint offers us a different way to understand and to then alter our sensitivity. Our emotional backbone connects us to our evolutionary heritage and this grants us greater objectivity. All of this intellectual work gives us a hand up in managing our reactive nature. Deep knowledge of our reactivity makes much the things that happens to us feel far less harmful and personal. Objectivity increases our ability to rise above the reactivity and to then change and adapt well to situations. If one can understand the reasons to decrease reactivity, and to define self to others, then one can take on the work involved. The goal is that,even when under pressure, one can be less reactive and less controlled by the surrounding relationship system, and therefore paradoxically be both separate from, and a real resource to, others in any social system.
A major concept in this systems theory is developed around the notion of fusion between the emotions and the intellect. The degree of fusion in people is variable and discernible. The greater the fusion, the more life is governed by automatic emotional forces that operate despite man’s intellectual verbalization to the contrary. The greater the fusion between the emotions and the intellect, the more the individual is fused into the emotional fusions of the people around him. The greater the fusion, the more man is vulnerable to physical illness emotional illness and social illness and the less he is able to consciously control his own life. It is possible for man to discriminate between the emotions and the intellect and to slowly gain more conscious control of emotional functioning.
Family Therapy In Clinical Practice, Murray Bowen, MD, 1977, Page 305
Review - The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing By Michael J. Mauboussin
Wondering what makes it so hard to make good decisions? Reading or really seriously studying Mauboussin’s new book (http://www.amazon.com/The-Success-Equation-Untangling-Investing/dp/1422184234) is a fascinating education in how the brain misperceives the environment in predictable ways.
Mauboussin identifies the ways we can be tricked by short cut thinking and rules of thumb decision-making. He even makes it seem possible, before breakfast, to understand a bit about correlations and decision-making linkages, statistical thinking and reversion to the mean. By carefully explaining the difference between luck and skill and how we often mistake one for the other, Mauboussin helps us enhance our ability to perceive the world.
For example, it makes sense but still requires untangling luck and skill to acknowledge that luck plays a significant role in which team wins the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl. Once skill is evenly matched among the participants, there is some room for luck to make a difference. There can be interplay between skill and luck when one is very disciplined in acquiring skill. Often people mix up luck and skill as in a coin toss. The fact that one event is not influencing another is lost when people begin to feel lucky and believe that a hot hand can influence outcomes.
Good luck in coin tosses or other activities where one event is not influencing another, can automatically cause our brains to revert to cause and effect thinking, leading us down a rabbit hole where we can easily misperceive the world around us. For example, it is common to think that because you flipped a coin and got heads seven times you are somehow a bit lucky but mostly skilled and therefore you are willing to bet that heads will come up on your next toss. We actually have to learn that one coin toss is not influencing another, no matter our feelings or the story we tell ourselves about our hot hands. A feeling about our hot hand cannot predict the next toss of the coin or the next team that will win or the next great stock, but luck can play a role in our success (or failure).
In the old days we could rely on stories we heard, or even gossip from a neighbor, to predict the future and understand others. But Mauboussin reminds us that serious scientists are careful about sources of evidence and the challenges of prediction. To overcome habits of believing stories, he suggests we need a disciplined approach. Mauboussin references the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the foremost authorities in the psychology of predictions, to give us well-tested examples. Mauboussin helps us increase our ability to get beyond automatic ways of sensing how the world works and engage in more challenging ways of perceiving the environment.
Mauboussin notes that we can, with some effort, break down the function of the brain into two parts, an automatic system (that can be influenced by the higher centers of the brain), and the analytic system. The latter can analyze and make complex computations that over time may become an automatic response that is skillful. Feedback is an essential part of altering our automatic responses. Those who want to become a strong and skilled performer can work on:
1) the analysis of how to do things properly,
2) the psychology of the effort, and
3) the influence of the social system that one is a part of. To learn a new skill may take only 50 hours, but to become more of an expert requires a thousand hours of effort.
Many of our automatic ways of thinking are based on the way our ancestors managed to survive. Now days there are dangers that lurk in ignoring a more fact based and mathematical way through the social jungle. We have to learn how stories that mix up luck and skill can lead us astray. Be careful when your friends tell you which stock to buy or when your doctor tells you how his last patient did, without benefit of knowing the base rate of how most patients did. Calling into question our automatic ways of understanding the world costs our brain a lot of energy. Comprising only 2% of our bodies in weight, the brain requires 20% of our energy so we tend to want to conserve energy and therefore question embracing the mental effort.
One-way around this problem is to makes it fun to look at processes that enhance out ability to predict. Mauboussin does this by using sports examples and creating web-based games that connect to his book. You can watch one tennis player win a point to see how this influences who will win the match. http://successequation.com/tennis.html Then just what can we learn from Colonel Blotto about spreading our resources to defeat Goliath? http://success-equation.com/blotto.html My favorite is trying to beat the mind reader. http://success-equation.com/mind_reader.html But I probably should spend more time understanding how the reinforcing property of success works. http://success-equation.com/urn.html
Another challenge Mauboussin discusses is the idea of a continuum for predictions. Even if we are reasonably good at figuring out the likely outcome in sports, when we move into larger social systems there are more unusual events that can occur and for which we cannot prepare. Tail events, which are outside our expected range of possibilities, like 9/11 are “black swan” occurrences that by definition not only cannot be predicted but are difficult to prepare for. Think how many people are angry because they believe that someone should have seen “it” coming. There are many possible outcomes Mauboussin shows us to any one event. History is not destiny. Moreover, if you do see it coming then you still have to have an emotional backbone in order to hold onto one’s beliefs in the face of intense opposition. Benjamin Graham said, “Have the courage of your knowledge and experience. If you have formed a conclusion from the facts and if you know your judgment is sound, act on it – even thought others may hesitate or differ”. (Mauboussin, Page 172)
A few knowledgeable leaders can alter the social system and its habitual way of doing business. In the book Money Ball, recruiters used insider information to hire the best people. They talked about how the players looked, hit and fielded, but there was not a fact-based process to look at the link between behaviors and team wins. By correlating behaviors, like: when do they hit, how often did they get on base, and when did they drop the ball, Billy Bean began to see patterns of behaviors correlate with team wins. Bean not only identified some links between the talents of individual players and team outcomes, he then altered the way players were selected. He used facts to show a connection between who gets on base and the team’s ability to win a game, and this was a more successful perception of success than highlighting a player’s batting average. Billy Bean was able to see the more complex variables using statistics and seeing connections.
Mauboussin notes the importance of understanding reversion to the mean. Reversion to the mean identifies system level properties enabling us to consider an individual’s very good or bad performance outcomes over time. Put another way, extreme results are unlikely to continue, like the upward trajectory of the price of Apple stock. Regression analysis allows us to see how individual performance, which in some case may be influenced by luck, smooth out over time. Out performing may be luck, but in some cases, as in mutual fund success, superior skill can be clearly distinguished. In that case it takes long periods of time to see who can do better than luck alone would predict. You can see some of this in game format on Mauboussin’s web site. http://success-equation.com/distributions.html
Mauboussin usefully suggests ways for readers to improve skills, such as using checklists, encouraging feedback and/or hiring a good coach to give an outside viewpoint and help manage “magical thinking”. He also suggests writing down the outcome we expect when making decisions. These disciplines enable us to learn from mistakes and exercise humility about our ability to evaluate risk and to predict outcomes,
As Mauboussin points out, we are all in the business of forecasting. Considering the psychological, analytical and procedural barriers to untangling luck and skill, this book gives us clarity on processes involved in decision-making and tips to improve performance. Reading or studying this book helps us to learn about deep processes that are not commonsense or intuitive. We can develop discipline about decision-making processes that impact our lives and have fun while we are doing it. Or we can also depend on skill and hope for luck.