Tag Archives: Family

Family-ChimpsIn the animal world the natural pattern and structure responsible for the survival of its young is the family. Tangibly perceived we can see that it provides a protected environment for the young to grow and mature safe and nurtured from a brutal environment heavily dependent on using its population as food for the diversity of its hierarchical ladder of differing species. We can plainly see that nature has a structure of predatory species balanced symbiotically with other species subject to being sacrificed insuring the survival of each level of complexity up through the evolutionary chain. Because we humans no longer see ourselves as an integral part of this chain of survival we have grown to become unaware that this dynamic structure is at the root of much more than just our physical survival. It has enabled us to evolve into beings gifted with much more than just a pension for longevity. It has given us an opportunity to use our mind to become self-aware. But it seems like our developing tendency to believe that we are the dominant species, invincible and separate from its laws has allowed the fabric of our initial advantage of having a structure for that nurturance to fall away in the name of a recently discovered quality of our mind; our ego. Other humans in our own elevated predatory chain have sensed this and are accelerating our social subjugation and the disintegration of our most natural and nuclear support system: the family. Whether by design or by recognized and seized opportunity, the disintegrating family structure has put us in a precarious position relative to the other members of our species. To understand this dynamic and its implications we must dig much deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of having a family structure and the qualities inherent in its being so. Let’s begin with examining the benefits of having a family structure.

Family-MonkeyI think the physical advantages of having a family structure and its support are eminently obvious so I will just cover the social dimensions. The first, and I believe the most contemporarily influential, is intimacy. For those of us who are a little older, this will be a little easier to comprehend since we’ve been through both “time zones.” For the younger generation this may feel like a foreign language.

Imagine, if you will, that you’re twelve years old and living at home with your family. The house is fairly large. Living together are your parents, brother and sister, a pair of grandparents and an aunt and uncle. The house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Your parents live in one room, you and your siblings share the second, your uncle and grandfather the third and your grandmother and aunt in the fourth. In one house this will be close quarters, especially with nine people sharing two bathrooms. In the 1940s and 50s and before, this was not uncommon.

Family-DogWith so many people living together, especially scattered through three generations, everyone would be privy to many more varied aspects of each other’s lives than we now are in our contemporary settings with everyone living in separate homes. If we were to “throw back” to living in that type of environment, most of us would feel extremely uncomfortable with feeling our privacy being challenged. And, there’s a reason for this. Privacy and our luxury of having it involuntarily regulates our potential for intimacy. How? Living apart, there are aspects of our lives that are not exposed to other members of our family. This is precisely the point that has enabled intimacy to change and how it is that we perceive it today.

Family-BearsThe fact that living as an extended family together in one house does expose all its members to each other's private business is the catalyst that enables the necessity and our opportunity to learn, grow and become intimate with each other. If we live in close quarters with other members of our family, we are going to see and learn things about them that we wouldn’t had we lived apart. This “enforced proximity” makes it necessary to develop behaviors so everyone can comfortably live together without the threat of what we now perceive as a fear of exposure. Learning to be intimate in this way develops not only depth but a comfortability in dealing with close personal matters that families who live apart might never have the necessity or opportunity to experience with each other. The fear of exposure that I speak of is not only the fear of having someone know intimate details about us but the fear of them being able to use those details to manipulate us, much like being blackmailed, however, this fear has much deeper roots in leaving us feeling out of control with intimacy issues because we haven’t learned to handle them. Had we lived in close proximity with family other family members when we were growing up it would have taught us how to deal with them almost to the point where handling them would become second nature to us. The younger generations has never been trained to deal with the embarrassment that comes with feeling exposed or out of control.

Family-GiraffeWe should also note that the development of humility is a quality that comes with being trained to deal with embarrassment and with the loss of intimacy which has all but disappeared from our contemporary and socially learned pantheon of recognized behaviors. Machismo and posturing have taken their place as a defense mechanism and as a distraction from the exposure of our perceived embarrassment and exposure. Due to the loss of becoming unable to experience or understand intimacy, most all measures of humility, compassion and appreciation have rapidly been replaced with feelings of entitlement, outrage, persecution and belittlement simply because we’ve never learned to handle the intimacy that allows for their development. Most of the younger generations are now afraid of intimacy since their inability to handle it now signals such a threat for embarrassment through the exposure of their sensed but unrecognized inadequacy in handling it. Additionally, because the younger generation hasn’t had the experience of living in the close proximity with an extended family and learning how to deal with intimacy, their perception and scope of it has been reduced to seeing and feeling it solely as an expression of sex.

A second dimension that is enhanced by living within a nuclear family structure and having a close interweave with intimacy is effective role modeling. Our family and its structure provide first hand examples. The advantage of having the training within the family structure is that the results of the role model’s behavior can be directly observed within the family structure. There is an immediate validation. We are able to quickly digest and incorporate the pros and cons of adapting any particular role our family members might exhibit.

Family-LionA role model, in itself, is a relatively easy concept to comprehend and integrate into our psyches, especially, when we can see the behaviors immediately play out within our purview. We can then make a clear and confident decision about who we would and wouldn’t like to emulate. What we don’t immediately comprehend in having the example occur so closely is the quality of vulnerability and its importance in establishing a quality of depth in the role we might want to emulate. That is, in having the role model so close we can see the fallibility and vulnerability we will face in taking on the family member’s persona. In contrast, when we view a media role model we almost never see their human or fallible side. We don’t see them in situations other than those that accentuate the particular characteristics we’d want to personally integrate. We never see where they are vulnerable except where their projected excellence is concerned. So with Superman, we learn about kryptonite. With Batman we see his risk of identity exposure. With Bronson we see the murder of his wife as his drive and passion. But we never see their feelings. We never see what they’re afraid of. We never see how they interact in their “ordinary” lives. We don’t see their personal vulnerabilities. For us, their characters are incomplete. We never see what makes them human; what makes them like us when they’re not being the hero. As real people Dirty Harry and Bronson have feelings that we’re never allowed to see. We don’t see the integration of their vulnerabilities in their character. Hence, our emulation is ineffective, incomplete, and cardboard. When we see role models “up close and personal” as in our family, that vulnerability, that humanity, that fallibility is palatable and visible. We get a complete picture of how our emulation will progress. When we lose our family involvement our perception of that vulnerability is lost. Without a family history we must depend on one-sided and incomplete media heroes from which to select who we wish to emulate. We then literally go off “half-cocked.”

Family OscelottA third dimension that becomes advantageous to us when we grow up within a family structure is having an instant reflection for how we choose to interact with the world and other family members. If we adapt the behavior of one family member that other members have a problem with, we receive an immediate response to our “trial” behavior from other family members. We receive “instant karma” if you will. Because we see, imitate and receive an immediate response, we realize instantly how our behavior will be received by others in the outside world. Obviously, close proximity is one of the factors influencing the immediacy of the response we receive. If we don’t have the close proximity of the family to emulate and reflect our trial behaviors, we must look to others in our environment who may choose to escape our influence rather than confront a challenging behavior we might experimentally project at them. This has the effect of leaving us unanswered and without a clean reflection for knowing who we are, who we wish to become and whether our trial behavior will actually be effective in the world for us or not. So, living in close proximity to a family enhances the speed of our developing emotional “maturity.” Without being raised within a family structure we become emotionally slowed, inexperienced and even stunted in handling social issues compared to those who have.

Of course there are other reasons being raised in a family structure might have advantages. One more, which is self-explanatory, is having a family member mentor us in some life endeavor in which we have yet to have experience in. The advantages of them having personal insight and experience are tremendous.

Family-ElephantsThere is another dimension of the disappearing family structure that needs to be realized. We can all understand that our western culture, especially in the United States and other comparably “advanced” nations, foster a shared ideal of becoming independent in our personal growth, success and autonomy. Sociology calls this type of culture High Context. That is, our goals are centered on personal accomplishment and autonomous self-support. The progress we’ve had in technology has contributed tremendously to our becoming so while the media sells to us using our fear of personal dependency and perceived helplessness as a motivation toward buying their tools, products and skills intended to reinforce and heighten our feelings of independence and autonomy. But I think that we have gotten so enamored with our desire for “freedom” and independence and how technology can provide that for us that we have abandoned our only personal support for the, mostly irrational, ideal. We can also see that the media has jumped on board providing us with role models heroes that heighten our desire for autonomy and “lone wolfmanship.” The underlying force there is our growing assumption that strength comes from independence and a lack of our having any obligations to anyone else for our “success.” Our pendulum of the balance between our capacity for others and “need” to unrelated and unbeholding to anyone else has become skewed way far to one side.

Family-PenguinThat stage being set, let’s look at the droves of people immigrating into our country. Mostly Hispanics, their culture is mostly what sociologists call Low Context. That is, their primary focus is that the welfare of the family and their clan is all important and that independent pursuits and personal successes are secondary as compared to the welfare of the family. This approach, at its core, runs totally contrary to the extremes of independence that our media and technology has driven us to. Fear of destitution and loss of control has contributed significantly to our drive into being High Context. Incidentally, if a primary ploy for defeating an army (family) is to divide and conquer, our media, corporations and government are right on target with their strategies. Dissolving the family structure weakens our defenses and support structure for counteracting whatever they would like to sell us or enslave us with. On some level some businesses have also recognized this trend and business policies have become heavily invested in promoting teamwork or, essentially, the establishment of a business family to compensate for the ineffectiveness and anarchy that personal independence inevitably leads to. This feeling of destitution and lack of family support is also what drives many kids to join gangs to find that love and support.

Family dinner-1The dissolving of the family structure, whether planned or unintentional is responsible for creating a more technologically informed, but less mature emotionally, culture. There are way too many factors that contribute and need to be discussed relative to the rapidly expanding extinction of the nuclear family. The tremendous wave of illiterate immigration may set us back technologically on an individual level but perhaps their influence will begin to renew family ties once we begin to realize that it still holds many benefits that we’ve lost and can regain and, like the animal kingdom, are still needed for our survival; physically AND emotionally.

Family dinner-1We mostly all enjoy the arrival of family holidays when many of us have off from work and we have the time to get together with the people we enjoy: our friends and family. But we also know that when these holidays present themselves there are family members who demand our appearance and duty on their time schedule and that it’s not just our elders who do so. Siblings also usurp power from parents and relatives. Since our holidays are usually short in number, visits are often at a premium and this may often preclude planning visits with some of the people we really want to get together with but can’t because some family obligations “take priority” over our own preference and enjoyment. To understand the three ways we must:

  • Understand why capitulation is considered a sacrifice,
  • Understand how we’ve allowed these obligations to “fall” into place and
  • Clearly understand the three choices that we have to “get off the hook.”

Why is it a sacrifice? Remember, your parents were (are) children too and as such their parents demanded certain behaviors from them that were expected, and maybe still are, that are in line with their traditions and the way things were handled with many of the holidays. Don’t think for a minute that they don’t realize that you also see giving up your plans to visit friends to visit Aunt Sarah for the holidays in the middle of your friend’s only available afternoon (remember, they have family “obligations” too) precluding any morning or evening visits to anyone else simply because that’s the way and time that it’s always been done. And to boot, you have to participate because it will look bad for them in Aunt Sarah’s eyes if you don’t.

King Kong Sacrifice-1There are many other ways that sacrifice has become a tradition where the family is concerned and many family members are not above using those traditions as blackmail so you’ll do things the way they want and on their schedule. For example, now-a-days everything seems to be done “for the kids.” It’s as if our kids have become some kind of “pure product” of the family and our last best hope for the family to prosper and shine in the eyes of the world. But, remember too that their “shining” is a reflection on our parenting. As a result, some of the things that you’d like to do as an adult, remember, you’re a person too, “must” be put on a back burner for the benefit of the child and their “welfare.” Otherwise, you’ll be seen as a “bad parent.” That’s where we begin to view our actions as a sacrifice. Your own welfare and preferences are forfeited for the benefit of “the kids.” That benefit is how our culture believes opportunity should be offered to our children. The assumption would be that that’s the way it’s always been. That may be true, especially in nature, but not to the extent that we have taken it. In today’s days and times and due to the rush and survival pressures we have so little time to devote to our children that we end up feeling guilty because they’re not receiving what we received as kids. As a result, we spoil them and they then grow up with an overblown sense of entitlement. But I digress and that’s fodder for a much longer discussion elsewhere.

How have we allowed these obligations to “fall” into place? The answer is very simple. It’s how our parents had to deal with their parents. We’re back to “it‘s the way it’s always been done.” You see, when we arrived into the family these practices were already well underway and very deeply ingrained. They’re not going to listen to what we want. We’re mere children with no understanding of the ways of the world. We must be shown and guided through the best ways to keep the family strong and tightly knit. The key words here are strong and tightly knit; tightly knit because it keeps everyone on the same page with what is expected during, not 10-Commandments-11only the holidays, but with every other area of life. Those expectations assure our duties and position in the hierarchy. The strength comes in bringing consistency which assures family members that they are secure in their assumed dependency on how other family members are going to relate to them. In short, keep everything the same and the same people “stay in charge” and a new “position of power” is only available when of those who are in charge pass on. Tradition and heredity still provide the strongest momentum for family rapport or, at least until the family dissolves, which seems to be more and more the case in our current social structure. Things have been changing much to the chagrin of many of the “old-timers.”

So, what are the 3 Ways to escape the demand of our expected traditional sacrifice? First, we can beat them at their own game. To start with, family members who use the “blackmail” sequence, that is either hint or outright state their disapproval of our alternate choices implying that we will no longer receive their deference and support in family issues, will assume that they have the upper hand in family matters believing that we, and our children, need family approval Chess Player-1to get along in our life circumstances. They will insinuate how badly Aunt Sarah will feel when she doesn’t get to see our children due to our “lack of consideration” for her feelings. They may even go so far as to imply doom and gloom about how we are destroying the moral fiber of the family. What they are really saying is that they feel that they are losing control over how the family responds to them, which is probably true. But if you respond with something along the lines of, “Do you really want to deprive the children of participating is such an important game on the holiday (football or something of the same ilk) sabotaging their athletic image and impairing their possible success in the school environment and threatening their academic and social success?” You see, in approaching the family demand in terms of what your child will lose will have a far greater effect on your parents as they don’t want to be seen as threatening the future of “the kids.” This also takes the focus off you and transfers it to your parent’s guilt in depriving your child. I think you get the idea. But you may not want to use this method for fear of the fact that it may make you feel just as manipulative and dishonest as they are. In this case, let’s move on to the next approach.

Second, we can simply define our boundaries as adults and field the recriminations that will follow. Coming of age is a very important head space to arrive at. It’s that point where we have come to realize that we too are now adults and that we have responsibilities to ourselves that go far beyond the comfort and convenience of what our extended family needs to feel secure in feeling that they hold authority over family endeavors. Realize that when our parents lose “power” over the family and its activities there is an underlying fear that they will be left deserted and without support as they begin to feel their survival capabilities begin to dwindle Nursing Home-1with old age. They see many of their peers dropped into old age homes and ignored or even worse, abused. The thought of this petrifies them, and rightly so. But they too must grow old gracefully as their parents did and we must when we follow them. They must also come to realize that the more their children feel manipulated by them, the more likely this will come to pass. When we have a good and honest rapport with our family, this kind of thing doesn’t occur. THAT is what we want to establish with method two. We want to let them know that we’re going to do the things that will benefit OUR livelihood, convenience, timing and children but at the same time let them know that they will neither be deserted nor ignored. This will teach them to trust us which, if they’ve been feeling the need to manipulate us, they don’t. Their parents felt just as insecure as they do now. If they don’t trust us to honor them voluntarily, and they probably don’t, it will be very difficult for them to come to a point where they do. This will take time. It’s US that need to be strong with resolve to see their “training” into trusting us come to pass. Know also that we will become the brunt of all kinds of accusations from family sabotage to out and out abuse. But we have to realize that in the long run, they and we will be happier with the end result if we can stick to our resolve to create Self-Trust in us, our parents and our children through our honesty and tenacity in following through. So, the second method is to stick to our guns, our preferences and help our parents and children in dealing with the fact that our lives, preference and welfare are also important and should be given equal time.

Baggage-1Third, we can simply acquiesce to their demands. This is probably the easiest and more common path taken by most family members but it breeds a whole host of resentment, destructive emotional undercurrents and self-deprecation. In short, it keeps a traditional blackmail in place and functioning at full strength. In general, I think the normal growth pattern follows through method number three, then to two and finally to method two resulting in a mature and equally respected approach to all members of the family.

So, as the holidays approach we will probably pick one of the above methods or even a combination of them depending on who we’re dealing with and how we feel about them.

That being said, I would like to explore sacrifice and what it means a little further. If I were to address in our contemporary perspective, I would say that it has evolved into becoming a pimp for our ego. Yes. This does seem a bit crude and extreme but I said it in order to first, get your attention and second, to emphasize the importance behind the dynamic of sacrifice. As you read on further you will see why I emphasized it as such as you begin to understand the emotional mechanism that operates buried well beneath our daily consciousness. Let’s begin.
Everything we do, or refrain from doing, has a payoff. I will assume that you agree to at least that much but will you also agree that almost every decision we make is based on at the least two motives: first, appearing to be a certain way to others and, second, to further our wants and needs for comfort, recognition and safety?

Fencing-1The next question I have to ask is how far are you willing to compromise your own preferences in order to receive that comfort, recognition, acceptance and safety from others? Because how much you are willing to compromise is a reflection of how much you believe that you are in charge of your life. How? The more you are willing to acquiesce to the needs, wants and desires of others the more your self-image and identity are dependent on their opinions. This is not to be confused with being humble. Humility appears to be the same as compromise as expressed to others but the underlying motivation can either come from the strength of an independent character or a fear of disapproval. This is a very subtle difference and most people claim the former when they are really reacting to the latter. What does this have to do with sacrifice you might ask? They are essentially the same thing. How many of your personal preferences are you willing to give up (that you’d sacrifice or be “humble” about) in order to be approved of and therefore accepted by others? In addition to that, what values based on the needs of others do you incorporate into your own value system so you can feel that you are a “good” person? This is where the concept of “selling out” comes into play.

The line between respecting yourself and being respected by others is a very flexible boundary and its point of standing is constantly being adjusted by our memory of and new experiences according to those two or more motivations used for taking or not taking an action. Those motivations include how we will look to others which will insure our comfort, recognition, acceptance and safety and how many of our own preferences will be met that run contrary to the wants and needs of those others. So, how does this balancing act relate to sacrifice and being a pimp for the ego? Now that we can see our motivations clearly we can clearly observe the dynamic.

TREASURE ChestOur ego, which is how we view and value ourselves is a balance somewhere between our personal respect of ourselves and our invested importance in the needs and wants of our family and social group. The more we value our own preferences and are willing to ignore the whims, desires and insecurities of others, the less we are involved in the personal sacrifices that are expected of us by our family and peer group. The currency utilized by that group to insure our acquiescence to group needs and wants is their allowance of our comfort of inclusion, their recognition and acceptance of us and our feeling of safety with them. We might even see this as a form of blackmail. This insures us of our constant support as long as their needs and wants are upheld over our own. Through this our self-image and identity in the eyes of others, or our ego, is purchased through our “humility” and, of course, our “sacrifice.”

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Holding Hands-1Simply answered; it’s when we have allowed ourselves to become vulnerable to the person we are having the relationship with. This also includes our enemies. But, I’ll explain that later. Let’s first look at what it means to be intimate and vulnerable.

The word intimate dates way back to the 1630s and simply means closely acquainted and very familiar. It wasn’t until the 1640s that the meaning was set to include a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Contemporarily, if you were to say that you are intimate with someone their most likely assumption would be that you are having sex. But that wasn’t always what was assumed. Most people in this day and age, especially those younger, have no understanding of the depth involved in intimacy other than having sex. This will take a little explaining relative to its evolution over the last forty years. Let’s start with the definition and its connection to our vulnerability.

Being intimate or having intimate knowledge about someone is not volatile in itself. It’s what we are able to do with what we know about them that makes another person susceptible to injury by our influence. If we know something about a person’s history or fears and use that to change another's perspective about the person we are intimate with, the knowledge we have about them makes them vulnerable to injury by us and the person we are telling.

Other than our physical body, the places that we are unsure about in ourselves, feel our disabilities and pending decisions are the places that we are the most vulnerable to injury. When we are with someone we deeply care about we slowly divulge our wishes, fears and uncertainties, first, as we begin to trust them and second, in the hopes that they will be able to assist us in resolving and stabilizing them within us. It’s this vulnerability that I see as the qualifying dynamic giving meaning to being truly intimate with someone.

Now that we have a clearer understanding about intimacy and its symbiotic relationship with vulnerability, let’s take a look at the last forty years to see how and why its definition has evolved.

The number one factor in developing an understanding of intimacy has been the family and its slow disappearance. For those of us who are a little older, this will be a little easier to comprehend since we’ve been through both “time zones.”

Family Crowd-1Imagine, if you will, that you’re twelve years old and living at home with your family. The house is fairly large. Living together are your parents, brother and sister, a pair of grandparents and an aunt and uncle. The house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Your parent live in one room, you and your siblings share the second, your uncle and grandfather the third and your grandmother and aunt in the fourth. In one house this will be close quarters, especially with nine people sharing two bathrooms. In the 1940s and 50s and before, this was not uncommon.

With so many people living together, especially scattered through three generations, everyone would be privy to many more varied aspects of each other's lives than we now are on our contemporary settings with everyone living in separate homes. If we were to “throw back” to living in that type of environment, most of us would have a big problem with privacy. And, there’s a reason for this. Privacy and our luxury of having it involuntarily regulates our potential for intimacy. Living apart, there are aspects of our lives that are not exposed to other members of our family. This is precisely the point that enabled intimacy to change and how it is that we perceive it today.

eye-through-key-hole-spyingThe fact that living as an extended family together in one house does expose all its members to each other's private business is the catalyst that enables the necessity and our opportunity to learn, grow and become intimate with each other. If we are in close quarters with other members of our family, we are going to see and learn things about them that we wouldn’t if we had lived apart. This “enforced proximity” makes it necessary to develop behaviors and understandings so everyone can comfortably live together without the threat of what we now know and fear as exposure. Learning intimacy in this way develops not only depth but a comfortability in dealing with close personal matters that families who live apart might never have the necessity or opportunity to experience. The fear of exposure that I speak of is not only the fear of having someone know intimate details about us and to use them to manipulate us, much like being blackmailed, but a fear that has much deeper roots leaving us to feel out of control with our intimacy issues because we haven’t learned to handle them. Had we lived in close proximity with our family when we were growing up we would have learned to deal with them almost to the point where handling them became second nature due to our early familiarity and training. The younger generations don’t know how to deal with the embarrassment that comes with feeling exposed or out of control. The development of humility is a quality that comes with being trained to deal with embarrassment and with the loss of intimacy has all but disappeared from our contemporary and socially learned rapport. Machismo and posturing have taken their place as a defense mechanism and as a distraction from the exposure of our perceived inadequacy. Most all measures of humility, compassion and appreciation have been replaced with feelings of entitlement, outrage, persecution and belittlement simply because we’ve never learned the intimacy that allows for their development. Most of the younger generations are now afraid of intimacy since their inability to handle it now signals such a threat for embarrassment through the exposure of their perceived inadequacy when their learning to handle it could have led toward learning to trust themselves and their intuition in relationships.

So, what can we do to increase our ability to become more intimate in our personal relationships without feeling threatened? We can find ways to disarm feelings of inadequacy that we might feel such a strong urge to defend, hide and compensate for. When we have accomplished this we will be able to trust ourselves more and in doing so a natural offshoot  will be toward allowing others to have their opinions of us even if they disagree with what we believe about ourselves. In becoming stronger in trusting ourselves the urge to defend ourselves will diminish and depending on how well we do, the urge will, most likely, altogether just fall away.

compassion-1Learning that it is not a weakness to have or show humility, compassion or appreciation is the first step in learning to become more intimate with others. We must slowly work our way back. Learning to trust ourselves is the first step. We must learn to become strong enough in our assessment of ourselves so we can share these qualities without fear of feeling used or diminished. It is then that our intimacy with others will naturally deepen and become the enriching encouragement that, once again, allows for the expression of our love.