27 May The New peoplemaking | Part A’ (V.Satir)
After knowing hundreds of families, I find that each one can he placed somewhere along a scale from very nurturing to wry troubled. I see many similarities in the way nurturing families operate. Troubled families, too, no matter what their problems, seem to have much in common. I would thus like to draw for you a word picture of these two types of families, as I have observed them. Of course, neither picture will fit any specific family exactly, but in one or the other you may recognize some part of your own family in action.
The atmosphere in a troubled family is easy to feel. Whenever I am with such a family, I quickly sense discomfort. Sometimes it feels cold, as if everyone were frozen; the atmosphere is extremely polite, and everyone is obviously bored. Sometimes it feels as if everything were constantly spinning, like a top; I get dizzy and can’t find my balance. Or it may be an atmosphere of foreboding, like the lull before a storm, when thunder may crash and lightning strike at any moment. Sometimes the air is full of secrecy. Sometimes I feel very sad and cannot find an obvious reason. I realize that’s because the sources are covered up.
When I am in any of these troubled atmospheres, my body reacts violently. My stomach feels queasy; my back and shoulders soon ache, as does my head. I used to wonder if the bodies of these family members responded as mine did. Later, when I knew them better and they became free enough to tell me what life was like in their family, I learned that they did indeed have the same sensations. After having this kind of experience over and over again, I began to understand why so many members of troubled families were beset with physical ills. Their bodies were simply reacting humanly to a very inhuman atmosphere.
Perhaps you will find the reactions I describe here surprising. Everybody—every body—has physical reactions to individuals around him or her. Many people are not aware of it: we were taught as we grew up to turn off these feelings. With years of practice we may turn them off so successfully that we are totally unaware of reacting until, hours later, we have a headache, an aching shoulder, or an upset stomach. Even then we may not understand why. As a therapist I have learned to be tuned in to these feelings in myself and to recognize signs of them in other people. They tell me a good deal about what is actually going on. I hope this book will help you learn to recognize these useful clues in yourself. The first step of change is to recognize what is happening.
In troubled families, people’s bodies and faces tell of their plight. Bodies are either stiff and tight, or slouchy. Faces look sullen, or sad, or blank like masks. Eyes look down and past people. Ears obviously don’t hear. Voices are either harsh and strident, or barely audible.
There is little evidence of friendship among individual family members, little joy in one another. The family seems to stay together through duty, with people just trying to tolerate one another. Now and then I see someone in a troubled family make an effort at lightness, but the words fall with a thud. More often humor is caustic, sarcastic, even cruel. The adults are so busy telling the child and each other what to do and what not to do that they never get to enjoy themselves as persons. It often comes as a great surprise to members of troubled families that they actually can enjoy one another.
Seeing whole families who were trying to live together in such an atmosphere, I used to wonder how they managed to survive. I discovered that in some families, people simply avoided one another; they became so involved in work and other outside activities that they rarely had much real contact with other family members. It is very easy to live with others in a house and not see them for days.
It is a sad experience for me to be with these families. I see the hopelessness, the helplessness, the loneliness. I see the bravery of people trying to cover up—a bravery that can prematurely kill. Some still cling to a little hope, some still bellow or nag or whine at each other. Others no longer care. These people go on year after year, enduring misery themselves or, in their desperation, inflicting it on others. I could never go on seeing these families unless I had hope that they could change, and most of them have. The family-can be the place where one finds love and understanding and support, even when all else fails; where we can be refreshed and recharged to cope more effectively with the world outside. But for millions of troubled families, this is merely a dream.
In our urban, industrial society, the institutions w-e live with have been designed to be practical, efficient, economical, profitable—but rarely to protect and serve the human part of human beings. Nearly everyone experiences either poverty, discrimination, pressure, or other negative consequences of our inhuman social institutions. For people from troubled families, who find inhuman conditions at home, too, these difficulties are even harder to bear.
No one would intentionally pick this troubled way of living. Families accept it only because they know of no other way.
Stop reading for a Jew minutes and think about some families you know that would fit the description “troubled ” Did the family you grew up in hare some of these characteristics: Was your family at times cold, deadening, superpolite, secretive, confusing? What are the characteristics of the family you are living in now? Can you discover any signs of trouble that you haven’t been aware of before?
THE NEW PEOPLEMAKING