The serenity prayer and family therapy

Monday, April 4th, 2011, Written by Peonita

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

This is known as the Serenity Prayer, but this could very well be called the family prayer.  Most people live to change the people they love.  It is only when that desired change is met with resistance will that person realize that the change process is really about them and not the other person.  Most times it takes a while before we realize that we cannot change our family members, but we can change how we relate to them.  This epiphany is a way of accepting things we cannot change.

Acceptance is tricky in a family where there is maladaptive behavior.  However, acceptance is the best treatment plan for boundaries.  It is almost paradoxical.  For instance, one can’t change the behavior of another, but they can remove themselves from the pattern in which the behavior is carried out.  Hence, the struggle of trying to get a person to stop or change the behavior ceases and the acceptance of creating healthy boundaries for oneself so that they will no longer be a part of the maladaptive behavior begins and wisdom is birthed.

In family therapy, the problem is approached with the intent of creating desirable change in the maladaptive patterns of behavior that a family has established.  When equating this concept to a family, it helps us to understand the pattern of behavior that is behind how a family relates and communicates.

When a family comes for help, one of the first things that a clinician is told is the presenting symptoms, i.e., a family member gets drunk every weekend, my spouse is having an affair, our daughter is disrespectful, our son is failing school, my spouse is never at home, etc.  These can all be viewed as symptoms, but they are also the way a family relates, which can be signs that something is wrong.  For the clinician, the pattern of relating is used to analysis the movement of the family.  To unpack this concept further, within families there are roles, rules and then what I like to call the “state” of the family or homeostasis.  In other words, how the family usually relates to each other.  The family can experience this state as being pleasant, dramatic, troubling, hurtful or even unbearable.  What is certain is that no matter what event happens in the family, the family manages to get back to their “state” or way of relating to each other after the event has ended.  It is this redundant pattern of behavior in families that resist change.  Within these patterns is what family therapists call circular causality.  The behavior of one person causes the behavior of another; however, this is not to suggest that the behavior of one party is to blame.  The behaviors of both parties have to be present to create the pattern or circular causality.

Often these patterns are carried out between two people in the family (a dyad), and at times there can also be a triangular relationship to help maintain the “state” of the family.  Within this dyad and/or triangular relationship, there is a circular and causality pattern that has developed.  For instance, one person becomes distant and the other person becomes the pursuer.  This can take shape in one person nagging and the other person not coming home.  Another example is favoritism is shown to the older brother and then the younger sister becomes disrespectful to the parents.  Some families recognize the pattern, but others are deeply entrenched in the patterns of behavior, and they only know that the family is suffering from the maladaptive behavioral pattern.  Sometimes this is all that is needed to get a family on the right path – the wisdom to know the difference between maladaptive and adaptive behavior, and the courage to bring that behavior to the light.  What maladaptive behavioral patterns have been established in your family?  Are you ready to set healthy boundaries?

Comments are closed.