Family Dynamics and Coaching

23 Dec 2013

As the Christmas holidays approach, many of us will be spending time with family members.  How many of us find ourselves reverting to redundant patterns of behaviour with our extended family or feeling as if family members have old, outdated perceptions of us?

To understand this better, we can learn from one of the founding fathers of family therapy and family dynamics.

Don Jackson, American psychiatrist, crystallised the idea of 'Family  Homeostasis' in a paper written in 1957, in which he described how families resist change and seek to maintain redundant patterns of behaviour.  It can be likened to a family thermostat, which keeps the system functioning in the same way. This is why parents and siblings will still use the same labels to describe you which they used when you were a child.  These responses will, in turn, trigger you to respond as you did back then.  You will also look for familiar patterns and behaviours in your family members and you will, of course, find what you look for.  And so the old familiar dance begins...

Coaching can help to change our perceptions and our behaviours.  One of the benefits of working with a coach is that the coach sees you and experiences you as the person you are today.  The coach's view is not contaminated with stories or history or myths about you.  

Human beings are changing and developing all the time and we regularly need to review the perceptions we hold about ourselves and others to keep apace with the changes we make.

At Barefoot Coaching we use an exercise to challenge perceptions called  'Seeing with Fresh Eyes':

  • Write the names of family members on separate sheets of paper
  • Under each name, first write the words you normally use to describe this person or the words you routinely associate with them
  • Having done this, now look with fresh eyes:  think about them as if you had never met them before; what are their passions and interests?; what is unique and remarkable about them?; what are their achievements?; what are their greatest strengths?; what do other people say about them and like about them?
  • Do the same exercise about yourself
  • Keep the new lists and next time you meet up, find yourself looking for those qualities instead of allowing yourself to fall into old habits and perceptions

Bythe way, the same phenomenon occurs in organisations. It can sometimes be difficult for people to be taken seriously after a promotion as colleagues and peers have developed fixed ideas about who they were when they first started work there.  Working with a business coach can help newly promoted managers and leaders review the perceptions they hold about themselves and transition into their new role with authenticity.

Wishing you a happy and harmonious festive season!