The Family Emotional System

The term emotional system refers to any group of people who have developed interdependencies to the point where the resulting system through which they are connected (administratively, physically, or emotionally) has evolved its own principles of organization.__A family emotional system includes the members’ thoughts, feelings, emotions, fantasies, and associations, their past connections individually and together.  It includes their physical makeup, genetic heritage, and current metabolic states.  It involves their sibling positions and their parents’ sibling positions.  The essential characteristic of systems thinking is that the functioning of any part of the network is due to its position in the network rather than to its own nature. (Friedman, Ed., A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, 2007, page197.)

Seeing oneself as part of a family emotional system, embedded in that system and affected by the system, is a different way of thinking from the usual individual perspective.  This way of thinking helps to look at problems like depression, anxiety, addictions, and even chronic illness through a new lens.  By working hard to change one’s position in the family emotional system through understanding and modifying automatic behavior in that system  one can bring about change in a more permanent, positive way.

What is it like for you to think of yourself as part of a family emotional system?

How would you describe your family emotional system; harmonious, close, conflicted, distant, enmeshed? Or do you think of it another way?

How would you describe your role in your family emotional system?  The Peacemaker, the Rebel, the Achiever, the Baby, are some common family roles.

How do you think your sibling position and/or gender has affected your role in your family?

What would you like to change regarding your role, position, or behavior in your family emotional system?

What do you imagine your different family members would like to change about your role in your family emotional system?

These are just a few of the hundreds of questions one can ask to learn and understand more about the family emotional system and one’s place in it.

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