Public Displays Of Emotional Process

PDA: Public Displays of Affection. Some people love them, some people hate them. Now we have PDEPs: Public Displays of Emotional Process.

I have a very large extended family. More than 40 second cousins on my father’s father’s side alone. With such a large group, political disagreements are inevitable, especially lately. Throughout the history of the family some members have stopped talking to others over this or that issue. So far, no one has appeared in the news media dissing anyone else. This is not true for every contemporary family:

As one brother runs for office for one political party in Wisconsin, the other aligns with the other party and stars in an opposition advertisement. Their mother publicly sides with the candidate and begs for the ad to be discontinued.

Six siblings of a different candidate are featured in an ad supporting his opponent. They claim he has “broken with the family values” and he says of them that “Stalin would be proud.”

An outspoken and supportive aid to the president is married to an equally outspoken critic of their shared commander in chief. The couple often voice their differences to reporters and others.

The maternal uncle of another presidential aid writes an op-ed critical of his nephew’s political views and policy positions. Other family members have openly aligned with the uncle’s point of view.

The oldest son of the president, despite intermittent cut-offs through the years, is currently among his biggest boosters. This son’s attempt to win paternal favor may or may not extend to unlawful activity on his father’s behalf. Alternatively, the daughter from the president’s second marriage is rarely seen publicly with her famous father. They are reputedly on strained terms. When the president’s first wife refers to herself in an interview as “first lady,” his current wife issues a fast rebuke through her spokesperson.

The proliferation of media including social media, plus the inflamed political climate, reveal the emotional processes of some prominent families. One must not infer too much from these fragments of family information, but some reasonable conclusions may be drawn.

In relationships:

… a two person relationship is emotionally unstable, with limited adaptability for dealing with anxiety and life stresses. It automatically becomes a triangular emotional system with a much higher level of flexibility and adaptability with which to tolerate and deal with anxiety. When anxiety involves more than three people, the configuration spreads in a series of interlocking triangles.  When a large group or crowd is involved in an active emotional issue, multiple people append themselves to each corner of the triangle and the emotional forces continue the basic triangle patterns. Murray Bowen

Two-or-more against one triangles are evident in each of the above examples. Family estrangements, or cut offs, are also visible. Increased societal anxiety has resulted in the relatively more extreme behavior of airing family disputes in the public square. The family projection process, whereby the family problem is transmitted to one or more children through the triangling process, is also potentially evident. Certainly, it is difficult to dispute that the increasing frequency of these episodes demonstrates an inflamed emotional process in society. Although in this political climate, someone might!

This is a good time for me to “think theory” and “think systems.” When I am able to adopt a research attitude while surfing the internet or immersed in 24/7 cable news coverage, I can learn about human nature in addition to the outrage of the day. Applying systems concepts to daily events provides the wider lens described in family systems literature. That lens allows for a more objective perspective and will hopefully minimize any PDEPs-Public Displays of Emotional Process- in my own family. (I’m not sure if this term will catch on, but it should.)

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