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Is there any systematic way of understanding the relationship between our individual psyches and the whole world that surrounds us? There are many simplistic ways to explain how individuals work within their communities. Those who really like things simple might take the Social Darwinist view and say we all just do what we do, and the strongest survive. Another simple, but somewhat more humanistic view, would be to say we all just need to work toward understanding one another, and try to recognize that we are in a world community, so that we all may prosper together. There are so many disparate ideas about how life works in a general sense, but is there a way to specifically and systematically describe how people function, both within themselves and at the interpersonal level?
Comprehending the complex connection between the animal nature within us all and our interpersonal behavior at every level of society is an issue that requires examination and analysis if we are to develop true understanding and clarity. Any truly useful understanding will span the distance between the need to survive, compete, and prosper, as in the Social Darwinist view, and the desire to embrace the depths of our humanity, which is the focus of any humanistic perspective. A useful understanding of this complicated topic informs psychological intervention at many different levels so that we can help some do better for themselves, others do better within and for their families, and yes, even perhaps so that we can help the world get along just that much better, one individual, one family, one business or one city, state, country or continent at a time.
Although there is really no one legitimate place to start or finish in an explanation of how we all fit together, since all of us have an effect on one another one interaction or impression at a time, the best example of how all interpersonal systems fit together can be found in the family. In the family each individual fits his or her own internal (or intrapsychic) system of emotions within, around and between the interpersonal system that is generally referred to as the family system.
DRIVES AND DRIVENNESS
Starting with the individual then we can simply ask, what is it that really makes us tick? This question in and of itself seems to suggest that we need something or that we are wound up in such a way that we will keep on going. The most salient psychological concept that attempts to describe what makes us "tick" is the concept Freud (arguably the progenitor of all psychotherapies) termed "drives." The "drives" Freud described were sex (or "libido") and aggression. Now, I don’t think Freud was exactly correct about what the "drives" are (for information about how I view the sex drive, please see my article, "Sex is Not a Drive, It’s Just Real Important") but, like any first that develops (the first car, the first computer, the first cell phone), Freud’s theories as a first have evolved into more accurate and complete concepts. Certainly, with respect to "drives," no one would deny that we all experience a feeling of drivenness. That is, we all experience a feeling of being compelled or impelled to act based on definite and powerful needs.
The best examples of this feeling of drivenness include the everyday occurrences of hunger and the need to stay safe or protected. We know that we are frequently and unavoidably in need of food, and of course our desire to stay safe is expressed constantly in the ways we choose to be careful (locking doors, covering ourselves with clothing, managing to drive without crashing into one another). With respect to hunger, we get a sense of needing to fill ourselves and then we eat until we are adequately satisfied. When we are extremely hungry, however, we can almost get a sense that we are starving and we can become so voracious that we become gluttonous with consumption. With respect to safety, we sometimes avoid those things that scare us, but sometimes the possible occurrence of what we fear is such a threat that we become very angry or even aggressive. These aspects of life "drive" our behavior.
The fascinating thing about how hunger and the need for self-protection "drive" us is that most of our experience for what we need or what we fear can be expressed in the exact same terms as the terms used to describe actual need for for food or drink and actual fear of, or aggression and anger toward, potential predators. That is we appear to symbolize almost every experience into being like some aspect of hunger or self-protection. We can say we hunger for more money, more freedom, more friends. We can say we are terrified of public speaking or that others judging us makes us furious. Often these two experiences, hunger and fear/anger/aggression, can be intertwined in our pursuits. For example, when someone pursues power, they can be said to hunger for it but, simultaneously, it is clear that power makes a person less vulnerable, thus clearly linking it to fear/anger/aggression. Really, the same thing could be said about money, freedom, or friends, all examples used above to site things for which we have hunger. Each of these pursuits, in its own way, also makes us feel safe, and if someone interferes with anything related to our safety we can become extremely incensed or frightened.
SUSTENANCE AND SELF-PROTECTION
It becomes clear then that the experience of drivenness is primarily about two essential areas of life that all living creatures have in common, the experience of hunger and the experience of fear/anger/aggression. These two aspects of drivenness I will call the need for "sustenance" and the need for "self-protection." With respect to the need for "sustenance," a desire for something is very much like hunger, and when we have had enough of some activity it is as though we have been sated - we then lose interest, or possibly even start overflowing when we've had too much. Thus, there is a "sustenance" continuum between extremes of sustenance (see Figure 1, a representation of all three continua in relation to one another). Although these extremes are rarely experienced in reality, on one end would be the feeling of abject starvation, while on the other end would be a feeling of being stuffed like a snake after it's swallowed a raccoon.
Describing these rarely experienced extremes is necessary because we are driven to act to the extent that we experience the extremes in these feelings. For example, we would be far more motivated by a feeling of abject starvation than by having a mere craving. Feeling stuffed like the raccoon-sated snake would be motivating to the point of overflowing and could lead to purging in some way, which is far more drivenness than that which comes from merely being sated. While it's easy to give examples of feeling motivated by being starved such as clinging to others when starved for affection, or the drive to amass large quantities of material goods due to being raised in poverty, it's somewhat less typical to think about the motivation that arises from being over-stuffed. The best examples are actual purging by the bulimic, and starving oneself as seen in cases of anorexia. Those afflicted with such maladies have often, among other experiences, felt controlled within their life experiences to such an extent that it's as though they are stuffed with the concerns and wishes of others. Frequently, experiencing similar control leads to other kinds of "purging," such as the need to perpetually do for others, and thus leave nothing for oneself.
Figure 1: The three "Life Continua" or aspects of "Drivenness" presented in relation to one another in three dimensions. These Life Continua represent issues related to x (sustenance), y (self-protection), and z (relatedness), which are the primary motivators in life. The extent to which x and y are not balanced by interpersonal experience limits the extent to which relatedness can develop in a healthy way. The extent to which all three continua are balanced by and within interpersonal experience determines the level to which a person can be called psychologically "healthy." Balance falls toward the center of the three continua and thus the ends of the three continua represent emotional experience that tends to lead to wild emotional swings which cause exaggerated behavior due to one's difficulty in managing such powerful feelings. The three continua are presented here as each perpendicular to the other in the three dimensions since they are postulated to be orthogonal in nature. That is, each of the three continua is seen as a fully distinct factor.
With respect to the need for "self-protection," we can become fraught with anxiety when there is not any real physical danger (public speaking being the most common example), but when we realize that there’s little to fear we can calm down andperhaps be just a little uncomfortable. Likewise, we can feel explosive at times when there is really no physical need to defend ourselves, but when we realize there’s little threat, we can calm to being irked. Thus, there is a "self-protection" continuum between extremes of self-protection (see Figure 1). Although these extremes are rarely experienced, on one end would be a fearful withdrawal so strong that it would be almost like an experience of completely vanishing or ceasing to exist, while on the other end would be a feeling of being so destructive one might destroy the entire universe.
We are driven to act by emotions experienced within the self-protection continuum depending upon how extreme they are, just as was the case in considering the sustenance continuum. One would be far more motivated to act by a feeling that their existence was in jeopardy, for example, than they would be by worried anticipation. Likewise one would clearly be much more motivated to act by rage so explosive that it made them want to obliterate everything around them than by trifling aggravation, irritation, or annoyance. Fear at a level akin to feeling one's existence is in jeopardy might occur if one's life was actually being threatened. A feeling of explosiveness so intense that one might desire to annihilate humanity might occur in someone filled with rage due to experiencing a lifetime of being abused and exploited.
It is obvious that something to do with hunger/sustenance on one hand, and fear-aggression/self-protection on the other, is very central to our experience of drivenness. These emotions involve very real biological needs on one hand, but also symbolize our experience of almost all other experiences in one way or another. Yet these most powerful of the emotions, the one's that are actually intrinsic to maintaining life itself, are not the sum of all human experience. Because human beings are social animals, that is because we live in relation to one another at all times, and because we depend upon the fact that we are communal animals to progress, either through reproduction or development or by using teams to accomplish what no one human can accomplish alone, there is a third factor in the experience of drivenness, "relatedness."
"Relatedness" is a drive that develops toward a healthy balance only to the extent that the first two types have become relatively balanced. Balance of the need for sustenance requires that one's environment has been adequately nurturing for his or her particular level of need in that area based upon genetic loading. Balance of the need for self-protection requires that an individual’s environment has been adequately safe given his or her particular level of need in that area given his or her genetics. Without adequate balance in sustenance and self-protection, relatedness only develops to rudimentary, very unbalanced, levels. When these two aspects of experience do develop toward relative balance, then the third kind of drivenness, the need for "relatedness" can develop more completely. Although it is not nearly as primordial an experience as the need for sustenance or the need for self-protection, the need for relatedness can be seen in all our social behaviors. The currency of relatedness is very different than the other two, however. While being sated is the obvious currency of the need for sustenance, and safety is the obvious currency of the need for self-protection, responsibility is the far less obvious currency of relatedness.
This idea, that responsibility is the way we express ourselves with respect to relatedness, might seem strange at first. Although almost everyone believes responsibility is an important factor in successful living, most people do not think of responsibility as a primary and rudimentary factor of life. But when you think about one factor that allows people to be close or "related" in their feeling to one another, it is how much responsibility they take. In order to develop a feeling of being "related" we must trust the other person to take us seriously, call us back, do what they have said they are going to do, or to, in general, reciprocate the level of relatedness we feel toward them. We must also trust them not to hurt us or, even more importantly, not to damage us. At a more elemental level, for example, the baby must trust the mother to maintain a healthy level of satiation and safety. This is true about food and shelter, but it is also true about the mother's reactions of lovingness. When the child then matures, he or she will have to be trustworthy and responsible with others in life, eventually with his or her own children, in order to engender good relations with them.
In describing the "relatedness" continuum, its relationship to responsibility becomes clear. At one end of the continuum lies "responsibility fragmentation" which is a state of experience in which a person becomes so overwrought with responsibility for everyone else that they start to feel as though they are breaking into pieces. Complete isolation and alienation lie at the other end of the relatedness continuum, which occurs if a person takes so little responsibility for others, or for their effect on others, that they cease to maintain any relation with others at all. Because responsibility is the currency of the relatedness continuum, the feeling of drivenness involved with the relatedness continuum is generally shame or guilt. A person may attempt to avoid guilt and shame by doing everything they possibly can for others and then become fragmented. Such a person is typically avoiding the possibility of isolation which they fear could develop if they do not behave well enough or do enough for others. They hold themselves to high standards so they will be good enough and so they can avoid guilt, but they wind up being fragmented. On the other hand, a person can attempt to avoid the feeling of fragmentation by perfecting the way they do things. These individuals want to do things so well, so properly, and so morally, in the context of a world of relatedness, that they need not feel guilt or shame. However, such individuals perfect themselves in such an exaggerated way that they become almost completely rigid in their interactions with others and maintain within themselves virtually no vulnerability. This form of perfectionism leads to isolation since there can be no emotional connection to others without at least some level of vulnerability.
Again, it is at the extremes that the relatedness continuum leads to the most driven behavior. When a person fears complete isolation, they are far more motivated to commune with others than if they are merely a tad lonely. Likewise, a person is far more driven to free themselves from obligations when they have become completely fragmented than when they merely feel they've taken on a bit too much. The relatedness continuum does lead to significant drivenness but, as is obvious here, the level of drivenness involving the need to relate to others cannot compare to drivenness related to sustenance and self-protection. While sustenance and self-protection involve emotions, at both real and symbolic levels, comparable directly to survival itself, relatedness is at a whole different level of humanity in which, as indicated above, sustenance and self-protection must already be in balance to some degree if it is to develop at all. If relatedness is to develop beyond complete isolation/alienation or constant fragmentation, some relative balance of the sustenance and self-protection continua is necessary. For that to happen, parents must adequately nurture and protect their children.
THE INTRAPSYCHIC AND INTERPERSONAL BALANCE OF EMOTIONS
Of course, parents cannot always act loving and nurturing without kids becoming screaming brats. In fact it is absolutely essential that parents do not provide everything for their children while expecting nothing in return. When everything is provided with no effort from the child, and the child is completely safe from any kind of concern or worry, the child is not going to become balanced. They would never adequately care for themselves or become independent because there would be no need for self-development. When too much is provided the child feels justified in greed and aggressiveness at every whim and will fail to become responsible for others or how others feel. The human animal develops independence from the tension created between each of the three primary continua of life, with the ideal external influence from parents providing adequate protection, sustenance, and relatedness, but not an overabundance or a paucity of any of the three. Self-development occurs, to a great extent, because a child needs to balance his or her own needs for himself. But in order to do so and develop confidence, an adequate amount of interpersonal sustenance, protection, and relatedness must be available. So, how is "enough" love and protection restrained from being "too much?" And how is relatedness balanced so that we are not either too isolated or too fragmented?
The way we balance our feelings of drivenness has a huge impact on everyone else in our environments. Based on how we balance our own drivenness, and expression of that drivenness, others will have to balance their own feelings. When we are balancing ourselves in unhealthy ways, others in our environments are also likely to balance in unhealthy ways, especially if we are necessary for their well-being, as parents are to their children. Similarly, the more well-balanced we are in expressing our feelings, the more likely it is that others, especially our children, will also balance in a healthy manner. In order to have a fuller discussion of balance, we will have to understand what a lack of balance in each of the three types of drivenness looks like. We will also have to understand what factors lead to expression of unbalanced feelings, on the one hand, or the holding in of unbalanced feelings ("repression"), on the other hand.
Let us start with balance of the sustenance aspect of drivenness. When one is balanced in this area, one knows one can easily get enough when one needs it. One would have enough food, enough love, and enough material possessions. When such a person hungers for something, they know they will be able to satisfy that need somehow. This confidence in the ability to satiate oneself makes greedy behavior a rarity. Depression is also a rarity, since such a person knows they will be able to get their needs met and that things will work out. Because these individuals are relatively balanced with respect to the sustenance drive, their expressions of hunger or need for control are also relatively balanced. Their impact on others is one of definite expression and clarity with respect to the sustenance drive, and others understand them and feel free to appropriately express their feelings in the same arena.
However, when the sustenance aspect of drivenness is not in balance, one can behave greedily to the point of needing to devour control over others or material possessions. Others around them thus feel starved for recognition or control or material possessions. When the sustenance continuum is not in balance, and one feels and behaves as though starved, they can act completely hopeless and helpless and may feel their needs will never be met. Others around them will generally feel a need to take control in coming to their aid or to offset their ineptitude. Thus, it becomes clear how the sustenance drive, and the lack of balance in that drive, leads to expression and then intrapsychic and interpersonal balance of a particular type. The interpersonal balance attained when one is unbalanced at the intrapsychic level is, of course, unhealthy to whatever extent that it negatively impacts those from whom sustenance is taken.
With respect to balance of the self-protection aspect of drivenness, when one is balanced, one knows they can adequately protect themselves when they sense tension, judgment, or pressure. This can mean they are able to physically defend themselves, but it also means they can verbally defend themselves and that, inside themselves, they know that the thoughts of others need not effect the way they feel about themselves. They know themselves well enough, through trials and experience, to feel relatively unintimidated by the world and others. They can take feedback without being defensive, but they are equally able to tell others their own opinions and maintain their own opinions when others present a challenge. Because these individuals are relatively balanced with respect to the self-protection drive, their expressions of anger are also relatively balanced and indicate adequate assertiveness. Their impact on others is one of definite expression and clarity with respect to the self-protection drive. Others understand the assertive person and feel free to reciprocate in the assertive expression of their own feelings related to self-protection.
However, when the self-protection aspect of drivenness is not in balance, one can behave very aggressively and dominantly with seemingly little provocation. Alternately, another type of poor balance in this continuum can lead to extremely frightened behavior when there seems to be little to fear. When one does behave aggressively, to the extent that they dominate a situation, others shrink due to fear. Likewise, it is often the case that some people will react to fear in others with dominant and aggressive behavior. Thus, it becomes clear how the self-protection drive, and the lack of balance in that drive, leads to expression and then both intrapsychic and interpersonal balance that is, just as in the case with the unbalanced sustenance continuum, not especially healthy.
Balance of the relatedness aspect of drivenness is quite similar to the other two. When a person is balanced with respect to relatedness, they are able to manage their responsibilities adequately. They take on the right amount of work given the level of support they have and the level of obligation they have within their families and communities. They know they can maintain a healthy level of intimacy with those they love, while also maintaining good relations with friends and a trustworthy reputation among workmates. Because these individuals are relatively balanced with respect to the relatedness drive, their expressions of responsibility are also relatively balanced. Their impact on others is one of willingness to cooperate, but clarity with respect to the responsibility others should take on as well. Others understand the person who is balanced with respect to relatedness and know they can be counted on, but also know that such a balanced person will not allow themselves to be exploited.
When a lack of balance occurs with respect to relatedness, two different kinds of difficulties can arise. When a person takes on too much responsibility, they can become overwhelmed and develop responsibility fragmentation, a feeling that there is nothing left for oneself and that all one’s time, energy, and efforts seemingly belong to others. The response of others to a relatively fragmented person, one who is trying to be perfectly responsive to everyone but themselves, is two-fold. Others try to get away from them because the fragmented person appears to be controlling about the morally correct way to do things, and/or they take advantage of them because such a person seems to have little need for themselves. In fact, the acquaintance of the responsibility fragmented person typically perceives them to be completely giving, open, and willing to help in any way possible. However, with their offspring, the moral rectitude the responsibility fragmented person will typically espouse often brings about rigid perfectionism as children attempt to develop a style that is beyond moral criticism and also precludes the possibility of being hurt by moral judgment.
That style of rigid perfectionism derives the other type of unbalance on the relatedness continuum. Some individuals can become so rigid and perfectionistic that they have practically no chance of feeling guilty or being hurt. Without guilt or vulnerability, or the humility of being merely human, such individuals become interpersonally isolated because they never need to take responsibility, or even accept the possibility that they might be responsible, for being wrong. Generally, family members of individuals who isolate themselves with perfectionism respond by trying to please, and often experience themselves as somewhat responsibility fragmented because the rigid, perfectionistic person is critical and can never be pleased. Acquaintances who come into contact with the rigidly perfectionistic person typically find them extremely cold and unable to connect. Thus, we clearly see how the a lack of balance within the relatedness drive leads to certain types of expression and then both intrapsychic and interpersonal balance that is not necessarily healthy.
It must also be said that the influence of relatedness as it pertains to expression and drivenness is not nearly as polarizing as the influence of sustenance or self-protection. While unbalanced expression of emotions related to sustenance and self-protection will almost always pressure others to engage in complementary behaviors (domination bringing about submission and desperation bringing about control), unbalanced expression of emotions related to relatedness can often bring about identification in exaggerated expressions instead of complentarity. Parents who engage in a responsibility fragmented way of life greatly appreciate similar behavior in their children, who often develop similar tendencies instead of developing the opposing, perfectionistic, rigid, and isolated style discussed above. Likewise, parents who engage in the rigid and perfectionistic style tend to appreciate similar behavior in their children, who thus can develop similar tendencies instead of developing the complementary, responsibility fragmented behavior that is so often observed.
BOUNDARIES AND THE CREATION OF COMBUSTION, COMPRESSION, AND FORCE OF EXPRESSION
In the paragraphs above, it has been shown how feelings become extreme when they are unbalanced, and then lead to specific kinds of behavior and expression. However, this explanation cannot fully demonstrate exactly how or when feelings will be expressed or how much influence they will have when they are expressed. It is certainly true that sometimes very healthy people can experience very powerful emotions without those emotions resulting in extreme behavior. It is also obvious that very extreme emotions can be expressed in very extreme ways by people even though there seems to have been very little stress involved. Balance is clearly one aspect of this expression, but another aspect that is necessary for complete understanding of how the psyche is systematically involved in interpersonal systems is the concept of "boundaries." The unbalanced drives are like the fuel in the intrapsychic system, but in order for combustion of this powerful fuel to give the system force, compression (inward pressure) and directional release (outward pressure) is necessary.
Compression and directional release is provided by boundaries (see Figure 2). When a person is said to have poor boundaries, it typically means either of two different things or both. Poor boundaries can refer to behavior that results in more influence or pressure on others than is appropriate given a particular situation, or that the feelings of others have too much influence on a person. The expression of emotions sometimes seems extreme or has too much impact. On the other hand, when a person is particularly sensitive, the behavior and expressions of emotions from others can be quite subtle and yet, nevertheless, cause extreme emotional reactions. When a person does seem to influence others too much, or experience the influence of others too much, it can be said that their boundaries are too porous. But to be more exact, there are actually two boundaries within any person. There is an internal boundary and an external boundary.
Figure 2: The model turned inside out. The three primary Life Continua are presented here inside out. Extreme emotions that are unbalanced within the "sustenance," self-protection," and "relatedness" spectrums are contained within by the internal boundary, while the outer boundary determines what or who will be allowed to effect an individual and how one's emotions will be allowed to effect others. The emotions contained within the internal boundary are often "repressed" (pushed downward and out of awareness) because of their potential for damaging one's connections with others. To the extent that repression is successful, those emotions do not damage relationships. But with repression comes the development of a true-self/false-self dichotomy. In the hypothetical case of complete balance within the relatedness issue, the extreme emotions or threats at the inner core would be modulated and thus acceptable enough that a person could spontaneously present the self to others without fear of loss or damage due to unbalanced emotions influencing interaction. As the extreme emotions of the inner core become less threatening, the inner boundary approaches the outer boundary, which signifies "confidence" within oneself and authenticity within one's behavior. This process could be likened to the true self coming up to the surface so that the false self is no longer needed. On the other hand, when emotions within the inner core are so unbalanced that they require expression and balance from others, repression merely works to prevent direct expression. When emotions within the inner core are too unbalanced, the part that is most threatening to oneself is held within, while often something similar to its opposite emotion is expressed for the purpose of creating a more balanced feeling. This kind of interpersonal balance is necessary when someone is unable to adequately contain themselves in a healthy way which requires the ability to directly ask for needs to be met. This kind of interpersonal balancing is not healthy in that it makes the individual dependent upon others for that balance (either by needing others to submit or by borrowing others strength) and damages one's relationships with excessive influence.
To understand what is inside and what is outside of each of these two boundaries, and how each of the boundaries works, it is necessary to look, once again, at the three primary factors of life. As has been described above, the sustenance, self-protection and relatedness continua can be viewed as being balanced in the middle, with the extremes of each represented at the ends of each continuum. To fully comprehend the workings of the internal and external boundaries, however, requires us to look at these continua slightly differently. Because our most intense feelings are held deep within us, turning the three continua inside out allows us to see how the boundaries function with intense emotions at our unconscious core and less intense emotions available for expression within our conscious minds. With our most intense emotions represented at the core, it becomes much more clear how these intense emotions, in combination, drive our interpersonal behavior. These intense emotions are, so to speak, combustible and must be contained. Their power is harnessed and given direction by the boundaries. The internal boundary contains our most intense emotions and governs our awareness of those extreme emotions. The external boundary determines which emotions are allowed expression and which emotions expressed by others are allowed to have personal impact on us. The three continua presented with their most intense aspects represented at the center, and the internal and external boundaries presented as they work, is illustrated in Figure 2. The external boundary is the one to which most people are referring when they use the term "boundaries," thus it will be discussed first.
The external boundary not only determines whether or not feelings will be expressed, but also if they'll be steadfastly held inside, or absorbed from others. We have all had the experience of deciding whether or not to express something, and we have all wondered why the expressions of others have had unwanted influence on us. That is the external boundary in operation. There often seems to be a lot of pressure on the external boundary. We think about whether the expression of a particular emotion will have too large of an impact on others. We also think about the level of desperation seemingly imposed upon us by the experience of emotions, either from holding on to them or from having them foisted upon us. The final outcome is rarely the result of a measured understanding of all possible outcomes. More often than not, we simply succumb to a natural balance that is different for each of us as individuals, and which depends upon our particular way of experiencing pressures within us and around us.
The external boundary manages our presentation to the world and how much outside influences effect that presentation. It shows others what they perceive about what we feel and think. Some people are especially good at maintaining the particular kind of outward appearance that they wish others to see. In that case, the external boundary represents what is often called in psychology, a "false self." In other words, a false self is a presentation that is maintained for effect or which develops to have a certain effect, but which does not accurately represent one's true feelings. Some people have too little control of what is presented and have extreme impact on others when they should actually be able to contain themselves. Others absorb more from others when they should be able to maintain themselves without allowing such influence. When one's emotions, that is the drivenness experienced from the unbalanced need for sustenance, self-protection, and/or relatedness, overwhelm the external boundary, the balancing emotions that are complementary to what is held within are displayed or absorbed and do actually lead to balance within the person expressing or absorbing the feelings, but not in a healthy way. The emotions displayed in such people misrepresent the emotional state of such a person and thus also are a presentation of false self.
A person's outer presentation of themselves is only an analog of "true self" to the extent that the person has managed to adequately balance the inner emotions so that they can be genuinely and spontaneously expressed without impacting others unnecessarily. Expressing true self does not preclude impacting others, but does require that such impact be reflective of one's true emotional needs and requirements. For example, if a person feels afraid, they act afraid, which could elicit a protective response from others to balance the fear. Such a person does not, however, balance by acting especially angry and fearless to camouflage the fear they experience beneath. Likewise, a person can act angry when angry, which could elicit a fearful response from others. They do not, however, balance themselves by acting annoying to elicit an angry response, thus camouflaging their true anger and resentment.
The external boundary is the most crucial of the two boundaries for this current discussion since it so directly involves interpersonal influence, but the whole topic of boundaries cannot be explained without also mentioning the internal boundary. The internal boundary governs whether or not we are aware of, or impacted by, our own most extreme feelings, or whether the feelings we absorb from others will be allowed to affect us at the deepest level. Like the external boundary, the internal boundary also can be too porous. When the internal boundary is too porous, which typically occurs because drivenness from lack of balance in sustenance and/or self-protection cannot be adequately contained within the inner recesses of our minds, extreme feelings flood our awareness, we are dramatically impacted by those feelings, and the feelings are so intolerable that they cannot be contained. Thus the severity of these needs is so powerful that they seek immediate expression in some form and are not well modulated.
The internal boundary can also be too rigid or impermeable instead of being too porous. Most long-term psychoanalytic or analytic therapy focuses on uncovering aspects of very deeply held extreme feelings that are actually too well governed by the internal boundary because it is not porous enough (at least with respect to certain specific feelings). These extreme feelings are so well repressed (pushed down inside) that the individual experiencing them is not at all aware that the feelings exist. What is so interesting about this phenomenon is that the drivenness from relatedness is quite well-established in these individuals even though some aspect of the drivenness that is held deep within is so extreme that it cannot be tolerated. That is, the thoughts about that feeling actually threaten relatedness to such a degree that the feelings are held deep within, yet outside of awareness (actually too far inside if viewed from the perspective shown in Figure 2). This threat to relatedness involves the guilt or shame possible if one's inner feelings leak out or must be acknowledged. Although individuals with such difficulty are relatively well-balanced with respect to sustenance and self-protection, problems with repression involve difficulty in balancing relatedness since the potential for harm in one's thoughts involve the possibility of hurting others.
For example, perhaps a person must think of him or herself as extremely generous and helpful, but expresses the selfish need of being in control by taking charge when they help others. That control allows them to be sated by knowing where their nurturance will come from – gratitude from others - while simultaneously keeping them safe and protected because no one will be able to aggressively dominate them and make them feel vulnerable. Such an individual actually has a relatively non-porous inner boundary that is too powerful in repressing specific feelings of vulnerability, aggressiveness, or extreme need for nurturance. Nevertheless, some feeling escapes the inner boundary and seeks expression. Balance comes only from being in control as a boss, but this satisfaction is indirect as the individual allows themselves to feel very giving while denying the taking they simultaneously experience. True health, and thus the reason for psychoanalysis, comes only from uncovering the need for repression, and acceptance of the feelings that are so threatening (a need for nurturance/appreciation and a need to be dominant).
The simple "denial" that is so commonly discussed in everyday conversation is related to this repression. With denial there is a need to keep oneself from knowing something that would be too upsetting. The knowledge that is denied can be related to one's own feelings, but can also involve the feelings that could be stirred up if one were to allow themselves knowledge about something else that is happening in their relationships. Denial works with repression, that is the pushing down of one's feelings to prevent them from becoming overwhelming, so that many kinds of knowledge can be ignored, and so that feelings that could threaten relationships can continue to be held within the internal boundary where they cannot effect one's important relationships. Typical examples include the cuckolded husband who successfully ignores every sign of his wife's infidelity so that he will not have to confront her and jeopardize his relationship with her or perhaps his children. Another typical example is the wife of the addict who never thinks her husband has a problem in spite of numerous addiction related mishaps and difficulties so that her relationship with him can continue on in its current pattern. In these situations, denial is a valuable defense for maintaining the status quo in relationships and works through the repression of one's awareness of facts that would seemingly require disruptive action.
We see in this discussion that the strength of influence from the expression of emotions involves both balance of emotions, and boundaries to contain or not contain emotions. We see that poor balance in general tends to result in poor boundaries and expression of extreme emotions with little provocation, or absorption of emotions in spite of relatively little intensity of expression. We also see that too much emphasis on relatedness, especially without adequate development in the balance of sustenance and self-protection, can lead to a very indirect expression of emotions due to the workings of the boundaries which hold off the worst of one's true emotions. That is, people typically express the opposite of their most uncomfortable feelings in an effort to deny the truth of the emotions while also balancing one's own mind by evoking within others those feelings that are most threatening. If those feelings can be created in others, it becomes possible to balance one's own feelings by proving to oneself that those feelings are much more true of others than oneself. Most importantly, the influence of drivenness and boundaries within people are clearly shown to have significant interpersonal influence. That interpersonal influence is the basis for understanding interpersonal interaction at a systematic level. The psyche is the engine of interpersonal discourse, with drivenness as the fuel and boundaries creating compression and power by variably containing or releasing the combustion of drivenness to particular parameters set by a combination of life experiences and genetics.
BALANCE OF EMOTION AND FAMILIES
Moving from the individual’s expression of emotions and it’s particular way of creating influence at the interpersonal level, we can now see that seeking balance of internal pressures is the specific and singular purpose of expressing emotions (it could even be argued that balancing is the purpose of all communication). The individual experiences feelings and needs and those feelings and needs are then expressed to the extent that the individual requires a balancing reaction from one's environment. Balance is then either accomplished, or the feelings and needs continue to be experienced and uncomfortable or even intolerable.
Whenever balance is not accomplished, it continues to be sought. Sometimes a person accomplishes balance completely internally by talking to themselves differently about a certain subject or realizing that they don’t really need what they had thought they needed. Other times, a new way to balance is sought, and a completely different behavior develops to supplant the behavior that is no longer effective in helping the individual balance. For example, a person might develop a buying addiction, but then becomes unable to spend (all credit gone, or put in jail, etc). Such a person may have been expressing a need for nurturance that did not necessitate the vulnerability experienced when more directly asking for closeness or attention from others. When they become unable to spend, they might develop hypochondriasis in an effort to gain attention and nurturance while maintaining control of their experience with others (Ie. The hypochondriacal symptoms help them achieve nurturance without vulnerability since sickness is not thought of as weakness by the hypochondriac).
But how does the need for balance effect families, or even communities, countries or the world? Essentially, within any kind of group, the person who, or entity which, is perceived as the most powerful is able to balance his feelings first, and everyone else must follow suit, or alternately, challenge the current authority. This hierarchy of balancing authority occurs even when people are mentally healthy. When the interpersonal system is healthy, balancing behaviors promote health within everyone who is involved. For example, a mother works hard, takes responsibility, and along with her husband perhaps, makes sure everyone in the family is nurtured and protected. She then commands and deserves respect from her children. The fact that she commands respect might seem like a weakness, but quite the contrary, it is simply the way it should be since she works hard to make sure the needs of everyone else are met. She deserves respect. The fact that she demands respect does not diminish anyone else. Rather, it teaches the children that hard work is respectable and that they too should try to work hard and be responsible so that they too can have respect. In fact, if they work hard to get respect, they also make less work for their mother, and the entire process remains wholesome. To the degree to which a family is healthy, every member’s needs are met simultaneously much of the time because the needs of the parents automatically bring about meeting the needs of the children. For example, the father wants to work hard and succeed which allows him to support his family and which also provides the children a good example of how they too should behave.
In the case of less mentally healthy people, however, strong needs and emotions are expressed and because they are expressed so dominantly, the other less dominant people in the family must absorb those feelings in such a way as to complement or accommodate those feelings. The word complement as I am using it here means opposite in such a way as to fit together, but is not a positive attribute when used to describe extreme emotions. That is, dominant behavior necessarily results in submissive behavior. One person in a family has to have his way because that is the only thing that will make him feel adequate. So others in that family specifically cannot have their way. If the dominant person has to be smart, someone else must be foolish. If the dominant person must define himself as sweet, then someone else must be rotten. The more complementary one's responses must be, the less healthy they are in general and the more diminishing they are as well. But because this action requires, and thus results in, a lack of balance within those other family members, that lack of balance seeks balance as well, and an unhealthy dominance hierarchy is created within the family.
BALANCE AND ROLE DIFFERENTIATION
Oftentimes balance can occur in healthier families in relatively healthy ways through role differentiation. In healthy families balance is found when the parents have relatively equal dominance, yet with role differentiation between them. In the traditional family, for example, the father might be in the disciplinarian role and the mother the more nurturing role, but if both parents give each other mutual and equal respect, and neither attempts to be dominant overall, then their example of balance can be passed down through the children. The children in in following the lead of the parents are likely to differentiate their roles in relatively healthy ways as well. Perhaps one child becomes the smart one who is "like" mom and another child becomes the athletic child who is "like" dad, and both ways of being are considered equally positive.
In the unhealthy family, however, no one really feels balanced. The reason the unhealthy parents need to express so strongly within the family is because of some extreme needs left in them from their own past lives or genetics. The children cannot possibly balance the feelings foisted upon them by their parents, and they either express them in a negative manner within the family, with other children outside the family, or hold the feelings deep within while saving them up for expression at a later time in life (or any combination of the three).
PROBLEMS IN BALANCE AND DIAGNOSTIC CATEGORIES
Whenever you see extreme expression of emotion, there is clearly a problem in balance. This is true even in cases of depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or even schizophrenia, when it is clear that there is an extreme experience or some genetic component involved. If the experience (either a loss or a trauma) occurred recently, it can be far too difficult to tolerate for even healthy people. However, the less healthy a person is, the more likely that any trauma or loss will be intolerable. With depression, an otherwise healthy person can suddenly experience a loss of some sort which then leads to an inability to balance within themselves because of what that lost thing or person provided for them. In the case of bipolar disorder, many times a person is born with extreme intensity (it exists at a genetic level) and yet the fact that their parents have trained them to care, love, and take responsibility creates an extreme pressure to be good even while the intensity of their emotions leads them to seek immediate gratification, thus making them "bipolar" (the vast majority of "bipolar" diagnoses these days refer to people who have been brought up poorly rather than those who have been brought up well but have extremely intense emotions). In the case of schizophrenia, there is a sudden inability to maintain an adequate internal boundary and thus the mind is flooded with the most extreme, irrational emotions that then seek balance through the creation of an alternate reality that balances those feelings.
BALANCE AND SOCIETY
Amazingly, all of these phenomena - balance of intensity, balance of relatedness, boundaries, interpersonal balance, balance through role-differentiation - occur at all levels of society. One family affects another family as they try to balance their own standing within the community. One city balances its needs against the other cities in its county. One company seeks hegemony over other companies, just as countries try to rule over one another. It all starts in perceived needs within each family, city, company or country. Boundaries get involved within each level that I have mentioned in a very similar way to how they are involved in every individual. Whole societies have certain ways of being that are simply not tolerated (an internal boundary) as well as certain aspects of experience that simply shouldn’t be, or always must be expressed (an external boundary). In everyday discourse between these various companies or cultures, various pressures seek balance through interaction with the others. At all these levels, role differentiation can be seen in the roles taken by families, cities, companies, countries, and even continents.
There are healthier ways of communicating and less healthy ways, with more aggressive and dominant expressions of the family’s, city’s, company’s, or country’s needs often winning out until the more oppressed build up so much angst in their lack of balance that their expression takes form against the more dominant. From a psychological perspective, the system will always balance, no matter what any one individual wants. The only way for everyone to seek balance in a healthier way is to do so mindfully and intentionally. Unfortunately, in almost all of us, even within me and most likely within you, it is our own needs that take precedence most of the time. Strangely enough, watching out for our own needs first, but in balance with everyone else and our world, is the healthiest way for any of us to be. That is, every one of us is most healthy when we are able to have enough self-respect to make sure our own needs are met, but simultaneously we have enough confidence that our needs will be met that we can take responsibility for others and try to work toward the greater good. In this way we can see that true mental health, at the individual level, the family level, the city, company, state, country or world level, requires strength in convictions and confidence within the self or the organizational culture, along with balance of needs and healthy boundaries at every level. The world itself must balance if there is to be health for everyone, and the more every individual takes responsibility for himself and his culture, the greater likelihood that the world will become healthier and healthier for us all.
Copyright 2010 Daniel A. Bochner, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Material provided on this web site is for educational and/or informational purposes only. This web site does not offer either online services or medical advice. No therapeutic relationship is established by use of this site.
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