Family Systems Strategies: How Modeling For or Against Shapes Who We Become

Creatures of Habit

The greatest challenge in my life continues to be making sure that my intellect, as composed of my history, knowledge and commitment to what I believe to be real and true, does not get in the way of my emerging future, of who and what I might become in the very next breath. Turns out, human beings are creatures of habit. We are wired to re-create that which is familiar to us, no matter what. We model for a strategy or we model against a strategy. Either way, we re-create in our adult lives that which we witnessed growing up. 

In my life growing up, I’ve witnessed a lot of fire. My father expressed his fire by exploding, and my mother by repressing. I modelled after my father’s strategy and against my mother’s because in the mind of the little girl that I was, it felt safer to be the abuser than it felt to be abused. My father’s wildfire was fairly predictable, in that I knew it was always coming; yet it was always unpredictable in it’s intensity and collateral damage. My mother’s fire, on the other hand, was tightly wound up and weaponised through silence. Her way of expressing her fire was more underground, less visible and consistently unpredictable in it’s expression. I chose to model after predictability. I was always going to be righteously outraged and expressive in my rage. Only recently have I come to notice the impact of modeling for not-that has had on me… 

As a youth, I became an advocate for justice in my own household. I would let no injustice slide. I would pick fights, I would stick my nose in everyone’s business, I would make damn certain The Truth was vocalized. I remember turning 11 and suddenly taking on the role of Protector of all Women. My expressive fire was fueled by righteous rage and outrage, and thus I could sustain it forever. After all, there is an infinite amount of injustices in our world! In my deep desire to help others and fix all the brokenness of our world, I ended up exhausted, disappointed, disheartened, and disillusioned. 

The flip side of acting out of rage is that the fuel eventually burns out, and what I was left with was the smothering smoke that stagnated in my belly. In realizing the powerlessness I had in actually changing anything or any one’s mind or circumstances, I responded by withdrawing, isolating, and continuously hoping and planning to escape. I wanted to run away, to hide and make the external world disappear. Sometimes, when I felt safe to do so, I allowed the water to flow through my eyes and catharsis happened. The cycle of internalized self-abuse eventually ended with catharsis…and then, life would happen and I would find myself enraged again and the cycle would repeat…for eternity, if I’d let it. 

Catharsis is NOT Transformation

Catharsis may feel wonderful in the moment of release; and yet, it is never enough. It’s that part of the cycle of abuse where the couple makes up for a bit while the underlying tensions are simply repressed before they blow up yet again. It never fucking ends. 

In my life, I wasn’t interested in repeating the patterns I picked up on when I was four; I was interested in transforming my life. I am crystal clear that I am not passing on to the next generation the intergenerational trauma that has plagued humanity. I don’t just want “it” to be different, I choose that, for myself. 

After years of relentless soul searching, I’ve discovered that if I’m truly committed to transforming my life, I must stand firmly in the moment my unique truth presents through the tissues of my body. I am not going to run away from it, or diminish it, or silence it, or deny it, or mindlessly engage it, or justify it, or laugh at it. I’m going to choose to trust my body, and allow it to digest and metabolize the information -in-flow/ energy-in-motion / emotion. Ichoose to stand in the moment of deep intimacy with mySelf. I choose to stay Present in the moment. I choose to invite and allow all that is presenting to move. The role of my intellect is simple: Let go of any story, desired outcome, conditioning and ‘shoulds’. Let go, invite, allow. The body will do the rest. 

Transformation only occurs the moment I reclaim the truth of my experience, let go of the story/judgment/intellect, and choose wisely from the place of my emerging identity: who am I capable of becoming?

And then, when I least expect it, the family systems strategies creep up. I believe they always will because our brains prior to the age of seven are particularly malleable. In effect, we are in a state of hypnosis, therefore our body and nervous system absorb everything around us without content/language/intellect. Hence why we repeat the destructive patterns of our childhood even though we vowed never to do so. This will not change, unless we become mindful in the moment an opportunity (a trigger) presents. I am no longer judgmental of myself when I notice I am behaving in a habituated way; instead, I know to notice, and realize I have a choice. I’m never, ever stuck mindlessly repeating that which does not serve me. 

Family Systems Strategies 

In her work, Louise LeBrun has identified four family systems strategies that people internalize and repeat. In this article, my intent is to briefly describe them as they relate to my own experience with them.

Family systems strategies are sourced from a very distant past. During those first few years of life, we pick up on these strategies modeling for or against that which we experience growing up. Two people in the same family will pick up two (or more) different strategies. When we discover that in the moment of adopting a particular strategy we get the thing that we need, be it safety, praise, recognition, admiration, and so on, we end up repeating that strategy. To us, the strategy works because it allows for taking shortcuts in the ways we deal with one another within our particular family system. Eventually, however, by repeating that strategy, it becomes habituated. This is how ‘personalities’ develop and how we can begin to make predictions about how people respond. Turns out, through our internalized conditioning, we are a highly predictable species! 

The problem is that habits often cease to be useful long before we notice that shift has taken place. What may have been intelligent to adopt at four, is now hurting us. Are we noticing that we are no longer four and the context of our lives has changed? Most of us do not notice, never mind act upon it. We continue to do what we have long known how to do just because we don’t know anything else to do instead. That’s not a very good reason to keep doing something, is it?. And yet, such is the nature of habit — mindless repetition of that which we have always known, no matter what.

There are four general family systems strategies Louise LeBrun has identified. This chart (below) has been useful in reconciling with my history, in understanding and being able to notice where I fit into my family of origin and the family of my choosing. As a FYI, all of us employ some aspects of all these strategies — it isn’t like we pick one and it’s done. We resort to the strategy that feels safest in the interaction we are in. However, we do have favourites…To get more information about these, I highly recommend you read Fully Alive: Awakening Health, Humour, Compassion and Truth.

In this blog post, I explore my experience with the strategies.

The two strategies I have employed most in my life are the Family Hero and the Scapegoat. It’s as if everything I have done in the past has revolved around the use of these strategies.

As the Family Hero, I sought to create more meaningful circumstances than what I’d found in the world. I stuck my nose in places it didn’t belong, and I made everything my business. Fuelled by a deep internalized sense of shame, I tried to compensate for the unacceptable behaviour of others. I just knew — we could do better, people! Righteous rage is one of the most debilitating sensations I know because it left me perpetually disheartened, depressed, and unable to understand just how people don’t sense what I sense. 

The disappointments in my life were never-ending. People never chose to shift perspectives and situations never got any better (in fact, they got worse). In fact, so often I became the scapegoat for people’s frustrations because I made myself available to be attacked by being volatile and continuously present in all conflicts. I made everything my business.  

Eventually, I would always reach that point of “fuck it”  and I would become immensely self-destructive. I wanted to simply smash everything to pieces. I rebelled against everything, especially my own body, my own life, my own relationships. Since I was perpetually outraged and enraged I tried hard to numb myself to the pain of my existence. So addictions became my salvation. Existentialism became my reality. Nothing fucking matters, so who cares and why bother… And yet, I cared. Deeply. Immensely. Intensely.

Turns out, the Scapegoat and Family Hero are two sides of the same coin. It’s that ‘good girl gone bad’ cliché…

The other two strategies I am less familiar with, and as a result of my own conditioning, have historically determined are “more problematic” than the main strategies I chose throughout my life.

The Lost Child, for example, the equivalent of the middle-child-syndrome, always seemed to get under my skin. Strategies like avoidance, hiding, manipulating, self-victimizing, diminishing, pitying … never made any sense to me. That feeling of never belonging, of hiding (in plain sight), of secrecy. Why would someone choose to silence themselves instead of stand up? Why would someone pretend it isn’t so when the truth is so painfully evident? Why would someone simply not open their mouth and express their truth? To this day, I have a much harder time dealing with people in my life who employ this strategy. Although these people try hard to suppress their fire, it always comes out, often in unpredictable and unproductive ways. 

And  what’s interesting is that in my own life today, whenever I have expectations of others to ‘do something’ about a circumstance I feel powerless in, I employ this strategy. When the people I convince myself I rely on to take care of a problem don’t, I become punitive through silence. Through the use of weaponized silence I let the fire that boils underneath come out in sparks unexpectedly. But at least I didn’t rage, right?! Turns out, somehow, somewhere, I too have learned that sometimes there is safety in suppressing fire, in being sad, in staying silent. This is true for the vast majority of women worldwide. And yet, just as the wildfire that we call rage, silence is just another weapon of destruction because, either way, we are not owning the Truth of our experience. 

Finally, the Clown/Mascot strategy is fueled by fear. People who employ this strategy are the ones living with that ‘high alert’ sensation, like walking on eggshells. They want to make sure people get along, they want to make things funny and lighthearted. They are the people whose pain is evidenced by the amount of talking they do. I can identify that I have often adopted this strategy in party situations where I would naturally become ‘the center of attention’ so that I felt that I belonged. It isn’t a strategy I resort to often.

I’d like to point out here that to this day, I don’t know how to separate fear from outrage … In my body, they are intertwined. Because I would not be outraged without being fearful of the outcome premeditated by the story I have told myself is true, nor would I be fearful if I wasn’t outraged by my internalized experience of the world. What I notice in the world around me is that fear is the leading cause of our reactions, and our reactions seem to be fueled by rage, all the while most live in denial of it all. So be it… 

What I Know Today 

In my life, I’ve discovered that the use of these strategies has meant I found ways to tolerate the circumstances of my intolerable life. I never learned how to own the sensations that move through me. I convinced myself that if I understood where “the problem” came from, I could control it. So, I filled my head with content and I tried desperately to control, manage, and intellectualize my “problem”. After all, in our culture, that’s what we’re taught to do — understand so we can control.

Well, I’m here to tell you, that was a lie. Total and utter bulshit. The sensations that present live in the body, not the intellect. Therefore, they will not be controlled/managed/intellectualized. When people attempt to intellectualize the sensations presenting in the body they suppress and repress the wave (information in flow) and continue to repeat more of what they’ve got. It isn’t that it’s bad or wrong, it’s just that it is not how I choose to live my life. My only source of salvation is noticing the habituated response, consciously breathing, and staying with the sensation until it moves. Quantum TLC® as a way of life. 

Because I have been at this for a long time (four years!), I have sufficiently expanded the context from which I live my life. For example, I know my Self to be the animating Force behind the body, and the body to be a bio-computer designed to process quantum information-in-flow (energy-in-motion / emotion). In internalizing that, I know that I am never powerless, I am not a victim to my circumstances, nor a victim to my strategies. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I have choice in how I live my life.

And in the moments when I forget, in the moments I allow myself to be pulled back into righteous rage, I know to pay attention. Truth of it is, for me, righteous rage is one of the most dangerous sensations in my life because it seduces me into believing how ‘right’ I am to feel this way. It both leaves me feeling powerless and it makes me feel like I’m “doing something”, because at least I feel. Yet all I’m actually doing is perpetuating history, re-telling the old victimizing story, reinforcing the narrative imprinted in my limbic nervous system. There’s no power in that. 

Power comes from when I become willing to hear other than what I can so easily and readily repeat to myself. Read that sentence one more time…

Most of us have become so adept at telling the same old story and not noticing how the context has changed, how we have changed. We often find ourselves creating the same-old circumstances at the environment/behaviour level just so that we can continue to employ the habituated strategies (that keep us so fucking small and stagnated). Rarely do people move the internal conversation to the beliefs, values and attitudes level to question the cultural conditioning that has shaped who they believe themselves to be. 

For me, that’s just not enough anymore. Just looping around in the “why am I like this?” or “how should I be based on external expectations?” and trying to figure it out is a waste of time, it is utterly fucking pointless. I might find some answers that appease the intellect, and yet I am forever trapped in a loop of trying to figure out an infinite amount of more why’s. I would know — I was trapped in this loop until about four years ago when I met Sheila Winter Wallace and became immersed in the WEL-Systems™  body of knowledge and paradigm. Thanks too much, Louise LeBrun!

This body of knowledge showed me how to give myself permission to stop trying to figure stuff out (even though I looooove intellectualizing!). I stopped looking at culture, family, or any external sources to guide who I should be. I realized those were never going to fulfil my deep hunger for knowing mySelf, as I AM. Noone knows me better than me, even when I don’t know what I know…

The first critical thing I learned and practiced relentlessly is that I have a choice. No matter what presents in my life (now reframed to ‘no matter what I’ve created’), I have a choice in how I respond. First choice: Breathe. 

Then, instead of responding from a habituated place of strategy or from a place of ‘should’s’, I discovered that there is a much more powerful question to ask myself, in the moment of choosing, and that is “Who am I capable of becoming with this choice?”. Truly, consider “what will serve me in the creation of the Life that I desire?”. Not the life others have imposed on me, not the life I think I should have, but the life I choose to create.

In time, with gentleness, kindness, and great compassion for myself, that question became a habituated response and I didn’t have to think about it so much.  Quantum TLC® became a way of life. Nothing to do, I just mindfully be, and everything flows from there. 

Eventually, the question changed in its entirety because the context from which I live my life expanded, and the thought processes shifted to the level of spirituality. Now, the only question I keep in mind is “how does the godForce that I AM choose to live my life, today?”. I am in touch with the flow of the Signal that I AM. I am in touch with my body. I know myself to be powerful, and not a victim to the habit or life circumstances. I am awake, aware, and fully Present. 

My truth about it is that I can’t let go of my misery until I claim that it’s mine to let go of, that it is my own creation, and step fully into it and discover all the genius that it offers, before I can integrate its discoveries into who I can become – so that I might create again, differently.

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