23 December 2006

Denial and Group Homeostasis, At Home and At Work

I was thinking about group homeostasis today [basically "group stability" or "group cohesion" - yes, there are people on this planet who actually think about things like that... in their free time... without anyone holding a gun to their head... pray for me...!]

in the context of workplace dynamics mostly, but also family dynamics [because most of us bring our family roles to work with us]...

and trying to figure out why, in every instance I've ever seen,
 -healthy groups seem to have such weak homeostasis [it's easy for one unhealthy individual to disrupt a healthy group]

-while unhealthy groups have incredibly powerful homeostasis [any member of an unhealthy group who begins to show signs of health is generally ejected from the group; almost never will the group, as a group, spontaneously move towards healthy norms in response to a challenge by a healthy member].

Doing a Google search on 'group homeostasis dysfunctional' brought me to a gem of a web site by a clinical social worker, Pat McClendon.

One of her pages includes a description of how denial is the glue that holds 'unhealth' in place in a certain type of very unhealthy family... reading through her outline, I realized it applies to other types of families [such as the alcoholic family] and to unhealthy workplaces too.

Here's what she says, with one or two edits in from me, for greater clarity only. You can compare the text here to her Web article at this link: clinicalsocialwork.com

A. Family systems of denial create certain unconscious rules, family messages, internalizations or scripts of behavior in victims that are virtually universal. Without benefit of recovery, adult survivors tend to function more or less  according to these same rules in adulthood...Below are some of the major assumptions which  underlie dysfunctional and abusive family process and also operate in the adult survivor:

B. Deny - Certainly the injunction to deny one's actual experience is the crux of the matter...
    1. Do not think, see, hear, feel, reflect or question your experience.
    2. Do not believe the obvious; accept the impossible.

C. Don't trust self or others.

D. Be loyal.
    1. You must protect the family.
    2. Keep the secrets.
    3. Obey.
    4. You must not fight back, disagree or get angry.

E. Don't have needs.

F. Love means being hurt or used.

G. Don't ask for help.

H. Don't show pain. [edited for more clarity - very abbreviated in original]
    1. minimize / deny your pain and others' pain
    2. symbolic somatic manifestations and complaints may arise from denied emotional pain
    3. self-injury/mutilation may also arise

I. Don't be a child.
    1. There is no capacity for innocent, curious developmental exploration.
    2. Don't play.
    3. Don't make mistakes.
    4. Be adult-like but without power or authority.
    5. Be responsible for everyone else.

J. It is your fault.
    1. There is an underlying systemic assumption that while others do the best they can and can't help
    themselves, you don't ever do the best you can and you do what you do on purpose.
    2. Scapegoating is almost inevitable in this type of system [see K].

K. You are bad, evil, immoral, to blame ('guilty').

L. You are responsible for others' behaviors.
    1. They are not responsible for their own behavior.
    2. It is not their fault.
    3. You must help them.

M. Stay in control of yourself and those around you.
    1. Stay on guard.
    2. Hyper-vigilance.
    3. Anything bad that may happen is your fault and thus your responsibility to prevent.

N. You are incompetent.

O. Don't reflect, don't question, don't process.
    1. Maintain an external orientation at all times.
    2. Be sure you have no time or safe place (safe harbor) to reflect or process
    experiences, especially traumatic ones.
    3. Because the rules of logic in such families depend on unquestioning loyalty
    and the capacity of members to substitute the family myth for reality,
    there is a powerful internalized demand to avoid analysis or critical judgement.
    4. The demand in 3. leads to extreme leaps of unquestioning interpersonal faith
    and this results in frequent retraumatization - which is characteristic of non-recovering adult survivors.

P. Denial and Dissociation are the fundamental organizing principles of family life. The family maintains its homeostasis through rigid rules/norms and family members take on adaptive but dysfunctional roles.
After reading this, it occurred to me that... unhealthy workplaces really ARE like unhealthy famlies! You see the same games being played in both places.

And healthy individuals, who form healthy groups in workplaces, would have one of two types of history:

-either they have attained a measure of health [and are continuing to pursue greater health] after separating from an unhealthy family and breaking denial,

-or they were born into a healthy family and have no experience with denial or dysfunction, and won't 'know' them when they 'see' them.

If they're refugees from dysfunctional families, they may be more or less easily 'drawn in' to dysfunctional games played at work or in new families, because they can be 'blindsided' by the familiarity of these games, if they haven't reached a level of awareness that allows them to identify and avoid what used to trap them.

If they're from healthy families, they can be blindsided because they have no idea what the H**l is going on, until it's too late.

Not a terribly optimistic pronouncement.

I'm trying to figure out a cheerful resolution to all of this, and I think it's basically this:

 - the healthier the people in the family, the healthier the people in the workplace, the more ability there is to resist dysfunctional patterns when they appear.

Recovering people will recognize the patterns and can point them out, other healthy or recovering people will be less likely to ignore or invalidate the pattern recognition, and people who have had healthy backgrounds will know what 'doesn't feel right', at least, and will hopefully prefer to avoid it.

And most importantly, in a healthy workplace, people are willing and able to think and talk about these things.


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