Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cultivating Insight

I'm taking my own advice on being a reflective practitioner (Dewey, Schon, Schein, etc.) by taking a moment to cultivate insights from this year. Being attentive to my own experience, and, being regularly engaged with leaders in coaching and consultations can yield rich insights for growth--but it's necessary to remind oneself that insight rarely comes without reflection. My primary orientation in working with clients, and, in self-assessment is Bowen Systems Theory. The theory's focus on emotional process, differentiation of self, and the organic dynamics of relationship systems continues to "ring true" in working with both individuals and complex, often highly anxious, emotional systems. 

Here are random insights and thoughts that have come from taking stock. No major new insights here, but, as even St. Paul wrote, being reminded of what we know is of some benefit :

  • Bowen Systems Theory continues to be a powerful resource for interpreting and understanding emotional process. Few other frames of references yield as helpful insights into the nature of relationships, their dynamics, and my own internal emotional processes. 

  • Understanding emotional process provides a helpful corrective to an overfocus on individual behaviors. Personalities and individual foibles aside, most behavior is best understood by a person's place in the system and the context of that system (it's "emotional field"). 

  • Despite the recent glut in books about the theory there are few new insights that I can discern. I’m waiting for the “next big thing” in the theory (or, "BFST 2.0" as I put it). Perhaps it is still too early in the life of the theory for theory-development. 

  • No matter how well you understanding the theory, when you’re in the midst of your own emotional fields and systems, you need a coach or consultant to help you see what’s going on. It's important to remember that goes for those of us in the helping professions too!

  • No matter how well you understand the concepts of the theory, it always comes down to your own emotional functioning in the system.

  • Family of origin dynamics are powerful lifelong forces and are more important than we tend to realize.

  • Family of origin emotional functioning is with us for a lifetime. If you're stuck on a relationship or issue, go to your genogram. 

  • Most of us tend to be unaware of the disconnect between what we say we believe and how we actually function.

  • If you want to understand what’s really going on try to identify the triangles in the system.

  • If you really want to understand what’s going on examine multigenerational transmission's influence on the situation and the persons involved.

  • We can only function out of our strengths and limitations. When we are under stress or experiencing acute anxiety the default functioning tends to be out of our limitations (so, develop your strengths and work on your reducing limitations)

  • I continue to find it more helpful to focus on people’s functioning than to spend time wondering about, ascribing, or trying to interpret their motives.

  • There is great benefit in re-visiting the “original manuscripts” of the theory. While their clinical therapy focus is somewhat removed from how most of us tend to apply the theory (to congregational systems and to “leadership”), the literature provides important correctives for clergy who tend toward the metaphorical in their thinking.

  • Ultimately the real task of working on the theory is our own personal maturity, emotional health, and capacity to be in relationships in healthier ways.

  • What insights surface for you as you reflect on your own functioning and in your efforts at living out of principles, values, and your own operational frameworks? 

    Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Ministry (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan. Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center's blog for theological school deans. 

    1 comment:

    1. "Most of us tend to be unaware of the disconnect..." I cannot change something I am unaware of, so I must consistently reflect in the systems I live.