Family mediation can be a very daunting thought . Family units bring with them a whole history of values , behaviours, beliefs, perspectives, personalities and ways of interrelating which have been established and maintained for many years. From the moment we come into a family we are moulded, and we help to mould and shift expectations of each other, starting with the messages we get from our parents, how they relate to each other and how they respond to us as we grow.
American psychiatrist Murray Bowen began to develop his family systems theory in the mid-1950s while working as a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health. Based on his knowledge of family patterns which looks at the parts of a system ( individual family members) in relationship to the whole (the family). Bowen believed that the personalities, emotions, and behaviors of grown individuals are a result of their birth order, their role within their family of origin and the coping mechanisms they have developed for dealing with emotional family issues. To understand the family system, the family must be viewed as a whole, and that what defines a family is more than the people who make it up but also how they interact with each other to create a unique family dynamic.
Family system theory as developed by Bowen( 1950) believes that families learn to create an individual psycho-emotional blue print for inter-functioning behaviours that maintain the “homeostatis” of that particular family . Each family member play their role in maintaining this . ( e.g the pacifier , the enabler, the rescuer, the mascot, the scapecoat, the bully etc ).g When conflict arises many family members will work to restore this equilibrium and this may help to either re-establish healthy functionality or dysfunction, depending on the family. When domestic violence is part of the part of the family ingredients then when someone blows the whistle on this and decides to confront and change the dynamic , all hell can break loose as individual family members fight to re-establish the status quo. There are attempts to stymie the person who has ” broken rank ” and is no longer ” toeing the party political line”. Rather than praising and supporting the individual who blows the whistle on this, family members become scared, threatened and will play out their own personal agenda to regain a sense of security and relieve their fear of the family disintegrating.
Family mediation, takes some of the elements of family theory and uses them to navigate the goals of all family members. Whilst not as in depth or as intensive as family therapy , family mediation will look at the current issues rocking the family dynamic and look to solutions all can live with.
Things to think about , and write before you enter the therapy room as a family
What do I want to achieve with mediation ?
What am I willing to compromise on ?
What is non-negotiable ?
How would I know that family mediation is working ?
Listen, listen , listen !
Giving each family member the floor to express ALL their thoughts , feelings and fears , is VERY important. Learning not to interrupt is a crucial skill that most of us can always do better at. The luxury of space to air our views without feeling we are about to be attacked at any given moment is a gift we can all give our family members.
I know from my own childhood experiences that I often rush what I am about to say as I always feel I am waiting to be cut off, even today. A legacy of feeling powerless. I sometimes even get confused about what I am trying to express because I know that someone will interrupt me and digress the conversation before I have been fully heard.
Is may seem obvious but we sometimes listen and hear but do not acknowledge it verbally. We think by just nodding , that person gets that we have heard them and understood them . No , we need to actually verbalise our understanding . That is validation. You don’t have to necessarily agree , you just have to acknowledge the perspective outwardly.
Where there is violence in the family it is important that the person who is a victim of the violence is acknowledged and supported. Accepting that your reality as a family member may be very different to the reality of another is imperative to effect change. It may be that only certain members of the violence experienced the abuse and not others. Denying their reality because you did not see it or hear it will only bring heartache and will stymie healing for the family unit . It is possible to love and accept every member of the family without taking sides or engaging in denial or minimisation of the abused’s experiences. For example you can love and stay connected to Dad and still love and stay connected to your brother if he decides to cut ties because of the lack of acknowledgement of the abuse by your dad . You do not have to have divided loyalties. There is an emotional bank from which you can draw separately for each member.
You don’t have to have an endgame of agreement on everything you bring to the family table, but you can learn to accept each others differences and agree to disagree. Some topics in the future you may decide are no longer put on the table, as you cannot reach peace on. That’s ok. Stick to the topics that are safe and build on what you have, those topics that are corrosive and are best left behind . They should not define your relationship going into the future. Concentrate on what you have in common and what you love about each other.
Family mediation can be a cathartic and life changing experience. Leaning into it and trying your best to reconcile all your differences takes work ,but when successful the outcome is better for everyone. It is well worth the investment.