Each family has their own unique way of interacting and engaging with each other. These interactions are often referred to as family dynamics. Dynamics are affected by many things such as each family members’ attributes, how the family members feel toward one another, and outside factors and experiences. Dynamics are a complex system of all the little things that make up how a family functions.
Often times people don’t think about why their family does things the way they do. They just accept that is how it is. However, it is always beneficial to know the why behind behaviors and patterns. This is especially true if something is not working and needs changed. Dynamics are not something that are changed easily. Having an understanding makes the task more manageable.
This is going to be a two-part, eight step series. The first part will help you learn to identify your dynamics and understand the why (steps 1-4). The second part will go into figuring out what is working, what needs adjusted, and how to adjust if possible (steps 5-8). Hopefully two parts allows you to have time to evaluate your specific situation before discussing how to change the things that are not working.
I am also going to provide a handy worksheet you can use for these steps at the end of both posts.
Let’s dive in.
Step 1: Determine the roles.
Think of your family like a movie. Each person plays a part. Based on each family members’ characteristics, they fall into a certain place. Sometimes one person will fall into several roles. If you were an outsider watching your family, who would they think is the peacekeeper? The rule maker? The black sheep?
Some members you will be able to immediately identify as portraying a certain role. But for others, it will be helpful to think about each family member, then list the top five characteristics that come to mind when you think of them. That should help you figure out how they influence the dynamics.
There is no list of roles to provide because each family is completely unique. There may be multiple of any given role, or no one may fit. However, a few common ones, along with the roles previously listed, are the disciplinarian, the worrier, the drama king/queen, and the free spirit.
Step 2: How do the roles affect the interactions.
Remember the shows (or maybe this was/is your house) where the mother would always tell the kids to wait until their father got home after they had bad behavior? That is a prime example of how roles affect interactions. Those kids knew they better have a different standard of behavior when their father was around or there would be serious repercussions. His role granted him a position of power over other people in the family.
The role(s) a person inhabits will place them in a certain position within a family. Kind of like a hierarchy. The family member who loves to be dramatic likely will tone that behavior way down when the disciplinarian is around. Do you have family members who adapt their behavior depending on who else is around? If so, who is the person they change for and what is that person’s role in the family?
This step may take some observation. Take a day and just sit back and see if anything jumps out at you. Maybe ask if anyone else can think of any examples. It is important to get feedback from other family members because you are biased by your own roles.
Step 3: Examine other environmental factors that play a factor.
Each person has their own background that contributes to who they are and how they interact. Upbringing is a huge factor in how a person is with their current family. People who were raised in chaotic environments may be more able to deal with small children running wildly. They may be more lax with the rules, which leads to people being more at ease around them.
If you have a blended family, this is an especially important area to focus on to understand the why of your family’s dynamics. Joining two families with their own previous dynamics into one household can be quite a challenge. However, knowing the outside contributing factors can make all the difference in improving the interactions in the “new” family.
There are hundreds of factors affecting each member. You will never be able to understand them all. Just focus on the obvious ones that are having a major impact. Divorce, death, abuse, neglect, and other events that have a life altering effect on a person are definitely things that must be taken into account.
Step 4: Putting it all together.
It is important to take all this into consideration to develop an understanding of how the dynamics came to be. Patterns will likely emerge around family members. You will be able to see that because everyone knows you are the planner (for example), then they do not have to plan for themselves. You will see that people respond to other family member’s roles in both positive and negative ways.
Look at the outside factors that have nothing to do with the relationships between family members. Other stressors that could be causing dysfunction within the family will need to be addressed if possible to make adjustments within the family easier. Offer support and guidance to resolve outstanding conflicts between members.
Knowing the why may make some of the ways your family works less frustrating. Gaining the understand is also necessary in order for there to be any chance of a change occurring. Take some time to watch, learn, and make the connections of what roles are being filled by who and how that is affecting the family’s level of functioning.
Feel free to use the worksheet attached to this post or come up with your own system for outlining your dynamics. Once you have figured out all the connections, come back for part two to go through steps 5-8 and work on making the adjustments needed for your family to become even more awesome!
As promised, here is the worksheet you can use to assist you as you go through the steps: FamilyDynamicsWorksheet (It should download as a PDF. If you have trouble let me know.)
Find part two here!