Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

Issues That Inform Our Values (Part 3)

Dr. Jim Osterhaus

Dr. Jim Osterhaus

Remember what we have thus far said. Well-defined people have clear boundaries. They also have a clearer understanding of their internal complexities, including competing values – they are self-aware. This good personal definition with attendant appropriate boundaries act as an “immune system,” protecting us from the inconsistencies and misalignments that are bound to occur when we remain unaware of the competing values that are resident in each of us. That’s right, each of us. Because of our upbringings and the external forces of our society, competing values are an inevitability for all of us. These competing values do not have to sabotage us, if in fact we are aware of them and navigate them appropriately through the myriad situations that life offers.

When I am poorly defined – poorer boundaries, more anxious, less clear about my own goals — my “immune system” is down, and I am much more prone to the destructive elements of competing values.
So where do our competing values – all of those elements that make each of us so complex internally – come from?
Family. As a beginning generalization, unfinished business from our family of origin emerges and is played out again in our present families. Let’s look at several of the processes that makes up this unfinished business.

•   Enmeshed or Disengaged. Family relationships can be placed on a continuum between enmeshment (where boundaries between members are poor, differences are discouraged, and everyone resonates to anxieties that arise) and disengagement (where boundaries between family members are rigid, a great deal of energy is expended to activate anyone to engage, and very little togetherness is every experienced). The enmeshed family members will value togetherness above all else. The disengaged family members will value individuality above all else. Relationship demands both togetherness (inter-dependence) and individuality to truly be successful. The paradox of intimacy is that two well-defined individuals can come together and form a bond that does not destroy individuality, but fosters a greater sense of individuality because of the concurrent unity.

•    Secrets. Explore almost any family and you will find a secret. Secrets usually hide truths associated with guilt and shame. We have habits and addictions that we dare not share. Secrets involve information that is kept from people who need it. Understood this way, secrets are dangerous realities, not just minor unpleasantries. They have a nasty way of altering who we are. We keep secrets because we fear what the revelation will bring. Unfortunately, the issues kept secret are also energized beyond their importance.

Secrets also have a way of forming and maintaining coalitions between family members. Family members can be allied with certain members and alienated from others by secrets. Secrets become powerful breeding grounds for competing values in that these secrets involve issues that are value-laden and not open to the light of day where they can be analyzed, understood, and dealt with. So these issues are value-laden, hidden, and highly energized (secret-keeping tends to energize issues).

As an example, Bill is born into a family where his father’s drinking is an open secret. No one discusses it. In fact, to mention anything even related to it is to invite immediate resistance. So a value takes shape in Bill’s brain: destructive behavior is best left un-noted and certainly un-discussed. Bill enters the ministry. His choir director engages in covert sexual behavior with a member of the choir. This is brought to senior pastor Bill’s attention. Now he has the competing values of: 1) confronting destructive behavior for the involved individuals’ good,  and 2) keeping quiet to ‘protect’ everyone – the involved individuals, the congregation, the staff, and the community. Because Bill has never dealt with any of this, he is completely unaware of his internal promptings. And cognitive dissonance maneuvering (to be discussed later) covers the whole matter up for him rationalizing all of it.

•    My gender. Women tend to define themselves in relationships and in connections with other people. A principle value for women will be connection. Because of this, women can experience difficulty with separation and individuation. Men tend to have grown up in a world of hierarchy and competition. Men often feel vulnerable connecting and have trouble with intimacy. A primary male value therefore is to be in the one-up (competent winner and lead) position – a value that works against closeness and intimacy (which discourages the one-up position, and encourages mutuality and equality). So either gender will have difficulty with competing values: the female, realizing the individuation is important, will feel the competing value of connection. The male, realizing the intimate connecting is important, will have the conflicting value of wanting to separate and stand apart.

Issues Women Men
Hierarchy                 Move toward leveling               Move toward hierarchy
Power                        Tend to downplay                     Tend to accentuate
Communication      Maintain interaction                Gather information
Certainty                  Downplay certainty                   Downplay doubt
Apology                    Used to restore balance            Only when accepting blame
Complaint                Share back and forth                 Will fix when complaint heard
Humor                      Self-mocking                               Razzing, mocking attack
Boasting                   Downplay accomplishments    Highlight accomplishments

•    My birth order. Birth order is an important determinant in the values that people develop. Jerome Bach and his researchers contend that every family has four basic needs:

-Productivity

-Emotional maintenance

-Relationship

-Unity

These needs are handled by each child born to the family according to his birth order.
-Firstborns. Because there are no other children around, firstborns identify with and resonate most closely with parental demands and values. Firstborns bear the productivity needs of the family, so they carry more performance expectations.
-Middle children. These children tend to be more dependent on the approval of peers than that of adults. They have an easier time separating from parents. They are especially attuned to the emotional needs of the family.
-Third children. These children are most attuned to the relationship needs of the family. In particular, they hook into the parents’ marriage relationship and thus become a symbol of what is occurring there.
-Fourth children assume the unity needs of the family. These children pick up tension as it grows within the family, take responsibility for it, then attempt to defuse it with distractions. Often these children become the family entertainer or mascot in order to deflect the pain.

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