mental ill-health and social ecologies of learning: our interconnected relationships #aa #alanon #na #slaa
July 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
My philosophical approach to mental health is based on an ecological view of human existence. One of the biggest challenges we face today is the destructive construct of individualism and a subsequent system of values that places individual interests as superior to the interests of all concerned.
I was thinking this morning about how a narcissistic family system depends on one family member being classed as ‘scapegoat’. That is because the narcissistic family has no mechanism to deal with conflict openly and honestly. Narcissists are conditioned to avoid authentic feeling and interaction at all costs. In fact, it feels like a life or death issue to them, that their identity is threatened with annihilation by the expression of authentic thoughts and feelings. However, there has to be a pressure relief valve in the family system to handle all the emotional pressure that inevitably builds when there is no method for consistent pressure relief.
In addition, one of the core values of a narcissistic family is that everyone, and everything, is going to stay the same. There is no room for growth in a narcissistic family because growth entails change and the entire narcissistic effort is to forestall change at all costs. To a narcissist, change threatens the delicate equilibrium of safety they seek to impose. When family members are not allowed to grow and change, the narcissistic family is caught in a conflict of two opposing forces. One the one hand, change is inevitable over time, and on the other hand, the narcissistic family depends on defying change to maintain its sense of coherence and identity.
Enter the scapegoat. The scapegoat is the family member singled out, through no choice of their own, to be the lightening rod for family tension. This person is the opposite of the favourited child, the one who is special in the family system and can do no wrong. The scapegoated child can only do wrong, and their every effort to make authentic connection with their family is used as a vector against them, a lightening rod for the static discharge of emotional pressure that builds in every member of the family.
I would love to see a study of the relationship between those who suffer from addiction and mental illness and a study of their family systems – assessing the family system and family members for narcissism, and the role of scapegoat. How many of us have been made mentally ill by the untenable position we were forced to occupy in a destructive family system?
When we examine our family systems as social ecologies of learning, we can reconsider what it means to be made mentally ill by the abuse, negligence and deprivations we endured during our formative years. This is not to blame the system, but to understand how the expression of mental illness can be understood as symptomatic of a system of family or societal relationships in distress.