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What Does it Take to be a Self in Any Social System

Just as no one ant can build an ant colony, no one person can create for him or herself all that is needed for survival. We are dependent on the work of others for our food, water, clothes, education and protection, among other things. By cooperating we benefit. Therefore the pressure to fit in and cooperate is enormous and can intrude on our equally deep urges to become our unique selves.

Murray Bowen, in collecting the facts of family functioning, observed how this tension between the two forces, to be for self (individuality) and to be for others (togetherness), resulted in what he called one’s level of differentiation of self. Evolutionary theory and Bowen theory both consider how these two forces have formed the bedrock for life itself.

The emotional system consists of instincts. It is an automatic guidance system. Many of its ancient mechanisms no longer function as well in the modern world. The tigers in the social jungle have been replaced by traffic jams.

Without a Mindful Compass, individuals find it difficult to cooperate, instead responding automatically to the reactive emotional system’s dictates. These basic urges of the individual emotional system can be observed just like we observe the movements of the planets. The greatest challenge for any observer is to get outside the system in order to see it. Instead of planets, we see our parents and siblings pressuring us to conform or reacting to our commitment to our own forward progress. Of course it is hard to be neutral about our mothers and others. And without neutrality it is hard to be an observer. Read more....

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