The Rigid Relational System
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? – James 4:1
All of us have experienced an incident or season in which we had a short fuse or reacted because “that’s the last straw.” There are a variety of reasons for such interactions and they are ‘normal’ parts of most relationships.
But what if rather than the exception in a relationship, that sort of reactivity was the rule?
That is the experience of the rigid relational system.
It is the relational system in which every little thing quickly becomes a big thing. Lacking acceptance (see Being Open to Acceptance) or grace for another, but instead quickly finding an offense.
There is not a lack of communication, but rather an over communication predominated by “you never…”, “I always…”, or other expressions of universal disappointment.
Anxious energy permeates the system due to fear and insecurity. Trying to achieve a standard that is a moving target. Something unexpected or some change in dynamic or role is tough for the rigid system because at least one of the participants will experience it as loss.
Rigidity refers to the situation in which rather than absorbing hurt, the relationship quickly breaks into fights, disappointment, threats, reactivity and defensiveness and it can characterize any relationship from marriage to friendship to parent/child to boss/worker.
A rigid system is a non-differentiated system. It is…
- controlling rather than accepting
- shaming rather than encouraging
- self-focused rather than other-focused
- reactive rather than forgiving
- explosive rather than passionate
- enmeshed rather than intimate
The source of rigidity, by either one or both members, is the need to have a sense of self – a definition of who one is – reflected through the relationship. (see The Reflected Sense of Self)
In other words, one’s value is seen in what the other person is reflecting back. It is an identity based on the foundation of the relationship.
As the basis of identity, there is an expectation – a fundamental need – to get something out of the relationship. Getting something out of the relationship. That is how the false self operates in any relationship.
When that need is not fed, when value is not added to the Self, when the identity is not sustained and shame is experienced, then James 4:1 is fulfilled.
Learning to differentiate will create a more flexible, less anxious system.
Saying that is easy. Practicing differentiation is hard.
It requires developing an identity on something secure and unchanging outside of the relationship.
It necessitates replacing the lies we have formed in us with truth. Renewing our minds and taking captive our thoughts.
It is a process and allows us to truly love another.
More on differentiation in the next post. Until then, how have you experienced a rigid relational system?