10 Core Systems

Wesley White:

Do you have a small constellation of systems theory favorites. Those organizing parts that the other parts relate to and don't make quite as much sense without their connection to this core?


Tom D'Alessio:


Favorite #1: Non-anxious presence. This is a spiritual discipline, requiring practice and great peace of mind.

Favorite #2: (stated clearly, publicly and often): "You pick you to do it and I'll pick me to help you. Please don't ask me to do anything you are not willing to do yourself."

Favorite #3: The theory of overlapping family systems.
Every congregation has three primary family systems. The pastor's family (immediate and extended), the congregation as a whole, large, extended family, and the families of the congregational leaders (the "real" leaders). The rule is that unresolved issues in any of those family systems can and do show up as symptoms in any of the others. Hint: keep your own family relationships, immediate and extended, clean.

Favorite #4: The "identified patient" is usually the stronger entity in the system, it has taken on the stress of the system and borne it, but to its own detriment. However, sometimes the identified patient is also really sick: people get to be identified patients by either over-functioning or under-functioning.

Favorite #5: Do not under any circumstances take responsibility for something that is not your responsibility (and we're not talking keeping a child from getting run over by a car here).

Favorite #6: The Karpman drama triangle: in unhealthy systems these roles will be more pronounced and destructive and need to be named out loud.
The rule is: the Rescuer almost always becomes the next victim, the "rescued" victim usually becomes the next persecutor, sometimes the persecutor becomes the next victim, but it always goes around and around and gets nowhere.

Favorite #7: Questions designed to get others to self-define and take a stand are excellent. They are best asked in the manner of Columbo (Peter Falk's character).
     "What do you think about this?"
     "If it were up to you what would you do?"
     "Help me understand how this works (or how this will work?"
     "Why might we want to do it that way?"
     "What are we hoping to accomplish with this?"
And then, after asking, STFU (generally means shut up but in the same grunty vernacular as "fubar").

Favorite #8: A low level of grumbling is healthy in any family system. Splits and alliances are not. Perfect harmony is dysfunctional and dishonest.

Favorite #9: In general it is unhelpful to get triangled (caught between the unresolved issues of two other parties who are not talking to each other but each using you). You need to get the two parties talking to each other. However, sometimes it is a brilliant strategic move to make a critical injection that can only be made from a position of being triangled. This takes wisdom and balls of steel and an extreme and practiced level of non-anxious presence, or in my case, lacking wisdom or balls of steel and often non-anxious presence, a reckless "damn the torpedoes full steam ahead" mindset aided by a full suit of teflon and asbestos.

Favorite #10: Breathe.

May these guiding lights serve you as well as they have served me. They were learned under enormous pressure and pain in the two-year crucible of experience in a local congregation. Saved my life, my ministry and maybe even my family.