Who doesn’t like an internet video with kittens? How about an internet video with kittens and bunnies playing together? That’s the setup for this fun video from Unleashed. Watch the behavior of the kittens in this video.
The video above is a wonderful example of the emotional process. We often consider behavior to be fixed, set, and governed by genetics. Scientists are discovering that behavior is responsive to environmental factors. While a cat has the ability to move the body to mimic the happy hopping of a rabbit, the action itself is the result of observing and responding to the environment. How different is human behavior? The answer: not much.
We'd like to believe our behavior is independent from the behavior of others. Most of us have a limited understanding of how our behavior is governed by our automatic reactivity to other people. If you think I’m wrong, watch this video from the company Coke. (Thanks to Dr. Bob Noone for sharing this with me.)
Our behavior is rooted in an emotional process. The interactions between people drive behavior. Our internal neurological and chemical processes function in service to the emotions. Behavior is the result of what happens between people, not inside of them. Behavior shifts based on the environment. This is systems thinking.
All of us have a front row seat to the emotional process. Congregational leaders can see it at play in committee meetings. Pretend you are at a meeting of the board of trustees where you are addressing a problem with the building. One of the board members becomes overwhelmed and anxious. If anxiety is like a wildfire, it flairs up and spreads around the committee. Before the meeting is over, the whole committee is on fire! So, what’s the prevention? Leaders who think systems. A good leader is a good thinker who does not automatically pass along the anxiety. Instead, they engage the thinking of others in the group which can prevent the anxious fire from spreading.
Dr. Bowen’s concept of differentiation of self is about engaging thinking and being less automatic and reactive. One way to describe it is self-regulation. The extent to which one is able to self-regulate is rooted in a multigenerational process. Remember the kittens and bunnies? The more anxious the family is, the more likely they’ll all do the automatic thing. There are other factors at play: 1) the influence of outside stressors, 2) the amount of stress a family is under, and 3) access to resources and family contacts.
One can improve their level of differentiation. It’s a slow and steady process of becoming aware of one’s automatic and reactive tendencies, seeing this behavior in the context of the family system (how everybody plays a part in it), thinking about non-reactive ways to interact with the family, and taking action steps based on one’s best thinking.