Family – ways of transformation part 2

by | Feb 27, 2020 | Family life, Personal growth | 0 comments

In the last article we looked at a grid that shows different family dynamics.
This grid was developed by the authors of the book “Facing Shame – families in Recovery ” to help families to enter the process of change

The authors are therapists who work a lot with families – and who have their own families. They are therefore only too aware that such a process of change is very challenging.

In the last article I described the four quadrants, in this article I will try to go into this process of change in more detail.

If you don’t remember exactly what the last article was about (or if you came across this article first), it will certainly be helpful for your understanding if you read the last article here.

Did you find yourself in one of these quadrants?

I have had a few conversations about the article since I posted the last article.  People have asked me:

“I have recognized our family in this quadrant or that quadrant. But I don’t want to be in that quadrant!
How do I get from there to the quadrant of intimacy now?!

First of all, it is important to know that such dynamics take time to resolve and change. But the first and biggest step is to recognize where you are and where you want to go.

Covey describes in the second chapter of his book “The 7 Ways of highly effective Families“,

Vision is a moving power behind successful individuals and organizations in every walk of life. Vision is greater than “baggage”—greater than the negative baggage of the past and even the accumulated baggage of the present. Tapping into this sense of vision gives you the power and the purpose to rise above the baggage and act based on what really matters most. Now there are many ways to apply this principle of vision—to begin with the end in mind—in the family culture. You can begin a year, a week, or a day with the end in mind. You can begin a family vacation or activity with the end in mind. [1]

I believe that it will make a big difference whether you simply live with your family into the day – or whether you consciously move forward with a goal in mind.

Of course, even then you won’t always be able to stay on course; but what pilot doesn’t have turbulence, crosswinds or has to take a detour to reach his destination? It is similar with the personal process, with a goal in mind: There will also be times when turbulence and headwinds make your way difficult, or things that make you take a detour. But the wonderful thing about it is that you still get closer and closer to your goal.

Let’s take a look at three examples – touch, humour and nicknames – to see how we can take small steps in the right direction.

These three things are handled quite differently in the different quadrants. Being aware of these three qualities in your daily life and having the goal in mind to make changes will start the process and make it easier.


Touch in the window of active abuse:
In the window of active abuse, touching is intrusive and painful (physically or emotionally). It leaves the feeling of being taken advantage of. Touching can mean beatings, sexual violence takes place. Touch can also contain seductive or hostile messages of dominance or submission.

Touch in the window of passive abuse:
Here touch is more controlled, more careful, more tight; it is abusive, but it is not so obvious. The messages are more opaque than in active abuse, but here too they are hurtful and undermine the attempt to build intimacy and closeness.

Touch in the window of calm:
“In the calm window, touching is careful, controlled and respectful.” Spontaneity, risk and surprise are avoided, whether it is a kiss goodbye, handshake or sexual contact between the parents.
Touching is mechanical and is more like a ritual than a message of love and familiarity.

Touch in the window of intimacy
In the intimate quadrant touch is honoring. It may also be powerful and spontaneous. With hugs and caresses tenderness is expressed.


Humor in the window of active abuse: Here, humor consists of laughing at the expense of others. It is a humor that is characterized by poisonousness, sarcasm or hostility.

Humor in the window of passive abuse
If the abuse is more subtle, the humiliating message in the humor is usually inscrutable.

Humor in the window of calm
Because in this window the interactions are controlled, humor is of little importance and if there is any, it will be impersonal.

Humor in the window of intimacy
There is a lot of laughter in the intimate quadrant. You can laugh at other people’s special traits, preferences or even weaknesses, but humor will always be characterized by respect, acceptance and understanding.


Nicknames in the active abuse window
Nicknames are obviously evil here. They’re painful and humiliating.

Nicknames in the window of passive abuse:
In this window, nicknames are insidious. Labels also come into play. Nicknames are used in a way that makes the others feel “disturbed” and “incompetent.

Nicknames in the window of calm
Nicknames in this window can vary and can be cute or funny. However, even if they are not meant to be derogatory, they will not be a sign of intimacy or familiarity.

Nicknames in the window of intimacy
Nicknames are honorable, uplifting and loving. They reflect the tender relationship that the family maintains with each other.

I found these three examples very interesting, because they enable one to consciously set oneself in motion:

In the beginning, this may mean successfully holding back a hurtful remark or consciously refraining from a manipulative action. Further on in the process there is already a conscious, albeit still somewhat stiff and formal embrace or a deliberate, positive statement about the child, which is much more constructive. The last step is then the warm and uplifting relationship with each other.

What always helps me to break out of my patterns and continue to change is something Brené Brown calls “speaking shame” in her book “I thought it was just me“.

She describes:

There is nothing more frustrating, and sometimes frightening, than feeling pain and not being able to describe or explain it to someone. It doesn’t matter if it’s physical pain or emotional pain. When we can’t find the right words to explain our painful experiences to others, we often feel alone and scared. Some of us may even feel anger or rage and act out. [2]

This is true for all pain, but also especially for shame. And as we have seen in the last chapters, shame is a predominating theme that influences and shapes family dynamics.

Brown says:

When we speak shame, we learn to speak our pain. As I wrote earlier, we are wired for connection, and this makes us wired for story. More than any other method, storytelling is how we communicate who we are, how we feel, what’s important to us and what we need from others. [3]

When I started “talking shame” – I realized that others do not perceive me the way I saw myself.

When I realize that shame threatens to bring distance into my relationships, I use my most effective weapon:

I “speak shame”:

Instead of withdrawing (since I have a tendency to slip into the formal window), I try to put my reality into words:

  • “you know, I felt guilty when you brought it to my attention”
  • “Was it okay for you the way I talked to your mom? I felt a little insecure from the way you looked at me.
  • “I’m sorry if I’m a bit short-spoken with you. It’s been a busy day and it has nothing to do with you.”
  • “Wow, that just hurt my feelings, that remark. I’m not very good at this yet.”
  • Etc.

It has already happened to me several times that, at a training course, I repeatedly asked to speak out; simply because the subject fascinated me so much.
At the end of the course, I felt shame rising in me: “Surely the others were tired of it, as I always interrupted! “Why couldn’t I just be quiet again?”  A short questioning (and the surprised, uplifting answer “No, not at all, it was very interesting,” or “I wish I dared to express myself like that”) showed me that this shame has nothing to do with the reality of how others see me – but how I still see myself sometimes!

It was a couple of days ago when I wrote an important text and gave it to Benny to read.  Benny is my biggest fan but also my most honest critic, and he found a thousand things I could write differently.

This was, after a challenging day, too much for me. I felt myself slipping right into the “calm window”. He noticed it, too, and asked,

“Are you okay? Did I hurt you?!

And I, instead of just saying “No, I’m fine” and staying there for a long time, (As I’ve done many times in the past), told him:

“Oh you know, it’s been a challenging day and I’m feeling pretty vulnerable right now. I’m not very good with criticism right now.”

Within two minutes we were back in the window of intimacy and, after the children were in bed, we could discuss the day and pray about it together.

The path from the abusive to the intimate quadrant leads from the decision not to hurt each other anymore, to learning how to treat each other with respect and affection, to the willingness to make yourself vulnerable. The level of trust that is needed for this among each other must first be developed. That sounds like a process and it is. But if one day you realize that you are moving in a different quadrant than before, how much has it been worthwhile to take steps along this path!
[1] Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Habit Two St. Martin’s Press. Kindle-Version.

[2] Brown, Brené. I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) (S.155). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle-Version.

[3] Brown, Brené. I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) (S.166). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle-Version.


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