ESP 23 The hidden “family rules” that have shaped you (and still impact your life)

familyfightDid this ever happen to you? You think the way your family (of origin) does something is normal, and then, suddenly, you find out it isn’t?

Usually, this happens when you form close relationships outside your family of origin. Fireworks can ensue!

How your family dealt with conflicts, problems, shame, secrets, and tragedies shaped you and learning relational and loyalty dynamics from the previous generations in your family can bring relational repair, health, and hope.


That’s what today’s show is about. I’m glad you can listen, today.


Today’s guest is graduate school professor and marriage and family therapist in private clinical practice, Janet Stauffer, Ph.D.



Dean of Students, Evangelical Seminary

Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy

In addition to her work at the seminary and her clinical practice, Janet is vice president of the Board of Directors at Philhaven Behavioral Healthcare facility. She has led retreats, presented at professional conferences, and published articles in a number of journals. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and approved supervisor and clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. She also holds membership in the Christian Association for Psychological Studies. Her research interests include genuine meeting through dialogical engagement, loyalty dynamics between and across the generations of the family, and the intersection of faith and therapy.





Each person is born with an inherent longing to connect.


Early childhood experiences shape who we are and how we relate to others.

Our ancestors deliver ways of being to us across generations:


What can be done if the early years weren’t filled with dysfunction and problems?


How relationship can alter the wiring and re-patterning of the brain.


Jim Coen, UVA – The Hand holding experiment.


In close relationships, we end up feeling–not only are you here with me–but somehow you are me. Somehow we are here together.


Before we can help others, we have to be open to ourselves and our own healing. Our wounds can remain as vulnerabilities and our greatest resource.


“I because who I am through my relationships with other people, so that more of me gets called forth as I respond to others in my world around me.”


The still face experiment:


“Foo-Poo” (FOO = Family of Origin) influences our current relationships.


The interconnectedness and “loyalty dynamics” between and across the generations and how during all our interactions we are holding something that has been passed down across generations and in the larger cultural dynamics.


Example from life (Janet, her husband and the Ford Fiesta). Naming the truth in our interactions and being curious about what we hold from generations before us.


Janet explored what anger was like for her mother and grandmother and discovered not just a family secret and the shame that was carried on, but also a a family norm relating to how pain is dealt with.


Family secrets and ways of interacting waiting like land mines that can sabotage our other relationships.


We can also end up carrying or holding visibly or invisibly things that our spouse (or other close relationships) hold as well.


There are options for growth and healing if we can be open, aware, curious and can find courage to turn and face [the other] and remember where our weakness are and admit them.


The power of naming what is happening for us emotionally.


“Honoring my personal truth, personal awareness, my being, and made a claim for myself has a profound impact in my own knowing.”


“Every one of us experiences terror at the thought of finding the courage to turn and face the other in a painful situation at some point in our life.”


A defend or fight mode should be superseded by the prevailing message “You and I are on the team team ultimately. We have a reason to connect and I long for you. But it’s been hard between and here’s something of how it’s been for me… and I want to know what it’s like for you.”


Yet, we cannot think what we say will always help because we cannot guarantee the other person’s response. So there is vulnerability in saying the truth.


Being calm, curious and compassionate even in the face of wounds and vulnerability.


Emotionally self-regulating and contending with emotional triggers.


(In marriage or close relationships) Learning self and other in a whole new way…in a kind of sacred space to grow through the most tender places that we hold.


Telling the other what would help in what feels like an unsafe place emotionally.


Learning to soothe one another.


On core lies we can believe about ourselves.


Honoring when emotional safety is just as important as physical safety.


What to do when it’s not safe to have important conversations.


Martin Buber-We live with an armor around us and bands around our heart and being closed off and unaware and unaddressed.


Asking questions of ourselves to create more awareness and realizing our thoughts and memories are not us.


We limit our imagination about the capacity each of us holds to respond the other, the world around us and ourself.


We can test our assumptions and plant seeds that bring new possibilities for ourself and others.


When we can’t yet name or isolate our feelings.


Giving permission and a soft demand to know what is going on with someone else and helping them find their voice.


The biblical tradition of the garden where God says “Where art thou?” a story about hiding. God’s longing for humankind.


King David in the psalms is modeling openness and receptivity…asking “What is in my heart?” “Who am I?” “What do I hold?”


Being open and still safe. Giving yourself warm, regard, and leaving the self-judgment out.

“Judgment limits the knowing.”


Being present to and growing in recognition of “here’s what I hold” or “here’s what freezes me” etc and asking “how can I be more free?” and then exploring new pathways and practices that go somewhere.


On the spiritual practices and things can people do to move forward.


These ways of understanding what it is to connect, grow and be human are universal and offer hope to those with varied religious tradition and no religious affiliation too.


The spiritual and the Other when it is not defined as “God”.


“God doesn’t limit God’s self to the church or the synagogue or the mosque and we can never fully describe God because God cannot be contained and is always more than what I can fathom or grasp”


Asking, “How do I understand the call before me and how do I invite others and find the place where they are experiencing call and longing and where is this work happening within them. What is being invited forth?”


How we can pass down the best of our generational dynamics and loyalties to our children.


On the invisible family rule of perfectionism and how it made Janet think she could be the perfect parent and how that idea was shattered.


How she approached her son after that point to understand what he was experiencing and being surprised by his reply.


We can never get it all right, but we can be willing to go to our child and ask them about their experience.


Inviting others to know themselves in whatever capacity to do that they can and hold what they say with care and honor.


Enacting moments and accumulating themes and transactions and happenings and asking “Is their a burden they carry or an injury of disregard or diminishment that was not theirs to carry?” which deserve address and caring and honor.


On having a commit to “I will be there for you, and I will be here for me, and I invite you to be here for me,” is a profound act that helps us for the long run.


Despite our efforts, outcomes are not guaranteed and each person has an opportunity to respond uniquely.

RESOURCES for further discovery:

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Laughter: The Mini BRAIN SCAN

It’s another installment in the HUMOR SERIES.

If you’re new here or late to the series, get started on these previous articles:

1 Intro: Laughing from birth

2. Step 1: Tickle Rats

3. What makes something funny may surprise you

4. Jokers ARE wild: Subversive Humor
Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 7.32.26 AM


How humor works like a mini BRAIN SCAN

(Secular) Biologist Robert Lynch, who also performs as a comedian, sees humor as an adaptive, learned trait; and one that helps us connect with others who share our values.

His theory about humor?
“You laugh because you believe it is true,” says Lynch, and his experiments seem back up his theory, at least partially.

A joke, in other words, is like a little brain scan: When we laugh, we reveal what’s inside us. -Robert Lynch

In an experiment Lynch conducted, a variety of people were video-recorded while watching an edgy comic who joked about gender inequality. The volunteers were then given a psychological test that measured their unconscious gender attitudes. Those with mid-20th century gender views of women being responsible for home and children and men bread-winning laughed harder at that joke than those with more progressive views.


In another experiment, people Lynch terms “self-deceivers” found much less humor in an entire joke reel, in general.


I’m guessing that because Lynch used this “self-deceivers” language to identify reluctant laughers, he probably laughs at just about everything. Naturally, if scientists are self-deceiving they are doing something wrong. Something unreasonable?

I’m betting that to Lynch “self-deceivers” are “other people”. Otherwise, he would term them “discerning” or “wise” or “judicious” or “pensive” or “still thinking about it” or maybe just “unsure”.

So, I wonder if he’s just a bit off the mark.

Could the phenomenon of less laughs be a combination of a few things he hasn’t accounted for?

• Could less laughter be a result of natural personality or temperament traits?

• Fewer habits of deep introspection?

• Previous experiences that predispose infrequent laughers to think quietly instead of giggle aloud?

• Or a mismatch in values? (What sorts of jokes were told? We don’t know because he doesn’t say.)

The subjectivity of laughter producing humor seems to be at play a bit more than his experiments can account for. And that’s no joke.Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 2.51.54 PM

I do agree with Lynch on this point:
We can conceal our true opinions, but in the moment of unguarded laughter, we reveal our true preferences.

Lynch says that the trait of a sense of humor is desirable and its presence or lack thereof helps us select a mate: A sense of humor is always listed in the top five traits people look for when mate-hunting.

Plus, humor helps us bond with those in our group, or determine who’s outside our group. This does seem clear.


And lest we forget, (the non self-deceived?) Lynch likes to work the crowd at open mic comedy nights. Does this scientist have a formula?

Yes. Sort of. Basically.

Here’s how he does it:

He finds common ground and builds on it. First he works at locating something held in common. Then, he points out a shared opinion or value, and underscores something that rings true to listeners.

It might start with some simple commonality like the geographical location of the place, a sports team preference, or the clientele in attendance.

He’s also snarky. If you like that style you might be amused.

“It’s great to be in New York City again. The coral reef created by sinking subway cars off Manhattan has a 58% higher rate of stabbings than a natural reef.” (or something like that. blah blah blah…you can watch the video on his theory here.)

If I’m writing a joke, often what I do is I look at things that I think are true, that people tend not to admit to, or maybe reluctant to admit to, including myself. -Lynch

Of course, I don’t hold the similar belief that the reason for laughter happened ad hoc and by chance, as Robert Lynch contends. That idea seems more like a punchline to me.

“Why did the cave man laugh? I’ll tell you in ten million years…”

(yes that was mine)

Sure, we adapt using humor, and we always well, but I doubt the source of humor was landed on by sheer mistake or mutation + time. HA-but that’s a good one. You almost had me, Lynch!


What may be the case is something that isn’t so stupefyingly accidental or self-deceiving. Something reasonable.

Namely, that One beyond our comprehension designed and equipped us purposefully with a sense of humor and in a way that we can better socially bond in positive ways…because we inherently need each other.

In a future post, I will go a bit further and pose a kind of theory for the purpose of humor and the reason for laughter based on some work from different researchers and my own educational background.


The takeaway:
If you want to know what someone is really like and what they really think, pay attention to what and whom they laugh at. Laughter is a kind of brain scan.

And examine what makes you laugh.

Dig deeper and find out more about yourself and what needs improving.


I hope you’ve liked this series.

Tell me which has been your favorite post so far.

Come back for “funny friday” and the rest of the series!



For the latest info on my humor related projects sign up here.

Learn Transformational Leadership Theory in 15 Seconds

Screen Shot 2013-04-30 at 8.33.53 AMI’m writing the last paper for my class in Leadership and Administration. I’m concentrating on Transformational Leadership Theory.

Here’s the crash course for you!

30 years ago Transformational Leadership got some traction and it focused on something nothing else had: Followers.

What motivates and develops Followers created a paradigm shift in Leadership Studies that continues to be researched and written about quite a bit.

(The image shows 5 factors Transformational Leaders employ.)

The 4 Main Components that define Transformational Leadership

The four key components in play[1]:

  1. Intellectual Stimulation – In Transformational Leadership the leader challenges the status quo, encourages creative solutions, and leads followers toward exploring new ways of doing things while offering new opportunities to learn and grow.
  1. Individualized Consideration – In Transformational Leadership the leader offers support and encouragement to individual followers that help to foster supportive relationships among the team, and endeavors to help followers keep the lines of communication open to more easily share ideas. There is also recognition of team members’ unique contributions.
  1. Inspirational Motivation – In Transformational Leadership the leader has a clear vision that is articulated to the followers. With this clearly articulated vision followers may share and experience similar passion and stay better motivated to see the vision through to completion.
  2. Idealized Influence – A Transformational leader serves as a role model for her followers. She exemplifies the values she hopes to engender. This builds trust and respect for the leader. (This had been called “charisma” but has grown more nuanced.)

[1] Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations by Bernard M. Bass (1985)

The Book that started it all:

Updated and expanded in 2005

5 Tips to Vision-casting…

In the start of a new year…sometimes we cast a vision for the next 12 months.

Sometimes it’s through a New Year’s resolution or a multipage strategic proposal.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind as you craft a healthy vision for the months to come.

• Don’t decide a vision in a relational vacuum. 
(Make use of community to account for the blind spots or gaps you’ll have. Trust me you have them.)

• Don’t forget to have “check-ups”
(Every 2-3 months re-energize the vision cast by reiterating the vision, for some extra oomph. Gosh it’s fun to type “oomph”!

• Adjust the vision when needed.
(Since vision-casting is future oriented, it’s a mistake to act if it’s written in stone. During the check-ups see what needs to be adjusted, added, or put aside.)

• Focus on the strengths of your team.
(Whether it’s a personal or team vision-casting for the year, play to your strengthens.)

• The vision trifacta! Set immediate, intermediate, and longer-range goals.
(Part of making progress is sensing movement. Accomplishing some short term goals right away boosts morale. It’s a psychological edge.)


This post is part of a synchro blog. To access other thoughts on vision-casting, or to add your own to the mix go HERE.

Halloween Night: A Christian Spiritual Practice?

Porch Party 2011
We have a rather long side porch. On trick-or-treat night, we fixed it up in creepy fashion. I stuffed pants and shirts and placed them on chairs to look like scarecrows. Plastic spiders, snakes, and mice were peppered near candy bowls. Votive candles and illuminated pumpkins lit the way. We used the internet to stream in 50s-60s themed music (Think Monster Mash and the rest). Out in the back, our fire pit made a toasty atmosphere on a chilly night; and coffee, warm cider, and cookies added to the warmth, on a few levels.

The most fun was meeting new neighbors, re-connecting with known neighbors, and talking with them. I realized that there isn’t another “holiday” like this one. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter usually involve travel, plenty of food prep, and a different schedule for school or work. Not Halloween. What other time do you have dozens of neighbors interacting with you on your property…at night? It’s a unique night. It’s an opportunity.

Our visitors and friends loved the decor and seemed touched by the effort. Can I say there was joy? Can I say that, for this sort of thing? Well, there was.

I had more time this year, so I sort of “caught the bug” and went all-out. I don’t think is was the Halloween spirit either. It was the Christmas one, arriving early…like department store merchandise. And in the middle of all that good cheer, I wondered, why don’t communities, groups, or Christians team up more often create a safe, fun, and loving atmosphere for these kids and families that come to visit every year? That’s a wasted opportunity, is it not?

I learned some other amazing things:

1. When you prepare to love on people, they “get it”. (Open appreciation: Everyone wore smiles, and said thank you–a lot! It was a delight to just be giving. I got more than I gave. Seriously.)

2. Being welcoming doesn’t take much money. (I was planning to buy candy for trick-or-treaters anyway. I used things I already had to decorate, and my neighbor joined in–donating decor, and cookies.) Pretty cool, huh?

3. My kids love to host and create community. In this way, they learn compassion and kindness. All on their own, they handed out treats, informed visitors of our “amenities”, interacted with the children, and helped people find their way around. How else would I have gotten to see this?

4. It’s only 2 hours. While some parties can linger, and take lot of food prep time, have logistic issues, trick-or-treat night is a specified time with a fairly easy menu. Most people make the time for it, somehow. For our neighborhood, it lasts from 6-8p.m. It’s not too hard to get some extra things ready to make it a more memorable and a special time for visitors.

5. It shines a light in the darkness. Times are tough, and there a lot of bad news and bad things happening in the world. It’s nice to give people something good. I find it totally ironic that this could or should be best served on Halloween. But why not? No day can shut out God’s Light and Love. (This also gives new meaning to the phrase “Take Back the Night”, yeah?)

Here’s some important background information
As a kid, raised in a very conservative (i.e. fundamentalist) Christian home, and my parents believed that going out for candy in costume on or near October 31st was colluding with the Devil. “It’s Satan’s Day,” I used to hear. Strangely enough, for all our protesting of it, the (unintentional) focus was more on Halloween and evil, than it was for any typical trick-or-treater. Now, that’s whack. Sometimes our efforts to be “righteous” (or whatever) have the opposite intended consequences. It seems we had it all backwards. Reinvention is key. Hospitality can happen any day or day. Take back the night with grace and love, or at least some goodwill to men!

Is Halloween a Christian Holiday?
Well, I’ll be honest and say I had no plans to hand out tracts, or influence a conversion experience on my porch. I wasn’t sharing verses or inviting people to my church. But, it was a rather blessed time. If anyone got the message that we made a spot for them in our week, then we accomplished a lot. Maybe a lot more than the typical church (which can feel like a club) can do most nights of the week.

I don’t think I’ve had the chance to touch so many lives in such a short time, as I did on that nigh. And to borrow Eric Liddell’s phrasing (think of the ancient “Chariots of Fire” film), “I feel God’s pleasure.” Parents and kids alike remember who was kind and who had a fun place to visit. And that, my friends, is shining a light. (The short answer is just, “Yes,Halloween is a Christian Spiritual practice–now“.)

Have you ever done this sort of thing for Halloween night? If not, give it a try. You can make some effort to spread more love and good cheer on this night too. If you do, let me know how it went.

Here are some photos of our night: