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When A Family Is Dysfunctional, The Deadlock in Washington

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Do you remember the television program of the 1970’s called “All In The Family?” It is now being rerun of MeTV, a cable TV channel. The family drama was played out between the father, Archie Bunker, his wife, Edith Bunker and their daughter and son-in-law, Gloria and Michael, whom Archie contemptuously called “MeatHead.”  It was a brilliant program that portrayed the dynamics of a family that was highly dysfunctional and that had deep over and under tones of politics in America. Basically, it demonstrated the disturbed relationships between those on the Right and Left of the political spectrum in America. The left is thought of as Liberal while the right is thought of as Conservative. In the Bunker family, Michael and Gloria represented and dramatized politics on the left while Archie did the same on the extreme right.  Edith was always the sound of reason and moderation whose voice had to be raised in order to make herself heard. The two sides, right and left, were always deadlocked in their opinions but that did not stop any of them from fighting despite the voice of reason from Edith. Is this what we are seeing in Washington D.C. over the deadlock between right wing Republicans and left wing Democrats?

By now most people know that the government is in a partial shut-down with many federal employees on furlough and not getting paid. The reason for this is complex but, to simplify what is happening for the purposes of this blog, the President, the members of the House of Representatives and the members of the Senate are locked in an argument about the amount of money that the government spends and the amount of debt it has accumulated. Therefore, Conservative Republicans in Congress oppose what is referred to as Obamacare because they are convinced that the nation cannot afford it. On the other side, the President and Senate strongly favor the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) because it can help all of those who lack health insurance because they are either poor or unemployed. They believe in big government that should pay for social programs that benefit people. Republican members of the House of Representatives believe large government is harmful because it costs too much money to run and interferes in the individual rights of American Citizens.

Very much like the Bunker family and many other families and groups of various sizes and types ranging from married couples all the way to entire nations, opposing sides take a stand on one or more issues and cannot come to some agreement or compromise in order to allow the family, group or nation fully function. In essence, both Right Wing Republicans and Left Wing Democrats staunchly believe in the correctness of their point of view and will not budge. In fact, worse than believing they are correct, each side is convinced that their beliefs are superior to their opposition. In the heated debate between the two sides no one dares to look as though they are losing the argument. The voices of moderates, those who stand between the two sides and who believe in compromise, much like Edith Bunker, cannot be heard over the shouting match between the two.

So, whether in a family or in politics, why does a standoff occur?

1. There is a lack of communication. People, wives and husbands, politicians and others fail to share their ideas and feelings.

2. There is a conflict in values, attitudes and beliefs. One would think that a married couple and family would be together because of shared values. This does not always happen as demonstrated in the Bunker family. It seems that the two sides in Washington do not share common values.

3. There is a lack of leadership and agreement about who is in charge. When this happens in a family the children are adversely affected because they learn how to manipulate mom and dad to get what they want. In Washington we seem to have a number of leaders who are arguing with one another.

4. People do not like change. Change causes disequilibrium in the family and that leads to feelings of confusion and insecurity. Much of the disagreement between democrats and conservatives in politics has to do with the belief that, if the other brings change, there will be disequilibrium and confusion.

5. There has been a history of prior arguments that caused resentments and left scars. Many families deal with this and it happens in government as well.

In the government as in the family, people need to listen to one another in order to resolve disagreements. People need to find ways to resolve problems in ways that do not harm the self esteem of the other. This is called saving face. In other words, the emphasis is on solutions and not winning or losing.

Families who cannot get unstuck can go to family therapy to help them move forward. Perhaps the federal government needs a mediator or psychologist to help it function better? But, would they agree on who the therapist should be?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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