This week I was thinking about when I was in graduate school and we learned about systems. As in your family system, your work system, your friends system. We are always operating in some sort of system because our lives are made up of relationships. We aren't these isolated creatures that spend our lives alone. They did this cool study on schizophrenic people who were sent away from their homes to a treatment center for the mentally ill. After awhile many of the people improved. But when they sent them back home to their families, they quickly relapsed. It was because their families were also schizophrenic and it triggered their illness. The point of this story is to illustrate that we are composed of our relationships- it shapes us. Each family has their own type of system as well. For example, a dysfunctional system might have one 'bad' member who is known for being disruptive. The other members then have their roles in relation to this person and each other. One might be the 'good sibling' in order to appease the parents. Perhaps the mom is the disciplinarian and boss of the family while the dad is the enabler who gives in to the 'bad son.' In groups of friends there's also a system dynamic. There might be the ringleader, the doormat, the loud one, the funny one, etc. We all know our roles and play them accordingly. In a relationship (like man and wife for example) you also have a system between the two of you. When something goes wrong, try to look at it in relation to how it affects the system. A symptom (such as depression) changes the system and is related to it. If a wife is depressed, look at why she is feeling that way. Besides the biological diagnosis, look at the system she's in and see if it's operating well. Perhaps her husband got laid off and she's feeling depressed because she's had to take on the role of breadwinner and it's extremely stressful. Her depression affects her husband because he feels guilty and begins drinking to feel better. One affects the other. Instead of seeing how A affects B, look at both sides, how B affects A as well. I really like this systemic thinking. As an MFT (marriage and family therapist) I'm learning how useful the family systems model really is and I think it's especially relevant in family and couples therapy. Try it out with your family. Look at each member and see what role they play, and if your family system is a healthy one. Do you have the same routine every single day? Or is the family constantly different, changing. It's healthy to not remain static but to be an evolving system. People change, and age/gender/culture/life stage has a huge impact on how we act at any given time in our life. We are not alone, nor will we ever be, because of the fact alone that we come from somewhere. Even a non-traditional family is a system. You can talk to your cousin, but not anyone else in your family and it's still a system. It's just not a well-functioning one. We are all products of our family system, from the day we're born to the day we die.