Toward effective counseling and therapy with individuals, co-parents, and families

About Wholistic Health and High-nurturance Relationships, Families, and Stepfamilies

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/pro/basics/terms5.htm

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        This article is one of a series on effective professional counseling, coaching, and therapy with (a) low-nurturance (dysfunctional) families and with (b) typical survivors of childhood neglect and trauma. These articles for professionals are under construction.

        This series assumes you're familiar with:

        Before continuing, pause and reflect - why are you reading this article? What do you need?

+ + +

        In this nonprofit Web site and the related guidebooks, nurturance means "voluntarily filling the current and long-term primary needs of one's self and related others effectively in a respectful, empathic way. To promote effective service to your divorced-family and stepfamily (or other) clients, this article builds on these premises to propose four basic definitions:

  • a wholistically-healthy person,
  • a high-nurturance relationship

  • a high-nurturance ("healthy" or "functional") family, and

  • a high-nurturance stepfamily.

        This article uses these to define a high-nurturance workplace. How well and how often does your workplace fill your primary needs now?

        To get the most from reading this article - pause, reflect, and say your definition of each of the four topics above out loud, one at a time. This is about clarity and self-awareness, not being right or wrong!


 Baseline: Premises About Healthy ("Functional") Clients

        What follows is not offered as absolute truth, but a framework from which you can clarify and affirm what you believe.

Premise - The wholistic (mental + spiritual + physical + psychological) health, growth, and productivity of any group is directly proportional to four factors:
  • The wholistic health of each group leader (e.g. co-parents) - specially those providing regular care for kids, the disabled, and the elderly; plus...
  • The accurate knowledge and awareness each leader has about (a) the current and long-range primary (vs. surface) needs of each group (family) member, (b) the specific resources required to fill those needs, and (c) when and how to best get and provide those resources; plus...

  • The leaders' dedication and motivation to maintain a high nurturance level in their group - e.g. in co-parents' related homes and multi-generational families.

  • Group leaders who (a) are clear on their chosen roles and feel confidant about them; and who (b) have clear, proactive long-range goals based on realistic visions and expectations, often accomplish more, over time, than leaders who focus only on maintaining current comforts. 

        Restated: wholistically-healthy, informed co-parents who have clear long range goals in mind each day about what they're trying to do with their family over time will feel more "successful" as they age than wounded, unaware leaders without long-range goals. They're also more apt to avoid our ancestral cultural cycle of wounding future generations via unintended early-childhood neglect.

        Based on the four-point premise above, then...


 What Is a Wholistically-healthy Person?

        Premises: Health means "functioning at optimum organic effectiveness." Wholistic (whole - istic) refers to four interactive human domains: spiritual + mental + psychological + physiological. Wholistic health means "somewhere between 'very unhealthy' to 'very healthy' in all four domains." Regardless of age, gender, and roles,...

        A wholistically healthy person has a harmonious "inner family" system" (personality) of  subselves  who usually trust and follow the leadership of their resident true Self and a benign Higher Power; or the person is aware s/he's significantly wounded and is self-motivated to harmonize her or his subselves over time. Evidence of this includes the person often experiencing true-Self traits and seldom manifesting these wound-symptoms; and...

        S/He (a) believes in a set of clear, unambivalent personal Rights as a unique, worthy, dignified person and (b) often asserts these Rights effectively in stressful situations without undue anxiety or guilt, while genuinely respecting each other person's equivalent Rights. And a wholistically-healthy person...

        Is often (a) accurately self-aware, and uses these relationship skills effectively; or s/he is self-motivated and progressing at developing and using them; and (b) s/he often respectfully encourages other people to do the same when they're ready; and...

        S/He is genuinely and steadily interested in...

  • developing a meaningful relationship with a benign Higher Power; and...

  • identifying and filling her or his current primary physical, bodily, and spiritual needs (self-nurturance) without significant anxiety, guilt, or shame; ; while  

  • identifying and accepting his or her personal limitations without whining, complaining, pretense, or excessive shame, guilt, and/or anxiety; and...

  • celebrating, developing, and enjoying her/his special gifts, talents, and life purpose; and...

  • proactively exploring effective ways to develop and use these talents to improve life on Earth vs. improving personal comfort; and
Restated - a wholistically-healthy person is clearly aware and living on purpose (proactively) vs. aimlessly and reactively. S/He can clearly describe the main passions and purpose/s of her or his life, or s/he's steadily self-motivated to learn that purpose and act on it. Neutral observers steadily conclude that the person's words and behaviors consistently match.

        How does this compare with your definition of a "wholistically-healthy person"? Does this definition describe you now? Pause, breathe, and note your self talk...  


 What Is a High-nurturance Relationship?

        Premises: A need is a primal urge to reduce a current physical, emotional, or spiritual discomfort. A relationship exists when two people (a) are aware of each other, (b) need something from the other person occasionally or chronically, and therefore (c) are "significantly" affected by the other person's needs, actions, priorities, and welfare. Significantly is a subjective judgment.

        Human relationships range between...

  • need-based and love-based,

  • acquaintance > friendship or genetic > primary,

  • non-sexual (platonic or genetic) to sensual/sexual,

  • independent (low neediness) > interdependent (balanced neediness) > over-dependent (excessive neediness),

  • mutual (symmetric) to one-way (asymmetric),

  • superficial > intimate,

  • genuine > ambivalent > pretended (pseudo caring), and...

  • low nurturance (need amplifying) to high nurturance (mutual-need fulfilling). 

        High-nurturance relationships have distinct traits. Regardless of relationship-partners' ages, genders, races, and dyadic roles (like stepmother - stepdaughter, boss - employee, client - provider, and teacher - student); both partners and an informed, objective observer would agree that...

Each partner is a (relatively) wholistically-healthy person per criteria like those above; and...

Each partner feels their relationship has enough of these factors often enough, or each partner is (a) self-motivated to increase their set of factors and (b) wants to support (vs. control)  their partner doing the same, over time; and...

Each partner (a) is fluent enough with these communication skills, and (b) uses premises like these to (c) identify and resolve significant relationship problems (need-conflicts) with their partner; or each partner is self-motivated now to (d) learn and practice these skills and problem-solving beliefs, and (e) respectfully help their partner do the same. Each partner, and an objective, aware observer would agree that the partners have few of these communication blocks in their relationship; and...

Each relationship partner...

  • is aware of the evolving balance in their dynamic (mental + spiritual + psychological + physical) relationship; and...

  • s/he works proactively and cooperatively to stabilize that balance, as each partner and their inner and outer environments constantly change. 

        Have you ever experienced a relationship with all these qualities? Have your children, mate, and each parent ever experienced one? Pause, breathe, and meditate: how do these traits compare to your definition of a high-nurturance, wholistically-healthy relationship between any two people?  What would you change or add to these traits?

        From these two definitions, we can now answer...


   What Is a High-Nurturance ("Functional") Family?

        Premise: Families with and without offspring have formed and persisted across millennia, cultures, and animal species because they nurture (fill the key needs of) all young and mature members better than other social groups. Some families are better able to nurture because of the (a) leader/s' wholistic health and knowledge, and (b) available resources. Those that consistently fill all members' primary needs well are called (here) high-nurturance (wholistically-healthy or "functional") families.

        Key traits of a high-nurturance family, agency, church, or school: all members and one or more informed, objective observers, agree that...

        The leader/s is/are obviously (vs. covertly) in charge, and is/are clearly wholistically-healthy per criteria like those above; and...

        The family now has many or most of these traits, or the family leaders are clearly self-motivated to develop and stabilize these traits over time; and...

        Most of the many dyadic (two-person) relationships that comprise this family system are nurturing enough, per criteria like the above; and...

        Most or all of the households that comprise this family are structurally healthy per this framework or equivalent; or the family leaders are self-motivated (vs. court-ordered) to work together to restructure their roles and relationships; and in a high-nurturance family...

        Most members and observers agree that there is a consistently high level of balance in and between the households that comprise the family, over time, and...

        Most members spontaneously demonstrate that their primary needs are met well enough, often enough. One way to check this is to decide if all family members have most of these high-nurturance group traits most of the time.

        How does this compare to your definition of a high-nurturance (functional, healthy) family? How well has your definition "worked," so far? Could your childhood caregivers have articulated such a definition? Did they live by it? Would your kids (if any) say you have?

        Note that these six criteria can assess the nurturance-level of any type of family: intact or separated (absent-parent) biofamily, childless, foster, adoptive, same-gender, bi-racial, communal, and step.

        Now let's use apply the three definitions above to answer this:


   What Is a High-nurturance Stepfamily?

        In understanding the following and translating it into your own criteria, you'll need a clear definition of who comprises a nuclear an extended (multi-generational) stepfamily. Check your own definition against those links, and return. Your belief will define who you see to be your client or patient.

        Combinations of factors create over 100 structural types of stepfamily. Co-parents in each type must fill a unique blend of adjustment needs as they merge three or more biofamilies over time. Nonetheless, there are high-nurturance factors and traits that apply to all types of stepfamilies.

        Premise: a multi-generational stepfamily's nurturance level (low > high) can change over time - i.e. the level can differ between courtship > co-habiting <> newly re/married > mature (merged and stabilized).

   Perspective

  • Typical stepfamily co-parents, relatives, kids, and supporters must negotiate up to five significant hazards together, over time. In high-nurturance stepfamilies, the adults (a) genuinely accept their identity as a stepfamily, and what that means to their members; and (b) they can name and accurately describe the hazards they face and what to do about each of them.

  • As they merge and stabilize three or more co-parents' biofamilies, typical stepfamily co-parents have up to 30 unique adjustment-needs (tasks) and up to 15 alien new family roles to clarify and stabilize concurrently, which people in other family types don't have. And...

  • Typical minor stepkids need informed adult guidance to fill normal developmental needs and up to three sets of family-adjustment needs. Kids in high-nurturance, intact biofamilies can develop without the major confusion and distraction of family reorganization/s from (a) divorce or death, and (b) parental re/marriage and stressful biofamily mergers. And...

  • Stepfamily co-parenting environments can differ concurrently in up to 40 specific ways from typical intact-biofamily environments, depending on many factors.

        On a gross level, the criteria for a high-nurturance stepfamily are the same as for any other family type. So we might realistically say a high-nurturance nuclear stepfamily...

        has all six "universal" criteria above, or equivalent; and...

        each of the two or more co-parents can now accurately (a) name and (b) describe these five reasons for widespread stepfamily stress and re/divorce, and these 7 Lessons; or (b) each courting co-parent and each of their kids' other co-parents is genuinely self-motivated to learn these hazards and safeguards now; and...

        If the stepfamily isn't legally re/married yet, each courting partner wants to learn about (a) stepfamily basics and (b) making three right re/marital choices by doing the self-study Lessons before deciding whe-ther to re/marry; and/or ...

        If one or more co-parent couples in the stepfamily is already re/married, then each spouse has clearly committed to the right persons, for the right reasons, at the right time; as judged by themselves and an informed, objective, wholistically-healthy observer; and...

        All co-parents are self-motivated to help each other  (a) overcome any teamwork- barriers, and (b) work patiently together on Projects 1-6 and 8-12; and...

        All kids and adults in the multi-generational stepfamily have most of these strengths, as judged by (a) the family members and (b) one or more stepfamily-informed, wholistically healthy, objective observers who know the stepfamily "well enough."

        Do these high-nurturance-stepfamily criteria (a) make sense and (b) seem credible to you? How many typical American co-parents and lay and professional supporters do you suppose could describe what you're reading in this article? Does the premise that most divorced and stepfamily co-parents are unaware and lack informed support seem more believable now?

        Use your versions of the four definitions above to define a "healthy, high-nurturance ("functional") divorcing family or stepfamily." Human-service professionals who evolve a clear, thoughtful definition are more likely to have successful long-term outcomes with average divorced-family and stepfamily clients.


   Options 

Some links above lead to worksheets designed for clients to use. Experiment and incorpor-ate those you feel are useful into your assessments and interventions. Each worksheet is part of one of these 7 Lessons so awareness of the Lesson's goal/s and steps can help you decide if, how, and when to use the worksheets.

Consider using these four related definitions as part of an in-service training program for professional and paraprofessional students.

Use your version of these definitions to help communicate goals and negotiate responsibilities effectively with professional co-workers and colleagues, administrators, funders, and/or program consultants.

Use definitions like these to help form personal, program, and/or organizational mission or vision statements. Variation: pass out and discuss copies of this and linked articles with your co-workers, and in/formally weave the results into your collaborative work together.

As your experience with divorced-family and stepfamily clients grows, review your version of these definitions periodically to keep them clear and realistic.

Distill key ideas in this article into a simpler format and use that with clients and/or selected peers and supporters to improve mutual clarity and discussions. A related option is to summarize definitions of some or all of these lay and clinical terms in a handout or an instructive quiz for clients and trainees.

        Perspective - these four definitions have evolved over 40 years' didactic study and professional and personal experience. The latter includes living in two stepfamilies, and 29 years' recovery from my severe false-self wounds. These definitions (and the rest of this site) come from my synthesis of the wisdom and experience of hundreds of lay and professional teachers! 

  Recap

        This article offers definitions of (a) individual wholistic health, and high-nurturance (b) relationships, (c) families, and (d) stepfamilies. Human-service professionals and clients who share clear definitions of key terms and concepts like these are much more apt to fill their primary needs together and achieve cost-effective, second-order (lasting) clinical outcomes.

        Partners form relationships to fill a dynamic mix of mutual primary needs. Nurturance means "need filling." Assessing personal wholistic health and a relationship's or group's nurturance-level must be subjective.

        In a family-service context, there are two sets of subjective opinions: the client family members,' and the service-provider's. A universally-useful intervention is motivating client co-parents to want to assess and improve their wholistic healths, relationships, and family nurturance-level over time, for their ongoing child, personal, and re/marital health and welfare. Doing this tends to break the self-amplifying cultural bequest  of false-self wounds and ignorance, and reduce the immeasurable anguish, distraction, and expense they cause us all.

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Updated August 17, 2013