Families will even destroy themselves in an effort to maintain “homeostasis.” If you’ve ever studied Latin, you know that the big word homeostasis simply means “same status,” My family certainly learned the truth of this principle when one of our kids struggled with drug addiction. It didn’t matter what we tried in an attempt to resolve the problem, everything would quickly revert back to the “same status.” Amazingly, each family member reverted to their old familiar role in the family. It was like ground hogs day all over again.
Every family has a “setting” as to where they fit on the continuum between really healthy and really unhealthy. The more unhealthy a family is, the more committed they are as a system to maintain status quo. For them, change is simply too threatening–it represents the unknown. And the known, regardless of how unhealthy it is, is always preferred over the unknown.
To understand homeostasis, think of the thermostat in your home. It is the control center for the homeostatic balance that determines how warm or how cool it will be. Let’s image that the dad is a controlling person and that he has put a locked box over the thermostat so no one else in the family can change the setting. And let’s say it’s the middle of winter and it’s cold outside, but for some reason the thermostat was set at 85 degrees. That’s too hot, even on a cold day.
So the furnace has been working hard to maintain the 85 degree setting on the thermostat. You come home and it is unbearably hot in the house. Since you can’t change the thermostat, you begin to open some windows to let the cold air in and cool down the house. The temperature in the house begins to drop. Suddenly, “sameness” is being challenged. Instantly, the thermostat sends a message to the furnace to “send more heat!” And the furnace kicks in in an effort to keep the temperature at 85 degrees. The end result may be that the furnace will burn itself out trying to maintain the homeostatic setting on the thermostat. That’s homeostasis.
We said earlier that every family has a setting, and unless you know how to unlock the locked thermostat box, the family can make it frustrating for you to change and grow as a person. That’s why many young adults leave home and move across the country–They need to get away from the family so they can find out who they really are as a person. But what they don’t understand is that when they go back home, because of homeostasis, within 30 minutes, everything they have learned will disappear. That’s the power of a family, and the power of homeostasis.
How have you experienced the power of your family’s homeostatic setting? What things have you tried to do to “unlock the thermostat in your family?” We’ll talk more about how we unlock the box.