RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay Melanie Patterson Western Washington University 1 RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 2 An influential aspect of every human's life includes the relationships they share with other people in their surrounding systems. The complex and dynamic interactions between two individuals can be defined as an interpersonal system. These relationships have significant impact on the people involved depending on the system's health. Healthy relationships are those that involve mutual respect, allowing the other person to develop without exploitation, obtaining a genuine knowledge understanding of the other person’s feelings, displaying the responsibility to meet the other individuals needs and showing care/concern for the life and growth of the other person within the system (Korsmo, 2014). Displaying these characteristics requires the individual to put them into act on them consistently. Both healthy and unhealthy relationships have the power to influence people greatly whether the affects are positive or negative. In this paper I will discuss the interpersonal systems involved in the Lifebook Project: the Department of Children and Family Services, the client (Adrienne), her biological and adoptive family (the Davenports) and the dyadic relationship between my partner and I while creating the Lifebook. An interpersonal system that has greatly impacted Adrienne's life is an element within her microsystem, her family. This system is complex and multidimensional - both her biological family and her foster, now adoptive, family have both greatly influenced her life in different ways. At a young age, Adrienne was removed from her biological mother and placed into the foster care system. Throughout this difficult transition, many of the systems in her life were disrupted, a main one being her education. When she lived with her biological mother, there was a lack of structure and this caused her to experience a lack of adequate sleep, a multitude of absences from school and malnutrition. RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 3 Subsequently, all of these factors influenced her academic performance and she began falling behind in school. It was in that time period when Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was contacted and after multiple reports, she was placed in a foster home. Through reading the case files, it was evident that the change in her interpersonal system was beneficial to her well-being. The restructuring of her microsystem gave her a greater opportunity to succeed in school. The case files stated that she was improving in all academic areas and her social interactions were heightened. As cited in Wilkinson and Pickett's, The Spirit Level, "children do better if their parents have higher incomes and more education themselves, and they do better if they come from homes where they have a place to study, where there are reference books and newspapers, and where education in valued. Parental involvement in children's education is even more important" (105). The case notes and the home visit exemplified that the adoptive parents value Adrienne's education and provide a constructive learning environment for her. There have been many interconnected systems, small and large that have influenced her wellbeing. As a larger system at play in her life, America’s economic and government policies have affected her biological parents' availability to properly care for her, which has affected her performance at school. Due to the fact that her biological parents were young teens that were not always financially comfortable, it was hard for them to develop a stable home environment. The inequalities faced by teen parents are known to impact family relationships and cause stress in early life according to Wilkinson & Pickett (2010). As low-income teen parents, her biological parents have faced more economic inequality, which affected Adrienne's development. Since living with more stable parents, I have made the assumption that the Davenport's have more RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 4 time to encourage her to do her homework, help her with assignments and have created a constructive household that values education. There is no doubt in my mind that Adrienne’s adoption has nurtured positive change in her, however the strenuous events that she experienced also have potential to cause negative impacts on her mental and emotional health in the long-term. In the beginning of her foster home placement, she was misbehaving - throwing tantrums, disobeying her foster parents and acting unpleasant toward her younger foster sister. Additionally, the caseworker's notes disclosed that she expressed anger toward her biological father and longing for her biological mother. This section of the case files was salient to me because I felt that it strongly related to how the author of Hope's Boy felt about his mother and how many other foster children feel about their biological mothers. The author, Andrew Bridge talks about how many foster children hold onto the hope that their mothers will return for them. He speaks of a specific child at MacLaren Hall, quoting that the boy would wait and hope for his mother's return, as Andy had done for his own mother and thousands of other children do for theirs. He explains that these children rarely reveal that they have forgiven their mothers, love them and miss them (Bridge, 2008, pp.18). I immediately thought of this part of Hope Boy's when the case files disclosed that Adrienne had written a letter to her mom saying that she missed her and as soon as she turned 18 she would find her mother and live with her again. Although her foster family was, and continues to be, very supportive and loving toward Adrienne, there is a connection that is unique to her and her biological mother. In Bridges Not Walls, Stuart explains, "both connection and control are at the heart of family. There is no relationship as close and none as deeply hierarchical - as the relationship between RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 5 parent and child" (Stuart, 2008, pp. 249). Although their interpersonal system was unhealthy because Adrienne wasn't being properly cared for, their intrinsic connection was so strong that Adrienne wanted to stay with her mother regardless of how she was being treated. My perspective is that Adrienne's misbehavior is a result of the dramatic change she went through from being removed from her mother and placed into another family. As Adrienne has grown to trust her new parents and hope has been restored for her, I think she has realized that she has more opportunities living with her new parents. Even though this relocation was in been in her best interest, I believe the disconnect from her biological mother will affect her for years to come. My best assumption is that her adverse childhood experiences will impact her tendencies of trust and attachment within her future interpersonal systems. Two of the most meaningful people in Adrienne’s life, her mother and her father, went absent and produced traumatic situations when she was young. The anxiety and fear of being abandoned may cause her to feel insecure about the relationships she develops and have difficulty trusting others to be reliable. With having a secure home environment and consistent caretakers, her attachment issues could potentially be alleviated (Centre for Parenting & Research, 2006). Although Adrienne may undergo adverse impacts later in her life from her negative interactions with her biological parents, her new family system will also leave lasting positive effects. Based on the reports from the case files and the interactions I have had with her adoptive parents, they seem to be very supportive, encouraging and caring toward their daughter. Her academic performance has greatly improved, they have had her participate in after-school activities, sports, camps, and are taking parenting to be the best parents they can be for her, especially when she is resistant toward them. Weston RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 6 concludes that, "it's reasonable to define family as people who elect to commit to each other in a sustained way - to have a family we choose" (Stuart, 2012, pp. 238). Adrienne's adoptive parents show their commitment to her by attending parenting classes to appropriately parent her. The information and skills that her parents are learning through the parenting classes will enable them to care for Adrienne in the long-term. Adrienne has accepted the Davenports to be her family and having healthy, stable relationships at home will help her to interact with others at school and in the community. Adrienne's parents have enabled her emotional and physical well being to be sustained by creating a caring and stable environment within her microsystem. According to Burgess et al. (2013), the most common definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The Department of Children and Family Services, a large system that has played a significant role in Adrienne’s life by requiring the creation of the Lifebook. This Lifebook will be a pivotal tool throughout her lifetime for remembering and reconciling the experiences she faced in her early years. It could potentially answer questions she might have about understanding her past: from family resemblances to affirmation of experiences to providing clarity about life events and milestones. Understanding her past and present systems and experiences will help her ground her identity in an authentic manner as she continues to develop and reflect on her life. In efforts to help Adrienne create a sense of sustainability within herself, this Lifebook intends to provide her with the opportunity to explore elements in her past if she chooses to do so. RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 7 Not only have the Davenport's established a secure and sustainable interpersonal relationship with Adrienne, they have also created a new sense of hope for her. Hearing Adrienne's story has informed me of just how resilient she is. Although her young years of age were filled with instability and a lack of proper care, others have said that she kind-hearted, helpful and charismatic. I believe that her resiliency in part has been fueled by the hope that her adoptive parents have given her. They have provided her with the strength to live and continually try new things, even when the conditions seemed hopeless (Loeb, 2004, pp.83). The love, support, care and new opportunities that they have given her have played a major role in lifting her spirits and enabling her to succeed. An essential part of maintaining a healthy interpersonal system is practicing constructive communication. This applies to any connection, whether it is a familial or derived from an educational setting. In terms of my dyadic relationship with my partner for the Lifebook Project, our communication with one another was definitely an asset. Mika and I both practiced positive communication skills by informing each other of any ideas or advancements we had throughout the process and initially expressing our visions and intentions. Our dyadic relationship gained more energy and strength after we had met Adrienne and her adoptive family. Reading the case files from DCFS was beneficial because we learned about the background of her biological healthy, their physical and mental health and events they had experienced. This helped me to understand reasons behind the events that happened in Adrienne's life. Mika and I would debrief at times and contact each other about times we would meet in the office. After we met the client, we received photographs and items to put in the scrapbook and this required us to collaborate about how we wanted to arrange the pictures in the scrapbook and make creative pages RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 8 for it. This was exciting, but also challenging at the same time because even though we had similar ideas overall, there were specific details that we had different visions of. In True Partnership, Carl Zaiss speaks of practices that are sure to strengthen relationships (2009, pp. 119). By practicing these skills, our dyad was able efficiently generate the scrapbook. In my Dyad Assessment Paper, I spoke of how I would like to see Mika "take a stand" and express her opinions and what she really wants. This characteristic shined through when we were creating the scrapbook - when I had an idea that was dissimilar to hers, she had a way of telling me hers without being condescending toward my ideas. Our open communication created a balance of power between us because we felt comfortable discussing our ideas and holding equal responsibility for the Lifebook. Another quality that we both possessed throughout the Lifebook Project was speaking authentically toward one another. In order to successfully carry out authenticity, one must speak the truth for themself, realizing that it may not be the only truth and be open and honest with their communication (Zaiss, 2009, pp. 119). We spoke to each other very candidly about our feelings toward the case files and the creation of the scrapbook. Collectively, we were empathetic about one another's ideas and I think we both tried to word our communication in a way that was encouraging knowing that it can be "hurtful" when one berates an idea you have. Having the awareness that feelings of hurt are elicited through social interactions and that words can "hurt" both individuals their relationships (Stewart, 2012, pp. 348). We were both cognizant of the fact that it can be discouraging when another person shuts down the other's idea this made for constructive, open communication in turn creating a healthy interpersonal system. RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 9 Throughout the quarter I have become aware of my own actions and the communication patterns within my interpersonal systems. After receiving feedback from my dyad partner, there are some qualities about my self that I have been working on after becoming aware of them. The most salient one being that I would like to let my thoughts process and digest before I speak up about them. Many times when I read the case files about the adverse events that happened in Adrienne’s life, I would feel of sense of anger. At times my anger was toward the biological parents and at other times I was mad at the larger systems in play: our culture, our governmental structure, our health care system, our educational system, the Department of Children and Family services, or the inequality that engulfs our society. There are moments where I let my anger get ahold of me and I became very focused on the source that created the harmful situation, instead of concentrating and directing my energy on solutions. Thic Nhat Hanh, the author of For A Future To Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Percepts (1993) suggests that "the best immediate practice is to breathe in and out in order to calm your anger, to calm the pain: "breathing in, I know that I am angry. Breathing out, I calm my feeling of anger". Just by breathing deeply on your anger, you will calm it. You are being mindful of your anger, not suppressing it". Because communicating feelings of anger right away can damage your interpersonal relationships with others, it is important to let that anger process so you are able to mindfully vocalize it. This technique has become important to me in maintaining professionalism while reading the case files but also in my own personal relationships with others. Interpersonal systems play a major role in every person's life whether they are of positive or negative influence. In this paper, I have discussed my dyadic relationship with RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 10 my Lifebook partner as well as small and large system impacting our client's life. Analyzing these different interpersonal relationships has provided me with an understanding of how to effectively create and maintain functional relationships with others. Some important components include displaying respect, responsibility, concern, practicing strong communication, and being aware of authenticity and sustainability. Both healthy and unhealthy interpersonal systems, large and small, have the power to influence the quality of another being's life. RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay 11 References Bridge, A. (2008). Hope's Boy. Hyperion: New York, New York. Burgess, D., Dade, K., Hughes, E., Jancic, M., Korsmo, J., McClanahan, L. –et al. (2013). 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