reflection paper - Melanie Patterson

RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay
Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay
Melanie Patterson
Western Washington University
RUNNING HEAD: Interpersonal Systems: Lifebook Essay
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Bridge, A. (2008). Hope's Boy. Hyperion: New York, New York.
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Education for Sustainable Development Advisory Committee
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Hanh, T. (1993). For a future to be possible: Commentaries on the five wonderful
percepts. Parallax Press: Berkely, California.
Korsmo, J. (2014). Personal Communication.
Loeb, P. (2004). The impossible will take a little while: A citizen's guide to hope in a
time of fear. Basic Books: New York
Stewart, J. (2009). Bridges not walls: A book about interpersonal communication.
McGraw Hill: New York.
Wilkinson R., Pickett K. (2010). The spirit level: Why greater equality makes societies
stronger. Bloomsbury Press: New York.
Zaiss, C. (2002). True partnership: Revolutionary thinking about relating to others.
Berett-Koehler: San Francisco.