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Systems Theory & Systemic Coaching
© Martyn Carruthers

Online Life Coaching & Mentorship

Most of our individual coaching is to increase individual pleasure and reduce individual suffering. Most of our systemic coaching is to increase the adaptability and survival potential of relationship systems (e.g. a partnership, family or team). We embed individual coaching within our systemic coaching.

Understanding human systems requires that we assess many dimensions
that may not appear to be connected; for example, emotions, relationships,
success, evolutionary psychology and societal development.

General Systems Theory

General Systems Theory investigates the principles of systems, and creates models to describe them. Systems theory helps predict human behavior within human relationship systems and helps identify solutions for relationship problems. Systems theories explore the science of complexity.

General Systems Theory is useful for understanding how our systemic coaching can heal complex relationship problems and emotional challenges in short time frames.

Chaos Coaching . Quantum Thinking . Transformation in Chaos

What is a System?

A system is a set of elements in which at least two elements are physically or logically interrelated. A system may be a mechanical assembly, a methodology, a philosophy or a human relationship. The important point is that the interrelated parts can function together as a whole.

A system is more than the sum of its parts. Every system is made up of elements. A system includes behaviors that its elements lack. A pencil cannot function as a writer.

What are Sub-Systems?

Systems have two types of components: elements and relationships. Relationships between elements are often called interfaces. Some components can be grouped into sub-systems - groups of interrelated elements connected by interfaces.

When all sub-systems and elements are connected, they can work together as a whole. Although sub-systems may be viewed independently, sub-systems often require maintenance to function smoothly. Such maintenance ... and the maintainers ... are elements of the sub-system and the larger system.

Systemic Environments & Boundaries

A system's environment is anything outside its boundaries which may influence system behavior. A boundary separates a system from its environment, while an interface allows the system to interact with other entities within its environment.

For example, ambient air temperature may influence system behavior in predictable ways, yet may not be considered to be an element of the systems it influences.

Open & Closed Systems

No system is completely open or closed. An open system interacts with external entities in its environment. Although these interactions are not always planned or desirable, an open system can better survive. If a system does not or cannot obtain external resources from the environment to maintain stability or to evolve, it is a closed system and will disintegrate (entropy).

Open systems, with sources of energy, information, or materials, may avoid or delay the fate of closed systems. Open systems may evolve into better organized systems if (and only if) they can effectively utilize environmental resources. Open systems are usually more responsive to environmental conditions and can better connect to external entities including other systems.

Living Systems

Systemic models can be applied to living systems such as ants or antelopes. Living systems demonstrate self-organization - they maintain order over time. This seems to defy the second law of thermodynamics, which predicts that systems degenerate towards entropy (or random equilibrium).

Self-organizing systems can maintain stability and ongoing evolution by exchanging matter and energy with other systems. As these exchanges can also destabilize a system, self-organizing systems can increase or decrease order - if sufficient matter and energy can be exchanged.

I have a master's degree in systems engineering, yet I have not seen papers
on human systems so clear and concise as your articles on "Systems Theory
& Systemic Coaching" Thanks!
Sydney, Australia

Human Systems

Examples of human systems include friends, teams, couples, families and communities. Each relationship type has both common and unique challenges. Human systems that prevent information exchange can become stuck in dogma, codependence, superstition, bonds and enmeshments.

Human relationship systems …

  • have interrelated elements. A system is a sum of the relationships between its members.
  • have boundaries. Members of a human system can clarify who is within the system and who is not. A human system with loose membership criteria (e.g. a shop) may be called open. Human systems that are difficult to join (e.g. a family) may be called closed.
  • can be viewed on a spectrum from open to closed. Open systems allow external people and situations to influence them. Closed systems attempt to isolate their members.
  • have subsystems. Human relationship systems include small groups. Each subsystem has its own rules, boundaries and characteristics.
  • are more than the sum of their parts. The attributes of individual members represent but not describe the attributes of the system, and vice versa.
  • interact in patterns: Predictable behaviors (habits & rituals) help maintain equilibrium and guide the behavior of members.
  • guide members with messages and rules. Behavior is prescribed and limited by rules which provide order, confer power; induce compliance and control behavior. Rules may be perpetuated as secular law, as sacred dogma or as covert relationship bonds.

Family Systems

A family system is a group of interconnected people. Much family behavior is about enjoying intimacy, accumulating resources, raising children to independence and interacting with other human systems.

Gregory Bateson wrote in 1971 that if systems incorporate feedback; they process information. As families are systems, the minds, bodies and behaviors of family members show systemic behavior.

Family rules may require dysfunction, such as disease, codependence or abuse. Family dysfunction shapes the lives and future relationships of younger members, creating cross-generational entanglements. Sometimes, family rules require unpleasant symptoms.

Our systemic coaching can help couples and families resolve dysfunction and cross-generational entanglements, although many (most?) people prefer to remain dysfunctional rather than change their family beliefs or cultural traditions.

You may know less about your own family dynamics than those in any other family.

Parental Alienation . Divorce & Children

System Dysfunction

As mental, physical and relationship symptoms seem to have functions in family systems, effective solutions for symptoms require systemic relationship diagnosis and systemic resources.

For example, family distress or team stress usually springs from multiple sources, often including emotional and relationship trauma and loss. Family distress or team stress is often intensified by unjust behavior, and shown by excuses, blame, complaints and avoiding family members. Stress and distress may be shown by acts of sabotage.

  • If parents do not fulfill goals, their children may sabotage their own goals
  • If parents are not happy, their children may sabotage their own happiness.
  • Although childrearing is a core function of most families, the maturation of children may threaten immature parents, who may sabotage their children's maturity.

If we apply this to teams ... you may have witnessed the following

  • If leaders do not fulfill goals, their employees may sabotage their own goals
  • If leaders are discontent, their employees may hide their own contentment.
  • If employees development threatens incompetent leaders, the leaders may try to
    sabotage their employees' development.

Chaos Coaching . Executive Coaching

Relationship Enmeshments & Identity Loss

Enmeshments in human systems may be shown by inappropriate behavior and strong emotions, such as sadness, anger or anxiety. Entanglements are subjectively experienced as chronic inappropriate emotions, chronic conflict or chronic dissociation, see Identity Loss

To heal a relationship system, it is pointless to blame any one member. A witch hunt will only damage the system further. Each member has different experiences and perspectives, and each member is likely to express entanglements.

While a person who expresses emotional or physical symptoms may be obvious, the cause of those symptoms is likely to be obscure. We offer systemic diagnosis and systemic solutions.

Emotional entanglements can ruin individual lives
and harm entire relationship systems.

Online Life Coaching, Counseling & Mentorship

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 2005-2018
All rights reserved.

If you like our work, please link to us. If you know someone who might benefit,
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Have You Suffered Enough?

 Where are you now? Understand your emotions, fixations and enmeshments
What do you hope for? Know your goals and stop sabotaging yourself
Do you feel resourceful? Learn to develop your inner resources
Do emotions block you? Relationship problems and mentor damage
Do your beliefs limit you? Change limiting beliefs and end dependence
Do you feel connected? Resolve identity issues to recover lost resources
Is your partner happy? Build healthy partnership (or separate peacefully)
Are your children healthy? Happy parents better manage family problems
Do you want team success? Team leaders and their teams develop together
Do you have complex goals? Specialty coaching, counseling & therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 1996-2018  All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email