Navigate through the Social Jungle: Create Your Mindful Compass and Find YOUR Way

Five months ago I “began” to “finish” my book. As part of that discipline I have not written any blogs. To thank each of you for your patience, here is a summary of the book and a summary of each chapter.
Please let me know if you have suggestions comments or title ideas.

Currently the search is on for a willing publisher. Hoping for the best and ready for the next thing.…

Andrea M. Schara

Navigate through the Social Jungle:
Create Your Mindful Compass and
forest path lightFind YOUR Way


Book Summary:

The public is curious – what goes on in families that give rise to amazing leaders and/or terrorists? How do relationship form and disintegrate? What does it take to “see” the “pressure” in the system and know how to mange being one’s best SELF in any social matrix. Each family has an emotional system that is both fine-tuned by evolution and “values” its survival as a whole, as much as the survival of any individual in it. Families snooker us, encouraging us or other family members to take sides, run away, get sick or just become difficult to deal with. This book will help the reader navigate the hard to see relationship minefield that is part of everyone’s life. The research of social scientists shows how we are all, to different degrees, regulated by relationships. Stanley Milgram, Solomon Ashe, Philip Zimbardo and Jack Calhoun to name a few, have detailed the vulnerability we share to being duped and deceived. Misperceiving relationship cues results in our inability to make thoughtful decisions. In the nineteen fifties, the psychiatrist Murray Bowen, M.D., hospitalized a number of families with a schizophrenic child for up to three years at the National Institute of Mental Health. Bowen was observing and studying what these families actually did rather than what they said. Through this effort, he was able to describe how family members overly influence one another; a factor that distributes stress unevenly and can result in severe illness or other symptoms in selected family members. Armed with knowledge from the sciences, stories from real people in their own words and specific guidance through the “Mindful Compass” (a vehicle to help readers learn how to “see” themselves and their families more broadly), readers learn how they can alter the automatic trajectory, which relationship systems impose on each of us.

Chapter Summaries: In Gratitude

A revolutionary thinker, and pioneer, Murray Bowen, (1913-1990) was the first psychiatrist to develop a theory of human behavior based on the family as an emotional unit. Bowen demonstrated this in his own family encouraging others, like the author, to alter her participation in the ongoing system, allowing change to take place. The interactions with Bowen, to challenge and to think for self and to keep learning and questioning, were useful in altering her automatic responsiveness. Relating differently to family members, whiplashed by loss, was the opposite of believing a diagnosis and hospitalizing people. By relating paradoxically, we can both acknowledge how we are stuck to one another and yet see the possibility to be more for self. By consistently separating from old ways to enable the rebuilding of the family emotional system, Bowen demonstrated where we are in the evolutionary shaped, emotional jungle. From Bowen I learned to “see” systems and to define a new way to be.

CHAPTER ONE: Introduction to Bowen Theory 101

The first psychiatrist to hospitalize members of nuclear families for two or more years at the National Institute of Mental Health (1956-1960), Bowen studied relationships in families as family members dealt with a schizophrenic family member. Observing interactions, not diagnosing individuals, led to his development of the eight interlocking concepts of his theory. These eight concepts explain how the various parts of the family system function. He explained that two forces influence the human: one for “togetherness,” encouraging people to think alike, and to go along with others and the other, a counterbalancing force for individuality, to be all for self. Differentiation represents the observation that there is a middle way – to be for Self and to be for others. Bowen “coached” people to see and manage Self in the emotional system. The family as a unit is a different way to understand and deal with human behavior. The real source of healing was in one’s family system itself. When under the influence of “togetherness” forces, people are reactive and more regulated by the group. By enabling people to see what they are up against, to be more neutral, and to find ways to develop the skills to be better able to relate well during turbulent times, people can increase their functioning. Few things are harder but more worthwhile than this effort to be a Self in a social group.

CHAPTER TWO: “Thinking Systems” – Developing your Mindful Compass

There are ways to enable people to broaden their thinking, and to become better observers of the many ways each of us are a part of a social system, and often unduly influenced. When times are tough going along can lead us into quagmires. A Mindful Compass allows us to know the obstacles to change. By using the compass one can develop a deeper Self with a capital S. Otherwise people responding automatically, as a small self (a reaction to others or following automatic programs). Through interacting mindfully people build a more mature Self, and in so doing encourage maturity and less dependency throughout the family. This has important implications for the future evolution of the family as a system.

CHAPTER THREE: Action for Self and Resistance as Natural

Here we describes the Mindful Compass, highlighting the first two points, (1) The ability to take ACTION and to define one’s vision and; (2) to deal with the RESISTANCE one faces to being more of a Self in any system. Understanding the process of change enables us to reduce anxiety, decrease interpersonal misunderstandings and encourage greater tolerance for diversity. The trip through the social jungle is fraught with challenges. We can all be duped into giving in to please others, or backing down when it comes to articulating and clarifying one’s view points. A family leader calibrates a personal compass by questioning and clarifying the world around him or her, establishing principles for being a more mature self, and becoming less sensitive to the emotional forces in the multigenerational family and in other social systems.

CHAPTER FOUR: Systems Knowledge and Standing Alone

The last two points on the Mindful Compass are: 3) The ability to use KNOWLEDGE to connect meaningfully with others; and (4) The ability to STAND ALONE and to be more separate. Knowledge enables us to stand alone, to be more objective and strategic, to welcome and endure emotional challenges, and to understand deeply the reason for taking on issues in one’s family or work place. In achieving this different way of relating, one grants freedom to another to be the way the other is, while still holding each individual responsible for his or her actions. People have the ability to act in ways to get beyond the emotional road blocks, to know even cut off individuals in their extended family, to get beyond the multigenerational gossip problems, to reduce stress in interactions, to relate from curiosity rather than from a need for social approval or to command or control others. Changing self to be more of one’s best Self requires seeing the system, increasing knowledge, and lowering reactivity. This and more can lead to the building of one’s emotional backbone.

CHAPTER FIVE: The Usefulness of Developing Your Mindful Compass

Another key is to become aware of family or workplace “rules.” These are not unlike the rules of other mammalian social groups or even ant colonies. Interactions determine how the mind/brain/body is influenced, which leads individuals to function in specific roles. People are sensitive to one another. This sensitivity can run the gamut from being totally independent to being totally dependent on others. (Bowen called this “fusion,” indicating the primitive nature of our association with one another.) These overlapping relationships, one can humorously refer to as our life as scrambled eggs, or living in “con-fusion.” Much life energy now is devoted to figuring out social relationships. Our brain no longer has to focus on the lions and tigers in the social jungle, but instead must manage complex relationships. Unwanted, intrusive, and unavoidable social interaction can drive even fairly social creatures mad. And we are vulnerable to sticking with ineffective “rules” (or the status quo), especially when threatened. Aware leaders can, identifying system’s level problems and effectively using knowledge to alter his or her participation in social systems.

CHAPTER SIX: Understanding Triangles in the Social Jungle

Contrary to popular opinion, scientific facts show how triangles are the most stable alliance between people. Triangles consist of two individuals who agree with each other while a third individual is on the outside. Such alliances can both manage anxiety by promoting scapegoating, or triangles can allow an outside person to change the dynamic in that three-person system. One-on-one relationships tend to collapse. Enter the “triangled one” who can reduce anxiety of the twosome. Such alliance building occurs in colonies of bacteria and in learning. Triangles often determine social rank. You can see this at the dinner table. When tension is high there is more gossip, taking sides or blame. If one person is neutral and does not take sides then triangles can enable problem solving simply because of that neutrality and refusal to take sides. In turn, this frees up the threesome to think independently and more clearly. Interlocking triangles can either increase tension (polarize) or decrease tension if there is some emotional neutrality present in the mix. Knowledge of triangles helps individuals understand anxiety and how it can be managed mindfully.

CHAPTER SEVEN: Reducing Con-fusion at Home and Work:
Getting to Know Your Extended Family

Knowledge of Self, family and others in social systems is the key to change. By focusing on self and seeing how one’ family has managed challenges over the generations, we can see the impersonal nature of emotional process. In seeing the system people are far better observers and can relate more effectively to each individual. Knowledge of history enables us to redirect anxiety and to appreciate differences. As one is able to know others in the family, they are automatically freer of the projections and gossip of the past. A mature leader can listen to others without reacting automatically. They can communicate what they are thinking and what they will do in a variety of ways, some of which can be shocking. A Mindful Compass can be more important than an automatic compass. This effort to be more defined in a social group has a multigenerational payoff. It is this capacity to see relationship dynamics and to alter how one functions in them, that result in solving system level problems more effectively.

CHAPTER EIGHT: Relationships Blindness and the Evolving Brain

The emotional system, with its ancient mechanisms, doesn’t function well on automatic pilot, if one is trying to manage Self in our modern jungle. When one is faced with emotional issues how does one become more rational and factual? The tigers are everywhere now. In today’s social jungle we react to traffic jams as thought they were tigers. Our primitive brain is over-reactive to threats, especially when we do not “see the system.” We have in common with reptiles the most primitive instincts: mating, defense of territory, and giving in to the dominant ones. The instinctual brain areas are not in direct communication with the more cognitive part of the brain. Therefore in the sending of signals and the recognition of old clues, one is never sure which part of our brain is in charge of our actions. The brain, after the fact, explains it all to us as though it acted in our best interest. But did it? Or is your brain just singing the multigenerational instinctual song? The brain produces justifications for taking actions to increase comfort, which decreases maturity. Not being able to reflect on the long-term consequences of our actions reduces our ability to know one another and to solve problems. In Jack Calhoun’s animal research, he found that animals could tolerate eight times the social density, if they were taught to recognize other individuals in order to obtain water. Our blindness to the impact we have on one another can a result of our brains short term orientation. In this brave new world there is no one to blame, there are no simple solutions, but many ways to be observant and creative in our ability to see and to respond to one another. We are all vulnerable to being blinded by our investment in our own way of doing things, and it is a risk to become more aware of the social jungle and our part in it.

CHAPTER NINE: The Rise of Systems Thinking in the Social Sciences

There is a pay off for those willing to examine the social research to understand the way the human brain is set up to perceive the environment, and how that then influences decision making. We are prejudiced and can easily be blindsided by innocent or manipulative stories parading as facts. In addition linear, 1, 2, 3 thinking, can encourage us to make poor decisions, One example is the way people coped with Hurricane Katrina as it was pressing towards New Orleans. Based on their past experiences, many people thought it would be possible to ride out that terrible storm. This natural urge to go along with the social group decreases the ability of individuals to accurately gauge the reality of the situation. Reality becomes a “social reality” under pressure. The social group itself may need to become more oriented to providing ways to develop perceptual independence in its members. One can understand the way the human brain is set to both react or to more rationally predict the future. Sorting this out reactivity from rationality will be key to any kind of orderly transition during chaotic times. There can be catastrophic consequences when applying short term, cause-and-effect thinking to an impending challenge. We all have some access to a “bubbling sea” of systems information, but our tendency towards cause and effect thinking influences (in this case negatively) our ability to anticipate and respond realistically to the potential challenges that are likely to occur. Even researchers, like Philip Zambardo, are at times overwhelmed by a tendency to social blindness. During the Stamford prison experiment he was forced to see what he was doing, as to comments from his girl friend, who was outside the emotional force field and who was willing to threaten him in order to wake him up. We can understand how systems work. Leaders can learn to think outside the automatic, and to have the courage to redistribute the anxious focus on the weak and vulnerable. For this skill to become more widespread, leaders need to find others who are aware of the possibility of runaway primitive thinking and or relationships traps. By being more aware of others and the impact they have on us and that we have on them, leaders can better adapt during times of great change.

CHAPTER TEN: Writing Your Story: Learning and Reflecting

As a leader, changing one’s Self to deal with problems rather than trying to force others to change, requires building one’s emotional backbone. Writing or telling a story about one’s life, can help people gain greater objectivity and even find ways to put a positive spin on difficult events. Research notes how journaling strengthens immune cells. Exploring and writing about one’s family is a workout, but these exercises in “the multigenerational emotional gym,” will build your emotional backbone. Those willing to undertake the task of building family relationships, increase their resilience and emotional backbone. The potential payoff for gaining knowledge about both family history and the process of building or repairing relationships, gives us a stronger relationship base for future generations Building more compassionate relationships may overturn some of an individual’s most cherished beliefs. This is a small price to pay to live in a less emotionally driven world. We are too easily swayed by emotional appeals and social relationships. It requires a disciplined to understand others and our deeper self and to communicate, despite rejection, with important others.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: What does it take to be a self in any system?

Just as no one ant can build an ant colony, no one person can create for him or herself all that is needed for survival. We are dependent on the work of others for our food, water, clothes, education and protection, among other things. By cooperating, we benefit. Therefore the pressure to fit in is enormous and can intrude on our equally deep urges to become our unique selves. The emotional system consists of instincts and all kinds of psychological mechanisms. It is an automatic guidance system. Our biology is over reactive to threats. Anxiety degrades relationships and we can see how it works in the way people behave when there are stressors in the system. Anxious people are more likely to maintain a negative or overly positive focus on others, neither of which is realistic. Anxiety can be redirected by: relationship changes, exercise, mindfulness training, neurofeedback and many other efforts, which can help one to manage anxiety, integrate new knowledge, and to maintain the courage to be one’s best Self. By “reorganizing” Self, an individual can find ways to also set others free from any automatic and anxious focuses. By taking an action stance, more for Self rather than following the dictates of the emotional system, we promotes the ability of others to do the same. Leading by example may take longer, but is a more solid commitment to respecting and focusing on how to relate to others well rather than to controlling them.

CHAPTER TWELVE: Learning from other Living Systems

From ants to humans there may be general laws organizing the nature of all emotional systems. Looking at ants you see that if you remove a few from one job, like searching for food, there is a seemingly automatically compensation. The colony decreases the rate at which ants assume the tasks of removing garbage or defending the nest in order to “force” more into searching for food. No one is in charge but somehow ants know what to do. Without much of a brain, ants know what the others in the colony are up to and adjust their role automatically. Neither we humans, nor ants, need much of a brain to pick up signals about the needs of the group or colony and what we need to do for them in the moment. We are shifting in response to others without knowing. The brain is multilayered, evolutionarily designed, and connects us with other mammalian and reptilian species. Because of the “design” of the brain, it is very difficult to become aware of deep emotional states in one’s own brain or self. We honor those who can perceive the environment more accurately. Charles Darwin’s life is an example of a natural leader. He figured a way around the togetherness forces in his family and society. Early on, Darwin had to involve his uncle in order to get his father’s permission to take the voyage on the Beagle. Darwin’s “use” of his uncle is a good example of people naturally knowing about triangles, and what it takes to become a more differentiated Self. Abraham Lincoln is an example of a suffering servant. He was willing to take on the pain of articulating a new way and standing up for principles, while working cooperatively with those who held very different ideas from his own.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Social Pressure and the Ability to Redirect Anxiety

Stanley Milgram demonstrated how people’s obedience to authority is automatic, even when it leads to the potential death of innocent people. He was curious as to how interactions in the social group lead to an event like the holocaust. The research showed that a majority of people will do harm to others based on a command from an authority figure, even if that command goes against a value not to harm others. How can good and normal people be so blind to the consequences of their behavior? Solomon Ash showed that one third of people would alter their perceptions as to the length of line, so as to go along with a social group that formed an hour ago. Last but not least logical is of little use when people are vulnerable to emotional guidance. You may only intensify emotions, with logic. Therefore the ability to understand and use emotionality to both communicate and understand others is skill that has a significant impact on both individuals and social groups. Bowen described a road map allowing us to understand how to be a more separate and well-defined individual, with all the costs and benefits of so doing. If using a Mindful Compass does confer an adaptive response, then we should see more leaders who are aware of the system and the process involved in changing self-become influential.

One of Dr. Bowen’s ideas was that being able to separate out a more principled, mature Self, while staying in contact with others (the process of differentiation of self) was a natural phenomenon. People could figure out the emotional system intuitively, experiment and know how to lead. I was curious about whether individuals could understand systems and separate a Self without coaching. I wondered if I interviewed leaders, whether they would they tell me how the were able to separate out from the pressures in their social systems and be better defined in relationship to the important people in their family or at work. Would they tell me what it took to be a Self and stand apart from the group? Would they tell me how others, both in the family unit and at work would automatically oppose the growth of a “leader?” To answer these questions I asked friends for names of people they considered natural and mature leaders. I interviewed ten, all of whom were local leaders. None had any knowledge of Bowen Theory nor were they famous or well known beyond their communities. They are people who have made a difference in some area of society, telling us fascinating stories of leading under conditions of uncertainty. Each individual reflected on what they have been up against in trying to move forward through the social jungle

Jim Walsh, 165: Gary Resnick, 175: Art House, 184: Robert Duffy, 198:
Ned and Diane Power, 207: Geraldine McDonald, 224:
Ladonna Lee, 238: Bob Di Florio 243: Steve Waite 251

Acknowledgments (My Story)




  1. Sounds like this could be the basis for an online course. Have you given any thought to developing a Mindful Compass workbook? Something that could facilitate an individual’s journey of putting the ideas in your book to practice over, say , a 12 month period.

    Let me know when you publish this!

  2. I really appreciate how well you communicate the theoretical ideas, but for what it’s worth, I have a hard time reconciling “giving up cherished beliefs” in response to an “anxious world” with DOS. Maybe I’m just confused.In any event, congrats on the book, and looking forward to publication. Salud!MikeMichael H. Quinn, PhD, ABPPBoard Certified, American Academy of Family PsychologyAmerican Board of Professional Psychology801 RR 620 South, S-100(A)Lakeway, TX 78734(512)

  3. Mike-

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. It is very useful to have a live exchange about the ideas. I am not sure what part you are referring to as to “giving up cherished beliefs” in response to an anxious world, but I will take a chance that your question goes in the following direction.

    DOS has these two categories the solid self (the ability to stand for principle in relationships once you leave home) and then the functional self that is and can be negotiated in relationships. This is the “people pleaser” or the rebel part of self. It is the lending and borrowing part of self that will take on cherished beliefs for others. People are most vulnerable to taking on beliefs in a marriage or to get married. One becomes more dominant and the other goes along with these beliefs. One example, “Your family is the problems, lets never see them.” Some are as innocent as what kinds of foods or political party, or even diets “people” believe in. Taking on others beliefs can also lead to the one up one down reciprocal relationships that we can easily fall into when pressured or seduced.

    Unexamined beliefs are often very superficial but can be cherished. Some are deeply wired for instance the way we consider how good we are at something like being a leader. Since many people misperceive how they are functioning there may be some default in the brain that leads us to over or under rate self.. Many of us think too highly of our self, or to lowly, and to be able to see ourself more clearly might mean giving up a cherished belief.

    I think I was trying to say that some cherished beliefs are made in order to go along with parents and or ones social group and have never been thought through. There are many examples of beliefs that people hold and when they are under pressure give them up. Paul MacLean use to say there was no way that the brian could tell if a belief were real or not once it was a belief.

    Just let me know if this is on track as to what you were asking and thinking about.

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