Analysis of Alternative Centers People Belong To In Life

Each of us has a center, though we usually don't recognize it as such. Neither do we recognize the all-encompassing effects of that center on every aspect of our lives.  Let's briefly examine several centers or core paradigms people typically have for a better understanding of how they affect these fundamental dimensions and, ultimately, the sum of life that flows from them.  The types of alternative centers are as follows;
  • Spouse Centeredness
Marriage can be the most intimate, the most satisfying, the most enduring, growth-producing of human relationships. It might seem natural and proper to be centered on one's husband or wife.But experience and observation tell a different story. Over the years, I have been involved in working with many troubled marriages, and I have observed a certain thread weaving itself through almost every spouse-centered relationship I have encountered. That thread is strong emotional dependence.If our sense of emotional worth comes primarily from our marriage, then we become highly dependent upon that relationship. We become vulnerable to the moods and feelings, the behavior and treatment of our spouse, or to any external event that may impinge on the relationship -- a new child, in-laws, economic setbacks, social successes, and so forth.  When responsibilities increase and stresses come in the marriage, we tend to revert to the scripts we were given as we were growing up. But so does our spouse. And those scripts are usually different. Different ways of handling financial, child-discipline, or in-law issues come to the surface. When these deep-seated tendencies combine with the emotional dependency in the marriage, the spouse-centered relationship reveals all its vulnerability. When we are dependent on the person with whom we are in conflict, both need and conflict are compounded. Love-hate overreactions, fight-or-flight tendencies, withdrawal, aggressiveness, bitterness, resentment, and cold competition are some of the usual results. When these occur, we tend to fall even further back on background tendencies and habits in an effort to justify and defend our own behavior and we attack our spouse's.  Inevitably, anytime we are too vulnerable we feel the need to protect ourselves from further wounds. So we resort to sarcasm, cutting humor, criticism -- anything that will keep from exposing the tenderness within. Each partner tends to wait on the initiative of the other for love, only to be disappointed but also confirmed as to the rightness of the accusations made. There is only phantom security in such a relationship when all appears to be going well. Guidance is based on the emotion of the moment. Wisdom and power are lost in the counterdependent negative interactions.
  • Family Centeredness
Another common center is the family. This, too, may seem to be natural and proper. As an area of focus and deep investment, it provides great opportunities for deep relationships, for loving, for sharing, for much that makes life worthwhile. But as a center, it ironically destroys the very elements necessary to family success.  People who are family-centered get their sense of security or personal worth from the family tradition and culture or the family reputation. Thus, they become vulnerable to any changes in that tradition or culture and to any influences that would affect that reputation. Family-centered parents do not have the emotional freedom, the power, to raise their children with their ultimate welfare truly in mind. If they derive their own security from the family, their need to be popular with their children may override the importance of a long-term investment in their children's growth and development. Or they may be focused on the proper and correct behavior of the moment. Any behavior that they consider improper threatens their security. They become upset, guided by the emotions of the moment, spontaneously reacting to the immediate concern rather than the long-term growth and development of the child. They may overreact and punish out of bad temper. They tend to love their children conditionally, making them emotionally dependent or counterdependent and rebellious.
  • Money Centeredness
Another logical and extremely common center to people's lives is making money. Economic security is basic to one's opportunity to do much in any other dimension. In a hierarchy or continuum of needs, physical survival and financial security comes first. Other needs are not even activated until that basic need is satisfied, at least minimally. Most of us face economic worries. Many forces in the wider culture can and do act upon our economic situation, causing or threatening such disruption that we often experience concern and worry that may not always rise to the conscious surface.  Sometimes there are apparently noble reasons given for making money, such as the desire to take care of one's family. And these things are important. But to focus on money-making as a center will bring about its own undoing. Consider again the four life-support factors -- security, guidance, wisdom, and power. Suppose I derive much of my security from my employment or from my income or net worth. Since many factors affect these economic foundations, I become anxious and uneasy, protective and defensive, about anything that may affect them. When my sense of personal worth comes from my net worth, I am vulnerable to anything that will affect that net worth. But work and money, per se, provide no wisdom, no guidance, and only a limited degree of power and security. All it takes to show the limitations of a money center is a crisis in my life or in the life of a loved one.  Money-centered people often put aside family or other priorities, assuming everyone will understand that economic demands come first. I know one father who was leaving with his children for a promised trip to the circus when a phone call came for him to come to work instead. He declined. When his wife suggested that perhaps he should have gone to work, he responded, "The work will come again, but childhood won't." For the rest of their lives his children remembered this little act of priority setting, not only as an object lesson in their minds but as an expression of love in their hearts.
  • Work Centeredness
Work-centered people may become "workaholics," driving themselves to produce at the sacrifice of health, relationships, and other important areas of their lives. Their fundamental identity comes from their work -- "I'm a doctor," "I'm a writer," "I'm an actor."  Because their identity and sense of self-worth are wrapped up in their work, their security is vulnerable to anything that happens to prevent them from continuing in it. Their guidance is a function of the demands of the work. Their wisdom and power come in the limited areas of their work, rendering them ineffective in other areas of life.
  • Possession Centeredness
A driving force of many people is possessions -- not only tangible, material possessions such as fashionable clothes, homes, cars, boats, and jewelry, but also the intangible possessions of fame, glory, or social prominence. Most of us are aware, through our own experience, how singularly flawed such a center is, simply because it can vanish rapidly and it is influenced by so many forces.  If my sense of security lies in my reputation or in the things I have, my life will be in a constant state of threat and jeopardy that these possessions may be lost or stolen or devalued. If I'm in the presence of someone of greater net worth or fame or status, I feel inferior. If I'm in the presence of someone of lesser net worth or fame or status, I feel superior. My sense of self-worth constantly fluctuates. I don't have any sense of constancy or anchorage or persistent selfhood. I am constantly trying to protect and insure my assets, properties, securities, position, or reputation. We have all heard stories of people committing suicide after losing their fortunes in a significant stock decline or their fame in a political reversal.
  • Pleasure Centeredness.
Another common center, closely allied with possessions, is that of fun and pleasure. We live in a world where instant gratification is available and encouraged. Television and movies are major influences in increasing people's expectations. They graphically portray what other people have and can do in living the life of ease and "fun." But while the glitter of pleasure-centered lifestyles is graphically portrayed, the natural result of such lifestyles -- the impact on the inner person, on productivity, on relationships -- is seldom accurately seen.  Innocent pleasures in moderation can provide relaxation for the body and mind and can foster family and other relationships. But pleasure, per se, offers no deep, lasting satisfaction or sense of fulfillment. The pleasure-centered person, too soon bored with each succeeding level of "fun," constantly cries for more and more. So the next new pleasure has to be bigger and better, more exciting, with a bigger "high." A person in this state becomes almost entirely narcissistic, interpreting all of life in terms of the pleasure it provides to the self here and now.  Too many vacations that last too long, too many movies, too much TV, too much video game playing -- too much undisciplined leisure time in which a person continually takes the course of least resistance -- gradually wastes a life. It ensures that a person's capacities stay dormant, that talents remain undeveloped, that the mind and spirit become lethargic and that the heart is unfulfilled. Where is the security, the guidance, the wisdom, and the power? At the low end of the continuum, in the pleasure of a fleeting moment. Malcom Muggeridge writes "A Twentieth-Century Testimony":  When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all of its various guises; being known and being praised; ostensible pleasures, like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, explaining and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect, all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called, "licking the earth."
  • Friend/Enemy Centeredness
Young people are particularly, though certainly not exclusively, susceptible to becoming friend-centered. Acceptance and belonging to a peer group can become almost supremely important. The distorted and ever-changing social mirror becomes the source for the four life-support factors, creating a high degree of dependence on the fluctuating moods, feelings, attitudes, and behavior of others.  Friend centeredness can also focus exclusively on one person, taking on some of the dimensions of marriage. The emotional dependence on one individual, the escalating need/conflict spiral, and the resulting negative interactions can grow out of friend centeredness. And what about putting an enemy at the center of one's life? Most people would never think of it, and probably no one would ever do it consciously. Nevertheless, enemy centering is very common, particularly when there is frequent interaction between people who are in real conflict. When someone feels he has been unjustly dealt with by an emotionally or socially significant person, it is very easy for him to become preoccupied with the injustice and make the other person the center of his life. Rather than proactively leading his own life, the enemy-centered person is counterdependently reacting to the behavior and attitudes of a perceived enemy.  One friend of mine who taught at a university became very distraught because of the weaknesses of a particular administrator with whom he had a negative relationship. He allowed himself to think about the man constantly until eventually it became an obsession. It so preoccupied him that it affected the quality of his relationships with his family, his church, and his working associates. He finally came to the conclusion that he had to leave the university and accept a teaching appointment somewhere else. "Wouldn't you really prefer to teach at this university, if the man were not here?" I asked him. "Yes, I would," he responded. "But as long as he is here, then my staying is too disruptive to everything in life. I have to go. "Why have you made this administrator the center of your life?" I asked him. He was shocked by the question. He denied it. But I pointed out to him that he was allowing one individual and his weaknesses to distort his entire map of life, to undermine his faith and the quality of his relationships with his loved ones.  He finally admitted that this individual had had such an impact on him, but he denied that he himself had made all these choices. He attributed the responsibility for the unhappy situation to the administrator. He, himself, he declared, was not responsible. As we talked, little by little, he came to realize that he was indeed responsible, but that because he did not handle this responsibility well, he was being irresponsible. Many divorced people fall into a similar pattern. They are still consumed with anger and bitterness and self-justification regarding an ex-spouse. In a negative sense, psychologically they are still married -- they each need the weaknesses of the former partner to justify their accusations. Many "older" children go through life either secretly or openly hating their parents. They blame them for past abuses, neglect, or favoritism and they center their adult life on that hatred, living out the reactive, justifying script that accompanies it. The individual who is friend- or enemy-centered has no intrinsic security. Feelings of self-worth are volatile, a function of the emotional state or behavior of other people. Guidance comes from the person's perception of how others will respond, and wisdom is limited by the social lens or by an enemy-centered paranoia. The individual has no power. Other people are pulling the strings.
  • Church Centeredness
I believe that almost anyone who is seriously involved in any church will recognize that churchgoing is not synonymous with personal spirituality. There are some people who get so busy in church worship and projects that they become insensitive to the pressing human needs that surround them, contradicting the very precepts they profess to believe deeply. There are others who attend church less frequently or not at all but whose attitudes and behavior reflect a more genuine centering in the principles of the basic Judeo-Christian ethic. Having participated throughout my life in organized church and community service groups, I have found that attending church does not necessarily mean living the principles taught in those meetings. You can be active in a church but inactive in its gospel. In the church-centered life, image or appearance can become a person's dominant consideration, leading to hypocrisy that undermines personal security and intrinsic worth. Guidance comes from a social conscience, and the church-centered person tends to label others artificially in terms of "active," "inactive," "liberal," "orthodox," or "conservative."  Because the church is a formal organization made up of policies, programs, practices, and people, it cannot by itself give a person any deep, permanent security or sense of intrinsic worth. Living the principles taught by the church can do this, but the organization alone cannot. Nor can the church give a person a constant sense of guidance. Church-centered people often tend to live in compartments, acting and thinking and feeling in certain ways on the Sabbath and in totally different ways on weekdays. Such a lack of wholeness or unity or integrity is a further threat to security, creating the need for increased labeling and self-justifying. Seeing the church as an end rather than as a means to an end undermines a person's wisdom and sense of balance. Although the church claims to teach people about the source of power, it does not claim to be that power itself. It claims to be one vehicle through which divine power can be channeled into man's nature.
  • Self-Centeredness
Perhaps the most common center today is the self. The most obvious form is selfishness, which violates the values of most people. But if we look closely at many of the popular approaches to growth and self-fulfillment, we often find self-centering at their core.  There is little security, guidance, wisdom, or power in the limited center of self. Like the Dead Sea in Palestine, it accepts but never gives. It becomes stagnant. On the other hand, paying attention to the development of self in the greater perspective of improving one's ability to serve, to produce, to contribute in meaningful ways, gives context for dramatic increase in the four life-support factors .These are some of the more common centers from which people approach life. It is often much easier to recognize the center in someone else's life than to see it in your own. You probably know someone who puts making money ahead of everything else. You probably know someone whose energy is devoted to justifying his or her position in an ongoing negative relationship. If you look, you can sometimes see beyond behavior into the center that creates it.