We talk about temperature on a daily basis, even with strangers. We have some control over it, but the heat and cold of outside has its own way, and it is up to us to deal with it. This morning’s weather report in Chicago suggests weight of coat needed, (heavy) and equipment (boots and umbrellas) to deal with today’s weather. It’s going to be a complicated day here!
Thermometers and thermostats give us a sense of temperature. People are kind of like that, too. The “thermometers” among us are reactive and mirror the conditions of the environment. In dysfunctional family systems they are usually “the identified problem,” but often are only the ones who are acting out the real problem. For example, a child who exhibits troubling behavior or anxiety may be brought in for therapy, but in reality, the temperature precipitating those behaviors might well be an alcoholic parent or a family in which a dangerous secret is being kept. “Thermometers” seem to absorb negativity as well as positive prevailing weather in their environments. An extreme form of this emotional pattern may be called “codependency.” Often, codependent persons rely on the approval of another for their own sense of identity. Codependent persons may lose the ability to feel their own feelings and truth, and instead, absorb the feelings of those they may be enabling.
“Thermostats” are those insighted individuals who practice self regulation and are more responsive rather than reactive to their environments. They are like clocks that keep ticking regularly while a storm is raging outside. “Thermostats” have a sense of personal boundaries and push back when their boundaries are being violated in both subtle and overt ways; they also practice containment so as not to violate boundaries of others. “Thermostats” keep their cool when situations become heated. “Thermostats” formulate their own thoughts rather than falling into group think. “Thermostats” are grounded in their own reality.
A metaphor usually limps a little, as does the one I am writing about today. But, even limping metaphors can be helpful in understanding why we feel the way we do and how we can manage the weather patterns in our heads.