Intimate Worlds: How Families Thrive and Why They Fail

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9780345406675: Intimate Worlds: How Families Thrive and Why They Fail
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"Scarf knows the intricacies of the family structure and, even better, knows how to write well about them. In Intimate Worlds, as in most of our lives, family is riveting, white-knuckle stuff."

--The Washington Post Book World
In Intimate Worlds, bestselling author Maggie Scarf takes on the most important, and most universal, subject of her distinguished career: the family. As the first social organization that we each encounter, the family is where we learn the most fundamental and enduring lessons of our lives. Yet for too many, those lessons turn out to be painful, perplexing, and emotionally crippling. In this luminous, beautifully written book, Scarf brilliantly examines the complex ways in which families create their own intimate rules and patterns of interaction, and how by understanding these dynamics we can each improve the quality of our own family life.
At the book's core are the stories of four fascinating families and the very different ways they enact the central issues of family life: power and intimacy; conflict and love; individuality and group identification. Spanning the spectrum of family health from dysfunctional through optimal, these families grapple with serious substance abuse, sexual problems, difficulties with attachment and nurturance, eating disorders, and buried resentments that surface generation after generation. As Maggie Scarf probes the motives and meanings of these compelling dramas, she reveals the essential truths of how families shape human identity. Combining lucid analysis with warm human understanding, Intimate Worlds is a major work that both clarifies and deepens our knowledge of family relationships.
"Wrought with care and commitment, it is meticulously researched and will, I think, serve as a valuable resource for families struggling to understand themselves."

--Los Angeles Times

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About the Author:

Maggie Scarf is a former visiting fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, and a current fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University. She was for many years a contributing editor to the New Republic and a member of the advisory board of the American Psychiatric Press.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
 
When I began work on this book about families, I was surely well accustomed to dealing with difficult, emotionally charged subjects. In my previous books, I had dealt with some highly flammable topics—women and depression in the case of Unfinished Business: Pressure Points in the Lives of Women, and marital relationships in Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage. But nothing had quite prepared me for what happened when I began exploring the subject of the family: Here was every charged topic and every emotional dilemma that I could possibly have thought of—and some I couldn’t possibly have imagined.
 
In the beginning, I was somewhat bowled over, not only by what I was seeing and hearing in the family groups I interviewed, but also by the complex responses these intense and powerful interviews aroused in me, especially those that evoked memories of my own difficult family of origin. And yet I was enthralled by the family stories being told to me, many of which sounded like the plots of novels, replete with many secrets and unsolved mysteries.
 
It was inevitable that, in the course of being interviewed for this book, people found that old family trunks locked away in the attic of everyone’s awareness would be suddenly opened up, and that unnoticed or ignored intergenerational truths would abruptly and unceremoniously come to light. At times, these feeling-laden family matters were hastily thrust back out of everyone’s sight; on other occasions, the members of the family were eager to confront their issues squarely and get to work on resolving them.
 
As I slowly gained my bearing, and grew in understanding, I began to view the family unit as a great emotional foundry, the passion-filled forge in which our deepest realities—our sense of who we are as persons, and of the world around us—first begins to form and take shape. It is within the enclave of the early family that we learn those patterns of being, both of a healthy and a pathological nature, which will gradually be assimilated into, and become a fundamental part of, our own inner experience.
 
It is within the family, too, that we start forming assumptions and expectations about what things are likely to happen in close relationships. It is here that each of us develops an emotional template of sorts, an internal blueprint for later adult existence. And so ingrained are the family’s ways of being that, at an unconscious level, their truths seem unassailable. The way it was in our early families appears to be the way of the world and the way things are, rather than one particular family’s way of relating and seeing things.
 
Overall, it has taken eight years for me to explore and digest the extraordinary material that I gathered as I journeyed into the private world of the family, and to write Intimate Worlds. Along the way, however, I came to recognize that while each family’s narrative is unique, rich, complex, and compelling, all families are struggling with a limited set of core issues: power, and how to manage it; intimacy, and how to achieve it; conflict, and how to resolve it. Every member of every family I talked to was also dealing with the issue of individuality, of being “me, myself”—that is, trying to develop one’s own authentic personhood while retaining a sense of belonging.
 
I soon became familiar with the maladaptive strategies families repeatedly make use of in the struggle to cope with (or avoid facing up to) core family concerns. These strategies, which come into play automatically, include emotional triangling, and the tactic of scapegoating—sacrificing one member of the family group to save the emotional system at large. I was also made continually aware of the poignant, tremendously powerful influence of the past—each parent’s past, in his or her own family of origin— in setting the tone and establishing the emotional patterns of the current family’s daily existence. This strong urge to re-create the unfinished business of the past in the family’s present-day life often manifests itself in ways that are nothing short of eerie; the shadow cast by the family tree is truly an astonishingly long one.
 
Starting Out—by Going Home
 
During the late 1980s, when I was beginning research for this book, I went to a large conference in Dallas, Texas, at which some impressive figures in the field of family theory and therapy were offering a diverse smorgasbord of lectures and workshops.
 
In the course of a jam-packed few days I heard about many of the latest developments in the field—theoretical models of family life, new techniques for family improvement. These huge conferences often have the air of a meeting at the United Nations. There are envoys from the major schools of family theory and treatment—Structural, Strategic, Bowenian, Contextual, Behavioral, and Object-Relations Family Therapy, for example—and also representatives of less-established schools. All are vying for attention and adherents.
 
In the midst of the plethora of differing approaches, I felt the need for a time-out. So, scanning the catalogue of offerings, I decided to go to a workshop that sounded somewhat frivolous. It had the oddball title “Taming Your Gremlin, or, Your Ego May Not Be Your Amigo,” and it was being led by someone whose name I’d never heard before: Richard D. Carson, M.S.W.
I came a bit late, assuming that I would be one of a small handful of people there. But I was mistaken; when I arrived, I found myself in a large room so crowded with people that not enough seats were available. Chairs had been shifted to the side walls, and those of us who had come in at the last minute were asked to sit on the floor, using the wall in back of us for support.
 
The workshop leader began the session by putting us into a light trance, using deep-breathing exercises and a few progressive-relaxation techniques. Soon I found myself floating, although hyperaware of Mr. Carson’s quiet voice.
 
He was instructing us to bring to mind a house we’d once lived in during our childhood. We were to summon up a visual image of ourselves at roughly the age we’d been when living in that house (I pictured myself at age six or seven). We were to see ourselves as standing across the street from the house, focusing upon it carefully, and recalling the details of its appearance.
 
I envisioned myself standing directly in front of the bakery opposite our house, where I’d buy myself an after-school chocolate éclair whenever I could. I was staring at the storefront of the house I’d grown up in, but a trolley car (the number 34) passed in front of me, obscuring my view momentarily. Then I saw our house again—the front part of the ground floor was my father’s paint-and-wallpaper store—and I felt a sense of apprehension wash over me.
 
As a young child, I’d struggled hard to understand what was so fundamentally different—wrong, amiss—about our family, and I had worked out two possible explanations. One line of theorizing had it that we were lesser mortals because we lived behind a store in a mainly residential neighborhood. The other major conjecture was that we weren’t as good as other families, because in our family there were four children, while in the other neighborhood families, there were only two....
 
As if from afar, I heard the soft, soothing voice of Richard Carson instructing me to cross the street, slowly, slowly, and then approach the door of the house.
 
It was strange, this sense of duality. In one part of my mind I knew I was still me, and yet in another part of my mind I was experiencing myself as a child, looking carefully in both directions and wary of the occasionally heavy traffic.
 
Then I had crossed the street, and stood gazing at the black and white tiles beneath the large storefront windows (I wasn’t able to bring to mind anything that might have been on display there). The disembodied voice of Mr. Carson came to me: “Now, knock on the door.”
 
I felt fearful. If I came in via this front entrance, I might offend or anger my always unpredictable father, who could be dealing with a customer (he got into bitter quarrels with his customers all the time). I usually entered the house through the backyard after school, and my mother, working in the kitchen, humming her favorite song (“The Bluebird of Happiness”), greeted me with pleasure.
 
But here I was, in the prescribed imagery of this moment, and I dutifully knocked on the front door. To my surprise, the workshop leader then told me that I myself—the adult I am now—was opening the door to myself, as a child. The grown-up “me” was welcoming the much younger “me,” and leading her slowly into the house’s interior. I was to look around and recall, as well as I could, just what each of those rooms had looked like.
 
Fortunately, my father didn’t seem to be in the store; but when I’d passed through the dining room and living room, the six-or seven-year-old “me” looked up trustingly into the face of the grown woman who was holding my hand. I realized then that that person wasn’t, strictly speaking, me; she was some amalgam of myself and my beloved mother. I felt a rush of intense, little-girl emotion, for I’d worshiped my mother, and wanted so urgently for her to be happy.
 
This thought brought with it an acutely painful upsurge of sorrow; but at that moment I heard Richard Carson’s voice recalling me to the main business of the imagery exercise. The adult “self,” we were being instructed, was to look deeply into the eyes of the child “self,” and to think of one thing we’d really like to tell him or her. If there was just one thing that we, as grown-ups, wished that child could have known, what might that thing be?
 
My own response popped into my mind immediately. I had a vivid picture of the older woman’s hands dropping onto the little girl’s shoulders as she looked down at the child with sympathy and affection. “You are really going to be all right,” my adult self said to my child self, “and things are going to get much better than you can possibly imagine.” Oh, how I wish I could have had that comforting bit of foreknowledge way back then, for the family world that I grew up in was tremendously scary, difficult, and depriving.
 
But what had been wrong, and what had made it so? Granted that my own early hypotheses—the problem was that we lived behind a store; the problem was that there were four children in the family instead of two—had surely not been correct, how could those questions be responded to now? I knew as little as ever. But what that somewhat shocking experience of finding myself, in my imagination, at home, told me was that even though I was now an adult woman, with a husband and with three grown daughters who were raising young families of their own, the family I’d grown up in was not lost somewhere, in the haze of the past and of fading memories. It was, in the most immediate sense, vividly alive inside me.
 
And it was, I think, from this moment onward that I was no longer a researcher and writer, engaged in a somewhat abstract study of the family; I was a person who was studying, not without some ambivalence and pain, but also with remembered moments of great love, the family I myself had come from, and the issues, resolved and unresolved, with which that experience of growing up had left me.
 

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Book Description Random House USA Inc, United States, 1997. Paperback. Condition: New. Ballantine Books ed. Language: English. Brand new Book. "Scarf knows the intricacies of the family structure and, even better, knows how to write well about them. In Intimate Worlds, as in most of our lives, family is riveting, white-knuckle stuff."--The Washington Post Book WorldIn Intimate Worlds, bestselling author Maggie Scarf takes on the most important, and most universal, subject of her distinguished career: the family. As the first social organization that we each encounter, the family is where we learn the most fundamental and enduring lessons of our lives. Yet for too many, those lessons turn out to be painful, perplexing, and emotionally crippling. In this luminous, beautifully written book, Scarf brilliantly examines the complex ways in which families create their own intimate rules and patterns of interaction, and how by understanding these dynamics we can each improve the quality of our own family life.At the book's core are the stories of four fascinating families and the very different ways they enact the central issues of family life: power and intimacy; conflict and love; individuality and group identification. Spanning the spectrum of family health from dysfunctional through optimal, these families grapple with serious substance abuse, sexual problems, difficulties with attachment and nurturance, eating disorders, and buried resentments that surface generation after generation. As Maggie Scarf probes the motives and meanings of these compelling dramas, she reveals the essential truths of how families shape human identity. Combining lucid analysis with warm human understanding, Intimate Worlds is a major work that both clarifies and deepens our knowledge of family relationships."Wrought with care and commitment,it is meticulously researched and will, I think, serve as a valuable resource for families struggling to understand themselves."--Los Angeles Times. Seller Inventory # APC9780345406675

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Book Description Ballantine Books. Paperback. Condition: New. 508 pages. Dimensions: 8.2in. x 5.5in. x 1.0in.Scarf knows the intricacies of the family structure and, even better, knows how to write well about them. In Intimate Worlds, as in most of our lives, family is riveting, white-knuckle stuff. --The Washington Post Book WorldIn Intimate Worlds, bestselling author Maggie Scarf takes on the most important, and most universal, subject of her distinguished career: the family. As the first social organization that we each encounter, the family is where we learn the most fundamental and enduring lessons of our lives. Yet for too many, those lessons turn out to be painful, perplexing, and emotionally crippling. In this luminous, beautifully written book, Scarf brilliantly examines the complex ways in which families create their own intimate rules and patterns of interaction, and how by understanding these dynamics we can each improve the quality of our own family life. At the books core are the stories of four fascinating families and the very different ways they enact the central issues of family life: power and intimacy; conflict and love; individuality and group identification. Spanning the spectrum of family health from dysfunctional through optimal, these families grapple with serious substance abuse, sexual problems, difficulties with attachment and nurturance, eating disorders, and buried resentments that surface generation after generation. As Maggie Scarf probes the motives and meanings of these compelling dramas, she reveals the essential truths of how families shape human identity. Combining lucid analysis with warm human understanding, Intimate Worlds is a major work that both clarifies and deepens our knowledge of family relationships. Wrought with care and commitment, it is meticulously researched and will, I think, serve as a valuable resource for families struggling to understand themselves. --Los Angeles Times This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Seller Inventory # 9780345406675

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Book Description Random House USA Inc, United States, 1997. Paperback. Condition: New. Ballantine Books ed. Language: English. Brand new Book. "Scarf knows the intricacies of the family structure and, even better, knows how to write well about them. In Intimate Worlds, as in most of our lives, family is riveting, white-knuckle stuff."--The Washington Post Book WorldIn Intimate Worlds, bestselling author Maggie Scarf takes on the most important, and most universal, subject of her distinguished career: the family. As the first social organization that we each encounter, the family is where we learn the most fundamental and enduring lessons of our lives. Yet for too many, those lessons turn out to be painful, perplexing, and emotionally crippling. In this luminous, beautifully written book, Scarf brilliantly examines the complex ways in which families create their own intimate rules and patterns of interaction, and how by understanding these dynamics we can each improve the quality of our own family life.At the book's core are the stories of four fascinating families and the very different ways they enact the central issues of family life: power and intimacy; conflict and love; individuality and group identification. Spanning the spectrum of family health from dysfunctional through optimal, these families grapple with serious substance abuse, sexual problems, difficulties with attachment and nurturance, eating disorders, and buried resentments that surface generation after generation. As Maggie Scarf probes the motives and meanings of these compelling dramas, she reveals the essential truths of how families shape human identity. Combining lucid analysis with warm human understanding, Intimate Worlds is a major work that both clarifies and deepens our knowledge of family relationships."Wrought with care and commitment,it is meticulously researched and will, I think, serve as a valuable resource for families struggling to understand themselves."--Los Angeles Times. Seller Inventory # BTE9780345406675

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