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Factions and Your Comfort Zone

Feeling safe and working through emotions with people you trust can be good. But when does a close friendship or a supportive group of like-minded people turn into a faction that pulls us apart from others and divides a community?When I’m upset about something I like to step back and find someone I trust. I express my emotions without reserve, then think out loud about what happened. The next step, facing the person who triggered my anger, annoyance, or incredulousness is much harder.Sometimes I don’t fully trust that person and can’t predict his or her response. Sometimes I’m concerned what my own reaction might be as I tell the person what concerns me. Sometimes I’m worried that a once predictable routine or interaction will now need to change. It’s easier to keep talking to the people who I know agree with me.Factions can form when we are not willing to risk expressing thoughts and feelings with people who don’t share our views or those who use styles of interacting that aren’t comfortable or familiar to us.Other people respond to a tense situation with reactivity, for example saying something unpleasant in haste and anger, making a meaningful gesture or storming out of the room.For this person, the challenge of returning to the group or individual, swallowing pride and apologizing for the reactivity, then trying to talk things out, takes a lot of energy. It’s easier to get together with a like-minded friend to complain about the situation. 

“No Girls Allowed” by Jacob Z. courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Factions can form when we push others away with a reactive response, then avoid summoning up the courage to stop and try to listen to the other person.The best way to prevent or overcome a faction mentality is to express yourself and your views while respecting others.Murray Bowen, the founder of Family Systems Theory, taught that groups function best when each person is able to form his or her own opinions, emotions, and responses while remaining connected and in relationship to others members of the larger group. He called this self-differentiation.Poorly differentiated people either adjust their thoughts, emotions, and responses to fit the expectations of others around them, or they purposely act in ways contradictory to expectations, and distance themselves from key people in their lives.Forming factions or cliques is one form of poor self-differentiation. In these insular groups, people promote one point of view without listening to or respecting other perspectives. If you find yourself demonizing people with opposing views, you are likely in an unhealthy faction.On the other hand, small groups of friends or like-minded individuals who respect differences of opinion and who support each other in expressing ourselves in difficult situations can promote healthy self-differentiation. These groups do not isolate themselves from the larger church, family or other system.Ways to increase self-differentiation:

  • Seek to understand the perspective of others who disagree, even if you don’t change your own mind.
  • Calmly say what you need or believe and why it is important.
  • Step out of your comfort zone to talk to someone you don’t know well or someone you know disagrees with you.
  • Help a friend reflect on what he or she feels, believes or thinks, even when you personally disagree.

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