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While practicing for my Marriage and Family Therapy Exam awhile back, (I can use some prayer when I take that test; it's on November 2).As I was studying, I arrived at a term that I often deal with when I’m interacting with families, called collusion. According to the Family Solutions Institute, Collusion is,

A family system defense mechanism in which members cooperate by unconsciously sharing thought and feelings. The defense is used to protect members from threatening outside forces. For example, both spouses and children may collude to perceive an alcoholic member who induces friends and family to drink with him, as simply a light hearted partygoer.”

In my profession, I often visit families who’ve been called out by the system. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) may have entered their homes based on a report that a child was abused, neglected, or may be living in an unstable environment. Based on the reported risk and degree, DCF will often send a social worker to the family and proceed to tell the family how to do things better, what to change, and where to go for better resources—so the reported abuse never occurs again. In some instances, where the risk is high, the child may be taken from the home until the caregiver is healthy and ready.  

As I was thinking on this term, I imagined what it must be like when a family has been called out for their mistakes, especially serious ones. How would I have handled it if a social worker came to my home and offered my parents solutions? (I had loving parents by the way, just imagining). I began thinking, how is it like for the family; especially for the person filed on? Maybe a mother, in a pretend scenario, is thinking,

“Who the hell are you to tell me how to run my family? Where were you when my drunken husband came home and went straight to bed? Where were you when my girl was crying and hitting me that night, right after my husband and I got into a fight? And yes, though I reacted and spanked her too hard, where were you? Now you’re coming to me on a sunny Friday with a Starbucks latte to tell me “How to raise my child?”
The mother in this scenario has a point; especially if the social worker has not made any effort on knowing the family, on building a relationship, or on knowing her emotional language. Let me clarify, I’m not advocating the mother’s reaction. I’m thankful for DCF and that parents are held accountable. Even in this pretend scenario, we need people to advocate for the child and help them grow in a safe environment.

Nevertheless, what often happens in the scenario is a defense mechanism called collusion, protecting members from threatening outside forces. It’s not just the mother who gets defensive, often excusing her actions, but the family members. The kids are defensive that their mom is being called out. The alcoholic father is defensive because he’s thinking, “What she did is nothing to what I do to myself every night. What I’ve done to my wife last month. What I’ve done to my kids last year. Why are they so tough on her?” The family in this story begins to collude and become defensive over their dysfunction, to the point where it’s normal—even part of their defined system: “Leave her alone! Mom’s just an emotional person!”

After thinking of this family, I began to wonder, “Do I do this with the church? Or, does the church do it to itself, to others?” Do Christians protect its members from threatening outside forces and excuse their mistakes as functional, normal, even part of the system? Let me explain, when a Hindu neighbor happens to tell you that you come across as arrogant, do you collude by ignoring his concerns on presuppositional terms saying, “Well, he doesn’t know Christ and if he did, he’d realize real love is converting people as my church commands me to do (protecting his members). I have to be dogmatic at times, it’s for his soul.” In this example, the Christian has colluded salient pride by detouring the Hindu’s concern into a more spiritual response, such as, “I’m probably coming across as arrogant because I’m just convinced of my position.”

Whether you’re a Christian or not, I’m sure you can think of times you’ve colluded in order to protect yourself.

Another clarification, there are times we may be called out on things that we don’t need to repent of or change, such as someone calling you arrogant because you happen to remind them of their mother. That’s really their issue, not yours. It’s not your fault you and his mother have the same taste in Italian food. Or that you happen to watch the same television shows as her.

But, how often all of us, regardless of personal belief, can collude! In what ways do you see the act of colluding, as in your church or at your work?

Your thoughts,



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