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Rules and Boundaries

Rules and boundaries within a system are created by the pattern of interactions that occur. They are based on the values of the system and are maintained by the interactions that occur. Rules and boundaries are not visible, but merely understood by the members of the system. Boundaries exist to define the hierarchy within the system. Boundaries also serve as a buffer for input from other larger systems. Every system takes in information, and the rules and boundaries determine what will happen with that information.

Peter’s family is fairly traditional with regards to systems rules and boundaries. Jack (Peter’s brother) works with his father in the family business, and it has always been assumed that he would take over the business when his father retires. There is animosity that has been present between Peter and his family because of Peter’s decision to not work within the family business. Male and female roles with the Gallagher family are also fairly traditional. Success is traditionally defined by the male and his ability to conquer the business world. Openness and Closedness

Openness or closedness defines the extent to which a system allows new input to enter their system or screens out information from entering their system. The healthy functioning of a system should be based on an equal balance between the two. The Gallagher’s do have a healthy family system in that they do allow input to come into their system, they weigh it against their current status and adapt. For example, when Jack informs his father that he does not want the family business, but wants to build his own furniture, his father examines that information and accepts that as a worthy decision.

By allowing for the exchange of information with other larger systems, the Gallagher’s are maintaining a status of negentropy, or working toward maximum order. This system is allowing for the exchange of information as is appropriate to maintaining their system, but also adapting when alternative information comes into the system. Equifinality and Equipotentiality The concept of equifinality refers to the ability of a system to define itself, no matter where it starts, it will end the same.

This is the result of habitual interactions within relationships within the system. These redundant patterns of interaction, when faced with a problem, will discuss, argue, and interact in a manner that will always provide a consistent result within the system. This concept is apparent in the Gallagher household. The family interacts on a consistent level, with each member playing a part of the interaction, and each member contributing to the discussion, until a resolve is found.

The end result is that the system doesn’t change. Morphostasis and Morphogenesis Morphostasis and morphogenesis refer to a system’s ability to remain stable in the context of change, and to accept change and growth, in the context of stability. (Becvar & Becvar, 2000) A healthy family system can allow for change while maintaining its foundation. The Gallagher family, while focused on maintaining the status quo, are equally driven to accept this change in their family system, and do so knowing that it will work.

Even after learning that Lucy is really in love with Jack, and was never engaged to Peter, the Gallagher’s accept Lucy as part of their family system and believe that their stability is not threatened by this change. The impending marriage of Lucy to Jack will change their family system, but they are prepared to accept that change, and recognize it as a healthy step. While You Were Sleeping provides an excellent example of systems theory and how mutual interaction has an impact on each individual and hence on the system as a whole.

Through the process of becoming accepted into this family, Lucy places herself in a self-reflexive state, creating a situation where she is target of examination. (Whitchurch & Constantine, 1993) Initially she is not part of the family system. In the process of becoming part of the system, she is examined by Jack and Uncle Sol. Through their interactions, both Lucy and the Gallagher family, they do create a new meaning, and a shift occurs in the reality of both Lucy and the family as a result of their interactions.

Lucy begins to define her life in terms of her new family. Instead of being alone, she is now part of a family system.


Becvar, D. , & Becvar, R. (2000). Family therapy: A systemic integration (pp. 3-13, 67-87). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Whitchurch, G. G. , & Constantine, L. L. (1993). Systems theory. In P. G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 325-352). New York: Plenum Press.

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