Naturally, families are connected through complex interactions. In a family, each member is expected to respond to each other in a certain way according to the role he or she plays. Relationship agreements determine this role. According to Bowen, a family is a system in which each member has a role to play and rules to respect. Bowen family systems theory is a theory of human behavior (Haefner, 2014). The theory views a family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the existing complex interactions in it when taken as a unit. However, it is natural that in a family, people feel disconnected. Such a feeling of disconnection remains less of a fact.
Families determine members’ thoughts, feelings, and actions. Bowen’s concept of ‘differentiation of self’ describes different levels of maturity in relationships. This theory has been shown by researchers to be related to vital areas of well-being. Such areas include marital satisfaction and the capacity to handle stress, make decisions, and manage social anxiety. Bowen’s theory doesn’t focus on mental illness (Kaplan et al., 2014). The theory only focuses on the challenges of being human in the relationships. The theory has eight concepts, namely,
Dr. Murray Bowen wrote that the triangle, “a three-person emotional configuration, is the molecule or the basic building block of any emotional system, whether it is in the family or any other group”( Haefner, 2014). A triangle relationship can be activated by sharing information with another person about another (third) person. The relationship is considered strong because it can tolerate some tension, unlike a two-person relationship. Similarly, people in a triangle relationship are well assured to take sides of their preference and reflect their emotional attachment to a given side. One a bad note, a triangle relationship can trigger the eviction of one member from the relationship when two members join together to take one side (Rabstejnek, 2012). Consider a situation where two parents, mother, and father agree that the child is not right. This action gets the child to have a feeling of rejection from the family. A triangle relationship is associated with depression due to eviction and side takings.
Differentiation of Self
Differentiation of self occurs within a person. It is viewed as the “ability to separate thinking and feeling, particularly in situations in which the tendency for emotionality to override thinking is the greatest” (MacKay, 2012). In other simple terms, differentiation of self involves the ability to possess his or her identity, own thoughts and feelings, and distinguish them from others. Families have a natural pressure that it exerts on its member to conform with a given code of interaction. In turn, some social groups affect how people think, feel, and act. Unfortunately, individuals vary in their susceptibility thinking of the group. Groups also vary in the amount of pressure they exert for such a given line of conformity (Rabstejnek, 2012). These differences are what constitute differentiation of self, either in groups or individuals. Every given society has its own different sort of people who behave differently depending on their judgment of the societal requirement of what they are supposed to do.
Nuclear Family Emotional System
A nuclear family consists of two adults and one or more children. It is an emotional system that includes at least a two-person relationship. Additionally, it may contain a third person to form the emotional triangle, the fundamental building unit in any emotional system. A nuclear family relationship describes four basic relationship patterns that involve intact, single-parent, step-parent and other nuclear family configurations (Papero, 2014). There four basic relationship patterns are,
All four basic relationship patterns have different emotional investments undergone by the respective family member. Some show more care than others, for instance, in the case of the impairment of one or more children (Papero, 2014). People usually do not want to hurt each other, but when anxiety chronically predicts the behavior, someone usually comes in to suffer for it.
Family Projection Process
The family projection process is used to map the emotional development of children within a family. It is belied that children inherit many types of weaknesses and strengths through relationships with their parents. Mapping the emotional interaction of parents with their children provides a blueprint of the emotional stability or instability displayed by a child from that particular family (Rodríguez-González et al., 2016). The projection process follows three steps. These steps involve:
The three family projection process steps indicate that children who rise from such a family become dependent on parental support even in decision making. On the other hand, parents live worried that children may not stand on their own to make the right decisions.
Multigenerational Transmission Process
The multigenerational Transmission Process identifies how the family’s current dysfunction is a result of generational patterns. This process describes how small differences in the levels of differentiation between parents and their children lead over many generations to marked differences in differentiation among the members of a multigenerational family (Rodríguez-González et al., 2016). As family lines rise from a given social setting, differences among offsprings arise. The differences may be a result of acquired knowledge. As children grow to acquire mates, those children that have greater differences from the parents acquire more different mates matching their preferences. Whereas, those children that had little differences from the parents select mates that more or less have similar characteristics as the parents. When this happens, different children give rise to multigenerational differences (Papero, 2014). The theory directs that the level of differentiation of self can affect longevity, marital stability, reproduction, health, educational accomplishments, and occupational successes.
The concept of emotional cutoff explains hown people are able to cut off the relationship as the generation grows. The emotional cutoff is an automatic mechanism tha arises from moving tension and differences within a given age (Kaplan et al., 2014). As the differences expand in a given family down the generation, the stress proportionally increases. During emotional cutoff, the family history gets lost, and the connecting factor between offsprings from a given era is lost. When the connecting factor is lost, the families break from each other (Rodríguez-González et al., 2016). The breaking away from each other expands the rift due to the emergent of other differences. An emotional cut off may as well originate from maturity and the ability of one to make decisions—independence calls from a break from a family. Younger children are attached to the rest of the family due to dependence on provisions and decisions. When they grow up and become independent, they tend to cut off from the rest of the family to be fully independent, as defined by the same family (MacKay, 2012).
The relationship between sibling position and personality of the child is direct. The children’s positioning can be classified as the oldest, intermediate, and the youngest. Other theories explain the same, but Bowen found the same that he incorporated within his family theory. It can roughly be said that those children who are elders in their families tend to work well with leadership positions (MacKay, 2012). However, younger children in a family are not good with leadership. Instead, they tend to blend well with being followers. The psychological development and interactions of different children in society are affected by the position that the child occupies in the line of birth. The resulting families show disparity and differences since sibling positioning have different ability to handle different situation (Kaplan et al., 20014). These differences may give rise to newer different families as the generation grow. It has been discussed that these differences are responsible for emotional cutoff in a family.
Societal Emotional Process
The emotional system of a human being governs the behavior of a society. The varied behaviour of individuals upholds the codes of a given society. Emotionally, individuals live to satisfy this code of conduct and operation. On a broader interaction within a society, a group culture rises due to uniformity in how a given society thinks and operates (Kaplan et al., 2014). Generally, each social group has rules and expectations of its members. In most cases, societal expectations from a given individual vary with age group and societal positioning of the individual. These expectations may not conform to the setting of the family and the view (Papero, 2014). The society usually rebukes when one goes against some codes but the family tends to accept and move on. It is more difficult for families to raise children in a period of societal regression.
Each concept in Bowen’s family theory does not only apply to families but also applies to nonfamily groups, such as work and social organizations. Usually, a family is the smallest unit of a society that coaches the expectations of the larger society. The concept of societal emotional process describes how the emotional system governs behavior on a societal level, and how it promotes both progressive and regressive periods in a society. Cultural forces originate from the larger society. These forces are essential in how a society functions but are insufficient for explaining flow in how well societies adapt to the challenges that face them
Haefner, J. (2014). An application of Bowen family systems theory. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 35(11), 835-841.
Kaplan, S. G., Arnold, E. M., Irby, M. B., Boles, K. A., & Skelton, J. A. (2014). Family systems theory and obesity treatment: applications for clinicians. ICAN: Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition, 6(1), 24-29.
MacKay, L. (2012). Trauma and Bowen family systems theory: Working with adults who were abused as children. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 33(3), 232-241.
Papero, D. V. (2014). Assisting the two‐person system: An approach based on the Bowen theory. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 35(4), 386-397.
Rabstejnek, C. V. (2012). Family systems & murray bowen theory. Retrieved from. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Carl_Rabstejnek/publication/277814784_Family_Systems_Murray_Bowen_Theory/links/55747d6b08ae7521586a93bd.pdf
Rodríguez-González, M., Skowron, E. A., Cagigal de Gregorio, V., & Muñoz San Roque, I. (2016). Differentiation of self, mate selection, and marital adjustment: Validity of postulates of Bowen theory in a Spanish sample. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 44(1), 11-23.