A Bowen Theory Lexicon

A Bowen Theory Lexicon

How Even the Great Ones Get Confused ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ’The…

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The Last Quarter: Part II – The Solution

The Last Quarter: Part II – The Solution

Meaning Making and Reinvestment

‘And life is a journey:
From childhood to maturity
And youth to age;’
— Rabbi Alvin I. Fine

Previously on the FamilyFocusedSolutions.com blog, we were exploring a colleague’s struggle to ”do this work [of self-differentiation] in the last quarter [of one’s life].” How to make meaning from the multiple losses of people, resources, function and sense of purpose? How to respond when in the face of illness, death, disability and “cut offs,” “one’s world gets relationally more narrow”?

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Individuation and Togetherness

Individuation and Togetherness

A plea for peaceful coexistence

There is no differentiation without connection,
no autonomy without healthy interdependence
(or as Michael Kerr wrote:
…differentiation of self and togetherness
are two distinct, counterbalancing life forces
that can operate as a working team.)

(N.B. see author’s notes below)

In response to my blog post On Differentiation: The Mindfulness of Murray Bowen, Bonnie Hall wrote:

Ron, I really like your succinct explanation of the togetherness and individuality forces. I have a question about this that I’d appreciate feedback on: Bowen believed these two forces to be “equally intense.” I’ve often wondered about the “equal” part. If they are equal, then why is the individuality force the one that needs the attention (hence also called the differentiating force)? It is hard to differentiate out of the togetherness force, not the individuality force, right?

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Family of Origin or Family of Procreation

Family of Origin or Family of Procreation

Looking Up or Looking Down

Sailing up (sailing up), sailing down (sailing down)
Up (down), down (up!) – up and down the river
Sailing on – stopping all along the way
The river may be dirty now
but it’s getting cleaner every day
— Sailing Up, Sailing Down
— Wyatt & Reed
Performed With Pete Seeger on the Clearwater

In response to several previous blog posts, Marilyn Halls, MA of Counseling Associates of Sarasota, LLC wondered “how you would help parents differentiate from their children and at what age,” to which I would respond that:

The best way to help parents differentiate from their children
is to help parents differentiate from their children’s grandparents.

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Self Knowledge is Not Necessarily Good News

Self Knowledge is Not Necessarily Good News

The Tao of Self-Differentiation

“Understanding the dark side of ourselves
will allow us to relate more fully to others.”  
– Star Wars

In her book, You Can Go Home Again: Reconnecting With Your Family, Monica McGoldrick cautions that in the process of differentiation of self in one’s family of origin, it is important to manage one’s anxiety, avoid becoming defensive, and be prepared to hear negative feelings and observations.

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What are the “Amazonian Forests of Family Connections”?

What are the “Amazonian Forests of Family Connections”?

“spooky action at a distance”

The cloud model of the electron represents a sort of history of
where the electron has probably been
and where it is likely to be going.

Reporting on A. J. Jacobs’ plans for the world’s largest family reunion, Gabe Friedman wrote, “I am his first cousin twice removed’s wife’s nephew’s wife’s first cousin’s wife’s brother’s wife’s second cousin’s wife’s uncle’s wife’s second great nephew.”

Now I pride myself on being able to draw large multigenerational extended family diagrams but this Family Forest has even me looking for help and direction. Mr. Jacobs notes that these connections are “… not even family trees. They’re Amazonian forests of family connections.”

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Societal Emotional Processes

Societal Emotional Processes

How does Bowen Family Systems Theory translate to the larger societal system?  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead (1902-1978) Societal Emotional Processes, on the face of it, a self-evident oxymoron. What…

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On Family Emotional Systems

On Family Emotional Systems

Nuclear Family Emotional Process, Projection Process and Multigenerational Transmission Process “ …the problem a patient or couple or family walks in with is less important than the relationship obstacles that keep them from working to resolve it”. — Guerin & Fogarty What is it about family gatherings, holidays and life…

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Cutting Off From Fusion

Cutting Off From Fusion

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

“THERE IS NO DIFFERENTIATION WITHOUT CONNECTION.
‘F*ck you! I don’t care what you think’
is rebellion and reactivity, not differentiation.”

— Betty Carter

Goals of growing one’s self up include (1) the attainment of both financial and emotional self-sufficiency (i.e. being able to live on your own and avoid fusion) while (2) staying connected to the emotionally important people in your life (steering clear of cutoffs) and (3) creating the opportunity to develop a healthy intimate partner relationship that doesn’t require the negation of the first two.

Impediments to this process are defined by most, if not all of Bowen Theory’s eight interlocking concepts. For this discussion I will focus on Differentiation of Self, Nuclear Family Emotional System, Family Projection Process and Emotional Cutoff, not necessarily in that order.

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On Triangles

On Triangles

When does one plus one equal three?

“we can see life not so much as a series of paths to be chosen,
but as a maze of triangular shoals and reefs to be navigated around.”

— Guerin & Fogarty

Life is lived in relationship, and relationships evolve in association with, and in response to, other relationships. Two-person relationships almost never exist in isolation. Their emotional instability inevitably produces triangles, which are three-person interconnected relationship systems. And triangles, almost just as inevitably, prove unable to contain the full range of emotional reactivity, and produce interlocking triangles.

When emotional tension threatens a dyadic relationship (think marital discord, parent-child conflict, in-law distress, grandparental meddling) a third person is sought to help calm the anxiety. Bowen wrote, “A triangle in a state of calm consists of a comfortable twosome and an outsider.” Unlike a body at rest however, a triangle often does not maintain equilibrium. When sufficient pressure is placed on the structure and function of a triangle, ever expanding mazes of interlocking triangles are created.

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Bowen Family Systems Coaching


Bowen Family Systems Coaching with Ronald B Cohen, MD is the treatment of choice for complicated relationship problems and intergenerational conflicts. Include the whole family in resolving and improving what is going on right NOW! When the entire family works to make the difficult journey together, the results are almost magical.
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If you are experiencing family relationship problems and distress, don’t treat all therapists alike. Look for a Family Therapist who has had specific training, is comfortable with emotional intensity and will offer clear direction to help resolve identified problems. Ronald B. Cohen, MD works with the whole family in a manner that can save you time and be more cost effective than equal doses of individual therapy.
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