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 Structure, Function and Emotional Process of Triangles

The Structure, Function and Emotional Process of Triangles

What Kind of Company Always Creates a Crowd?

“one’s company,
two’s a crowd,
and three’s a party.”
— Andy Warhol

Life rarely happens in ones or twos, but almost always in threes or more; and more specifically and theoretically exactingly, in groups of interlocking threes. From the Bowen Center Web site:

“It [a triangle] is considered the building block or “molecule” of larger emotional systems because a triangle is the smallest stable relationship system. A two-person system is unstable because it tolerates little tension before involving a third person. A triangle can contain much more tension without involving another person because the tension can shift around three relationships. If the tension is too high for one triangle to contain, it spreads to a series of “interlocking” triangles.”

Spreading the tension can stabilize a system, but nothing gets resolved.

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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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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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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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On Differentiation

On Differentiation

The Mindfulness of Murray Bowen

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
— Vivian Greene

In response to my blog post Doing “Bowen”, Rebecca Chesin, MA, LAMFT of Twin Cities Relationship Resources, LLC noted and requested, “Nice thumbnail sketches. Would love to see each one expanded into their own post.” To briefly review, the following are Bowen’s eight interlocking concepts

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Anxiety, Differentiation and Triangles, Oh My!

Anxiety, Differentiation and Triangles, Oh My!

We all struggle to repeat the past differently but without Glinda or the Ruby Slippers we might end up with the Wicked Witch of the West. Or crushed under a house like her older sister. In order to know where we’re going we have to first investigate where we’ve been. This can be best accomplished by working on differentiation of self in one’s original family.

Dr. Richard B. McCune offered Bowen Theory on Three Sheets. I’m going to double down and offer a beginner’s solution in three not so easy steps.

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The Clinician as a “Solid Self”

The Clinician as a “Solid Self”

How did we ever get anywhere without Google Maps? And for us guys, it’s a good thing we don’t have to stop at a gas station and ask for a GPS. But what do you do when you actually have to know where you’re going before you get there? Well it certainly helps if you’ve been there before. Now if we as clinicians, and especially those of us who subscribe to Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), aspire to engage the folks we work with on a journey of research and understanding, what is the road map we might employ?

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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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Why Ronald B Cohen, MD?


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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For Mental Health Professionals


I offer both individual coaching and a consultation group to help facilitate the acquisition and further development of knowledge and expertise in Bowen Family Systems Theory and Coaching for the enhancement of clinical efficacy, productivity and satisfaction. If this is something you want to do professionally, and especially if you have not had significant training and experience in working with family dynamics and relationships, then experiential learning by doing is the best way to go.
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