On Triangles with Dead People

On Triangles with Dead People

“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship,
which struggles on in the survivor’s mind
toward some resolution which it may never find.”
― Robert Anderson

In a previous blog, The Structure, Function and Emotional Process of Triangles, I wrote “De-triangling occurs when strategically someone comes into a polarized situation and makes an effort to not take sides, and to relate well to each person.” A highly regarded, well respected colleague who has, with great equanimity, integrity and compassion, withstood all of Hal’s attempts to befuddle and confuse, wondered, “What if they’re Dead?”, most specifically in regards to the primary parental triangle we all struggle to resolve.

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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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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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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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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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Is They Is or Is They Ain’t

Is They Is or Is They Ain’t

How is Bowen Family Systems Theory Different From All Others How it looks from here, is different from how it looks from there.” A recurrent theme in LinkedIn discussions on many of my blog posts revolves around the distinctive elements of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) and practice. In a discussion…

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“The Emotional Shock Wave” of Death

“The Emotional Shock Wave” of Death

“And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?”
— Leonard Cohen
— Who by Fire

I am going to die. You are going to die. And with apologies to Country Joe And The Fish, We are all going to die. Aging, Sickness and Death in one form or another will get us all. And yet, many of us try mightily to ignore this inevitable and inescapable fact of life.

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The Alcoholic Family

The Alcoholic Family

A Systemic Lack of Responsibility for Self

“… Bowen Theory can be helpful
no matter whom the client is!”
— Kevin Cundiff

How to develop a drunk in 8 or more easy steps (with apologies to Murray Bowen)?

Start with an imbalance of responsibility among family members, toss in 100-year-old patterns of family emotional isolation, simmer over a large base of chronic anxiety, season with some acute stressors and then note:

  1. The more the family is threatened by irresponsible drinking behavior, the more anxious they get
  2. The more anxious they get, the more they become critical
  3. The more they become critical, the greater the emotional isolation
  4. The greater the emotional isolation, the more the alcoholic drinks
  5. The more the alcoholic drinks, the higher the anxiety
  6. The higher the anxiety, the greater the criticism and emotional distance
  7. The greater the criticism and emotional distance, the more the drinking becomes problematic
  8. The more the drinking becomes problematic, the more the family is threatened by irresponsible drinking behavior, and the music goes ‘round and ’round, Whoa-ho-ho, Back to number 1.
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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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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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