Free Paper on Family Dynamics: Understanding Bowen's Theory of Emotional Interdependence

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1412 Words
Date:  2023-11-20


A family is viewed as an emotional unit in the Bowen theory as one Murray Bowen studies it. Like all living systems, a family is a natural system that is evolving, and it shows the human behavior and the functioning of all members in a family setup. There is an emotionally interdependence, where a slight change in one of the family members, whether financially or through, their actions, leads to intensified tensions and changes to other family members. The emotional system disrupts how someone functions. It can lead to clinical problems. Its study shows how to deal with problems effectively, whether in work, family, or social problems. Murray Bowen discusses this in eight concepts:

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  • triangles
  • differentiation of self
  • nuclear family emotional system
  • family projection process
  • multigenerational transmission process
  • emotional cutoff
  • sibling position
  • societal emotional process


A triangle involves three people's interaction. It is referred to as a ‘molecule’ because it is the most stable of relationship systems. A triangle can have many tensions when a third party is not involved in solving their differences, which results in the tension spreading to the next triangles, also referred to as ‘interlocking’ triangles. Although there is no resolve, spreading to other triangles helps to ease the tension. Triangle patterns change with an increase in tension. During calm periods some are very close to each other ‘insiders’ and the third person left on the sidelines ‘outsider.’ In this period, the insiders do not involve the outsider in their activities, and the outsider makes an effort to work closer to them. The insiders strengthen their bond by choosing what is best for each other without considering the outsider, which makes the outsider feel rejected. In moderate tensions, the most uncomfortable one in the duo will be close to the outsider, and the other insider will now become the new outsider and will do their best to restore friendship with one of the insiders. When there is high tension, the insiders prefer the outside position, and they succeed by causing fights between the outsider and one of the insiders. Upon resolution, they warm their way inside again. Triangles can cause clinical problems because the feeling of rejection can lead to depression.

Differentiation of Self

Differentiation of self involves not losing yourself while trying to hold connections with others. In families and communities at large, they control how people act, feel, and think. Poorly differentiated self-people tend to care what others think about them, and they conform to societal pressure to gain approval (Bridge, 2019). On the other hand, some well-differentiated people are calm and thoughtful in decision-making, and they assess a situation thoroughly before making a decision. Mostly their judgments are not based on emotions but on facts.

The Nuclear Family Emotional Process

This process shows there are four pattern relationship that shows where the problem comes from in a family. One’s belief pertaining to relationships is a big player in the patterns, but the emotional system plays a key role (Erdem & Safi, 2018). The relationship patterns include marital conflict where there is anxiety between spouses, and they tend to focus on what is wrong with each other rather than building one another (Priest, 2015). Dysfunction in one spouse occurs when one partner conforms pressure on their better half to behave in a certain way until they cannot take it anymore, then anxiety increases rapidly, causing disagreements. Impairment of one or more children where parents view him differently and make them vulnerable in family feuds. The emotional distance is where one keeps a distance from other people. These patterns fuel anxiety in a family by causing family feuds, and distancing oneself from other family members, which often leads to medical problems, psychiatric problems, and isolation themselves.

The Family Projection

The projection process involves parents transmitting their emotional problems to children which can lead to impaired functioning in the children and increase vulnerability to clinical symptoms (Erdem & Safi, 2018). The process projects the parent’s insecurities, which in turn makes them treat individual children differently. Children inherit many traits from their parents, which affects their day-to-day lives and their interactions with people. Parents tend to give more love, and attention to one child neglecting the other siblings who grow to be the most realistic and most goal-oriented ones.

Multigenerational Transmission Process

The concepts describe how minor differences between parents and their children mark the differences among a multigenerational family (Palombi, 2016). In this case, Bowen depicts ways people seek partners with the same differentiation level, resulting in the transmission of particular conditions and behaviors through generations. The kids may bear children even with lower levels of differentiation. According to Bowen, as individuals increase differentiation levels, they break these chains to get relief from the symptoms (Palombi, 2016).

Emotional Cutoff

Most people opt for the easy way out by emotionally cutting themselves off with parents, siblings, and relatives involved in family feuds. They do so by moving away from their homes, cutting communications, avoiding meetings and family gatherings, or avoiding those old conservations that bring bad memories (Palombi, 2016). Avoiding them for a while gives one peace of mind, but it does not resolve anything. The relatives and siblings of the cut-off member discriminate against the particular family member and accuse them of upsetting the parents and other family members. Therefore, it makes the cut-off members hate themselves, and it may lead to depression.

Sibling Position

Sibling position affects one character and is considered to have the most influence on one’s personality. Bowen seconded Walter Taman in his research that those who grow up in a similar birth order possess similar characteristics. For instance, first-borns feel the need to have authority over everything, last-borns tend to be pampered, and they are used to getting most things done their way. Taman’s research also showed that in a case where two first-born get married, there would be a high chance of divorce compared to when a first-born and a last-born get married.

Society Emotional Process

The societal emotional process shows how the emotional system controls one’s behavior in society. It helps promote both progressive and regressive periods in society. Cultural forces govern societal functions, but they are not reliable when it comes to adapting to our society's daily challenges. Some of the factors showing societal regression include violence, growth of crime, increased divorce rates, and increased drug abuse, and the sad part is that society does not have solutions to these problems.

Treatment Plan Using Bowenian Model

The Bowenian model is used to treat many health and behavioral concerns. Thus, it is considered the most appropriate and effective approach for those issues that manifest or relate to families. The system is significant in addressing the problems associated with substance dependency, anxiety, bipolar, depression, personality issues, and food issues.

Cultural Aspects and Implications for the Stones Family

In the Stones family, we see Everest as the oldest son who tries to assume family roles and is serious in life choices, and as a result, he is a successful Manhattan executive. Although the third born in the family Ben Stone is successful, the family is not appreciative of his loose character and dramatic character. He is not conforming to societal pressure by living how they expect him to live. In the Stone family, we see the mother, Sybil Stone. She is the one who tries to bring and hold the family together when it is going through family quarrels. We see she is giving a lot of love, time, and attention to her youngest son Thad when they discover that he is deaf. The family is also worried about what people will think about them when they realize their gay son. Despite what his family says, he proceeds to marry the love of his Patrick.


Bridge, E. N. (2019). Review of a case study in light of Bowen theory: Differentiation of self. Yasam Becerileri Psikoloji Dergisi, 3(5), 65-72.

Erdem, G., & Safi, O. A. (2018). The cultural lens approach to Bowen family systems theory: Contributions of family change theory. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 10(2), 469-483.

Palombi, M. (2016). Separations: A personal account of Bowen family systems theory. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 37(3), 327-339.

Priest, J. B. (2015). A Bowen family systems model of generalized anxiety disorder and romantic relationship distress. Journal of marital and family therapy, 41(3), 340-353.

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