Bowen’s Family Theory

Bowen’s Family Theory



Bowen’s Family Theory


            Bowen’s Family Theory facilitates the understanding of various systems within relations concerning the individualistic influences. Different levels of maturity affect the relationships within family circles, and they state the importance of well-being in an individual. The holistic approach to the theory can be used in several circumstances to depict psychological staging of relationships. These include marital satisfaction, management of social anxiety, handling stress and stress-related overtures as well as capacities for self-growth. Bowen’s Family Theory is also instrumental in understanding the effects of human difficulties towards their respective psyche, ingrained relation to others as well as embedding towards the family outlook. Unresolved issues are therefore ideal for the management of the first symptoms of any breakdown. Therapeutic measures that are commonly associated with the theory have to factor in assumptions of togetherness and open communication as solutions to various problems. Bowen’s Family Theory is an ideal balance of togetherness and individuality while explaining the shaping of values, experiences, thoughts, and generational maintenance of the template.


Differentiation of Self

            The concept of differentiation of self is imperative for the basis formation of understanding maturity. It also depicts the manner in which different peoples cope with life’s demands while pursuing their goals. In the latter, the most adaptive form to the least is then used to truncate the process achieved thus far. Several factors are responsible for the variations in adaptations according to the different people (Titelman, 2014). The part, which has the least connectedness to relationships with other people, is dependent on self-understanding as well as principles. The fusion enabled when two or more people are together is responsible for fuelling of anxiety and harboring the sensitivity towards what one wants, says, feels, or thinks on the other. A differentiated person can harbor anxiety in any circumstances but will soon revert to adaptive measures in functioning. The lesser-differentiated person will not exhibit the same, as he will be susceptible to frustrations.

            The levels of differentiations vary from one individual to another and are determined by the degree of self-reasoning while being connected emotionally to others. The discernment between thoughts and feelings is considerable depending on the level of gauged status at maintenance. Separate yardsticks are also developed under circumstances of stress, anxiety, and expectations. Lower levels of differentiation show individuals who act in destructive nature, especially in reactions to the environment and anxiety. Bregman and White (2011) note that measurements of differentiation are ambiguous and complex to achieve since time is needed for observation through the course of life. However, the theory states that on the scale of one to a hundred, the measurements are delivered on calculated functioning. The theory is ideal for creating an improvement basis towards an individual’s life when differentiation is factored. Conscious efforts and strengthening in matters of beliefs and principles are all encouraged.    


            The basic molecule in reference to human relationships is the triangles. A dyad represents the systems used in controlling the effect from one person to multiple associations in a relationship. For example, when there is anxiety in two people in a dyad, there is bound instability because of the balance. In the case of three people, there is a migration of the anxiety shared among the individuals from one to another. Usually, in the latter, relief is experienced. The triangles, therefore, represent the fundamental functioning of human systems according to the theory. They provide either negative or positive outcomes. It depends on the management of the association between the individuals and the adequate number towards anxiety. Once there is calmness and proper reactivity between the associations, it is transferred to the others and the general effect is positive as compared to the negative imagination brought by the symptoms.   

Nuclear Family Emotional Process

            Management of anxiety and differentiation in a nuclear family is circumspect to the typical outcomes. In most case, the channels are addressed through distance, conflicts, reciprocity, and pressure to the members (Headley, 2010). In terms of the reciprocity, it can be generated from under functioning status while the over extremes are not welcome. When faced with conflicts, people tend to criticize, argue, or fight each other in ways to devolve the issues. In terms of reciprocity, responsibilities can be held by one member in place of the other two therefore creating the need to fill the adequacy dimensions. Usually, the resultant effects are all pointed towards incapacitation since there is a lack of direction in the understanding. It can also stem from illnesses in the manner of handling the anxiety between members as stated by the theory.       

Family Projection Process

            Fixed family projections process highlights the relationship towards the child from the parents. In nuclear family setup, the focus of anxiety can be stemmed from the parent to the child. Once the development is transferred, the child depicts the effects and is negative towards the two in the triangle. Consequently, when the effects are full bound, the parent in most cases seek external help in ways to fix the problems experienced by the child. In the ideal scenario, the parents should enable management of the anxiety without it spilling to the child. Mackay (2012) argues that the functioning of the child in these circumstances of family projection is usually low. Resolutions in both parents on matters affecting their relationship are ideal for the child’s improvement to be realized without any adverse outcomes. However, the damage on emotional and anxiety issues from the proceeds is already established in the child.    

Emotional Cutoff

            Bowen’s Family Theory states that the established differences and lack of management in anxiety have consequences, which are negative. The emotional cutoff is the continued distancing posture exhibited by a member of the family in touch with the others. The emotional aspect is borne out of frustration from the experience n relationship problems and unresolved management issues. Withers (2012) states that implications are usually negative to the forthcoming generations as the family setup is bound to fail in being connected. It also proceeds in extensions to the extended family. At the heightened levels, chronic anxiety is extended to higher levels while different members address the issues differently. Severe cases enable irreplaceable damages to the family setup whereby, substituted relationships are formed. Abandoning also talks place and intensity of newer regimes are praised. The vulnerability of the similar symptoms is carried to the new relationships and mismanagement.    

Multigenerational Transmission Process

            Differentiation of an individual can be transmitted through multigenerational process levels. The theory describes the emotional process of differentiated generations from one particular module. The theory is ideal in explaining the different modes of family patterns apart from the dichotomy of transferred genes against that of the environment. The generational gaps are credited with borrowing from the established and witnessed forms of family patterns since they arise from them. Maintenance is then tasked upon the relevant issues of addressing anxiety and reactions to relationships. Thus, maintained close bonds can be traced back to the initial measures of the families and self-analysis. The theory proposes that one ideal means of maintaining the transmission process is through family triangles. It is fostered by better understanding of a couple of members and the child in the representative state. It also extends to the extended families.  

Sibling Position

            An adopted concept of the sibling position within families helps in understanding differentiation on the functional levels. The variations are established from the units of the parents as communicated to the children in each case. Different roles at the family setup are provisional according to the age of the children. They carry different responsibilities and have influential powers (Withers, 2012). In most cases, the borrowed system is witnessed in the dependence of relatives in equal measure and mix of the positions. The theory highlights that a balanced outlook of the positions should be maintained and given importance to all children without discrimination. Once the relativity of positions is understood and taken up by all children, ascension is then established over time. It facilitates differentiation when the respective child has to understand expectations versus the mode of succeeding.      

Societal Emotional Process

            Different people in society are more anxious and emotional as compared to others. The tendency of the societal emotional process reflects on the nature of instability in various times than others. Bowen’s Family Theory uses the relevance of the various tendencies to establish a consulted effort towards understanding the approaches to addressing anxiety. There are different factors, which contribute to anxiety pile up in different people. Stressors of the environment like scarcity of available nature resources, overpopulation, epidemics, and forces of the economies and the evident lack of skills are all contributors. Due to the diverse nature of living, potential stressors in the society all contribute towards the regression ability of the people. Reactions to the same are therefore based on meaning and importance. It is, therefore, imperative that anxiety management is facilitated with the view of enabling differentiation in people to improve their thoughts and abilities.  

            Different aspects of societies gravitate towards the necessity of changing approaches to dealing with anxiety. The theory does not affect the narrower channel on focusing on an individual in comparison to the society in general. The system takes place in blames on relationship forces with added stressors in their livelihoods. Bowen and Butler (2013) argue that environmental stressors are brought about by different occurrences and policies put in place. Therefore, the varied reactions and presentation of anxiety can facilitate the abject means of handling the outcomes. For example, the manner in which families handle discrimination, prejudice, and forms of communication relate to tolerance and enabling a learned survival factor to the children. It is then passed on from one generation to another.     


            Bowen’s Family Theory is an ideal balance of togetherness and individuality while explaining the shaping of values, experiences, thoughts, and generational maintenance of the template. The theory uses eight interlocking concepts to explain the inferential level of its output especially in terms of the family setup to translated societal level. They include differentiation of self, nuclear family emotional system, triangle, family projection process, multigenerational transmission process, emotional cutoff, sibling position, and societal, emotional process. The theory is ideal for facilitating improvement in an individual and thus translating to societal level in terms of substantiating feelings and thoughts.


Bowen, M., & Butler, J. (2013). The origins of family psychotherapy: the NIMH Family Study Project. Lanham: Jason Aronson.

Bregman, O. C., & White, C. M. (2011). Bringing systems thinking to life: Expanding the horizons for Bowen family systems theory. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Headley, A. J. (2010). Family crucible: the influence of family dynamics in the life and ministry of John Wesley. Eugene, or: Wipf & Stock.

Mackay, L. (2012). Trauma and Bowen Family Systems Theory. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 33, 232-241.

Titelman, P. (2014). Clinical Applications of Bowen Family Systems Theory. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Withers, R. (2012). A Comparative Study of Bowenian System Theory and Cognitive-Behavioral Family Therapy. Clinical Mental Health Counseling 4, 10-11.

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