BowenFamily System Therapy
FIG1: My family genogram
Myname is Lilian. My family is made up of three generations paternaland maternal parents, my parents and their siblings, and me and mysiblings. I am the oldest in my family. My father holds a Ph.D. inpolitical science while my mother has a master’s degree in nursing.My brother, the second born in our family, graduated with masters inbusiness administration while I am in pursuit of a master degree inpsychology. In the three generation family, there is no record ofdrug or substance abuse. In my nuclear family, I am the closest to mydad while mom treats us equally. My dad worked as a diplomat in UNbefore retiring. Having worked for the UN, he is so organised andwants everything in perfect order, not forget he still is choosy. Weattach great importance to our family, especially to our parents. Hetreats his parents as kings to him. He was brought up to be aresponsible and respectful person. Being the eldest, he perceived hisyounger siblings as irresponsible. He has five brothers and threesisters. On the other hand, my mother takes things easy, courtesy ofher upbringing and the value for family ties. They were brought up tobe independent and responsible with respect and values forming thefoundation their behaviour. She is the third-born in a family ofeleven six brothers and two sisters. We’ve been taught to berespectful and responsible people. During dinner, in most cases, theissue would be solved. My dad has a strong character, is funny, has agood heart, and is supportive. However, he sometime becomesauthoritative, thinks he is right and doesn’t take another opinion.There exist a rift between my youngest brother and my dad. They arenot the best of friends. He values education so much, and he takes noexcuse.
Accordingto Bowen, triangles are the smallest stable units in a relationship(Kerr and Bowen, 1988). He centres his theory around triangulation.Triangling occurs when an inevitable anxiety gets into play. Theanxiety comes from too much closeness or too wide connection, whichresults in discomfort (Brown, 2008). In connection with Bowen’sdescription of the triangle, it once happens to me. My youngestbrother, Ian, once come home from school with a swollen eye. Uponinquiry, my dad realised that Ian was involved in a fight. This drovemy dad crazy. He always advocated for resolving matters amicablyregardless of the situation. He was so angry, but my mother steppedin and took Ian’s side. She defended Ian. She explained that Ianmight have been defending himself against the offensive opponent. Ianis known to be provocative on most occasions, and this could be oneof them. On this, I supported my dad.
Fromthis scenario, the rift between Ian and my dad caused triangle. Whilethe rest of us took sides, Brian, the second born, walked away. Hetook no side. As Bowen puts it, under the calm condition, trianglesmay be difficult to identify. In the case of my family before Ian’sincident, one could not point out to any existing triangles, butafter the incident, triangles were eminent. Triangles are clearlyportrayed under stress.
Amultigenerational triangle once formed in my family. One of myuncles, brother to my dad, wanted to change his faith. He wanted tobecome a Muslim. My father and the other sibling felt it wasunacceptable. Most associate Islam and terrorism. I remember tryingto explain to my dad, at the dining table, arguing that not allMuslims are terrorists just the same way some Christians areterrorists only that they hide their true identity. Even my brotheragreed with me. Mom and dad together with uncles and aunts wereagainst my uncle’s decision while my brother and I held a differentopinion. Our paternal parent stressed expressed the need to respectuncle’s decision, which means we had the same opinion only that wenever claimed our opinion openly. My uncle was the closest one to mydad among all their siblings. Over time, communication declined to apoint that my dad felt something was wrong. Upon investigating, herealised the intentions of my uncle to change his faith. I guess myuncle kept some distance to avoid deterrence from his brothers andsisters. He shared this with the other brother, sisters and hisparents. In this case, the widening relationship between my fatherand his brother raised the alarm. My father and his sibling triangledup on the side while my grandparents and uncle formed anothertriangle. We too supported our uncle although we had little impact onthis.
Beinga woman, I desired a family of my on. I wanted to know the opinion myparents had the kind of partner I should have. The best time to raisesuch a question was during dinner. I posed my question this way,“suppose I know two guys one is a Christian, good looking, butthen he’s not faithful, and the other guy is a non-Christian, goodlooking but not as the first on and faithful, who would you advise meto marry?” both my brother had the same opinion that I shouldfollow my heart. My parents a slightly different opinion that Ishould follow my heart but I should consider Christianity first, andthen the rest of the qualities would follow. In other words, myparents stressed in a Christian guy, while my brothers prioritisedcompatibility. I this case, although not due to too much closeness orwide relation, triangulation occurred based on opinion.
Inanother case, my mother was once the sole provider of the house.Then, my dad had lost his job. She struggled with the bills, schoolfees and still feed and clothes us. His quest to find a job aroundfailed terribly. My mother kept pressing him to do something. Hefinally resorted to moving to another city where he could get ateaching job. Having a master’s degree was not enough to grant hima decent job. He was employed in an electronic supply store. The paywas not decent. It was just enough to cater for his needs. Thiscreated tension between him and mom. Since I was the oldest, mymother would complain how dad is not responsible for taking care ofus. This too happened when talking to him on the phone. He complainsof mom no being understanding. At times, they would quarrel over thephone while other times they would miss each other and would talk forquite a long time. During this period, the widening gap between themleads to anxiety. Sometimes they would involve me in their wrangles.In most cases, when they involve me, I would cry. Feeling guilty ofcausing their child to cry, they would go easy on each other and talknicely. In this case, my parents’ failure to resolve their anxietyled to the projection of the problem to me. They would then becomeclose to each other.
Myuncle became unfaithful to his wife. Though married, he still datedsome young women. His wife having known his husband for a long periodbegan feeling emotional detachment from him. Her husband startedcoming home late. This prompted her to seek the cause of the problem.It is then that she realised his husband was cheating though shenever found out any concrete evidence. She then decided to share herplight with grandma (her mother-in-law). Grandma requested him tocome home she wants to talk to him. After the meeting, he stoppedhis habit. He never comes home late. I heard her telling mom thatthey are even closer than before. As for this case, the rift betweenmy uncle and his wife caused anxiety. Grandma acted as the thirdparty, and my aunt used her to dissipate the indifference.
Theemotional system of one generation is always replicated to the nextgeneration. In marriage, the interaction of the father and the motherfollows that of their parents, and they will pass this trait down totheir offspring (Rabstejnek,2007). Murray Bowen explains that marriage gives rise to a nuclearfamily relationship. For any fusion to occur there has to be an equallevel of differentiation. In this case, the determinant is theemotional control of the intellectual capacity and not the behaviour.Additionally, the level of differentiation is inversely proportionalto emotional fusion, that is, the higher the differentiation, thelower the emotional fusion. Anxiety comes from too much fusion ofboth parties. To resolve this stress, the couple find their way toemotional divorce, emotional distance, sickness, dysfunction, andmartial conflict (Guerin, 1987). In most case, the problem may beprojected to one of the children, mostly the eldest. The childbecomes the third party that is used in damping the anxiety, and thecloseness are maintained. The important point is that in theconflict, the energy dissipation tends to localise in the weakestperson in the triangle. The use of children may result in theirimpairment and eventually may develop into neurosis or evenpsychopathology, which means a different working concept should beadopted if such consequences are to be avoided. In a family set up,two outside parties influence the degree of adaptation of the triadfirst, the emotional connection of the nuclear family to its extendedfamily, and secondly, the level externally applied anxiety. Unsettleemotional difference raise anxiety, which leads to increase inpsychopathology (Rabstejnek,2007). The grandparents act as absorbers or dissipate in resolvingthe undifferentiated energy. Failure to resolve the energy, leads toprojection to the children. The child may be free from the symptomsif the parents do not involve him directly when resolving theirundifferentiated energy. Since children are not treated equally in afamily, for many reasons, the level of effect varies, that is, onechild may be symptom-free while the other is affected.
Inthe first situation, my father and Ian were the dyads while my motherand I were the triads. We became the third party that the dyad usedto resolve their indifference.
Inthe second case, dad and his brothers were the dyads. They were closebut when dad felt the rift widening, he involve his other siblingswho became the triad.
Inthe third scenario involving my mom and dad, they were the dyad whileI became a triad. In some way, they maintained closeness by involvingme in their wrangle.
Inthe fourth occurrence, my uncle and his wife were close to eachother, but when the gap began widening, my aunt became thewhistleblower. She and her husband are the dyads in this situationwhile grandma is the triad. After a successful resolution, the couplebecame close again.
Emotionalcut-off refers to emotional withdrawal or keeping some distance in anattempt to manage the anxiety (Brown, 1999). In other circumstances,fusion may occur between the generations. Bowen makes a distinctionbetween breaking away and growing away. The latter is viewed asdifferentiation in that, although one may pursue personal goals suchas marriage, he/she appreciate that he belongs to a family system.The cut-off is more of physical separation people opt to becompletely different compared to their family of origin (Cook, 2007).Although it helps to relieve some pressure, there is a high chancethat most things would remain unchanged. If a member does not seehimself as part of the existing system or fails to get support, hehas two options to change others’ perception or withdraw. If hesees himself as part of the existing system, he will stay in contactwith the rest (Kerr and Bowen, 1988)
Inline with this, the relationship between my dad and his brother wascut-off. The differentiation led to cut-off as a way of relievingpressure while the in the case of my dad and Ian resulted in fusion.
Multi-generationaltransmission refers to the concept of roles or positions in atriangle being passed down to the next generation. The effect differsin each child depending on how much triangling he/she was involved.By studying the pattern of family members, you not only get anevaluative tool but also a way coping with symptoms and the impactthey have in changing their part in the transmission of anxiety tothe next generation (McGoldrick and Gerson, 1985). This means that,by learning your family history, one get to know how family membersreact, by not only considering yourself as the victim but also as anactive player.
Ahealthy development includes resolution of matters without involvinga third party. This is because in ultimately, the relationship endsup in fusion, not cut-off. For example, the relationship between mydad and his brother ended in a cut-off. Furthermore, the third party,if is the child, will end up acquiring neurosis or psychopathology,which is why in my family, we have learnt to solve relationshipanxiety.
Anotherimportant technique we have adopted in our family is detriangulation.This involves identifying the triangles first, and the family memberslearn how to take neutral position thus allowing the dyad to havedirect communication (Brown, 2008).
Rabstejnek,C. V. (2012). Family systems & Murray Bowen theory.
Brown,J. (1999). Bowen family systems theory and practice: Illustration andcritique. Australianand New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy,20(2),94-103.
McGoldrick,M., & Gerson, R. (1985). Genogramsin family assessment.WW Norton & Company.
Guerin,P. J. (1987). Theevaluation and treatment of marital conflict: A four-stage approach.Basic Books.
Cook,L., (2007). Perceived Conflict, Sibling Position, Cut-Off, andMultigenerational Transmission in the Family of Origin of ChemicallyDependent Persons: An Application of Bowen Family Systems Theory.Journal of Addictions Nursing, 18 (1), pp.131-140
Brown,J., (2008). Bowen Family Systems Theory and Practice: Illustrationand Retrieved fromhttp://www.familysystemstraining.com/papers/bowen-illustration-and-critique.html.
Kerr,M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Familyevaluation.WW Norton & Company.