What is Family Systems Theory?

Everyone needs to have a structured way of thinking to interpret life’s events and guide them in the lifelong process of maturity. In my life, personally and professionally, I use Family Systems Theory and have dedicated 25+ years of continuing education to its understanding and application.

What is Family System Theory?

Dr. Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist, originated his theory and its eight interlocking concepts. He formulated the theory by using systems thinking to integrate knowledge of the human as a product of evolution with knowledge from family research. A core assumption is that an emotional system that evolved over several billion years governs human relationship systems. People have a “thinking brain,” language, a complex psychology and culture, but they still do all the ordinary things that other forms of life do. The emotional system affects most human activity and is the principal driving force in the development of clinical problems. Knowledge of how the emotional system operates in one’s family, work, and social systems offers new, more effective options for solving problems in each of these areas.

Source: https://www.thebowencenter.org/core-concepts-diagrams

The 8 C oncepts of Bowen Family Systems Theory

1. Scale of Differentiation of Self – The scale of differentiation of self refers to a theoretical scale that separates people along a continuum of zero to one hundred according to their ability to adapt to life.

2. Triangles – The triangle is the smallest stable unit of emotional systems.

3. Nuclear Family Emotional System – The nuclear family is the emotional unit rather than the individual.

4. Family Projection Process – The family projection process, through relationship fusions, is projected to the offspring in varying degrees.

5. Multigenerational Emotional Process – Not only does anxiety move among members of a nuclear family, it also travels between nuclear family units to span, sometimes, many generations of nuclear units.

6. Sibling Position – Personality has many determinants. One of those delineated by the research of Doctor Walter Toman is sibling position, as described by both age rank and gender configuration within the family.

7. Cutoff – First described between generations, the most extreme form of distance in a relationship is called cutoff.

8. Societal Emotional Process – Originally referred to as “societal regression,” this idea describes the periods of chaos, disorder, and irresponsibility that occur in society at large at times of greater anxiety.

Family Systems Theory is an essential component of Inside Out Spirituality as it provides a framework for the self in balancing and integrating the inner life of thoughts and feelings with the outer world of relationships.

Bowen’s Theory is indispensable for me in creating perspective, establishing direction, lowering anxiety, and owning my part in everything.

I look forward to using Family Systems with you as you balance your life with Inside Out Spirituality.

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