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Family Emotional Systems Theory Essay

1482 words - 6 pages

Analysis of Bowen’s Family Emotional Systems Theory in the Clark Case Study

This paper explains family emotional systems theory, as developed by Murray Bowen, as it applies to the Clark Family Case Study. I will begin this paper with a broad overview of family systems theory and focus specifically on Bowen’s family emotional systems theory and its interpretation of family emotional and relational dynamics and symptom formations. My explanation of this theory will be based on course readings, class handouts, and supplemental research. I will assess which of Bowen’s eight interlocking key principles and concepts were the primary generators of anxiety in the Clark family (Bowen, 1978). Most ...view middle of the document...

Furthermore, the foundation of systems theory states that every system is a holon with a focal system, a sub-system, and a supra-system. Bowen’s family emotional system theory is a shift in focus from the individual perspective to a family systems perspective.
Bowen’s family emotional system theory addresses the individual’s emotional well-being in the context of the family, with the family seen as an emotional unit or system (Bowen, 1976; Papero, 1990). A person’s capacity to have positive, balanced relationships in adulthood depend on learned patterns of his or her family of origin (Walsh, 2010). Bowen developed the family emotional systems theory after realizing the vital importance of including family members in the understanding and treatment of his schizophrenic patients (Kerr and Bowen, 1988) and after observing the issues post-World War II soldiers were having upon readjusting to family life. Bowen posits that family interaction patterns have a profound influence on behavior, as family is considered the primary form of socialization (Hall, 1983).
Bowen’s family emotional systems theory examines how unconscious patterns develop within a family to diffuse anxiety and that those patterns of thinking and behavior can be passed down from generation to generation. In order to function well, families need to be able to preserve order and stability without becoming too rigid to adapt. Flexibility is an important quality for a high-functioning family, however too much flexibility can lead to a chaotic family environment. (Walsh,1977). There are eight interlocking concepts that make up Bowen’s theory: emotional fusion; differentiation of self; triangles; nuclear family emotional system; family projection process; multigenerational transmission process, sibling position, and emotional cutoff (Bowen, 1978; Hall, 1981; Kerr, 1981).
The first two concepts of Bowen’s theory, emotional fusion and differentiation of self between family members are the bedrock of Bowen’s theory. Bowen stated that the aspiration of individuals within a family is to attain differentiation of self while still maintaining an emotional connection. “The differentiation of self is roughly equivalent to the concept of emotional maturity” (Bowen,1978, p.263). In a well-differentiated family, communication is open and individuals take responsibility for their reactions and thus, anxiety is reduced. In contrast, the counterbalancing force to differentiation of self is emotional fusion. Emotional fusion occurs when individuals react reflexively setting aside their choices and needs in an effort to maintain harmony. The stronger an individual emotionally fuses with another, the more unbalanced the relationship becomes and the more chronically anxious the family unit becomes. “The greater the fusion, the more [one] is vulnerable to physical illness, emotional illness, ...and the less [one] is able to control [one’s] life (Bowen, 1978, p.305). The boundaries in the system become...

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