When we consider Bowen's theory, we can imagine two types of families. One where the individuals have a low level of differentiation and one with a high level of differentiation.

One where emotional triangles abound, and people avoid talking to each other about their feelings. And one where individuals speak directly to the person they have an issue with and share their feelings and what they want and need.

A family where the losses and fears of previous generations get passed to each subsequent generation. And a family which questions beliefs and assumptions and looks for ways to heal the pain in the family system.

A family which cuts off an individual whose behaviours they don't agree with or understand. And families that accept each other even if they don't understand each other. Recognizing that love doesn't mean everyone is the same, rather love means accepting someone who is different.

We can envision a closed-off family where the members focus on supporting the 'family' and maintaining the status quo, where little gets questioned and much gets judged.

Or we can envision an open family that works to support the individual members to pursue their dreams even if those dreams are dramatically diverged from what the family has known. A family where the members are curious, creative, courageous and cooperative. A family where the members seek ways to expand and explore the world around them and are cheered on by the rest of the family.

In sessions, I often demonstrate this idea with a closed fist and an open hand. A closed fist that is holding a family close and, in a way crushing it, crushing the spirit of those in it. Vs an open hand holding up the family and providing a stable and supportive base from which the family members can explore their individuality and the world around them.

We can think of these two types of families as being at opposite ends of a spectrum. Some families will be more closed off, and some families more open.

Questions to Ask Yourself

What type of family did you grow up in?

What type of family do you want to be part of?

Chapter 8: Nuclear Family Process Send us your Feedback