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Family Therapy: Bowns’ Theory

This paper is to give the description and illustration of various concepts of the Bowen theory on differentiation of self, through which his terms such as emotionality, individuality and togetherness will be brought to light.

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A Family as unit is the primary source for educating and developing an individuals’ behavior. A family has the biggest influence on an individual personality since a person develops from child hood to adulthood within this family, thus family ethical values, moral, and religion will be taught to the young one, which will shape the way the young ones view and relate to the world. For example a family which has a strong religious background will most likely produce good fearing children. Therefore in this study we find that Bowen came up with various concepts that cover the behaviour of particular families and these concepts are as follows;

The Six Concepts of Bowns’ Theory

Differentiation of self

Many people have developed an interest in knowing why people are characterized with particular behaviour and also in knowing why they are easily influenced by those around them. Thus in this psychological view we find that Bowen has come up with the following factors are considered to have led to people coping with those around them.

According to Bowen this differentiation of self comes up as a result of conformity which is defined as an individuals’ change in behaviour coming up as a result of pressure from a person or people surrounding the individual, it actually means acting according to ones observation and thus acting in the same manner others around him act (Bowen, 1978, Pp 37-45).

This conformity is believed to be caused by; the unity of people living together. He further indicates that conformity is classified into two groups that is the private conformity which is believed to be a type of change that occurs in both the individuals’ clear behaviour and beliefs and public conformity which is regarded as a superficial change in the identified behaviour and this does include beliefs.

The interrelationship of the group-this is believed to be caused when the members of the stated group are brought together with the same intention of achieving a particular goal related to their social life it may also be caused by the personality of an individual.

The other causing agent for these changes is the awareness of the social norms by the majority of the people; this brings in the idea that an individual is only to confirm when he or she has more knowledge on the social norms (Bowen, 1978, Pp 37-45).

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Sometimes we might find ourselves feeling uncomfortable with a particular situation, and this may actually lead us to look for groups that are of our won interest thus leading ourselves to conform to the pressures from our friends and group that are found to be working hand in hand with our needs. While the normative social influence is that type where people in the society conform to what they believe to be the normalities of that particular group with an ambition of them being accepted in the environment as being one of the members of the stated group.

Research indicates that there various factors that lead to the influencing of individuals’ behaviour through conformity by the pressure of others, one of this factors is that of the group think whereby, an individuals’ behaviour is defined by those surrounding him or her (Kuhn, 1970, Pp 17-27).

Sibling position

According to Bowens study we find he focused much on how the positioning of sibling in a family affects the development and behaviour of the group. He states that those individuals born in the same position tend to carry the type of behaviour and characteristics. In this case we find that for instance the older children in a family tend to bring in the characteristics of being the leaders in any family developments while the young ones just appreciate and conform to the directions given by their elders. In this case we find that he tries to bring in the factor of compliance which is defined as the changes that occur on an individual behaviour as a result of direct requests by others in the environment.

Here we find that the older sibling puts his request in different ways so that they may be put in a position of influencing the younger sibling to change his or her behaviors. One of the ways of making this request is by the use of a requesting language, which include; talking fast this is found to be increasing the compliance of an individual since older sibling finds the other siblings off guard and thus increasing their compliance towards his requests (Bowen, 1978, Pp 37-45).

Research indicates that most people are usually defused by the way an individual places his request that is, how a person asks for something is regarded as the most important thing than what the person is in need of. Bowens goes ahead and explains that in many cases those siblings who are born at a higher position tend to be indecisive as he or she mostly concentrates on the act of leading his or her young sibling.

On the other hand we find that Bowen states that the younger siblings in a family are always put in a much better position of decision making and taking their responsibilities comfortably as they grow up and they tend to apply reciprocity as their way of compliance this type of compliance actually indicates that many individuals are found to be treating other in the surrounding the way they have treated them and this has led to these individuals feeling that they have an obligation of repaying for acts of kindness given to them this is because one feels that he is indebted to the individual who did good to him. This reciprocity norm is found to be the most short-lived way of requesting for compliance from an individual (Eysenck, 1985, Pp3)

Emotional cutoff

This where Bowen states that the emotional cutoff is an explanation of how individuals try to manage their issues are emotional and that are not solved that occurs between the family members. This is normally done by the individuals practicing their reduction on their emotional contacts with the family members with such problems. These individuals are found to be practicing this by keeping their distance from the said members in this case most of them are found to be running away from their homes and never to come back again or some of them may decide to stay in the family but never to mention topics or issues that are more sensitive to them (Bowen, 1978, Pp 37-45).

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Bowen states that such individuals normally find themselves creating new relationships where they carry out their expectations to other people; research indicates that such acts make an individual vulnerable to come up with pressure to other people to make leave his way of life thus raising his expectations out of the relationship. This emotional cut off shows that individuals are always put in a position of creating a change in their behaviour through arousal and even attribution. This method is found to be working hand in hand with the convincing of an individual to belief in him and also to consider the benefits of others as they indulge in doing what others request them to do. (Eysenck, 1985, Pp3)


Bowen defines triangles as a relationship system that exists between three people. He regards it as an iota of systems which are believed to be having a system with a larger emotional factor. He states that this triangle only fits three individuals since it evolves around more tension as compared to the system which involve only two people which he regards as being unbalanced since it undergoes less tension before they decide to involve a third party (Bowen, 1978, Pp 37-45).

In this case Bowen states that in the triangle system for instance if the tension between the individuals gets unbearable they therefore decide to what he terms as a series of interlocking triangles, he believes that this kind of action leads to a better way of resolving issues that exist between the family members this brings in the intention of an individual indulging to a particular kind of attachment that is found to be emotional.

He goes ahead and explains that this triangle system actually carries a number of difficulties when implementing it that it requires the individuals to eliminate members of the family who are regarded as the odd ones out, this therefore brings in anxiety for voting the odd member of the family out. as compared to the system which is inclusive of two people only no one is regarded as an odd one out since the two people prove to be so much closer and they tend to be working hand in hand whether in resolving issues or even in the decision making process (Kuhn, 1970, Pp 17-27)

Under the triangle system Bowen indicates that there usually exists the tension of reinforcing change between the individuals by eliminating one of them. This therefore shows the disadvantage of this system since it makes an individual to feel segregated and rejected in the family.

This system is found to be carrying three sides of operation that is the conflict side and the other two sides regarded as the harmony sides and both side are stated to be regarding the odd members as the desirable whereby in case where a conflict emerges in the triangle the members will run to the outside individual with an intention of them getting the conflict resolved. This system is found to be one of the major causes of depression in the family since it leads individuals feeling isolated and discriminated (Beebe, 1988, Pp 3).

Family Projection

In his study we find that Bowen defines family projection as an act of how parents indulge themselves emotionally towards the solving of their children problems. Childhood, child rearing and parenting are spheres in social life which attract strong morals and principles (Bowen, 1978, Pp 37-45).

However, these morals and principles are contested across families and at times within them. What comprises of excellent parenting or proper childhood experiences always is debatable as there is specific good way of childrearing. However, a child is an important person in the parents and the society as whole and his childhood experiences need to be good. Parents and the society have a duty of caring for the child.

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He states that the children in a family are normally born with personalities that are inherited. He therefore asserts that these behaviors are quite different from one child to another though some may have similar behavior that they inherited from parents or even grandparents. These personalities they inherit tend to be affecting them in one way or another for example a child may be seeking for attention, the children are sometimes characterized by the responsibility of taking care of other members of the family to ensure their happiness thus helping in the solving the anxiety that other members of the family face (Basch, 1986, Pp 261- 271).

Therefore we find that many parents are provided with the responsibility of ensuring that their children are taken care of to keep them off from any problems that tend to occur, therefore Bowen indicates that these parents carryout this family projections in three steps that is; they get themselves focused on their children with the fear that they are facing a particular problem, these parents also interpret the behaviour of their children as the conform to the existing problem and lastly these parents are always convinced that there is something wrong with their children.

These steps are usually practiced by the parents once the child is born and they actually meant to foster the development of the child’s behaviour. This therefore brings in the advantage of this family projection concept since it is regarded as a self-fulfilling factor to the parents in the family since the parents are always found to be engaging themselves in fixing the problems that there children are facing (Basch, 1986, Pp 261- 271).

Therefore in this case we find that both parents of the child participate in this act of family projections though with different responsibilities, where we find that the mother is always given the responsibility of the being the care taker which requires her to be more emotionally attached to the child than the father who is found to be occupying the outside position in this existing triangle of parenting, though he argues that these parents are not always sure about themselves in this relationship with their child there must be at least one parent who goes along with the parenting process.

Multigenerational transmission process

Bowen in this concept tries to bring in the idea that the existing information that is found to be small in one generation is always transmitted to the other family generations which creates differences among the members of the family which is believed to be multigenerational. He states that this information is usually transmitted through existing relationships among the family members. This act of transmission is believed to be carried out in various levels this is according to Bowen which may be done through conscious teaching and learning of reactions and behaviors stated to be emotional all these factors are believed to important in creating an individuals’ self in the family (Beebe, 1988,Pp 3).

According to Bowen we find that the value of self differentiation is that it may affect the success of an individual be it occupational, marital or social expectations and this actually brings in the a range of variations in the existing multigenerational family, for instance the individuals who are believed to have the high difference are found to be stable and they tend to be much productive and helpful in the society as compared to those who have a poor differentiation who are found to be only chaotic and less contributive to the society thus they tend to rely on the other members of the family. (Eysenck, 1985, Pp.3)


Bowen concurs that emotionality is regarded as a person’s reaction at a specific time due to the existing interaction between his or her genetic constitution, unconscious or conscious mind and the environment that are around him According to Bowen the emotional force interaction constitutes of the interaction of both the motivational and emotional forces that affect a person’s behavior. These factors also affect an individual’s mental states and in most case those that exist in the subconscious level of the brain. The inner forces include both the motivational and emotional forces that make a person to behave in a certain way. (Basch, 1984, Pp 9-17)

The emotional states include the superego, ego and the id and their relation to the developments in a child during the early or the first days. Bowman says that the ego fights with various forces. These include the outside world, super-ego and the id. Therefore the focus of the emotionality is on the interactions that are quite dynamic consisting of the superego, ego and the id. In fact he interprets an individual’s behavior as that emanating from the emotional processes of forces (Bowlby, 2001, Pp 79-96).

Forces of Individuality and Togetherness

Bowen defines these two words individuality and togetherness as the basic factors in an individual’s psychological development though they sometimes bring in the concept of differentiation. As far as differentiation of self is concerned the change of the personality of an individual the individuality and togetherness pops in through which research indicates that as the differentiation of a poor differentiated individual decreases his needs for togetherness is found to be increasing whereby we find that this person is regarded to be yearning for recognition and love from the people surrounding him in all aspects of his life.

While for the person who is highly differentiated we find that as this differentiation increases he is put in a position of having his individuality developed and his togetherness needs are less and his emotional responses are reported to be better managed. In this case we find that individuality normally depends on the development of the individual psychologically while the togetherness is regarded as the attraction of the person’s interest on the other member of the family. (Basch, 1984, Pp 9-17)

Scale of Differentiation

According to Bowen’s scale of differentiation, he states that this differentiation comes up as a result of observation where an individual observes how his or her family operates in this contemporary world. individuals’ change in behaviour coming up as a result of pressure from a person or people surrounding the individual, it actually means acting according to ones observation and thus acting in the same manner others around him act.

From all these concepts I can therefore put my family in the Bowens scale of differentiation of seventy five which is regarded as a stage where most families are stated to be mature and independent This is well explained in my case where my Dad died of cancer at the age of 38 and my Grand dad died at the age of 75, Grand mother died epilepsy at age 65.Grand dad mother side; died of ischemic heart disease at age of 74. Grand mother died heart disease at age of 75.

Why I decided that my family falls under 75 of the Bowen’s scale of differentiation is that my family adhered to the pressure resulting from the death of my family members and that is my mother says when her father in-law’s youngest brother died of cancer he was calmer and did not grief much compare with other family members and friends. This clearly indicated that the whole had conformed to the death cases.


Each one of us has a unique way of behavior; an individual behavior is mainly influenced by family upbringing which will affect the social and cultural behavior of a person. Personality is shaped by both internal and external factors. Family is the primary source of developing a person behavior. The family moral and values will have life long effects on an individual personality.

Reference List

  • Basch, M. (1984): Self objects and self object transference: Theoretical implications. In Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, Pp. 9-17. Web.
  • Basch, M. (1986): Clinical theory and Meta psychology; Incompatible of Complementary, Psychoanalytic Review; 73: Pp. 261- 271. Web.
  • Beebe, M. (1988): Mother-infant mutual influence and precursors of psychic structure. In Progress in Self Psychology, vol. III, ed. A. Goldberg; New York; Guilford Press Pp 3. Web.
  • Bowen, M (1978). Family Therapy in Clinical Practice Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aaronson Inc., Pp. 37-45. Web.
  • Bowlby, J. (2001): Attachment and Loss; Vol I; 2nd Ed; Basic Books; 13-23. ISBN 0 465-00543-8 Pp. 79-96. Web.
  • Eysenck, H. (1985): Personality and individual differences; a natural science approach. New York; Plenum 424 Pp 3. Web.
  • Kuhn, T (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Chicago, lllinois: University Of Chicago, Second Edition, Pp. 17-27.

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