Reflection paper about Relationships Family

Reflection paper about Relationships Family

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attain. ship matters directly with the other person. Energy is THE THEORY invested in taking things personally (ensuring the emotional comfort of another), or in distancing oneself Bowen’s focus was on patterns that develop in families in (ensuring one’s own). The greater a family’s tendency to order to defuse anxiety. A key generator of anxiety in fuse, the less flexibility it will have in adapting to stress. families is the perception of either too much closeness Bowen developed the idea of a differentiation of self or too great a distance in a relationship. The degree of scale to assist in teaching this concept. He points out anxiety in any one family will be determined by the that this was not designed as an actual instrument for current levels of external stress and the sensitivities to assigning people to particular levels (Kert and Bowen, particular themes that have been transmitted down the 1988: 97–98). Bowen maintains that the speculative generations. If family members do not have the capacity nature of estimating a level of differentiation is com- to think through their responses to relationship dilemmas, pounded by factors such as stress levels, individual dif- but rather react anxiously to perceived emotional de ferences in reactivity to different stressors, and the mands, a state of chronic anxiety or reactivity may be degree of contact individuals have with their extended set in place. family. At one end of the scale, hypothetical complete The main goal of Bowenian therapy is to reduce differentiation’ is said to exist in a person who has chronic anxiety by 1) facilitating awareness of how the resolved their emotional attachment to their family (i.c. emotional system functions; and 2) increasing levels of shifted out of their roles in relationship triangles) and differentiation, where the focus is on making changes can therefore function as an individual within the family for the self rather than on trying to change others. Eight group. Bowen did acknowledge that this was a lifelong interlocking concepts make up Bowen’s theory. This process and that total differentiation is not possible to paper will give an overview of seven of these. The eighth attempts to link his theory to the evolution of society, and has little relevance to the practice of his therapy. However, Wylie (1991) points out in her bio- 2. Triangles graphical piece following Bowen’s death that this interest Bowen described triangles as the smallest stable relation in evolutionary process distinguishes Bowen from other ship unit (Kert and Bowen, 1988: 135). The process of family therapy pioneers. Bowen viewed himself as a triangling is central to his theory. (Some people use the scientist, with the lofty aim of developing a theory that term triangulation, deriving from Minuchin (1974: 102), accounted for the entire range of human behaviour and but Bowen always spoke of triangling.) Triangling is its origins. said to occur when the inevitable anxiety in a dyad is relieved by involving a vulnerable third party who either 1. Emotional Fusion and Differentiation takes sides or provides a detour for the anxiety (Lerner, of Self 1988; James, 1989; Guerin, Fogarty, Fay and Kautto, 1996). An example of this pattern would be when Person *Fusion’ or ‘lack of differentiation’ is where individual A in a marriage begins feeling uncomfortable with too choices are set aside in the service of achieving harmony much closeness to Person B. S/he may begin withdraw- within the system. Fusion can be expressed either as a ing, perhaps to another activity such as work (the third sense of intense responsibility for another’s reactions, point of the triangle). Person B then pursues Person A, or by emotional cutoff from the tension within a rela- which results in increased withdrawal to the initial tionship (Kerr and Bowen, 1988; Herz Brown, 1991). triangled-in person of activity. Person B then feels Bowen’s research led him to suggest that varying degrees neglected and seeks out an ally who will sympathise with of fusion are discernible in all families. Differentiation, his/her sense of exclusion. This in turn leads to Person A by contrast, is described as the capacity of the individual feeling like the odd one out and moving anxiously closer to function autonomously by making self directed to Person B. Under stress, the triangling process feeds choices, while remaining emotionally connected to the on itself and interlocking triangles are formed through- intensity of a significant relationship system (Kert and out the system. This can spill over into the wider com Bowen, 1988). Bowen’s notion of fusion has a different munity, when family members find allies, or enemies to focus to Minuchin’s concept of enmeshment, which is unite against, such as doctors, teachers and therapists. based on a lack of boundary between sub-systems Under calm conditions it is difficult to identify tri- (Minuchin, 1974). The structural terms fenmeshment’ angles but they emerge clearly under stress. Triangles and disengagement are in fact the twin polarities of are linked closely with Bowen’s concept of differenti- Bowen’s fusion Fusion describes cach person’s reactions ation, in that the greater the degree of fusion in a rela- within a relationship, rather than the overall structure of tionship, the more heightened is the pull to preserve family relationships. Hence, anxiously cutting off the emotional stability by forming a triangle. Bowen did relationship is as much a sign of fusion as intense sub- not suggest that the process of triangling was necessarily dysfunctional, but the concept is a useful way of grasp B. Symptoms in a Spouse ing the notion that the original tension gets acted out In a fused relationship, where each partner looks to elsewhere. Triangling can become problematic when a the other’s qualities to fit his/her learned manner of te- third party’s involvement distracts the members of a lating to significant others, a pattern of reciprocity can dyad from resolving their relationship impasse. If a third be set in motion that pushes each spouse’s role to oppo party is drawn in the focus shifts to criticising or worry- site extremes. Drawing from his analytic background, ing about the new outsider, which in turn prevents Bowen described this fusion as the reciprocal side of the original complainants from resolving their tension. cach spouse’s transference’ (Kerr and Bowen, 1988: 170). According to Bowen, triangles tend to repeat themselves For example, what may start as an overly responsible actoss generations. When one member of a relationship spouse feeling compatible with a more dependent partner, triangle departs of dies, another person can be drawn can escalate to an increasingly controlling spouse with into the same role (e.g. villain’ rescuer’, ‘victim’, ‘black the other giving up any sense of contributing to the sheep’, ‘martyr’). For example, in my own family of relationship. Both are equally undifferentiated in that origin I found myself moving into the role of peace- they are defining themselves according to the reactions maker after the death of my mother, who had mediated of the other; however the spouse who makes the most the tension between my father and brother. This on- adjustments in the self in order to preserve relation- going triangle served to detour the anxiety that had ship harmony is said by Bowen to be prone to develop- been played out between fathers and sons in the family ing symptoms. The person who gets polarised in the over the generations. underfunctioning position is most vulnerable to symp- toms of helplessness such as depression, substance abuse 3. Nuclear Family Emotional System and chronic pain. The overfunctioning person might also be the one to develop symptoms, as s/he becomes In positing the nuclear family emotional system, Bowen overburdened by attempts to make things ‘right for focuses on the impact of undifferentiation’ on the others. emotional functioning of a single generation family. He asserts that relationship fusion, which leads to tri- C. Symptoms in a Child angling, is the fuel for symptom formation which is mani The third symptom of fusion in a family is when a child fested in one of three categories. These are: (A) couple develops behavioural or emotional problems. This comes conflict. (B) illness in a spouse. (C) projection of a under Bowen’s fourth theoretical concept, the Family problem onto one or more children. Projection Process A. Couple Conflict The single generation unit usually starts with a dyada 4. Family Projection Process couple who, according to Bowen, will be at approxi- In the previous two categories the couple relationship is mately equal levels of differentiation (i.e. both have the the focus of anxiety without it significantly impacting same degree of need to be validated through the rela on the functioning of the next generation. By contrast, tionship). Bowen believed that permission to disagree the family projection process describes how children is one of the most important contracts between indi- develop symptoms when they get caught up in the viduals in an intimate relationship (Kert and Bowen, previous generation’s anxiety about relationships. 1988: 188). In a fused relationship, partners interpret The child with the least emotional separation from the emotional state of the other as their responsibility, his/her parents is said to be the most vulnerable to de and the other’s stated disagreement as a personal affront veloping symptoms. Bowen describes this as occurring to them. A typical pattern in such emotionally intense when a child responds anxiously to the tension in the relationships is a cycle of closeness followed by conflict patents’ relationship, which in turn is mistaken for a to create distance, which in turn is followed by the problem in the child. A detouring triangle is thus set couple making up and resuming the intense closeness. in motion, as attention and protectiveness are shifted to This pattern is a conflictual cocoon’ (Kerr and Bowen, the child. Within this cycle of reciprocal anxiety, a child 1988: 192), where anxiety is bound within the conflict becomes more demanding or more impaired. An example cycle without spilling over to involve children. Bowen would be when an illness in a child distracts one parent suggested the following three ways in which couple con- from the pursuit of closeness in the marriage. As tension flict can be functional for a fused relationship, in which in the marriage is relieved, both spouses become in- each person is attempting to become more whole vested in treating their child’s condition, which may in through the other’ (Lederer and Lewis, 1991). (1) Con- turn become chronic or psychosomatic. flict can provide a strong sense of emotional contact As in all of Bowen’s constructs, intergenerational pro with the important other. (2) Conflict can justify people’s jection’ is said to occur in all families in varying degrees. maintaining a comfortable distance from each other Many intergenerational influences may determine which without feeling guilty about it. (3) Conflict can allow child becomes the focus of family anxiety and at what one person to project anxieties they have about them stage of the life cycle this occurs. The impact of crises selves onto the other, thereby preserving their positive and their timing also influences the vulnerability of
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