The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

Anxiety, Stress and Triangles: Pressurized Human Relationship

Authored by Don Targonski, M. S. W.

Editor’s notes:

Trainees in the CFC Post-Graduate Training program write short theory-oriented papers throughout the year that reflect their deepening understanding of Bowen theory concepts as they apply them in their families, work, or society. From time to time “The Systems Thinker” will publish works from the trainees.

This blog is a recap of the presentation made by Dr. Daniel Papero at the CFC Fall Conference on October 23, 2020 prepared by Don Targonski, M.S.W. a second-year trainee in the CFC Post-Graduate Training Program

Dan Papero’s review of the fundamentals, such as the automatic and instinctual reactions within the emotional system, the preferential sensitivity among the family members, and the constant flow and counter flow of emotions within the system was helpful in understanding triangles.  How the forces of togetherness and individuation are always in play, how anxiety increases the pressure towards togetherness and how too much closeness results in distancing.  The mechanisms of distancing include conflict, overfunctioning/underfunctioning and projection.  They are utilized to control the emotional flow and maintain regulation. Triangles operate to maintain equilibrium.  The example of the spinning top continuing to adjust the balance of the threesome in the triangle was helpful.

The functions and effects of the triangle are to channel the emotional flow, dilute the anxiety, and control individual behavior.  Triangling goes beyond the family. It occurs in all types of emotional systems.  Dr. Papero used a business example where two business partners are effectively running their company, and as it expands they hire a new CEO.  When this individual starts to relate to one partner to the exclusion of the other, tension increases between the partners which disrupts the operation of the company.

The challenge in working with triangles is to see it in motion with the rise and fall of   tension within it.  The therapeutic technique in working with triangles is to create the situation where the triangle can raise the level of the differentiation of self.  This occurs when the outsider stays outside the triangle observing the interaction while being neutral and non-reactive.  As the intensity decreases, the therapist must maintain contact with the twosome, otherwise another person will be brought into the triangle.

The skills required to change the triangle are: to be present and accounted for within the relationship; to use observation and develop awareness of self while remaining in contact and being neutral; and to never attack, defend or go silent, and to always have a neutral response to counter the reactivity.

Don Targonski


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