The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

About Our Blog

An online forum to further the discussion of research and applications of systems thinking that continue to emerge from the ongoing study and practice of Bowen theory by family therapists, clergy, business leaders, consultants, and scientists.

The Survival and Adaptation of the African American Family Mignonette Nunn Keller, PhD Summary of Dr. Keller’s presentation at the CFC Summer Conference in 2021

“How does a slave develop a self in an oppressive dehumanizing system forcing him into a no-self position?” a question posed by Murray Bowen, MD was addressed in the conference “The Survival and Adaptation of the African American Family”, a presentation by Mignonette Nunn Keller, PhD. at the Center for Family Consultation, July 23, 2021.  Bowen’s conceptualization of chronic anxiety and “differentiation of self” traced the early years of Aaron Guice, his family experiences with two slave owners, and his relationships with his second owner’s family.  Aaron Guice was sold at approximately age 14 to his second owner.  He was able to exercise principled oriented decisions in delaying marriage and children, being able to accept both his black and white heritage and continuing to have positive relationships with both black and white family members.  From this writer’s perspective, some positive external experiences and his being a free spirit and having some distance from the emotional system he grew in enabled him to develop sufficient “self” to withstand the stresses and losses he experienced growing up.

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Process, Process, Process

You may be familiar with the old saying about the three most important things in real estate:  Location, location, location.  This means there is one most important thing in every aspect of our lives. In Bowen theory, the cornerstone concept of differentiation of self holds that pivotal position.  To deeply know oneself and work toward a more separate yet connected self is the key.  Being focused on the act of becoming more differentiated requires thinking about process.  How do you see yourself and your reactivity more clearly and objectively? And then, how do you work to respond differently when you observe high reactivity?

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Searching for Nature’s Rules

“When we ponder the workings of the human body or of the life of the Serengeti National Park, the details would seem overwhelming, the parts too numerous, and their interactions too complex. The power of a small number of rules…is their ability to reduce complex phenomena to a simpler logic of life.” (10) With this thought, Sean B. Carroll introduces his book, The Serengeti Rules:  The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters. 

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Reflections on a Presentation by James P. Curley, PhD: Power Differentials in Social Hierarchies, Why and How They Emerge and Their Consequences for Behavior and Health

This report on the keynote address given at the Midwest Symposium on May 7 2021 was prepared by Dr. Rosalyn Chrenka, a student of the CFC Post-graduate Training program. I took notes and have commented below on some things that struck me as interesting in relation to theory.

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Anxiety, Stress and Triangles: Pressurized Human Relationship

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.

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The Caste System and The Emotional System

Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste:  The origins of our discontents, is a hard book.  Her words confront us with a hard truth about human behavior:  that humans are capable of imposing extreme cruelty and suffering on other humans and have done so at many points in history.  With brilliant writing and thorough research on three caste systems–American slavery and its aftermath, Nazi Germany, and the millennia-long caste system of India–she traces the forces that drive human behavior to destructive extremes.

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Comments on “The Use of Force: Law Enforcement as a Reflection of Society”

Editor’s Note: Sandra Castillo’s blog post is a commentary on several quotes from the blog post on The Systems Thinker, of June 23, 2020, “The Use of Force: Law Enforcement as a Reflection of Society” by Stephanie Ferrera, MSW. 

Hello Stephanie,

Thanks for sharing your article. It is very well done. Some thoughts on a few passages from it: 

Stephanie’s passage: “The police are a reflection of the larger society, of the level of chronic anxiety and the level of maturity in the society.  The functioning of the police can be objectively understood only in this larger context.  The harsher treatment of the poor, minorities, and people of color, and the more lenient treatment of affluent and white people in the justice system reflect the projection process and extreme social stratification in our nation.” 

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A Personal Reflection on Racism and Inequality

In these turbulent times of an unending struggle with a deadly virus and a growing awareness of social injustice and systemic racism, many in our country are supporting Black Lives Matter and reading books on racism.  There is a growing consensus that some fundamental changes need to be made to address racial and economic inequities.  Change at a personal level will not come about easily as it involves examining long standing beliefs related to basic personal identity.  The split in our country over issues of race shows that change will also not be easy on a societal level. Changes on both levels must be addressed before the policy issues that maintain the inequalities will be changed.  The broad-based support for civil rights for the LGBTQ community demonstrates that after enough marches, enough education, enough open conversation and airing of differences change can come about.  Some believe we are at a “tipping” point regarding race relations in our country.  I believe we are at the stage of opening communication with each other and sharing of facts, thoughts, and opinions.  This blog is my effort to contribute to the conversation.  I recognize that this is a complicated and complex issue and I most certainly do not pretend to cover it thoroughly.  Rather, I will share my journey with the expectation and the readiness to listen to the experiences and opinions of others to continue the conversation.

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The Use of Force: Law Enforcement as a Reflection of Society

The use of physical force is an instinctual response to a real or perceived threat.  In a moment of fear, who has not found themselves raising a voice, or raising an arm, or seeking a way to constrain the other and protect self?  The use of force to bring conflict under control should be a last resort and applied judiciously, yet with rising emotional intensity, it easily becomes the first resort, setting in motion an escalation of conflict. 

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Memorial Day 2020—Inspiration is all around us

This blog post is in response to an excerpt from letter written by Richard Pearlman, M.S.W., on May 19, 2020, in which he said,

“Personally, this continues to be a challenging time for me ~ and the cool overcast extremely rainy days have not helped to lift spirits. Between sheltering in place, contending with personal/family matters, conducting needed maintenance on our property (emergency and otherwise), tending to our garden and bees, spending socially distant time with grandchildren, watching the sun rise, Zooming with family and friends, and keeping up with exercise ~ days are full, albeit dream like ~ as one day runs into the next”.

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