Looking at Marriage: Seeing One’s Own Part

The husband had a way of erupting emotionally that led his wife to call him “the volcano.” He pursued; she distanced; he pursued more rigorously. Her way of retreating, seemingly impervious to his needs, led him to call her “the sphinx.” At times of high stress, this pattern left this truly devoted couple in considerable distress, he feeling shut out, she feeling pressured. They found their own language—volcano, sphinx—as a step to observing their reciprocal functioning and eventually to seeing the absurdity and humor in it.

Read More »

# Church Too

Earlier this year, Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of the megachurch Willow Creek in South Barrington, IL, resigned ahead of his planned retirement. The early departure was in response to allegations of sexual misconduct. Earlier this month, it was reported that Willow Creek Church settled a separate case of sexual abuse for $3.2 million after a volunteer sexually assaulted two disabled children. And then last week, a grand jury released its findings that over 1000 children were sexually abused by over 300 priests in six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.

Read More »

Learning To Be an Adult in a World That Loves Children

People often comment, almost in awe and incredulity, that my ex-husband and I are not only cordial and supportive co-parents, but actively share family and social gatherings together. When I mention that my ex, his wife and son came for dinner last night, I can almost predict the expression of horror, quickly disguised as awe that will come over her face. People like to believe it requires some super human power to allow our frontal cortex, rather than our archaic limbic system, to make decisions that serve the best interests of our families. The decision to nourish and foster a relationship that is the bedrock of my child’s life was a “no brainer”, albeit accompanied by some very strong physical/emotional responses.

Read More »

Living in the Triangles: Learning from Our Parents Over a Lifetime

Movements toward resolving immature emotional attachments with one’s parents affords the opportunity to develop mature beliefs, feelings, and thoughts. An increase in differentiation of self sets  the stage for seeing self in the parental triangle and moving forward to secure a more mature adult to adult relationship. Gaining more neutrality in the parental triangle positively impacts one’s differentiation of self, marital relationships, and parent-child relationships.

Read More »

The Ups & Downs of Social Status

The “self-evident truth” that “all men are created equal” is a cornerstone of American democracy, and an ideal toward which our society strives.  We hold individuals to be equal under the law; we legislate equal rights for all to access opportunities and participate in society.  However, despite the talk of “a level playing field,” progress toward equality has come slowly and only with concerted, organized effort.

Read More »

When Process is the Outcome

It is very difficult to make changes in our behavior without focusing on the outcome. If we exercise, we hope to be stronger, faster or more flexible. If we read a challenging book, we hope to be wiser. If we pray, we hope to find an answer. Bowen theory is not oblivious to outcomes, but using this theory in your life, the process, the work itself, is the key. Focus on process becomes an outcome, which requires time and effort to observe and think about ourselves and the world we live in. It means using increased awareness and insight to guide our actions. Leaning into process requires no, or very little, attachment to the outcome.

Read More »

“Hillbilly Elegy” meets Bowen Theory

J.D. Vance, author of the memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, is, by any measure, functionally successful:  a marine who served in Iraq, graduate of Ohio State, graduate of Yale Law School, and an editor on the Yale Law Journal.  Yet, his nuclear family of origin and extended family are low in level of differentiation.  Not the lowest, but low.  Individually, he’s probably somewhat higher than the system as a whole.

Read More »

Parental Anxiety: It Goes with the Territory

The birth of a child gives birth to the hopes and dreams of parents, hopes that their child will grow to live an interesting and fulfilling life. Alongside hope lies fear of threats, large and small. Worry about the health and safety of one’s child is a natural part of parenting, but concern about children has increased in recent decades.  Parents seem less sure of themselves, concerned they are not doing enough to meet the needs of their children. Our child-oriented culture contributes to this anxiety with endless admonitions to be more involved. The problems parents are told to be on the lookout for have expanded exponentially along with a myriad of suggested “solutions”.

Read More »

SES, ACE, and Differentiation

Authored by Jim Edd Jones, Ph. D.

At the 2018 Midwest Symposium on Family Theory and Family Therapy in Willmette, Ilinois this past May, Peter Gianaros from the University of Pittsburgh cogently argued that SES (Socio-Economic Status determined with a composite measure) partially predicts (correlation approximately 0.30) adult serious physiological symptoms, indicators of risk for serious symptoms, and neurobiological indicators of chronic stress/anxiety.  Notice that the correlation is modest, with many exceptions to the correlation.

I would expect that level of differentiation of the individual and/or the …

Read More »

Pinned Down In a One Up Position: The Nature of Reciprocity

Authored by Peg Donley, L.S.C.S.W.

Murray Bowen often used the expression, “Pinned down in a one up position” to describe the nature of relationship reciprocity.  The phrase is consistent with a central idea in Bowen theory, mainly that individuals within a system are mutually influencing the functioning of others in subtle, yet powerful ways. This process is based on the sensitivity inherent in social relationships and the way interdependency takes shape between individuals within a group.

Reciprocity in relationships is an example of a universal process that …

Read More »