Do We Ever Resolve “Unresolved Emotional Attachment”?

Bowen Family Systems Theory often seems counter-intuitive, making it sometimes difficult to grasp, and rarely self-evident. Comprehending an emotional systems perspective of families as a way of understanding engagement between people has little to do with stated intentions, and thus provides a constant challenge. I am always so impressed by certain individuals for whom the theory’s concepts immediately make sense, and who are then able to “see” relatively clearly in their lives many of the patterns Bowen described. While the concepts are theoretically clear to me, recognizing the emotional process in my own life remains frustratingly elusive.

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How I Understand Suggestions Dr. Bowen Gave Me

On February 22, 2019, I presented some early family of origin work in my keynote address on Death and Chronic Illness at the Clinical Application of Bowen Family System Theory Conference. This blog post addresses a key question raised during the discussion that followed my presentation.

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Grandparent Deaths in an Intense Extended Family Symbiosis

In the last two months or so, I have been studying symbiosis; e.g. parent-child symbiosis. Why? When I reviewed the quantitative research on families of schizophrenics, it was striking how symbiosis as a factor in development of schizophrenia has been neglected by all the quantitative researchers. It seemed odd when you consider how strongly Murray Bowen and other schizophrenia researchers of the 1950s had emphasized it. (Hill, Lidz, Mahler, Searles, Wynne, et al.).

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Reflections on Bowen Theory Post-Graduate Training at Center for Family Consultation

I thought it would be a relatively straight-forward task to describe the impact the training program has had on my life and my clinical practice, but that was foolish, considering Bowen theory requires most of us, and certainly me, to rethink much of what I had learned in my family and professional training.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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