The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

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

Authored by Carrie E. Collier, Ph.D, L.P.C.

  • Associate Faculty, Family Therapist, The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, Washington, D. C.
  • Adjunct Faculty, The George Washington University, Counseling and Human Development

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.

During Bowen’s 1967 conference he describes his shifting focus onto the parental triangles and the impact on one’s differentiation of self. Bowen (1978) states, “there was a different emphasis on the triangle between self and parents, which is the most important primary triangle in life, and the one in which a person develops the triangle relationship patterns that remain relatively fixed in all relationships” (p. 531).

Shifting one’s priority to his/her parental relationships is not the easiest venture. Much of one’s effort is focused on marital, friend, sibling, and/or colleague relationships while the parental relationships remain stuck in unresolved emotional attachments. Above and beyond being a great parent, spouse, and colleague, parental relationships are the most valuable to the family emotional unit and in differentiation of self. The opportunity for maturation and development of self in the family exists in one getting more neutral and realistic in the parental relationships. Increasing one’s differentiation of self with his/her parents will secure a lasting impact on the family emotional unit.

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