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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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”.

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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 …

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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 …

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Can You Dance? Differentiation of Self: Observing is the First Step

Authored by Kelly Matthew-Pluta, M.S.W.

Very often clients are puzzled by Bowen Theory’s concept of Differentiation of Self.  Clinicians are often stumped on how to make this crucial concept, upon which the theory is based, understandable and useful to clients.  The first step is to observe self.  If one cannot identify what and how one is thinking and responding to self and others, understanding, and possibly making lasting changes, will be impossible.  The idea that one is only in charge of oneself is both liberating and …

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Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There: Emotional Intensity and its Crucial Place in Relationships

Authored by Kelly Matthews-Pluta, M.S.W.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe” John Muir

Human life is a complicated business.  We are connected to the world around us in every way imaginable.  Some of that connection is within our conscious awareness and much is outside of it. The relationships we have with family are how most of us work out the complicated nature of being humans in this universe. Often important relationships become intense and …

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Ethical Wills: A Tool For Self Definition

Authored By Eric L. Weiner, M.S.W., Ph.D.

As families consider options for the distribution of assets to the next generation, most of the emphasis is on the tangible assets. Many people, however, view wealth as more than money and real estate. Wealth, for them, includes passing on their wisdom, guiding principles, spiritual beliefs, and family heritage to the next generation. One way to do that is by writing an ethical will.

Ethical wills have a long and rich history. They were first described in the Old Testament …

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The Family Emotional System and the Functioning of Slave Owners, Slaves and their Descendants

Authored by Mignonette N. Keller, Ph. D.

(Abstract of paper to be presented at the 35th Midwest Symposium May 4th, 2018)

This study applies Bowen family systems theory to investigate the factors influencing the functioning of slave owners, slaves and their descendants from a systems perspective.  The findings in this investigation reveal the extent to which there is a direct correlation between the quality of a person’s family relationships and how that person functions.  In effect it is an attempt to answer a basic research question asked …

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Reacting to a Racist Family Member

Authored by John Bell, M. Div.

As I followed the news about Charlottesville, I came across a story of a family coming to grips with the revelation that their son participated in the organized rally of white nationalists.  I’ve decided not to reprint their names.  The story is about a father who published a letter online in response to his son’s participation in the rally.  In the letter, the father repudiates the son’s beliefs and behavior.  The father tells the son that he is not welcomed …

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