Meditating towards Differentiation of Self

Bowen has theorized, that each human being is the culmination of the mass of ancestors who have preceded her, each human being generations in the making, If we assume that is true, then, like a diamond, it may take a fair amount of excavating before we uncover the shiny nugget of “self” be-neath all the accumulated rock. When we look at humans, we tend to focus on their individual be-haviors or at best the individual within the context of their nuclear family. Bowen advocated getting information on as many as five generations of family history, in order to understand the patterns we observe. He advocated doing this so that we might see the patterns that have been active in our families and begin to distinguish between patterns that we have chosen and ones we may have simply inherited. Kerr in his most recent book describes one of the components of differentiation of self as “the phenomenon of thoughts and feelings operating as a working team”, those who are least differentiated have achieved the least separation from behavior driven purely by instinctual responses to others. Achieving more “self” requires distinguishing between one’s thoughts and one’s feelings, so that one’s actions more closely reflect one’s thinking, and are not merely a reflection of how we are feeling at any given moment.

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I’m not a political expert

I’m not a political expert. But I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to make sense of the senate confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a hearing focused on accusations of sexual misconduct and excessive drinking. Opinions vary dramatically on the “reasons” for the partisan fight and who is to blame.

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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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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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Science & Bowen Family Systems Theory

Dr. Murray Bowen was well known to be extremely interested and well read in the natural sciences. One of his main goals was to connect the study of human behavior and functioning to the natural sciences including neuroscience, immunology, genetics, & evolutionary biology to name a few. To this end he established the tradition of hosting annual symposia in which a well-established scientist would be invited to present his/her work to the Bowen community. According to Dr. Robert Noone, “Dr. Bowen was keeping the theory …

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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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Patterns of Interaction in Living Systems

Authored by James E. Jones, Ph.D.

For the last 40 years, The Marder Lab at Brandeis University, with principal investigator Eve Marder, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, has studied one small system of 5 neurons from the 30 neuron stomatogastric ganglion in the stomach of crustaceans.  This ganglion produces three rhythmic oscillations needed for operation of that stomach.  The lab has extensive information about the parameters of connection among these 5 neurons that drive the triphasic oscillations produced by the 5 neurons.  But Marder says that while …

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How do people work out their differences?

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

In his book on Bowen Family Systems Theory, Mike Kerr stated “The main problem is not differences in points of view; it is the emotional reaction to those differences.  When people can listen without reacting emotionally, communication is wide open and differences are an asset, not a liability”.

This applies when working clinically with an individual, couple or family.  The effort is best focused on probing and questioning individuals to elicit their best thinking.  We know that when the pre frontal cortex …

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Understanding Triangles is Key to Conflict Resolution

Authored by John Bell, M.Div.

The concept of the triangle was one of the first concepts added to Bowen Family Systems Theory in 1955.  Dr. Murray Bowen wrote that the triangle, “a three-person emotional configuration, is the molecule or the basic building block of any emotional system, whether it is in the family or any other group.” (Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, 373)

Three examples of triangles

Let’s say you are the chair of the trustees for your congregation.  You’re about to walk into a worship service and …

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