The Composition of the Family System and Adaptive Success

This presentation by Dr. Dan Papero focused primarily on how concepts related to adaptive success or failure apply to the family system.  Dr. Papero observes that the human family faces similar pressures to adapt to changes in the environment as all living things do.  One way that helps me to think about this concept is to relate it to the functioning of ant colonies that are discussed in Chapter 12 of “The Family Emotional System”, edited by Robert J. Noone and Daniel V. Papero.  The ant colonies clearly do not function as a collection of individuals working toward a common goal, but more as a single organism with each individual as more of an appendage.  The human family faces similar pressures from the environment, which require a response from the system if it is going to survive and thrive. 

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Process, Process, Process

You may be familiar with the old saying about the three most important things in real estate:  Location, location, location.  This means there is one most important thing in every aspect of our lives. In Bowen theory, the cornerstone concept of differentiation of self holds that pivotal position.  To deeply know oneself and work toward a more separate yet connected self is the key.  Being focused on the act of becoming more differentiated requires thinking about process.  How do you see yourself and your reactivity more clearly and objectively? And then, how do you work to respond differently when you observe high reactivity?

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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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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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Polarization: What Happened to the Continuum?

Authored by John Bell, M.Div.

The ideas presented in this blog are taken from a new training module that is available to congregations and community stakeholders who are interested in addressing polarization in their communities.  If you’d like more information about the training, contact John Bell at john@thinkingcongregations.com. Reverend Bell also presented these concepts on May 6, 2017 at the 34th Midwest Symposium Theory and Therapy.

Polarization takes a toll on communities and creates additional problems for institutions.  Compromise, collaboration, and cooperation are replaced with confrontation, obstinacy, …

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