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THE BOWEN THEORY. The basis for understanding the individual, the family, family business dynamics, interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as ………… other systems. E M O T I O N. E M O T I O N. The reflexive movement of a system and its parts. . ANXIETY. The system’s response to:

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the bowen theory


The basis for understanding

the individual,

the family,

family business dynamics,

interdisciplinary collaboration,

as well as ………… other systems.

e m o t i o n



The reflexive movement of a system and its parts.



The system’s response to:

the amount (how much and/or how often)

the term (how long) of emotion.



A three-person emotional configuration

The basic building block of a stable emotional system

Describes dynamic movement toward gaining equilibrium

  • If equilibrium is not achieved or restored within the system by the initial attempt(s) to triangle:
    • subsequent person(s),
    • issue(s), or
    • focus(i)
  • … is(are) triangled in, thus forming a webbing of interlocking triangles.
nuclear family emotional system

Nuclear Family Emotional System

Observable mechanisms and patterns

of emotional functioning in a family,

in a single generation,

as it responds to the activity of its members

and impacting events.

differentiation of self

Differentiation of Self

M i n d f u l choice to act


utilizing intellectually determined functioning



utilizing emotionally determined functioning

to the emotional forces in his/her day-to-day experience.

multigenerational transmission process

Multigenerational Transmission Process

Individual differences in functioning (differentiation of self) and

multigenerational trends in functioning, reflect an orderly and

predictable relationship process that connect the functioning of

family members across the generations.

family projection process

Family Projection Process

The basic level of differentiation, or the reactivity of the parents of the family unit, and their level of chronic anxiety is projected to one or more children who become(s) impaired to some degree and may then develop physical, emotional and social symptoms.

emotional cutoff


A family member’s attempt to manage

lower levels of differentiation by:

separating him/herself from the nuclear family through

emotional isolation, and/ or

physical distancing

sibling position gender and functional rank

Sibling Position(Gender and functional rank)

Certain fixed personality and functional characteristics

seem to be determined by the original

family configuration in which a child grows up.

emotional process in society

Emotional Process in Society

Larger groupings, like families,

are also emotional systems and

subject to the same laws

which govern all of life.


‘Dance of Life’

“Man is conceived as the most complex form of life that evolved from the lower forms and it’s intimately connected to all living things. The most important difference between man and the lower form is his cerebral cortex and his ability to think and reason. Intellectual functioning is regarded as distinctly different from emotional functioning, which man shares with lower forms of life. Emotional functioning includes the automatic forces that govern protoplasmic life. It includes the force that biology describes as instinct, reproduction, the automatic activity controlled by the automatic nervous system, subjective emotional and feeling states, and forces that govern relationship systems. There are varying degrees of overlap between emotional and intellectual functioning. In broad terms, the emotional system governs the ‘dance of life’ in all living things. It is deep in the phylogenetic past and is much older than the intellectual system… there are varying degrees of ‘fusion’ between the emotional and intellectual systems in humans… the greater the ‘fusion’… the more man is vulnerable to physical illness, emotional illness, and social illness, and the less he is able to consciously control his life. It is possible for man to discriminate between emotions and the intellect and to slowly gain more conscious control of emotional functioning”

- Murray Bowen, M.D.