Dr. Murray Bowen's Family Systems Theory: Living under the Same Emotional Skin

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The theory I choose to use is that of Dr. Murray Bowen called the family systems theory. It is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit. It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally. Often people feel distant or disconnected from their families, but this is more feeling than fact (Bowen,1978). Family members so profoundly affect each others thoughts, feelings, and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same "emotional skin." People solicit each others attention, approval, and support and react to each others needs, expectations, and distress. The connectedness and reactivity make the functioning of family members interdependent. A change in one person 's functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others. Families differ somewhat in the degree of interdependence, but it is always present to some degree

The emotional interdependence presumably evolved to promote the cohesiveness and cooperation families require to protect, shelter, and feed their members. Heightened tension, however, can intensify these processes that promote unity and teamwork, and this can lead to problems. When family members get anxious, the anxiety can escalate by spreading infectiously among them. As anxiety goes up, the emotional connectedness of family members becomes more stressful than comforting. Eventually, one or more members feel overwhelmed, isolated, or out of control.

These are the people who accommodate the most to reduce tension in others. It is a reciprocal interaction. For example, a person takes too much responsibility for the distress of others in relationship to their unrealistic expectations of him. The one accommodating the most literally "absorbs" anxiety and thus is the family member most vulnerable to problems such as depression, alcoholism, affairs, or physical



Cited: Bowen, Murray. 1978. Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. The Bowencenter.org/pagestheory.html.

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