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Eight concepts.
Differentiation of self is a central concept in Bowenian Theory. Differentiation and fusion are how Bowen describes the extent to which people can separate their emotional and intellectual spheres (Rabstejnek, n.d.). “.. a way of characterizing the balance/imbalance of two life forces or instincts: the force for togetherness and the force for individuality” (Titelman, 2014, p14).
People with higher levels of differentiation have less emotional reactivity, with an ability to calm their emotions and make more thoughtful and intentional decisions. Having a higher level of independence, more tolerance to stress, they are less prone to triangulation. An ability to remove themselves from emotional entanglements, allows them to have a closeness without getting lost in the relationship. Generally, relationships are considered fulfilling.
On the other hand, fusion, or lack of differentiation as described by Brown (1999), is where family harmony is chosen over the individual. Such people are more emotively reactive, having difficulty in managing thoughtful behavior. They have difficulty saying no to people, tending to be critical and judgmental, and are overly concerned about approval from others. Dependent on others, difficulty in communicating, and making decisions, they are prone to triangulation. Problematic relationships tend to be repeated rather than learning from their mistakes.

The concept of triangulation, along with differentiation of self, is central to Bowen’s Theory. It is said to occur when the anxiety in a dyad is relieved by involving a third party who either takes sides or provides a detour for the anxiety. A common example of this is when a parent brings in a child to stabilize the tension with the other parent. Other examples include, an in-law, friend, a co-worker, alcohol, drugs or an affair. They all work as a triangulating stabilizer. Triangles are not necessarily dysfunctional. It’s when they become rigid, when the third party distracts from the dyad, and the problem remains unsolved, the triangling is considered problematic. Bowen sited that triangles tended to repeat themselves across generations. For example, when a family member leaves, perhaps through death, marriage, divorce, or for a variety of reasons, someone else can be brought into the triangle. Perhaps the eldest child leaves due to marriage, the next eldest sibling is drawn into the parents’ tensions. (Brown, 1999)


The nuclear family emotional system describes the family’s emotional system during a single generation. “Bowen asserts that relationship fusion, which leads to triangling, is the fuel for symptom formation which is manifested in one of three categories. These are: (A) couple conflict. (B) illness in a spouse. (C) projection of a problem onto one or more children.” (Brown, 1999).

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