I have always been intrigued by the study of family systems. My Ph.D. dissertation was about family systems with all-female siblings, women with no brothers, and only sisters.
Psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen was one of the pioneers of family systems theory. His theory starts with the premise of the family being the primary means of understanding human beings. He suggests nobody understands others in isolation but instead as a part of their family. He saw families as an individual’s emotional unit.
I like to think of a family as the mobile above a baby’s crib. The movement of one bobble causes all parts to move – each individual is unique yet connected and affected by the whole. The entire mobile can work together smoothly or get all tangled up and cease to function.
According to Bowen, each family member has a role to play and rules to respect. Those roles contribute to balance and or dysfunction within the system. His family system principles also apply to any group of individuals such as schools, classrooms, workplaces, or sports teams.
For those reasons, if relationships or conflict are presenting problems for seeking counseling, family therapy is often more successful than individual counseling. We do not live in isolation, and solutions are more likely possible if every family member participates and learns new skills together. We affect and are affected by members of our systems. We come to know ourselves by knowing our families.
As I grow older, I am far more aware of the impact every family member has on my thoughts and behavior, both past and present. My four sisters and I are different in many ways, but we also have core commonalities we treasure or don’t always like to admit.
To add to Dr. Bowen’s theory, I believe all members of a successful system must contribute. In a healthy, functional group, there are no slaves or freeloaders. It takes everyone’s efforts to make a productive, functioning family, school, workplace, or team.
It is a privilege to live with a family, have a job, attend school, or play on a team. With that comes responsibility. No system should have one or two people working to exhaustion while the others do little or nothing. There is no balance in that scenario. That is not a happy place.
Systems are vital and can be the diamonds if roles are productive and responsibilities are shared. Balance of work and play, talking and listening, and respect and learning provide the foundation for healthy individuals and family systems.
Dr. Bowen spent his life studying the dynamics of families. We get to reap the benefits because we now know how individual health plus life’s systems contribute to independent/productive development in our homes, groups, clubs, and employment.
Until the next time: Live while you live.
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