Murray Bowen argued that members of a family are highly responsible for the emotional experiences of an individual. He believed that the behaviors, feelings, and patterns of a child are a byproduct of the child’s family’s behaviors, feelings, and patterns. Judy Haefner and Dee Hann-Morrison composed journal articles that provide analyses and discussions of Family Systems Theory and indicate the implications of its practice. Both scholars harken their ideas back to Murray Bowen and support their findings with notions he presented.
Haefner sees Bowen as a pioneer of family psychotherapy and her article centralizes on the ideas he came up with regarding a family’s functioning. She works to address how Bowen Family Systems Theory provides nurse practitioners with a framework to guide them through their organization of complex family behaviors as each relates to parts of a whole unit. With this simplified model of Bowen’s philosophies, she demonstrates how family patterns and behaviors may be assessed and stabilized to maintain a cohesive family unit. She takes the time early on in the article to address the eight interlocking forces that mold a family’s ability to function. These elements include: differentiation of self, triangles, nuclear family emotional system, family projection process, emotional cut-off, multi-generation transmission process, sibling position, and societal regression (societal emotional process). According to Haefner, these features, “Describe the inevitable chronic emotional anxiety present in family relationships and concludes that chronic anxiety is the source of family dysfunction,” (Haefner, 2014).
While Dee Hann-Morrison mentions Bowen’s theory, she focuses her approach on the significance of the mother in a family system when considering a child’s experience within familial interactions. She argues that the connection between a mother and a child is the foundation for the symbiosis that is representative of familial interactions. She believes the effects of emotional and mental inadequacies are multigenerational. According to Hann-Morrison, “Emotionally impaired relationships between mothers and their sons require intense therapeutic attention,” (Hann-Morrison, 2012). A major risk and example of an emotionally impaired relationship between a mother and a son that Hann-Morrison highlights is maternal enmeshment. In this circumstance, familial boundaries are blurred and parents exhibit hovering behaviors. When parents do too much, the child ends up losing some of his/her own autonomy, is immature, and has trouble exhibiting the concept of differentiation as presented by Bowen.
A notable similarity between Haefner’s and Hann-Morrison’s articles is their reference to Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory. Both scholars note his contribution to family psychology and therapy. They both stress the importance of familial connections, behaviors, tendencies, and emotions in shaping offspring and healthy familial relationships. They also both recognize that Bowen was a developer of family therapy and systemic therapy. He is noted in both articles as founding concepts that shape these endeavors, especially differentiation of self. Haefner introduces this idea, which is grouped among seven other components that shape family functioning, early on in her composition. She also mentions it the most throughout her article, emphasizing its significance within the model and in practice. Hann-Morrison regards differentiation highly as well, as it is the only feature of Bowen’s interlocking forces that she takes the time to detail and examine its implications.
Both authors also describe the concept of differentiation with the same elements and inherent significance. They declare that differentiation of self helps a child establish emotional and social growth. Haefner and Hann-Morrison both claim, in accordance with Bowen, that differentiation of self is largely a product of the parents’ efforts to promote the development of an autonomous identity within their child. They agree that the family has the primary influence on a child’s development of a sense of self. Both scholars describe the implications of a well-differentiated child as one who can handle conflict, rejection, criticism, and exist in separate relationships from those of one’s family. This child will have independence and rely less on others’ thoughts or approval.
These articles differ in their discussions of family therapy and familial relationships regarding the place of a mother. Hann-Morrison focuses on the mother within a relationship with a child. She argues that the mother – child relationship is heavily symbiotic and a major influencer in the development of the child. Haefner mentions the importance of mothers, but does not shape her primary focus around them. She, instead, mentions mothers almost always with reference to fathers as well, or as a part of a triangle. Hann-Morrison frames her composition largely on mothers and how they might create enmeshed relationships with their sons. She describes some factors leading to the result of an unhealthy attachment with a male child, such as the human desire for companionship. She also acknowledges the cyclical nature of these generational familial inadequacies because our parents’ behaviors are often our only informers on how to parent. “Habits, ideologies, and philosophies are then transmitted generationally…women who engage in emotionally incestuous relationships with their sons are generally, themselves, the products of dysfunctional families,” (Hann-Morrison, 2012). Her argument talks a lot about enmeshment, while Haefner is broader in her discussion of family systems.
Hann-Morrison also deviates from Haefner, because she only discusses differentiation in depth and not the other interlocking forces that Haefner introduces. Haefner takes a more holistic approach to examining Bowen’s Family Systems Theory and also includes a real example of a family to apply the theory and study its implications. Her example takes into account the father and his relationship with his son as well, instead of only focusing on the mother and son.
The implications of these articles on psychotherapy can be seen in Haefner’s conclusion where she mentions how these relationship patterns persist over generations. With this claim in mind, it is evident that addressing familial inadequacies early on is integral when trying to break the cycle. Personal interaction can be a major behavior shifter; therefore family interactions from the moment a child is born are working to shape the child’s experience and sense of self. Moreover, implications on psychotherapy are noted by Hann-Morrison’s discussion of how enmeshment can facilitate emotional and psychological fusion among members of a family, thereby hindering their ability to gain individuality and psychosocial maturity. The process of psychotherapy is more well-informed with the content covered in these articles.
- Haefner, J. (2014). An application of Bowen family systems theory. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 35(11), 835-841. doi:10.3109/01612840.2014.921257
- Hann-Morrison, D. (2012). Maternal enmeshment: The chosen child. SAGE Open, 2(4).