It’s the system

When we encounter difficulties in our lives, we often look for something about ourselves or our loved ones to blame as the cause of the problem. Bowen Family Systems offers a systemic approach that helps us to see the problem from a larger perspective. The Family, according to Psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen, is an interconnected emotional unit where individual members deeply affect each other’s thoughts, feelings and actions.

From a Family Systems perspective, this means that our current relationship dilemma may be part of a repeating pattern of family dynamics, passed down by previous generations and learned while growing up in our own family. Shifting our perception can make a significant difference as it can help us move beyond blame to a more compassionate and nonjudgmental view of ourselves.

Becoming aware of our own role in a repeating pattern opens the door for something new to enter. By choosing a different response in the middle of our dilemma we can begin to create the kind of life experience we want to have.


Families, according to Dr. Bowen, develop communication “triangles”, whereby direct communication breaks down between family members and children, siblings, a parent, even the family pet, can become the medium through which messages are passed.  In situations of heightened tension or anxiety, triangles can result in “odd-man-out” scenarios where two “insiders” are in harmony but the third person feels excluded or marginalized. In situations of extreme tension or anxiety, the third person is often more comfortable while two people fight. When “triangling” occurs, it is important to re-establish direct communication in a safe and supportive environment.

Sibling Position

Birth order can have a profound impact on personality traits and expectations from our loved ones. Eldest sibblings are often thrust into the world with anxious parents who try to get it “right’ with their first child. By the time second, third, and fourth children are born, expectations generally shift and the family that younger siblings are born into may look entirely different than the family that the first born entered. This often accounts for different recollections between siblings of what “dad was like” etc. As such, we will sometimes conduct genogram work in order to look for patterns and dynamics that can shed light on your current circumstances.

Change starts with one person

According to Family Systems Theory, if I as an individual “unit” in the system change the way I react in our relationship dynamic, any and all other members of the system will be influenced to change as well. This means that, whether in a primary relationship or in a larger family situation, it takes only one person to create positive change, opening the door to more loving connections.

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