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Sunday, January 27, 2019

What is Bowen's idea of "differentiation?"

This is the first of several articles about major concepts in Murray Bowen's family systems theory.

Bowenian Family Systems theory has been a major cognitive map or model which informs my psychotherapy practice. It assists me in thinking and understanding my client's situations and I often share Bowen's ideas with my clients in the hope that understanding Bowenian concepts will be helpful to them in enhancing their self knowledge and in being purposeful and intentional in their interactions with others.

The topic of this article is on "differentiation."


Differentiation is simply "self knowledge," one of the major components of what is called "Emotional Intelligence."

How well do you understand what makes you tick? People who understand what makes them tick are described in collogquial terms as "having their shit together." Some people "have their shit together" and some people don't. Of perhaps a better way to think about this is "To what extent do I and other people have their shit together?"

This idea of self knowledge is based on Socrates statement that "an unexaminded life is not worth living." To what extent do you or others live an examined life? In psychology this capacity for examining one's own functioning is called "reflective functioning."

When the idea of differentiation is applied to our every day functioning, it makes one consider whether one's behavior is "reactive" or "responsive." Reactive means that your buttons get pushed and you just engage in a knee jerk response with no thought or impulse control. Responsive means that you are able to resist impulsively reacting, step back, get yourself and the situation into perspective, and then decide how to proceed in a purposeful and deliberate way.

The goal in life is to always be responsive and never be reactive. Jesus, Buddha, and other enlightened masters were always responsive 100% of the time. They were enlightened, self realized, self actualized human beings. Few of us become "masters."  If a person can be responsive 80% of the time and reactive only 20% of the time, they have become very mature, semi - awakened human beings.

The idea of differentiation can be useful in assessing marital, family, and organizational functioning because the level of differentiation of the individual has significant consequences for marriages, families, and organizations. These idea will be shared in the next article.

To be continued

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