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Multigenerational Transmission Process

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Course length


1.5 Hours

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About the Course

The concept describes the patterns of the family’s emotional functioning in a single generation. There are certain patterns between father, mother, and children which are reproduced from past generations. Predictions about the future can be made by reconstructing the past and observing the current generation. People pick spouses of approximately the same differentiation level. Most spouses have the most open relationship during their courtship days. At the time a firm commitment is made, the fusion process (loss of individuality) begins. The lower the differentiation the more intense the
emotional fusion. Thus one spouse becomes the primary decision maker; the other takes the adaptive role. If both are dominant, conflict results. If both try for the adaptive role, decision paralysis occurs. The imbalance in the fusion (togetherness) and differentiation (individuality) in the relationship leads to anxiety in the marriage. Bowen described four mechanism used by couple to deal with this tension:

A) Emotional distance – This is the most common and universal mechanism used to deal with anxiety. It is present to some degree in all marriages and to a major degree in many marriages.

B) Marital Conflict – This occurs when neither spouse will give into the other or when neither is capable of the adaptive role. Those marriages are the most intense and each spouse invests much emotional energy in the other. This energy is either thought or action. The relationship cycles through periods of intense closeness, then conflict, then emotional distance. This cycle repeats over and over. Conflictual marriages are in themselves not harmful to children. The intense emotional fusion is kept between the spouses. When the projective process is also present, it is the projection which is harmful to the children, for example, a couple arguing about one or more of the children.

C) Dysfunction in One Spouse – This is the result of fusion being absorbed by a spouse who is in the adaptive position. One spouse over-functions and dominates the marriage. The other spouse under functions and is dependent on the other. Dysfunction may be in the form of physical illness, emotional problems, or social problems. The over functioning individual generally accepts the role without complaint. The process of over functioning/under functioning is very difficult to reverse. Generally problems of this type do not affect the children except that the children inherit the life pattern of caretaking.

D) Child Focus (Family Projection Process - This concept is discussed as a separate concept because of its importance in the total theory.)

Multigenerational Transmission Process

Janet Watts
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