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Michael introduced us to the basic themes in the Bowen Family Systems Theory. The term “family system” in this context is the name for the characteristics and relational patterns of the nuclear emotional process that show up in any and all of our relationships at home, work, and community.  When left unconscious and untended, our relationships follow certain patterns born of anxiety. Bowen proposes some ways to stop the viscous cycle by awareness of our own patterns and those of the people and groups around us and then to take steps to move from anxiety to freedom, clarity, and healthy connection.

3 key questions Dr. Nel asked us to reflect on were:

1.       What changes do you notice in myself when you get anxious? Answers mirrored Bowen’s research: when people anxious, they can experience such signs as: tense jaw and face muscles, shallow breathing, holding the breath, sleeplessness, aggression, defensiveness, losing connection with one’s center,  bossy, cranky, narrow thinking, fearful, rigid, thoughts speeding up, talking fast, get “busy”, catastrophize, impatient,… the list goes on.

2.       How do these affect your relationships? Basically, Bowen indicates that our relationships suffer because we are unable to connect in the most meaningful ways when we are anxious.

3.       What theological changes take place when you are anxious? (What happens with your relationship with God?)

We may want more rules, or act like it’s all up to us, less trust in God, feel disconnected from our core and our core purpose and gifts, feel less love for others… and so on.


Dr. Nel familiarized us with some basic characteristics of healthy systems such as: Differentiation of Self, Managing Oneself (rather than others), Remaining Connected Amidst Differences, and Emotional Maturity. He taught us about emotional regressive habits such as  Emotional Triangles, Emotional Cut-off, Reactivity, Herding, Polarized Thinking, Herding, Fusion – as well as bringing to our awareness habits that move us to more health within ourselves and in our relationships such as being curious, playfulness, distinguishing between thoughts and feelings, clarity of thinking, communicating directly rather than through a triangle, paying attention to process before content … and more.