Bowen’s Family Systems Theory is a tool counsellors use to highlight unconscious beliefs that can run through a family’s culture for generations. Our lives and our behaviours are controlled by these invisible patterns.
The advantage to knowing what your family patterns are is that they unconsciously shape who you find attractive and what you do in relationships to either help or hurt the relationship. If you are single and struggling, you have definitely learned to hurt more than help.
What is there to know?
Do you come from a matriarch or a patriarch? This means, who was in charge in your family, the men or the women? If you are a woman from a patriarchal system, you will be more likely to look for a man for guidance. He will likely control the money and if you have kids, they would be more inclined to walk on eggshells around their Dad. If women were in charge, it would be the opposite, and you would be the one to call the shots. When dating, you will more likely be attracted to the same type of man that is in your family system. For years I wondered why I was never approached and asked out on dates by men, when some of my friends had men asking them out all the time. I realized that the men that would be naturally attracted to me, and I to them would be matriarchal men. They were looking for me to be the one in charge and asking them out, or at least giving them a big, hairy, audacious hint that I wanted to be asked out. And that was definitely the case almost all of the time.
In my marriage with Eddie, he was the one that did the asking, which frankly, I found refreshing. The only catch is that we power struggle as we are both used to being in charge.
Do you see why all of this information would be valuable to know? It makes sense of things. I now no longer make it mean anything about me knowing why men never asked me out, I know why Eddie and I squabble sometimes and I know why my default is to want to be in charge all the time. Being aware of this, I can now do something different instead of being run by some family implant in my brain.
Besides being in a matriarch or patriarch, you can come from an open or a closed family system. In an open system, the family works to support the success and individual expression of each family member. Members are encouraged to learn by taking risks and making mistakes. This gives them flexibility in dealing creatively with any number of issues that life throws at them. The system works because everyone’s individuality is acknowledged and they, in turn, want to support the well-being of the entire family.
In a closed system the individual’s needs are not considered first. It is each member’s responsibility to do what the family wants and support the family in the way it has traditionally been done. It is generally a much more restricted structure with lots of guilt and lots of rules. In a closed system, everyone follows the rules because taking risks is unsafe and mistakes are punished, judged or ridiculed. “Do what you’re told, follow the rules and you will be safe.” The only way out of the system, the only way to do something different or choose your own life path, is to break the rules.
Why would this be valuable information if you are dating? Again, awareness creates the ability to stop being run by your unconscious information so you can make some choices. You can look at the family system of your potential mate as well as your own. Were they open or closed, or half and half? You can then decide, together, which rules seemed important to you and which didn’t. Which rules you would like to keep and which rules you are going to change. You can’t change them if you don’t even realize the rules exist.
I’d say that’s a pretty good reason to have this information.
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