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They can respect the identity of others and enjoy relationships. Another important Bowen concept is family projection system which defines the flow of emotional process or patterns of emotional functioning in a nuclear family. Anxiety, aggressiveness, withdrawal and depression are possible emotional reactions. Bowen described the process of intergenerational transmission of attachment to explain how parents impart their own anxious attachment to their children.

The child learns to function in reaction, either through enmeshment or cutoff, to others. Central to family of origin therapy is the achievement of personal authority in the family system Williamson, Williamson defines personal authority in the family as a synthesizing construct connecting individuation and intimacy.

352 Attachment and Impact on Mental Health

Differentiation Bowen and individuation Williamson are given similar meaning in this paper. Intimacy is described as voluntary re connectedness. Personal authority indicates the termination of the intergenerational, hierarchical power boundary between child and parents. Personal authority assumes a clear hierarchical boundary between the dominating power relationship of the parents and their children.

While children leave this hierarchical boundary physically, they must renegotiate the hierarchical boundary in order to leave home emotionally. Williamson theorizes that this renegotiation of power within the family system can be very intimidating. Some may be fearful to confront the problem, or to make changes in the relationship patterns with parents. Others may be fearful of others reactions, especially anger or distance. Ultimately, it may be that these people are fearful to stand up and be responsible for themselves.

Williamson, Bowen described how a child develops from a state of physical dependence and emotional fusion with its parents, to a gradual differentiation by assuming of responsibility for his or her own thoughts and feelings. At this time, healthy families shift from a previously enmeshed mode of function, to an alternate mode of functioning which provides a safe place for individual differences. During this phase of family living, children are drawn to explore the world outside the family and to make a life among their own peers.

Healthy competent families have the flexibility to make the transformations that are necessary over time. Less capable, less adept families experience changes as difficult, if not impossible, resulting in severe enmeshment or fusion or alternately, emotional disengagement or emotional cut off. A family that is enmeshed could be described as a closed system, that requires each member as a condition of membership to suppress any feelings of negativity, any opposing viewpoints, any disagreements, among any of its members.

The family is so overcorrected, and entangled that individual differences within the system cannot be tolerated. The family is to be protected at all costs against any threat to its solidified unity. Boszormenyi-Nagy has done extensive work on enmeshed families, particularly in the area of family loyalty. This system is seen as a system that has few or no positive warm alliances between its members. Each person lives completely independently of the other, with vulnerability and weakness perceived as unacceptable and dangerous, thus resulting in an understanding that one must always keep their defensive guard up.

This method of operation results in family members becoming much more comfortable with anger than normal human neediness. Bowlby described the process of intergenerational transmission of attachment from parent to child.

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The internal working model is a representation, based upon experiences of attachment from prior family of origin history in conjunction with current interactions between self and significant others. The child is inherently predisposed to behaviors that promote proximity to others and a reciprocal patterning of interaction is established, probably for life. A delicate balance is sought between seeking proximity to the caregiver and exploration, between connectedness and autonomy. Titelman, , p. Secure children showed the most adaptive behaviors. Secure attachment not only provide comfort and protection as the needs arises, but also enable autonomy and the exploration of the environment.

The patterns of insecure attachment might best be viewed as strategies for coping with a difficult interpersonal world learned over the years from infancy to adolescence to adulthood. Avoidant children are characterized by the belief that when one needs care one will not be responded to helpfully. Avoidant children showed avoidance of proximity during reunion, often turning away or ignoring the parent. These children make little effort to maintain contact with the caregiver. Ambivalent children sought contact but often in an resistant or angry fashion.

These children very much want contact or proximity, but do not seem to be calmed or secure in that connection. These children tend to be more passive and they tend to be clinging and uncomfortable exploring the world. Disorganized children were not consistent in any attachment strategy. This schema pictures a wide range of normal development in the center of the pathways, and abnormal development on both extremes see Figure 1.

Development is not blocked by particular experiences of deficits but rather re-routed or constrained into increasingly particular pathways over the wide range of normal to abnormal development Caperton-Brown, The road to security is not a primrose path, but a process which involves risks, choices and anxieties. This schema conceives a continuous measure, moving away from set categorical traits.

In addition, this schema leaves space for changes and healing as one experiences new attachment figures in adolescence and adulthood. Falling in love or the birth of a child can necessitate conscious re-evaluations of relationship patterns. Using this multi-pathway schema, a full range of possible attachment patterns, based upon both attachment theory and family of origin theory, can be illustrated Figure 1.

The Bowen scale of differentiation is included to allow graphic, abeit more theoretical, assessments to be made that may help clients find a possible place to position themselves. Pathways taken in life are dependent upon many past experiences, but especially family of origin legacy. A detailed family of origin history, based upon instruments like the genogram would expose childhood attachment patterns and enable the client to become more aware of antecedents of present relationship problems, thus gaining a more complete picture of present attachment patterns.

On the one hand, there is a need for intimacy, closeness, affiliation and love AND, on the other hand, there is a want for autonomy, freedom and individuation. These apparently opposite needs are part of life and may change in their intensity depending upon the stage of life and experiences on the way. Therapy is also delineated on this schema.

Implications for therapy are elaborated later in this paper. Recent literature has begun to examine the relationship between attachment patterns learned in childhood and adult attachment patterns in couple relationships. Important differences exist between parent-child and couple attachments, such as the more reciprocal nature of the couple and the role of sexuality Weiss, However, the work of adult attachment by Hazen and Shaver and Bartholomew and Horowitz have drawn parallels with the work of Bowlby.

They contend that romantic love can be viewed as an attachment process and that the three major attachment styles of childhood are manifest in romantic love. Adults who identified themselves as secure could get closer to others and be more comfortable being dependent upon others. They had little worry about abandonment. Adults who saw themselves as avoidant acknowledged their uncomfortableness with closeness and difficulty in trusting others.

These adults got nervous when love came too close. Adults with an ambivalent pattern worried that their partner did not really love them and thus wanted to get very close and hold onto their partners. The fearful group wanted close relationships but found it difficult to trust and were afraid of rejection. The dismissive group did not want close relationships and wanted more of an independent, lone-ranger stance.

Past attachment behaviors can be transferred to present relationships. Like the AAI, the genogram can help reveal memories of childhood relationships with parents, together with current partner attachment patterns to delineate recurring relationship patterns and allows the clinician to assess the connectedness of the immediate players, thus providing an excellent panorama of attachment patterns and the balance of individuation and connectedness in relationships. Relationships patterns, whether enmeshed or cutoff, or the attachment possibilities in-between, can be well delineated on the genogram and brought into therapy as a process of discovery about self and others.

In Couple therapy, patterns of adult attachment can be established for each partner, understanding of differences amplified and directions for therapy set. Attachment patterns can be uncovered by a simple lines of questioning in the process of genogram construction. A similar exercise can be done for siblings. A careful listen to both the content and process of these descriptor words can reveal attachment patterns.

Some people are hesitant to say anything nice or not-so-nice. For some, speaking the words can bring forth feelings of pride and love; for others feelings of pain or tears. All these can reveal attachment patterns ranging from enmeshed to secure to cutoff. With whom was the client most close? How would the client describe their relationship pattern with dad?

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Answers will reveal an attachment pattern. Mary and Joe came into therapy to deal with couple distance and continuous conflict, including verbal abuse and some physical violence to each other see Figure 2. Mary and Joe have known each other for 11 years, lived together for five years, and married two years ago.

Important differences exist between parent-child and couple attachments, such as the more reciprocal nature of the couple and the role of sexuality Weiss, However, the work of adult attachment by Hazen and Shaver and Bartholomew and Horowitz have drawn parallels with the work of Bowlby.

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They contend that romantic love can be viewed as an attachment process and that the three major attachment styles of childhood are manifest in romantic love. Adults who identified themselves as secure could get closer to others and be more comfortable being dependent upon others. They had little worry about abandonment. Adults who saw themselves as avoidant acknowledged their uncomfortableness with closeness and difficulty in trusting others. These adults got nervous when love came too close.

Adults with an ambivalent pattern worried that their partner did not really love them and thus wanted to get very close and hold onto their partners. The fearful group wanted close relationships but found it difficult to trust and were afraid of rejection. The dismissive group did not want close relationships and wanted more of an independent, lone-ranger stance. Past attachment behaviors can be transferred to present relationships.

Like the AAI, the genogram can help reveal memories of childhood relationships with parents, together with current partner attachment patterns to delineate recurring relationship patterns and allows the clinician to assess the connectedness of the immediate players, thus providing an excellent panorama of attachment patterns and the balance of individuation and connectedness in relationships. Relationships patterns, whether enmeshed or cutoff, or the attachment possibilities in-between, can be well delineated on the genogram and brought into therapy as a process of discovery about self and others.

In Couple therapy, patterns of adult attachment can be established for each partner, understanding of differences amplified and directions for therapy set. Attachment patterns can be uncovered by a simple lines of questioning in the process of genogram construction. A similar exercise can be done for siblings.


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A careful listen to both the content and process of these descriptor words can reveal attachment patterns. Some people are hesitant to say anything nice or not-so-nice. For some, speaking the words can bring forth feelings of pride and love; for others feelings of pain or tears. All these can reveal attachment patterns ranging from enmeshed to secure to cutoff. With whom was the client most close? How would the client describe their relationship pattern with dad?

Answers will reveal an attachment pattern. Mary and Joe came into therapy to deal with couple distance and continuous conflict, including verbal abuse and some physical violence to each other see Figure 2. Mary and Joe have known each other for 11 years, lived together for five years, and married two years ago. They have no children. Presenting issues include: family of origin interference; arguing over affection and sex; quarrelling about how much money can be spent on family members for birthdays. Joe phones home almost every day, and especially after a fight, to talk and seek guidance from his mom.

Joe complains that Mary is mean spirited, argumentative and distant. His requests for affection are spurned. On the other hand, Mary also has little time for mom, whom she sees as weak and passive. Joe suggests that on the outside, Mary is independent and capable, and on the inside, Mary is depressed, closed and cold. Joe is the younger of two. There is much conflict between the two siblings. His dad also is narrow and can be harsh with his words. Joe describes his mother as kind, but one who is never wrong. He feels her control, but renames it concern for him.

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From this genogram, Mary is quite cutoff from her own family and is seen to have a dismissive demeanor with Joe and his family. Family members still turn to her for intervention and Mary still tends to tell them what to do. Although Mary preaches a gospel of independence, especially for Joe, she presents as insecure in herself, depressed and alone.

Mary has fought so many battles, especially for others, that she has not had time to know herself. Therapy has focussed on her understanding of these family dynamics and her permission to work on her own self-care and happiness. In therapy, Mary began moving closer to Joe and her family members, clearly stating what she will allow and for what she will no longer accept responsibility. This more mature sense of connection and intimacy also enabled Mary to feel better about herself. In therapy, Joe was ambivalent about early suggestions that he phone home less frequently and thus take a more distant, independent stance vis-a-vis his mother.

Even when Joe began to take some distance, his comments exhibited much fear about the reactions of others. The schema for attachment patterns presented in this paper have positive implications for therapy. Although meant more as a global assessment of attachment, best obtained through a mutual dialogue between client and therapist, clients can visualize their own score on the scale of differentiation as well as the score of their partner. Bowen strongly suggest that clients need to, first of all, understand their own family of origin dynamics and become objective observers and researchers of their progress towards differentiation.

This objective assessment of the Genogram and the scores on the scale of differentiation can assist each partner to know themself more deeply, including how their insecurity or undifferentiation was born in the family of origin and how it might function and impact in the couple relationship today, and which direction therapy needs to go. Family of origin therapy is not to relive an old memory or to blame parents for all that may have gone wrong in life. Unfinished business of the past is probably one therapeutic issue of today.

Understanding can be pictured more concretely. This schema is also useful in planning therapy. Scores on the scale of differentiation can point the direction for therapy, especially when viewed in the light of the personal authority theory of Williamson. For Williamson, personal authority endeavours to bring balance to the two seemingly opposite forces of togetherness and separateness. Each person needs intimacy, connectedness, love, security AND, at the same time, individuation, independence, autonomy.

The balancing of these in some middle fashion has been called the secure enough place of personal authority. Partners who score lower on the side of enmeshment will need to move in the direction of individuation, learning to make decision of their own, speaking their own mind and feelings and connecting with others as choice. Partners who score lower on the cutoff side will need to learn to find ways to connect and become more intimate with others, partner, family members and significant friends. When it comes to loving and being loved, we often tend to react in patterns reflective of the past, specifically attachment patterns absorbed in the family of origin.

These attachment patterns have become interwoven into ways of thinking and being, thus providing an internal diagram or working model for being in a close relationship.


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In contrast, in a poorly differentiated family, the child tends to function in reaction to others. Attachment patterns that have been absorbed from family of origin can become interwoven into our present day relationships. Ainsworth, M. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Attachment and exploratory behavior of one-year-olds in a strange situation.

Foss ed Determinants of Infant Behavior, 4, London: Methuen. Attachment styles among young adults: a test of the four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, Bogard, M. Nmeshment, Fusion or relatedness?

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Invisible Loyalties. Bowen, M. Theory in the practice of psychotherapy. Guerin ed Family Therapy: Theory and Practice. New York: Gardner Press. Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. New York: Jason Aronson. Bowlby, J. Attachment and Loss: Vol. It draws together leading researchers and clinicians in the areas of developmental psychology, social psychology, and couple and family therapy. The contributors offer new insights into the links among emotional experience, relationship behavior, and individual adjustment, together with valuable techniques for strengthening intimate relationships.

As a text in a graduate-level marriage and family therapy training seminar, the book provides students with an essential theoretical foundation for understanding the manifestation of attachment dynamics in a clinical setting. Its coverage of diverse clinical applications and populations is invaluable to the students as they work to integrate theory and practice. Susan M. Widely published, she is the leading developer of emotionally focused therapy, which she teaches extensively in North America and internationally. Johnson is a recipient of honors including the Order of Canada--the highest civilian award given by the Canadian government, for outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation--and the Distinguished Contribution to Family Systems Research Award from the American Family Therapy Academy.

Her website is www. Valerie E. Whiffen, PhD, Professor of Psychology in the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa, has published widely in the area of depression, particularly focusing on women's depression. In recent publications, she has explored an attachment theory-based understanding of depression that co-occurs with marital distress. Whiffen teaches graduate courses in adult psychopathology and interpersonal theory, and supervises the clinical work of practicum students and interns in the American Psychological Association-accredited clinical psychology program at the University of Ottawa.

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