How to Cite the Online Version of One Family’s Story

Kerr, Michael E. “One Family’s Story: A Primer on Bowen Theory.” The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. 2000.

The eight concepts presented here are available in printed form on the online store. One Family’s Story: A Primer on Bowen Theory is available in single copies and at a discount for bulk purchases.


A triangle is a three-person relationship system. It is considered the building block or “molecule” of larger emotional systems because a triangle is the smallest stable relationship system.

Differentiation of Self

Families and other social groups tremendously affect how people think, feel, and act, but individuals vary in their susceptibility to a “group think” and groups vary in the amount of pressure they exert for conformity. These differences between individuals and between groups reflect differences in people’s levels of differentiation of self.

Nuclear Family Emotional System

The concept of the nuclear family emotional system describes four basic relationship patterns that govern where problems develop in a family. People’s attitudes and beliefs about relationships play a role in the patterns, but the forces primarily driving them are part of the emotional system.

Family Projection Process

The family projection process describes the primary way parents transmit their emotional problems to a child. The projection process can impair the functioning of one or more children and increase their vulnerability to clinical symptoms.

Multigenerational Transmission Process

The concept of the multigenerational transmission process describes how small differences in the levels of differentiation between parents and their offspring lead over many generations to marked differences in differentiation among the members of a multigenerational family.

Emotional Cutoff

The concept of emotional cutoff describes people managing their unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other family members by reducing or totally cutting off emotional contact with them.

Sibling Position

Bowen theory incorporates the research of psychologist Walter Toman as a foundation for its concept of sibling position. Bowen observed the impact of sibling position on development and behavior in his family research.

Societal Emotional Process

Each concept in Bowen theory applies to nonfamily groups, such as work and social organizations. The concept of societal emotional process describes how the emotional system governs behavior on a societal level, promoting both progressive and regressive periods in a society.