The nuclear family emotional system: the regulatory function of symptoms according to Bowen
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Instytut Psychologii Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego
Społeczna Akademia Nauk w Łodzi
Submission date: 2023-02-14
Acceptance date: 2023-04-05
Publication date: 2023-08-03
Corresponding author
Anna Jozefczyk   

University of Lodz
Psychoter 2023;204(1):27–39
One of the basic axioms of systemic family therapy is that psychopathological symptoms occurring in family members may perform a regulatory function and serve to restore disturbances in the family balance. Clinical observation of families by American psychiatrist Murray Bowen concluded that the same function can be performed by four mechanisms, defined as the nuclear family emotional system: 1) emotional distance; 2) marital conflict; 3) dysfunction in a spouse; 4) impairment of one or more children. These behaviors are undertaken intuitively and their aim is to distract the family from real emotional problems throughout the system. In this article, the authors present the operation of such mechanisms, illustrating them with a description of clinical cases enriched with genograms. Although these patterns differ significantly on the behavioral level, and can thus be used to highlight individual problems, they perform the same function: the desire to restore homeostasis to the family. Adopting such a perspective enables to rediscover the purpose of the therapy process and direct it to fundamental emotional problems within a family system.