Family Systems Theory, By Van Wyck Brooks

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Historian and author, Van Wyck Brooks, wrote: “Nothing is so soothing to our self-esteem as to find our bad traits in our forebears. It seems to absolve us” (1958). Family Systems Theory forefather, Murray Bowen, would contend that soothing or otherwise, in the absence of systemic reorganization, such “bad traits” are surely doomed to reappear in future generations. Bowen’s Family Systems Theory (BFST) is based on the assumption that family patterns traverse generations (Curtis, 1999). Referred to as the multigenerational transmission process (MTP), Bowen defined this process as the repetition of relational, communication, and interaction patterns that are transmitted from one generation to the next. Bowen maintained that this inherited style of living and interacting is the most fundamental influence in family functioning (Curtis, 1999). The MTP, as applied to addiction, assumes that chemical dependency of one individual in the system is a symptom of an historical and multigenerational familial pattern of dysfunctionality.
According to BFST, alcoholism and other addictive disorders are transmitted through generations of the family system, precisely because chemical dependency affects the organization, functioning, and communication patterns of entire families. Through this transmission process, these maladaptive patterns are “inherited” from parent to child. Thus, even in the absence of a chemically-addicted family member in any given generation, this unresolved

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