On October 21 and 22, 2010 Dr. Laurie Lassiter of Massachusetts presented The Triangle Hypothesis Based on Bowen’s Clinical Practice and the Study of Social Species in Santa Rosa. Erin Sullivan, a doctoral candidate studying primates at UC Davis was present as a scientist discussant. Dr. Lassiter vividly demonstrated how the family regulates individuals and how a primitive social species like bacteria has social processes like (but not the same as) the triangle that regulate individuals for the benefit of the group. The triangle is the way the human social group regulates the individual by exploiting individual sensitives to acceptance and rejection to maintain the system status quo, which benefits some at the expense of others. More sensitive and reactive individuals are more vulnerable to social control. Likewise, bacterial colonies use reactive individuals to form dead stalk to fix nitrogen for the group survival. Unique to the human triangle is the fact that individuals are controlled by their sensitivity to approval and rejection by others in the family. But the strategy of social life of some individuals using others is a very old strategy in evolution.
Bowen pursued a way out of the dilemna of some gaining at the expense of others (a major variable in emotional illness) via the process of differentiation of self. A factor for people is that feelings guide the family to feel right when the individual is pressured back to his old position after venturing to operate as more of an individual and less a part of the emotional system. This level of emotional process is not usually observed or commented on because the system reacts against seeing it or speaking to it as that threatens the order of things. Even if one is not interested in the challenge of differentiation of self in the emotional system, understanding the process of differentiation and the reactions to it is informative about what the emotional system is like. Until a family member works at defining a position for self, by putting others together and self in the outside position, all the emotional interconnections that come alive when the system is threatened with individuality are not visible.
Dr. Lassiter presented audiotapes of Bowen coaching an individual who is from an agreeable family toward more individuality. When there was a naturally occurring change in the system, the one being coached by Bowen experiences new negativity being directed at them. The individual responds taking a position for self putting the others together and self in the outside position. One by one the family lines up to get the coached one back into position using the triangles to create pressure to accomplish it. Bowen coaches with a lot of humor – the audience was in stitches – as he actively helps the one coached keep the big picture in mind and stay the course. The perspective of time enabled a view of the positive impact for the family as well as the one being coached.
A DVD of the first day of the meeting is for sale. The second day contained confidential clinical material and is not available. To purchase the first day’s DVD “The Triangle Hypothesis: Bowen’s Clinical Research confirmed by the Study of Social Species”, check out item #12 in DVDs from past programs, under the conferences tab, or, click here.