The concept of differentiation derives from psychiatrist Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, also known as Bowen theory or Bowenian theory. Bowen (1913–1990) observed that the mothers of adult children with schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder, often had a symbiotic relationship with them, as if both parent and child were dependent on each other in ways that tended to reinforce the schizophrenic’s dysfunction. This intense emotional fusion between parent and child was the result of a multigenerational process that would be evident in the dysfunction of family members in other generations.

Subsequently, in the course of formulating his family systems theory, Bowen developed the concept of differentiation, which refers to a people’s ability to distinguish between their emotional and thought processes. Persons who are less differentiated are ...

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