Emotional Cutoff (Bowen Theory)

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. Emotional contact can be reduced by people moving away from their families and rarely going home, or it can be reduced by people staying in physical contact with their families but avoiding sensitive issues. Relationships may look "better" if people cutoff to manage them, but the problems are dormant and not resolved.

People reduce the tensions of family interactions by cutting off, but risk making their new relationships too important. For example, the more a man cuts off from his family of origin, the more he looks to his spouse, children, and friends to meet his needs. This makes him vulnerable to pressuring them to be certain ways for him or accommodating too much to their expectations of him out of fear of jeopardizing the relationship. New relationships are typically smooth in the beginning, but the patterns people are trying to escape eventually emerge and generate tensions. People who are cut off may try to stabilize their intimate relationships by creating substitute "families" with social and work relationships.

Everyone has some degree of unresolved attachment to his or her original family, but well-differentiated people have much more resolution than less differentiated people. An unresolved attachment can take many forms. For example, (1) a person feels more like a child when he is home and looks to his parents to make decisions for him that he can make for himself, or (2) a person feels guilty when he is in more contact with his parents and that he must solve their conflicts or distresses, or (3) a person feels enraged that his parents do not seem to understand or approve of him. An unresolved attachment relates to the immaturity of both the parents and the adult child, but people typically blame themselves or others for the problems.

People often look forward to going home, hoping things will be different this time, but the old interactions usually surface within hours. It may take the form of surface harmony with powerful emotional undercurrents or it may deteriorate into shouting matches and hysterics. Both the person and his family may feel exhausted even after a brief visit. It may be easier for the parents if an adult child keeps his distance. The family gets so anxious and reactive when he is home that they are relieved when he leaves. The siblings of a highly cutoff member often get furious at him when he is home and blame him for upsetting the parents. People do not want it to be this way, but the sensitivities of all parties preclude comfortable contact.

Source: http://www.thebowencenter.org/

 
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