The concept of an emotional system is core to understanding Bowen theory. The term ‘emotional’ is familiar to most people. However, its meaning is different in Bowen theory than in its usage in society. In society, this term is commonly used as an equivalent of or substitute for the term ‘feelings’. In Bowen theory, feelings are just the conscious tip of the iceberg that is the emotional system.
Dr. Bowen used this term to refer to all of the hard-wired physiological, psychological and social mechanisms that have evolved in individuals and families to maximize their own and their loved ones’ chances for survival. It includes all of the internal and external interactions and reactions associated with our need for food, water, sleep, shelter, territory, protection from harm, mating, reproduction and nurturing of young.
The term ‘system’ refers to the complex interdependence and impact members of a family and larger social groupings have on one another and on the group as a whole. The needs of and for others combined with individual needs and differences between one another is an automatic and ever-present source of tension. This tension and the instinctual and learned ways individuals and families deal with it lies at the heart of concept of chronic anxiety.