Distancing is one of the hard-wired coping mechanisms for dealing with real or imagined threats to one’s well-being. We know it most stereotypically as the flight component of the stress response. It was one of the relationship mechanisms listed under Nuclear Family Emotional Process.
Families, and individuals within families, vary in the degree to which they use distance as a major coping mechanism. When distance becomes entrenched as a way of life in a multigenerational family system, the older and younger generations end up cut-off from one another emotionally. Geographic distancing is often involved. However, living far apart doesn’t necessarily mean being cut-off. The important criteria is the degree to which important aspects of one another’s lives are being openly discussed and responsibly acted upon.
Humans need a certain quantity and quality of emotional contact with important others to function responsibly in all dimensions of their lives. Individuals who are emotionally cut-off from their families tend to use their workplace and friendships as a substitute family. Research on emotional cut-off seems to corroborate Dr. Bowen’s observations that the natural emotional system of the family is a more effective emotional field to be in active contact with. In these studies, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were shown to be the freest in pursing a responsible life course for themselves when they had active emotional contact with the previous generations.