Multigenerational transmission process is one of the 8 core concepts in Bowen’s Family Systems Theory. This concept refers to the similarities of learned, taught, and genetic behaviors transmitted across generations through relationships. Transmission can occur on a number of levels including conscious or subconscious teaching of emotion regulation and behavior to genetic inheritances of certain tendencies or behavioral patterns. Children innately respond to the emotions of their parents and will develop patterns of emotional response and expression based on their relationship with their caregivers.
Multigenerational transmission process can affect overall mental health, marital stability, reproduction, physical health, and academic and professional successes, according to Bowen’s Family Systems Theory. Dysfunctional behavioral and emotional patterns transmitted through generations can significantly impact the functioning of the individual.
Breaking toxic family patterns and ending unhealthy multigenerational transmission processes requires differentiation of self, which is another one of the 8 core concepts of Bowen’s theory. Differentiation of self refers to ones ability to think, feel and act individually without being susceptible to the opinions of others. Individuals who are poorly differentiated often rely on the acceptance of others and struggle to set their own expectations, boundaries and opinions. A well- differentiated individual is able to identify that some level of relational dependence is unavoidable, but is ability to calmly accept conflict, criticism and rejection.
Differentiation is something that can be developed in the process of therapy. Even poorly differentiated individuals can work to identify their multigenerational transmission process and work on breaking unhealthy family patters and developing individual thinking and open-mindedness. Differentiation is a vital part in ending transmission and preventing it from continuing to be passed down through future generations. Being the generational “cycle breaker” is a difficult task, but provides many rewards to the individual both personally, relationally, academically, and occupationally.