Murray Bowen was an American psychiatrist who specialized in family therapy and developed Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) which combines individual psychodynamic and system theories forming eight behavioral concepts within families.
According to the theory families are systems built on triangles as building blocks. Triangles describe three-person relationships allowing more anxiety and tension than two-person systems, i.e. tension in triangles has room to shift among three, instead of two persons. However, when tension within a triangle exceeds its capacity, other close-by triangles get infected.
Family businesses are often described as systemic entities where the circles of Family, Ownership and Business are intertwined. BFST suits therefore well as a framework to family business consulting to understand how tensions in one circle can interfere with the functions and behaviour of the interlocking circles.
BFST can also explain the behaviour at individual and group level. Triangulation occurs when an outside person intervenes or is drawn into a conflicted or stressful relationship in an attempt to ease tension and (Good therapy). Typically, this would happen in families among siblings drawing a parent to the situation to “solve” the situation. Also, in family therapy, the therapist might get drawn to a challenging situation as a “referee”.
Triangulation may cause challenging situations. Nevertheless, a chair with three legs is a more stable chair than a chair with two legs. The power of triangles is in the capacity they provide for air and tension to move around. Oftentimes, a third party is a conscious choice to improve the communication and understanding in between two parties.
Steven Karpman developed the Karpman triangle, also called the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) in the 1970’s. This triangle has three actors; The Persecutor, The Rescuer and The Victim and the roles of them shift along with the shifts of the overall tension. However, David Emerald developed a more positive version of DDT, The Empowerment Dynamic triangle , TED. TED is built on the realization that choice can lead to a positive approach to life’s challenges. In TED the victim shifts to the role of a creator who sees other alternative ways to come to the outcome, the persecutor acts as a positive challenger spreading a mindset of growth and curiosity and a rescuer acts more as a coach, clarifying through powerful and insightful questions.
Triangles are powerful and they provide a great tool to understand how people in uncomfortable situations have a need to look for a third party advice and help. The findings in Murray Bowen’s longitudinal studies on families also suggested that the best observations were obtained when larger groups were divided into smaller units of three, the building blocks of the family. It is of no surprise that groups of three are often regarded as optimal sizes of efficient groups and used widely in group facilitation processes.
The pyramids are huge monuments, in a shape of a triangle. They are built with the notion of having a stable monumental base but less tension at the top. Triangles are powerful and entail a lot of wisdom for their users.