Strength of family relationships indicates mental wellbeing

A recent study has reported that the strength of family relationships predicts psychological health, the capacity to control emotions, organise thought and the ability to be mindful in everyday life experiences.

Husband and wife research team Dr. Jonathan Appel, who is a professor of psychology and his wife Dr. Dohee Kim-Appel, who works as a therapist in conjunction with Tiffin University have conducted research which examined the connection between Mindfulness and Bowen’s theory ‘the differentiation of the self’.

Being mindful is said to be a state of mind where by a person is conscious of the present moment, their environment and both their emotional and physical state. Currently there is an increase in use of this concept in therapies and counselling techniques to help understand and reduce symptoms of stress and help overcome disorders such as depression and anxiety .

This research by Mr. and Mrs. Appel, has connected the mindfulness concept with Bowen’s differentiation of the self hypothesis. This hypothesis broadly theorises that social groups and families influence people’s emotions, thoughts and actions however resistance to these influences and ‘group think’ varies between individuals. There is an innate ‘self’ but during childhood a person’s family relationships can manipulate how much of the ‘self’ develops.

The theory proposes that an individual with a poorly differentiated ‘self’ is greatly dictated by society’s acceptance of them and thus will greatly adapt their thoughts and feelings in order to conform to their idea of what other people want. In contrast, a well differentiated person appreciates the need for some dependence on others in order to survive but is not manipulated by pressures to conform and is able to act and make decisions by careful consideration of the facts rather than being directed by emotion and social norms and perceived expectations.

Dr. Appel and his wife made the connection between mindfulness and the differentiation of the self by reporting that mindfulness activates medial prefrontal regions of the brain thought to play a major role in gaining a sense of self, stress management, reducing anxiety, depression and self-obsession and feelings of empathy. The researchers argued that due to the fact that early family relationships tend to mould psychological wellbeing, the combination of mindfulness practises and providing family therapy, could have a positive influence on mental health and subsequent relationships with others.