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Archives by Topics: Societal Anxiety/Regression

"Man is still an emotional reactive product of nature. The anxiety that starts regression appears to be related more to a disharmony between man and nature than to disharmony between man and his fellow man, such as war."

— Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. 1978. New York: Jason Aronson, Inc., p. 279 (Chapter 13, "Societal Regression as Viewed Through Family Systems Theory" (1974))

In my 8th concept on societal regression in about 1974, I predicted that society would become more and more anxious and proceed on toward self destruction within the next 100 years, in steps slowed only temporarily by piddling efforts to resolve symptoms, that society would die off in increasing numbers as long as major decisions were based on democratic process instead of science, and that society would eventually survive with a benevolent monarch who could really hear the dictates of science.… The model is mental illness in a family. The details deal with restricted land mass (the earth), overrun by one form of life (homo sapiens) with too many exploiting the earth's final resources for their own selfish gain.


—Dr. Bowen to Family, Jan. 2, 1982

Societal process chart drawn by Dr. Bowen in 1974. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Xmas is a time of increased anxiety. I have written about that and my ideas about how it comes to be. This year the societal anxiety was worse. Last weekend there were 7 unexplained, senseless murders in D.C. in 1 day, to say nothing of arson fires, robberies, and car accidents. Not counting the traffic fatalities due to drunk drivers. . . . PEOPLE TURN ON EACH OTHER WHEN THE ANXIETY GOES UP. It is part of my thesis that people will die in piles when the final anxiety crunch comes. Some will survive the crunch to start a new way of life. One takes his life in his hands just to get into traffic. You cannot drive a mile without some anxious jerk muscling the traffic lanes. The higher the anxiety, the more the majority does things to infringe the minorities.


—Dr. Bowen to Family, Jan. 2, 1982

In any group . . . there is one side in favor of giving in to demands, avoiding conflicts, honoring the “rights” of the complainers, and taking the easy way out. The other side favors principle, staying on a predetermined course in spite of opposition, and “responsibility” ahead of “rights”. Too much “giving in” results in a spiral of increasing demands and more giving in, until the group collapses in chaos, violence and strife. Immaturity in “giving in” results in over-leniency and social chaos. Immaturity on the other side results in cruelty and meanness. There is another important variable in this. In any group, the average functioning of the group can go down toward more immaturity, or up toward greater maturity. In periods of stress, the average level of maturity can go down. In periods of calm, the average level of maturity goes up.

In a family or small group (and I believe it operates also on national and international levels), the chaotic, disturbed, over-lenient or over-mean, “rights” oriented, group can begin to pull up to better maturity. This occurs when one family member, or one person, can begin to assume responsibility and can spearhead a course of action based on principle that is not partisan and not FOR or AGAINST anyone. The principle followed is not as important as having a clearly defined blueprint and knowing where one stands. In time of chaos, people are generally pleased to have a person who is sure of his convictions and who can take action. Then comes the first action and the leniency group squawks, a second action and a louder squawk, etc. Eventually the leader is forced to take unpopular action which is followed by monumental opposition. If the leader still stays on course, the opposition subsides and the whole group is operating on a new level of maturity and integration.


—Dr. Bowen to Family, July 27, 1974