Effect of Early and Family Relationships on All Other Relationships

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The purpose of this essay is to critically evaluate three core relational models using the following statement ‘Early relationships and family of origin experiences provide us with a lens through which all other relationships are understood’. The three core relational models that I will use are Transactional Analysis, Attachment theory, and Murray Bowen’s Genogram.

 Through the lens of Transactional analysis I will examine my lived experience, apply it to recurring themes in my relationships, and discuss how it could provide insight and awareness to the client in a clinical context. Through the lens of Attachment theory I will discuss how it can provide insight and awareness for the client as well as for the therapist. I will give a critical evaluation of Attachment theory, discussing briefly the nature/nurture debate. Through the lens of Murray Bowen’s Genogram I will discuss how it gives me insight and awareness into my own family system and describe how it could also give insight and awareness to the client in a clinical context. I will then critically evaluate Murray Bowen’s genogram.

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Transactional Analysis

Transactional analysis is a theory based on personality and claims that people relate to each other through three ego states – child, adult, parent (Berne, 1964). The goal of transactional analysis is to disable games and to teach a person to have healthier relationships (Steiner, 2015). My early relationships and family of origin experiences provided me with a lens through which all other relationships are understood. The lens that is dominant in my life is that of fear of authority. Through the application of transactional analysis to my lived experience I discovered that I alternate between the ego states while I am in transaction with various different people and I notice that my ego state changes from Adult or Parent to negative adapted child when I come into contact with authority figures. This adaptive shift in ego states comes from a primary care-giver who transacted with me from a negative controlling parent ego state. The primary care-giver was an authority figure who instilled fear in me and then I projected fear onto authority figures thus forcing a change in my ego state to negative adapted child when I interacted with them. This understanding of my ego state in relation to authority figures led me further to understand my life position.

In a class exercise I did the Experiences in Close Relationships Questionnaire – Revised (ECR-R) and discovered that I experience my primary care-giver as dismissive and my attachment style is avoidant. Research conducted by Boholst, Boholst & Mende (2005) correlated the attachment styles to the life positions as outlined by Harris (1995). The study has shown a correlation of the life position of ‘I’m OK – You’re Not OK’ to the dismissive attachment style. This in turn shows that my life position is very likely the life position of ‘I’m OK – You’re Not OK.’ This new awareness has provided an opening into how I interact with the world and the relationships I have in my life. From this new understanding I will now look at the recurring themes in my relationships through the lens of transactional analysis.

Recurring Themes in Relationships

The existential position of I’m OK – You’re Not OK is a position where the child has been abused and has learned to be tough and cruel and things are always ‘their fault’ and find it difficult to sustain intimate relationships (Harris, 1995; Solomon, 2003). Transactional analysis has provided me with a fresh perspective identifying concretely through theory the recurring themes in my relationships. Understanding my transaction with a previous therapist using transactional analysis helped me highlight my ego states and a recurring theme in my life – the fear of voicing my needs and fear of authority. I have a strongly developed negative adapted child ego state which takes precedence when I transact with a figure of authority. With my previous therapist I noted that my needs were not being met yet I continued on in therapy until I finally ended the therapy in a dishonest way. Through the application of transactional analysis, I noted from my lived experienced I was in the adapted child ego state with my therapist and since I was expressing myself from this ego state I was unable to voice my needs. At the social level I was talking to my therapist whereas at the psychological level I wanted to justify her inadequacy as a therapist. I was angry at her but I did not express it for fear of hurting my therapist because I had no idea how to voice it without inadvertently hurting her in my anger. The payoff is that I feel justified in my life position that ‘I’m OK, and You’re Not OK’. From an existential point of view – the world is not a good place. I introjected the traits of the Parent that I had been in contact with my Parents and I also introjected feelings of anxiety and fear toward authority figures.

Another theme that is recurrent in relationships in my life is indicative of the life position I’m OK – You’re Not OK, which is a difficulty in maintaining and forming intimate relationships. Reflecting on the game ‘Now I Got You, You Son of a Bitch’ as described by Berne (1964), I note that I am complicit in that game as the payoff from the game affirms my life position and the aim of the game is justification. This game reflects an introjection of the scripts learned in childhood that are played out later in life in the negative critical parent ego state.

Insight and Awareness

By using transactional analysis insight and awareness can be found by understanding the ego states we are in when we are interacting with certain people in our lives and understanding our life position. Solomon states that “one of the things that sets transactional analysis apart from some other therapies is the belief that we are each responsible for our own future, regardless of what happened to us in the past” (2003, p. 22). This statement brings a hope that our childhood fate does not condemn us to a determinism but rather opens the door to change despite the hardships faced as a child. Transactional analysis’ focuses on helping people change and understand their feelings and behaviours by helping clients understand the psychology of human transactions (Sani & Karim, 2005).

In his book I’m OK, You’re OK Thomas A. Harris gives a case study of a businessman who must decide whether to sign a petition that supports a fair housing bill for all races. He then has a lot of conflict over this decision. The scripts introjected from childhood come into play and he comes into conflict. Transactional analysis provides insight into the clients’ life by helping them look at their transactions through the ego states of parent, adult and child. It also helps us examine the games we play in our transactions that can be harmful to relationships. Game playing happens when the child and parent ego states dominate whereas when the Adult ego state takes charge game playing can end and change can happen (Harris, 1995). Harris states that the goal of Transactional Analysis is “to enable a person to have freedom of choice, the freedom to change at will, to change the responses to recurring and new stimuli” (1995, p. 56). A client’s behaviour may be determined by scripts that they learned as a child and play them out in their parent and child ego states but transactional analysis provides them with freedom to change from the position of determinism to freedom of will by knowing the truth of their Parent and Child ego states. This knowing provides the client with insight and aids awareness and “it matters only insofar as how much the re-experiencing of a past ego interferes with our current functioning in life” (Lapworth & Sills, 2011, p. 25).

However, there are some limitations with Transactional analysis, as it lacks empirical validation, and claims of success come from clinical observation (Corey, n.d.). It also lacks exploration of feelings and its focus tends to be cognitive so there needs to be a balance of feelings and cognition (Corey, n.d.).

I will now examine Attachment theory.

Attachment Theory

Insight and Awareness

Attachment theory can provide insight and aid awareness to the client by helping them understand that attachment is at the core of human relationships. By helping them understand their own attachment style they can then explore the implications in their own relationships. It is important for the therapist to know their own attachment as well because according to Cosentino & Dermer “attachment injuries occur when an attachment figure is unavailable or unresponsive in times of distress” (2015, p. 75). The therapist and the client are in relation to one another and form an attachment which mimics the secure attachment style and therefore the therapist provides a secure base from which the client can explore their anxious feelings about significant relationships in their life and “explore how to successfully express and fulfill attachment needs of self and others” (Cosentino & Dermer, 2015, p. 75). The role of the therapist then “may be a new attachment figure in relation to whom the patient can develop fresh patterns of attachment” (Wallin, 2007, p. 57). The goal then of attachment-based psychotherapy is to form a secure attachment which helps with the clients’ ability to regulate affect (Wallin, 2007). John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, believed that the client has the ability to change and wasn’t a determinist. This change occurs through the clinical relationship in which the therapist is attuned to the needs of the client through their “ability to hear, see, sense, interpret, and respond to the client’s verbal and nonverbal cues in a way that communicated to the client that he/she was genuinely seen, felt, and understood” (Wylie & Turner, 2015, n.p.).

As a therapist in training it is imperative to understand my own attachment style and to work out in my own therapy a secure attachment and to attune to my own needs. Wallin (2007) states that this necessary as we are the tools of our trade. Because of the intensity of attachment-based psychotherapy the therapist is inhibited by their own emotional vulnerabilities and these would need to be highlighted and worked on in personal therapy. Attachment theory can provide insight and aid awareness to a client but the therapist must be aware of their own needs to bring the client where they need to be – a secure attachment through the therapeutic relationship. Understanding my own attachment style and working through it in therapy is a way for me to attune to my needs as a person, and to be an effective psychotherapist.

Critical Evaluation

A criticism of attachment theory is that in its early development it was monotropic and its focus was on the mother-child relationship. Considering Bowlby’s attachment theory came about after the second world war, it could be used as a pretext to keep women at home and away from the work environment and raise the children (Beckett & Taylor, 2016). This presents a cultural problem as the monotropic mother-child relationship is the European/North American norm and ignores other important relationships such as the father and the grandparents. In other cultures, there is a communal relationship that is the norm that attachment theory does not consider. If a child relies too heavily on the primary caregiver, Beckett & Taylor argue that “this may in the long run itself be damaging, placing undue pressure on the mother which will itself harm the relationship if she is worn out, or bored, or becomes resentful of the child” (2016, p. 65).

An issue with attachment theory is whether attachment styles are singular or multiple. Hazan & Shaver (1994) posit the question of whether attachments are singular or multiple and this is an important question as infants do form multiple bonds however, is one more important than the others. They state that other attachments do not have equal value with the primary caregiver as the empirical evidence shows. Ainsworth (1967) has shown that if multiple caregivers are available infants will seek out their primary caregiver when tired or sick.

A critic of Bowlby’s attachment theory is Judith R. Harris (1998) who believes that a child’s personality and character are not nurtured by the attachment between the child and the primary caregiver but rather the child’s peers because of the need to fit in. Harris (1998) sits on the nature side of the nature/nurture debate and cites separated twin studies to disprove the influence of nurture in the child’s development. Harris (1998) critiques attachment theory because it is based on behaviours that occur during stressful situations rather than non-stressful situations and therefore no data of attachment during non-stressful situations has been proven.

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Attachment theory has a very strong research background and has empirically validated Bowlby’s theories of attachment. Neuroscience research is giving strong evidence of the theory of attachment and recent developments has shown that the right brain is involved in the process of attachment, and the right brain is involved in unconscious processes and intuition (Beckett & Taylor, 2016). Louis Cozolino weighs in on the nature/nurture debate and states that “nature and nurture become one during development, and the line between organic and functional dissolves into what is now called experience-dependent plasticity” (2014, p. 77). What this means is that our brains are structured and restructured by our interactions with our environment. That means change is possible and that we are not fixed and static beings.

I will now examine the usefulness of using Murray Bowen’s Genogram.


Insight and Awareness

The genogram was developed by Murray Bowen “as a practical framework for understanding family patterns” (McGodrick, Gerson, & Petry, 2008, p. 1). By applying the genogram to my own life (Appendix A) has brought awareness of fractured and dysfunctional relationships in my own family system. I am highly aware of the dysfunction and the use of drugs and alcohol to satiate unmet needs. Through the application of Transactional Analysis to my own life I have found that my life position is I’m OK-You’re Not OK and that I would engage in the game of Now I Got You, You Son Of a Bitch with certain family members. Considering the dysfunctional family system, I grew up in it is understandable that I took this life position and that I play that particular game. New awareness of this has helped me seek an alternative and healthy position in life through the use of personal therapy. The use of the Experiences in Close Relationships Questionnaire – Revised (ECR-R) helped me become aware of the dismissiveness I experience with my mother. Through the use of Murray Bowen’s genogram, I understand that my mother’s needs were never met in her family system and therefore does not understand that how to provide me with my needs. She re-enacted the dismissiveness her family had toward her with me and my siblings because she does not know how to not be dismissive. I cannot get my needs met by mother if she doesn’t know how to respond to them.

Wallin (2007) states that it is the therapist that provides the client with a secure base for them to get their needs met and this is a good place to get my own needs met as therapist in training. If I do not know how to get my needs met then how can I meet the needs of my clients. Understanding myself through the use of the above theoretical models have implications for clients. Examining my family system using the genogram gave me an opportunity to apply the theoretical models of Transactional Analysis and Attachment theory to understand my life. It provides me with enough knowledge to focus on areas that need attention to work on in therapy and provides me with a scope to change. By understanding the insight and awareness these theoretical models have provided me with it helps me understand my early relationships which is how I understand all my other relationships and gives scope to change and areas to change in therapy.

The genogram is a useful to help the client gain insight into their life in the context of their family system and provide them with enough knowledge and insight to facilitate change. Watson (2015) highlights the importance of using a genogram with clients as they can recognise relationships that are harmful or beneficial to them and can move clients towards their therapeutic goals. Watson also notes the benefit of understanding “relationships and influences that are recognized as damaging or destructive can be adapted, interrupted, […] stopping the patterns from being transmitted to future generations” (2015, p. 735).

Critical Evaluation

The use of Murray Bowen’s Genogram in therapy is useful for uncovering the emotional system of a family as well as patterns of relationships and functioning (McGodrick, Gerson, & Petry, 2008). Used in the clinical context it can help both the client and therapist to understand structural, relational, and functional information about the client’s family (McGodrick, Gerson, & Petry, 2008). Despite the usefulness of the genogram we must be aware of the social context in which Bowen developed the genogram.

Luepnitz (1988) notes that Bowenian therapy focuses heavily on the role of the mother in symptom formation developing in children. Bowenian therapy takes a patriarchal understanding of gender roles and places them in the context of family systems. Carter et al. (1988) points out that this is unfair to men as there is an assumption that men have a limited capacity in family relationships compared to the role of mothers. This is important to note as this may set the precedent of expectation in family systems that is believed to be healthy. Luepnitz (1988) criticises Bowen’s therapy for being too rational in relation to emotional responses and processes which does not give priority to the expression of emotions. Understanding emotions from a rational point of view may not helpful compared to the experience of emotions as Brown points out that “in practice it is the experience of the emotions, embedded in family of origin relationships that is a key motivator for the client to undertake family of origin work” (1999, p. 100).


The purpose of this essay was to critically evaluate three core relational models using the following statement ‘Early relationships and family of origin experiences provide us with a lens through which all other relationships are understood’. The three core relational models that I have discussed are Transactional Analysis, Attachment theory, and Murray Bowen’s Genogram.

 Through the lens of Transactional analysis I have examined my lived experience, applied it to recurring themes in my relationships, and discussed how it could provide insight and awareness to the client in a clinical context. Through the lens of Attachment theory I have discussed how it can provide insight and awareness for the client as well as for the therapist. I gave a critical evaluation of Attachment theory, having briefly discussed the nature/nurture debate. Through the lens of Murray Bowen’s Genogram I discussed how it gave me insight and awareness into my own family system and described how it could also give insight and awareness to the client in a clinical context. I then critically evaluated Murray Bowen’s genogram.


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  • Beckett, C. & Taylor, H. (2016). Human Growth and Development. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play. Great Britain: Penguin.
  • Boholst, F. A., Boholst, G. B., & Mende, M. M. B. (2005). Life Positions and Attachment Styles: A Canonical Correlation Analysis. Transactional Analysis Journal, 35, 1, 62 – 67.
  • Brown, J. (1999). Bowen Family Systems Theory and Practice: Illustration and Critique. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT), 20, 2, p. 94 – 103.
  • Carter, E., Walters, M., Papp, P., & Silverstein, O. The Invisible Web: Gender Patterns in Family Relationships. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Corey, G. (n.d.). Transactional Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.cengage.com/resource_uploads/downloads/0534536050_21623.pdf
  • Cosentino, A. & Dermer, S. (2015). Attachment Theory and Attachment Therapies. In Neukrug, E. S. (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Counselling and Psychotherapy. (p. 71-75). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Cozolino, L. (2014). The Neuroscience of Human Relationships. USA: Norton.
  • Harris, J. R. (1998). The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: Free Press.
  • Harris, T. A. (1995). I’m OK – You’re OK. Great Britain: Arrow Books.
  • Hazan, C. & Shaver, P. R. (1994). Deeper Into Attachment Theory. Psychological Inquiry, 5, 1, 68-79.
  • Lapworth, P. & Sills, C. (2011). An Introduction to Transactional Analysis. London: Sage Publications.
  • Luepnitz, D. (1988). The Family Interpreted: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and Family Therapy. New York: Basic Books.
  • McGoldrick, M., Gerson, R., & Petry, S. (2008). Genograms: Assessment and Intervention. New York: Norton.
  • Sani, M. N. & Karim, S. F. (2005). Transactional Analysis Counselling: An Introduction. BRAC University Journal, 2, 1, 117-120.
  • Solomon, C. (2003). Transactional Analysis Theory: The Basics. Transactional Analysis Journal, 33, 1, 15-22.
  • Steiner, C. M. (2015). Transactional Analysis. In Neukrug, E. S. (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Counselling and Psychotherapy. (p. 1007-1010). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Wallin, D. J. (2007). Attachment in Psychotherapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Watson, D. (2015). Genograms. In Neukrug, E. S. (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Counselling and Psychotherapy. (p. 734-737). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  •  Wylie, M. S. & Turner, L. (2015). The Attuned Therapist: Does Attachment Really Matter? Retrieved from www.psychotherapynetworker.org/magazine/recentissues/1261-the-attuned-therapist

Appendix A


Appendix B

Genogram Legend


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