Encanto Explains Bowen Family Systems (Part 1)

Encanto is a fantastic movie in its own right.  If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.  If not, put it on your To View list now. 

[[Spoiler Alert!  Go watch the movie first (Disney+ and Amazon both have it), then read this post.  There are spoilers.]]


When my family and I first watched Encanto, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, this is full of Family Systems stuff!” and she was right!  

  • The Madrigal Family Genogram is interesting. 
  • There are great examples of Overfunctioning and Underfunctioning. 
  • The Multi-Generational Transmission Process is at work. 
  • There are three clear Nodal Events.
  • There are a number of Systemic Responses.
  • A beautiful Bridging of Cutoff helps resolve the story.  

Today’s post is based on a presentation I gave at the Postgraduate Program at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family on February, 14, 2022. I will focus on the first batch of these topics now, and the second half soon. 

Family Genogram 

Mirabel is the narrator for the story of Encanto. She is one of three daughters of Juliet and Augustin.  Juliet is triplets with Pepa and Bruno and their mother is Abuela Alma.  Pepa is married to Felix and they also have three children.  Bruno is single. 

When the triplets were infants, their whole village was overrun during the Thousand Day War in Columbia. Much of the village fled, including their family.  Abuelo Pedro died holding off the attackers, and Abuela is given a magical candle which she believes is her job to tend.  This candle gives magical powers to her family, noted in this genogram.  

Here is the Genogram for Family Madrigal from Encanto:

Bowen Genogram of Madrigal Family



Examined through a Bowen Family lens, we can see how each one of these magical gifts is a way to overfunction or underfunction.  When overfunctioning, a person takes on the tasks or even feels the emotions of another.  When underfunctioning, a person allows others to think, do or feel for them.  

Alma is the Light Tender, and she believes her job is to manage the anxiety of both her family and the whole village. (Overfunctioning)

Juliet can understand what needs to be healed in a person, and can bake a special item for the person to eat and be healed.  She does the healing for them. (Overfunctioning) 

Pepa’s mood affects the weather. When she’s happy, the world is sunny.  When she’s sad, it rains.  When she’s angry, everyone is pelted in a massive storm.  The family and village take on managing Pepa’s emotions for her, which keeps Pepa in an underfunctioning position.

In the next generation, Isabela is gifted with spreading beauty wherever she goes–alternately, she is burdened with making sure everything is happy and peaceful wherever she goes. (Overfunctioning)

Luisa is super-strong.  She is tasked with carrying everyone’s burdens as her full responsibility.  (Overfunctioning)

Dolores has super-hearing.  She knows everything that is going on because she hears all. (Overfunctioning)

Camillo is a shapeshifter.  He can become just like anyone around him.  He can lose himself in order to be just like those around him. (Underfunctioning)

Multi-Generational Transmission Process

One of Bowen’s 8 Concepts is the Multi-Generational Transmission Process. This concept is about individuals’ level of functioning from generation to generation.  

A person who is higher functioning has more “solid self” and is able to function in the world thoughtfully from their own principles rather than in reaction to the emotions and needs of others.  Humans in general function in the mid-to-low range.  We are sometimes able to think and act for ourselves, but more often we think or act in ways that respond to others in our lives.

Bowen believed that a person’s baseline functioning was fairly stable over a lifetime and could not change much over the years (although we all can “function up” or “function down” depending on the situations we are in, our own health, and the health of the system).  

His theory also states that generally individuals marry someone with a similar basic functioning level, and the average functioning of their children is about the same as the parents.  Individual children may function a bit higher or a bit lower than their parents, but averaging all the children’s functioning levels generally equates to the parents’ functioning levels.  

The Multi-Generational Transmission Process is this passing on of similar functioning levels from generation to generation.  In children, one might function a bit higher and another a bit lower.  The higher-functioning child marries a higher-functioning partner and the lower-functioning partner marries a lower-functioning partner.  Bowen believed that over many generations (10-20 perhaps), this Multi-Generational Transmission Process can lead to serious mental illness in a child who ends up with a functioning level so low that they have difficulty navigating the world..  


Here, we see the functioning level in the first two generations of Madrigals.  Alma and Pedro function at a similar level.  With their triplets, one functions a bit better, one a bit worse, and one about the same. 

Julieta functions a bit higher than her parents.  She seems to have more control of her gifts, and more choice about when and how she provides healing for others.

Pepa functions at about the same level as her parents.  She is very emotions-driven and she is unable to function without sharing her emotions with those around her.

Bruno functions lower than his parents.  He engages in cutoff behavior, and we also see signs that he might have OCD tendencies in the movie.

MultiGenerational Process Mirabel Generation


Looking at Juliet and Augustin and their children, we again see one higher-functioning child, one similar-functioning child, and one lower-functioning child.

Isabela is the lower-functioning child.  The movie reveals that she does not like functioning the way she does–making beauty wherever she goes at all times–and yet she is unable to change on her own.

Luisa functions at a similar level to her parents.  After she sees Mirabel’s work at self-differentiation, she commits to functioning higher too.  Luisa is no longer compelled to use her strength to hold other’s burdens but is beginning to be able to choose when and how to do this.

Mirabel, our narrator, functions slightly higher than her parents.  She is the one who is able to go beyond the family norms and reach out to Bruno to bridge his cut-off and understand her own self better.  She is able to make decisions from principles stances rather than simply by reacting to the emotions around her.  

And You?

Does Encanto help you understand Bowen Family Systems a bit better?  Watch for Part 2 of Encanto Explains Bowen Family Systems which will examine Nodal Points, Systemic Reactions, and Bridging Cutoff.  

In the meantime, you might be interested in these other Bowen Family System posts:

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