Differentiation of Self

by Rod Smith

The Adult Task

Interested readers would do well to read Murray Bowen, Rabbi Ed Friedman and David Schnarch on this topic. The phrase was coined by Murray Bowen. Google their names and their works will be referenced. David Schnarch’s book called PASSIONATE MARRIAGE is perhaps the finest book on relationships available and should have a place on every thinking person’s bookshelf. Be aware that it is very explicit but never pornographic. Occasionally readers have asked if I promote David’s book because I “get a cut.” While I have met Dr. Schnarch, I do not “get” anything from him for promoting his book. I doubt he has any idea at all that I have written about his book several times in my newspaper columns. His book is a best-seller without my help and it is so simply because it is VERY good. Wouldn’t it be fun if he left a comment on this blog sometime!?

Please print the following out and spread it all around….

Print this out, spread it around...

Print this out, spread it around...

Self-Differentiation is a progressive, internal interplay between autonomy (separation) and connection (togetherness) while progressing toward developing and known goals.

Being an authentic adult is hard work and a never completed task. The pathway is paved with difficulty and challenge.

To become an adult, every person faces the task of the Differentiation of Self. It is to be noted that this is a life-long task which begins in the womb, where we were all, at one point, an undifferentiated embryonic mass! We have been moving (given we are healthy and seeking growth) toward states of greater differentiation ever since. This is an uncompleted, yet continuing and challenging, task for us all. It is very important to note that Differentiation is NOT primarily about BEHAVIOR. It is about an internal process of growing up, taking responsibility for ones life, of taking on the task of fully becoming.

Not to differentiate is to fuse (the failure to become a separate person) with others and to place responsibility on others (or on situations, predicaments, and hurdles) for the way in which our lives develop. To differentiate is to provide a platform for maximum growth and personal development for everyone in your circle of influence.

Differentiation is described in many ways in the following points:

1. Growing in the ability to see where and how I fit into my family, the position I hold and the power that is and is not given to that position.
2. Growing in the ability to be fully responsible for my own life while being committed to growing closer to those I love.
3. Intentionally developing, at the same time, autonomy and intimacy. In developing autonomy I set myself towards achieving my dreams and ambitions. In developing intimacy, I allow those close to me to see and know me as I really am.
4. Being willing to say clearly who I am and who I want to be while others are trying to tell me who I am and who I should be.
5. Staying in touch with others while, and even though, there is tension and/or disagreement.
6. Being able to declare clearly what I need and requesting help from others without imposing my needs upon them.
7. Being able to understand what needs I can and cannot meet in my own life and in the lives of others.
8. Understanding that I am called to be distinct (separate) from others, without being distant from others.
9. Understanding that I am responsible to others but not responsible for others .
10. Growing in the ability to live from the sane, thinking and creative person I am, who can perceive possibilities and chase dreams and ambitions without hurting people in the process.
11. Growing in the ability to detect where controlling emotions and highly reactive behavior have directed my life, then, opting for better and more purposeful growth born of creative thinking.
12. Deciding never to use another person for my own ends and to be honest with myself about this when I see myself falling into such patterns.
13. Seeing my life as a whole, a complete unit, and not as compartmentalized, unrelated segments.
14. Making no heroes, taking no victims. (Fused persons require heroes which can just as quickly, in their eyes, become villains.)
15. Giving up the search for the arrival of a Knight in Shining Armour who will save me from the beautiful struggles and possibilities presented in everyday living.
16. Paying the price for building and living withing community.
17. Moving beyond “instant” to process when it comes to love, miracles, the future, healing and all the important and beautiful things in life.
18. Enjoying the water (rather than praying for it to be wine), learning to swim (rather than trying to walk on water).

Differentiated People

d-is-for-differentiation1. Achieve their goals and keep strong relationships.
2. Know when “I” is “I” and “we” is “we” and the difference between the two.
3. Live in their own “space” and “skin” without invading the “space” and “skin” of others.
4. Maintain individuality and embrace others at the same time.
5. Avoid siding with people even if it appears helpful.
6. Resist telling others what they need, think, feel or should do.
7. Say “I” rather than “you” or “we.”
8. Appreciate differences in people, seeing no person as “all good” or “all bad.”
9. Recognize emotional bullying (all kinds of bullying) and refuse to participate in it.
10. Refuse to be manipulated into rescuing others.
11. Hold onto their positions and beliefs without being rigid or defensive.
12. Be clear-headed under pressure.
13. Cope in difficult situations without falling apart.
14. Know how much they need others and how much others need them.
15. Keep their voice under pressure without confusing thinking and feeling.
16. Be free of spending time or energy winning approval, attacking, blaming or maneuvering in relationships.
17. Resist playing games with people in order to feel loved or powerful.
18. Have learned that the voice of “they” is better ignored if “they” will not identify who “they” are – and – if others who know who “they” are, refuse to give “them” a name. (In other words ignore the THEY if THEY won’t, or cannot, say who THEY are).

Differentiation Is not easy

Thinking that ordering ginger ale because everyone else is ordering orange juice, or, going left because everyone is going right, in the name of self-differentiation is to misunderstand and trivialize the concept. Differentiation is much more difficult than going against the grain. Any rebel can do that and rebellion usually requires quite little when it comes to wisdom. Differentiation can, and will often look like total conformity.

Differentiation is not first, about behavior; it is an emotional process, involving an inward transformation that can indeed become new ways of behaving. It is a realization of one’s uniqueness and the seeing one’s role, goals, and calling with an “internal” eye. The inward process proceeds to find outward expression in every aspect of our life and relationships. It is not a set of rules about how to behave a little (or a lot) differently from others.

Differentiation is not:

1. Trying to be different, unusual or controversial for the sake of impact alone.
2. About making a statement, resisting authority, defying or disrespecting cultural norms, challenging the values of others. The process of differentiation might include an appearance of all the above but it is more than “the road less traveled” or some statement of independence, defiance or difference.
3. A completed task but an ongoing internal condition that monitors oneself in relationship with all others.
4. “Lone Ranger” behavior, but self-awareness and self-assuredness that might appear “lone-ranger-ish” to others.

8 Responses to “Differentiation of Self”

  1. You are right on the mark, and very insightful. It takes most of us a lifetime to figure these things out. Some never do.

  2. Rod — I’m doing it but it ain’t easy. I’d rather ponder other things like “Do fish drink water?”

  3. Mr. Smith:

    Trying to write a paper on differentiation, self-validated intimacy, normal marital sadism, holding onto yourself, and other theories by Schnarch. I really enjoyed your article on differentiation – do you have articles on these other theories of David Schnarch? Thanks for this article….very informative.

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