Building Emotional Integrity II. | What Differentiation of Self is NOT

Building Emotional Integrity II. | What Differentiation of Self is NOT

In this installment I want to offer a contrast. In our first post Building Emotional Integrity I. | Differentiation of Self we defined the concept of self-differentiation. But I want to clarify it a bit more here. Sometimes a principle can be easily misunderstood. So the common pedagogical practice of also defining what it is not can easily dispel common misconceptions.

What Differentiation is Not

People in highly fused relationships choose to respond in one of two ways; one is by adapting and letting the relationship dictate decision making; the other common response is reacting and engaging in emotional distance or cutoff. This is why at first blush, differentiation is often misunderstood. When folks begin to learn about differentiation they often mistake it for this second response. They mistake differentiation in relationship for liberation from the relationship. However that is just distance and cut-off. Let us state for the record that differentiation is liberation from fusion (pseudo-self) to stay in and have true relationship. Differentiation cannot take place in isolation. It can only be practiced and obtained in relationship.

Distance And Cut-off

I have had more than one person struggling with a relationship say something like the following to me: “I am getting overwhelmed and cannot handle the relationship where it is right now; I need to differentiate and get a little space.” This is NOT differentiation but in fact distance and cut-off. There may be a practical times for this in small doses. In highly-fused and highly-reactive relationships, when there is high stress (acute anxiety), a temporary separation may be necessary to calm a situation to avoid escalation to physical violence and injury.

Sometimes some space for a short period is the only thing that can be done until the intensity subsides. But if there is not an intentional plan to stay in relationship for the long haul, this can turn into a long term condition of cut-off. Cut-off, of course, stymies the relationship keeping it frozenin its anxious state where the parties cannot move toward higher functioning. Growth on the scale of differentiation can only happen in relationship; relationship is the laboratory where it is practiced.

What is your level of functioning?

So now you may be asking the big question, “How do I know how emotionally mature I am?” If you are asking that question, that is a really good sign. Most of us move unintentionally through life without giving thought to this. Moreover, whenever someone crosses us, we label them as “Immature” and so on. But that is not what the healthy emotional and spiritual life is made up of.

Peter Scazzero over at Emotionally Healthy Spirituality has put together a quick personal assessment of emotional functioning in his blog post An Emotionally Healthy Christian is Hard to Find.  I highly recommend setting aside a half hour to go through this little quiz openly and honestly. None of us are emotionally and spiritually where the Gospel is taking us. But the first step in charting a course is to get our bearings and do some personal global positioning.


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