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Differentiation: Essential for Building Functional Relationships

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Hearing the word relationship, most of us think family, loved one, friend. And if we have healthy relationships with those folks, we get a warm fuzzy feeling. We know there is warmth and support behind us as we make our way in the world.

But another important word about relationships is differentiation. That word doesn't sound as warm and fuzzy, but it's extremely important to a person's happiness and success.

When I think of my family of origin, we have strong bonds, but we are also very different. Take careers: one brother is a professor and one writes and promotes music. I'm a nurse educator; my mother worked in the insurance industry. So healthy! Why?

A major task of the family unit is to provide nurturance and emotional support to each child, so that child can self-differentiate from the family circle and go off and function on his or her own. Then each child can achieve emotional maturity and become his own person, able to form healthy relationships. A functional, healthy marriage or long term relationship only occurs between two mature, independent people who are responsible for their individual selves. Family therapist, Murray Bowen, created the term self-differentiation, the process of finding a balance between autonomy (being a separate YOU) and connection (being with OTHERS) and at the same time creating goals and working toward them.

Which of Bowen's statements, defining self-differenciation, applies to you or your children or grandchildren?

1. I understand the position I hold in my family, and the power given and not given to that position.

2. I am committed to be fully responsible for my own life, while committed to those I love.

3. In developing autonomy, I set goals for my dreams and ambitions, yet develop intimacy by allowing those close to me to see and know me as I really am.

4. I can tell people what I need, ask for help, but not impose my needs upon them.

5. I am able to detect when controlling emotions and reactive behavior have sent me in the wrong direction; then I opt, instead, to use creative thinking to make better and more purposeful choices.

To read more of Bowen's truthful ideas ( I gave 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!), visit here.

Can you share any of the ways you helped your children or grandchildren differentiate -- or how you helped yourself?