It's been said that it takes quite a bit of skill and internal strength to individuate— to be close to others but also hold onto to your uniqueness. Some people are given the emotional freedom in their families growing up to develop their unique self without threatening the family set-point. Other people never got that freedom growing up, and are in a quandary about how to walk this balance in adult relationships. If you didn't get support for developing your unique self growing up, you may feel defensive about protecting yourself and needing to be secretive.
Great intimacy requires separateness. In couples, part of keeping the magic and desire is realizing you never fully know or own the other person. We need to be able to flow between attachment and separateness. Both are essential.
In parenting, we aren't really forming the child's self; it's more like we need to watch for who we have been sent and how we can help each child develop their unique strengths and interests. Children come through us, not of us, as philosopher Kahlil Gibran wrote.
Assuming other people want and need exactly what you do is a problem. More evolved people can tolerate spaces in togetherness, and embrace differences, within families, with friends, and in intimate relationships.
How do we differentiate? How can we become more individuated in a healthy way? How can we manage all the togetherness and stress at the holidays and stay connected and grounded?
Say what you want, like, and feel, without apology.
Watch your timing, being aware of when it is better to refrain from speaking.
Drop the defensiveness.
Have boundaries and a bottom line.
Listen to others.
Ask questions, and listen to the responses.
Stop criticizing others.
Give others respect and love.
Realize you can say "no."
Keep growing—challenge yourself all to learn new skills, meet new people, and try new things.
Give up judging others or seeking approval from them as much as possible.
Our sense of self is perpetually under construction. We should continue to develop ourselves throughout our lives.
Many people feel pretty individuated until the holidays come and they spend time with their extended family. Even Murray Bowen, one of the founders of family therapy, wrote a biographical essay about the challenges for his own sense of self in going home again for the holidays. Bowen, despite coining the term individuation, could feel the pull of his parents and family roles when he went home to visit. Going home made him feel like a child, but not in a good way.
As the holiday season is here, and we make plans to spend time with extended family, let's practice these healthy habits of accepting the differences between ourselves and others. You're probably not going to change any of your siblings, parents, or adult children during the holiday visit. Practice acceptance where you can, attach and join in when you are able, and move towards healthy self-care and individuation where and when possible.
It's easy to get overwhelmed with other people's agendas if you are surrounded by family for a big block of time. Take back some control by creating a little time alone to be by yourself. You can go for a walk or to the gym, journal, go outside, or take a drive. A bit of time to do self-care and get grounded may help put both your needs and the family needs in perspective.
Here's wishing my readers a happy, healthy holiday season and lots of differentiation of self and growth in the new year.