Differentiation – what is that?

What does it mean to differentiate from something, someone, or yourself?

Some people may find the word “differentiation” a bit funky and even scientific when it is used to relate to one’s inner world – at the same time therapists’ use this term to help clients understand what it means to grow within oneself and in relationships.

There are two aspects of differentiation:

One is Intra-psychic – where a person within themselves can separate their feelings from their thoughts. How often have we interpreted our feelings as all encompassing truthful thoughts? Has this gotten us into a little tiny bit of trouble – or maybe a big heap of distress? Feelings are feelings, they are not good or bad, they just are. Our thoughts however are a bit different, they are typically based on logic. If we are able to hold the separateness of our feelings and thoughts and contain the differences – could we face whatever lies ahead much more effectively and perhaps feel differently in the end?

Second is Inter-personal – this describes how separated and distinct a person is from their parents/caregivers, own kids, and extended family. Are our own thoughts and reactions separate from other people’s thoughts and reactions? If your partner is angry then are you also angry? Or are you able to remain separated from other’s feelings without taking on other’s emotions?

One important piece to note is that everyone is on a continuum.  Culture may also play an essential role on the degree of differentiation and what it means to be growing towards health. In some cases, lower levels of differentiation can lead to issues that affect one’s ability to live the life they would like.