Let’s talk about separation and differentiation. These two words which, at first glance, look like complicated psychological terms, in ‘human language’ actually stand for separation from parents with the aim of figuring out one’s own identity. Our aim is to learn how to build relationships with other people while remaining ourselves. By the way, that’s one of the most common requests which the adults come to a psychologist with.

Our main idea is that separating from parents should be a safe procedure! Why is it so hard for us then to accept the fact that our kids want things to be done their way? I believe that’s due to the fact that only a few of us have experienced a healthy separation procedure ourselves.

That’s what it looks like in practice:

I want to dye my hair purple (by the way, here’s an example from our family – all of my kids (except for Teo) dyed their hair green, red and purple at some point)
Ok then, try it !
I want to jump right into this huge dirty puddle!
Ok, if your shoes get wet, we’ll finish our stroll and get back home to change clothes, alright?

These are all moments of practising the understanding of WHO I am and WHAT the best way for me is.
What kind of information does a child get from us in such a way — you are, your wants matter and it’s safe to try out new things.
 In order to demonstrate the ‘opposite pole’, here’s an old anecdote about a mother and her child:

-“Petya, it’s time to go home!”
-“Why, am I cold? -“No, you’re hungry!”

Those people who haven’t properly gone through the process of separating from their parents tend to experience major difficulties with:

-talking about their feelings and needs in a relationship. They would keep it all to themselves until they blow up. Moreover, they would have an illusion that their partner understands them without saying a word. Haha 🙂

-They’d be fighting against their parent figures and project this unresolved struggle into the outside world. It would always seem to them that somebody’s trying to either make them do something, or forbid them to do something. For example, a husband can only go shopping to the grocery store in case it’s him who determines what it is that he buys. As soon as his wife asks him to buy something in particular, he gets angry and says: “Am I your errand boy or something? ” It’s clear that such a reaction is not aimed at his wife directly, but rather has its roots in the past.

-They’d have major difficulties dealing with people who disagree with them or have a different opinion from theirs. To them it seems as if they’re being rejected. In their inner world they have never had a case in which two people with different opinions maintained a relationship.

They can stay in a relationship which doesn’t satisfy them for a long time as they are afraid to be separated from their partner, or they move from one relationship to another so that they never end up alone at any cost. Being alone is very scary – that’s when you start feeling lonely and left behind. In order to not feel this way, there always has to be someone close to them. At least somebody.

-It’s not clear how to set boundaries with other people. They would either bring themselves too close or keep themselves at such a distance that it prevents others from forming a truly closer relationship with them. Sometimes people would use both of these strategies, which makes it really difficult to interact with them.

-In case of diffusional differentiation (an imprecise one) these people find it difficult to be in a relationship without feeling as if they are being absorbed by it. In other words, their self-identity is not stable — i.e in order for them to feel like themselves they need to constantly be either getting out of relationships, breaking them off or having fights within a relationship; then finding themselves again and trying to come back to a relationship.

Well, I hope I’ve managed to persuade you that it’s really important that you give your child a chance to experience independence in your relationship — a chance to do things his/her way. The connection with your inner self is being developed within your family, and probably that’s the most important thing that we can give to our children.

There’s a helpful book on that topic by Lindsay C. Gibson — “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents”