Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Reflected Sense of Self

When a person is emotionally undifferentiated, his or her overpowering needs for togetherness can feel like a burdensome neediness to be loved and accepted. Many people who feel this way attribute it to having had an insufficient emotional connection with their mothers or fathers. ... In lots of cases, however, their emotional hunger is caused by the presence of a compelling connection that is an emotional fusion. ---pp.58-59

When we have little differentiation , our identity is constructed out of what's called a reflected sense of self. We need continual contact, validation, and consensus (or disagreement) from others. This leaves us unable to maintain a clear sense of who we are in shifting or uncertain circumstances. We develop a contingent identity based on a ``self-in-relationship.'' ---p.59

Differentiation is more than what sets us apart from others---it determines how far apart we sit. Highly differentiated people have strong emotional bonds. They don't require physical distance, infrequent contact, or totally consuming careers to maintain their separate identities or moderate their reactivity to others. They're not indifferent to others---just the opposite. They can choose contact with others out of deep liking, without being compulsively driven toward them or away. ---p.64, Passionate Marriage


  1. This books seems really interesting, I have to read it sometime. So do you know the answer to this question: suppose a couple are both well differentiated. How would they each satisfy their partner's need for connection? Can emotional fusion and differentiation coexist at the same time in one person? and between a couple? Or does the simple fact that one person requires emotional connection, more contact and communication implies s/he is not well differentiated? I hope I make sense to you.

  2. Dear Hopeful, I do not know the answer to your question, but I understand "differentiation" is a balance in connection: "Differentiation is your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others---especially as they become increasingly important to you." (from the book)
    So, differentiation is -not- a lack of connection. I understand that a well-differentiated person can initiate and maintain healthy intimate relationship without sacrificing his/her own identity.

    As for your last question, it seems to me that wanting more/less connection is not the issue here, but how we go about achieving it is the issue. But I may be wrong ...

  3. Thanks lotus. So "how" would a well differentiated person approach more connection without appearing burdensome or needy (without letting emotional fusion to dominate)?

  4. I am not a well-differentiated individual and I do not expect to become one by reading a book. I understand that it is a process like growing up and involves experimenting and going through pain and disappointment.

    So, you are the only one that can answer your question, by experiencing the process and then finding out the right approach for yourself.


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