During the early phase of relationships individuals may find that they are willing, even eager to, go out of their way to present heir best version of self, which for some is not being themselves at all. Instead, they suddenly take on the attitudes and belief system of the person of interest. They like hiking so, after a lifetime of disinterest in physical activity, you are enthusiastic about hiking; they enjoy spicy food so you are willing to give it a go despite knowing the stomach pains that await you later.
Let’s consider Julia Roberts role in the movie Runaway Bride. Richard Gere helps to point out this behavior in that the fleeing bride tends to adjust her likes and dislikes (what type of eggs she likes and ‘her’ hobbies) depending on her most recent fiancé. Although this movie attempts to utilize humor to highlight the barrier preventing her from walking down the aisle, a Psychologist named Murray Bowen coined this Differentiation of Self: the ability to separate thoughts and feelings.
· Poorly Differentiated Individuals: Tend to fuse with others; struggle to formulate ‘I’ thinking due to their emotionally dependency on others; emotionally reactive; dependent, avoidant or distant in relationships; concerned about what others think.
· Highly Differentiated Individuals: Feel, think and act for themselves; autonomous; in relationships they do not fear risk of losing identity in their partner rather they enjoy closeness and can bear small arguments.
Lack of differentiation in relationships can lead to enmeshment. This sort of attachment hinders individual growth and autonomy, which is a vital contributor to experienced wellness. This infatuation of sorts is not necessarily equally maintained and experienced by each partner. Although you may want to spend all your time together initially, a partner may grow comfortable and begin to desire to bring focus on additional life priorities (hobbies, friends, family, etc.). When only one partner transitions out of the enmeshed phase this often leads to confusion, feelings of loss, overbearing behavior; distance, resentment, stonewall and so forth.
It is valuable to highlight the importance of differentiation prior to even entering a relationship. In gaining an understanding of the benefits of such, when entering a partnership one will be better prepared to compromise on a balanced state of interdependence.
Working with a relationship counselor can help to work through unresolved conflict in our lives that contributed to poor differentiation. In learning how experiences of relationships from the past (including caregiver) play a significant role on how we experience others and ourselves will help to promote consciousness and prepare for positive change.