By Lynn M. Acquafondata
How independent do we need to be in order to be emotionally healthy?
How important are good connections with family and friends?
A healthy balance between these two is called self-differentiation. But self-differentiation can’t be clearly defined and prescribed. Like the horizon of a beautiful skyline, self-differentiation depends on the environment and on the perspective of the observer. From an observer’s point of view, the sky at times seems to merge with the ground. Other times it appears distinct, creating a line at which the earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet—the horizon.
The horizon of self-differentiation is the unseen line between myself as a unique individual and my connection to another person or group of people. As an individual, I have my own values, understandings and opinions. I am connected to others by our shared values, approaches and perspectives.
Sometimes two people clearly have areas where their views and interests are distinct and areas where their lives and perspectives intertwine. The line where one person ends and the two merge is distinct.
In other relationships the lines are blurred. A nursing infant and its mother need each other physically and emotionally all the time. A couple who finish each other’s sentences and are never apart can’t function as independent people.
In yet other relationships there is no overlap, only two separate people who are considered family by others.
What characterizes the healthiest balance of these states depends on perspectives that often grow from culture, race, gender, class and other aspects of social location.
In nature both a district horizon and a blurred horizon can be beautiful. In the same way, different balances of individuality and connection in human relationships have benefits and drawbacks depending on the context, culture and social location.
Join me next week as I explore what’s involved in healthy self-differentiation and why there isn’t one clear answer.