The holidays are just around the bend and for many of us, that means: Family Time! Family time is great except that “family time” sometimes means “forced events with difficult people time.” Sometimes we just don’t get along with people, but other times we feel obligated to help family members (or friends) who just can’t seem to help themselves.
I’ll admit, it is so hard to “let go” when we see a loved one flailing. We want to help. Of course we do, I mean, to help means to care right? Yet.. you know that other people care but yet they don’t seem to feel the same pull to jump in that you feel. How is that other people who care are able to do so at a distance?
In my practice, I often help clients through the heart-wrenching task of differentiation. This is a fancy word that can be defined as a the delicate art of letting go while staying connected. It’s saying, “I am me, and you are you. I can only control myself, but I still care for you.” I would be remiss if I were to say that I haven’t had to grapple with this process in my own life. I can vouch that it is a difficult but rewarding journey. What initially feels like a separation from a loved one, evolves into a relationship that has more room for grace, love, and joy. When we are differentiated, we no longer waste the energy that we once spent on attempting to control another.
Differentiation is not a destination, it’s a journey. There are different levels to experience and often we achieve different levels with different people. For example: When we have loved ones who struggle with self-harming behaviors in our lives, it is more difficult to differentiate from them than from those who take better care of themselves. Although for some of us, when we have grown-up with a care-taking role in our families, it is hard to remain differentiated in most of our relationships.
When we aren’t differentiated, we may find ourselves: