Separation is different from differentiation. We can separate but not dissociate; our dependency can continue. For example, we can be physically separated but remain emotionally unseparated. I believe that differentiation happens layer by layer. We can become detached and distanced in some ways, which again is a spiritual development, but not in all ways; we can still be dependent and distanced in some ways.
We are talking here about long-term analytical work, which is not always perceived as progress. In some periods, the emotions seem to become heavier than before, and there are emotions and states of mind that are perceived as difficult to bear. Of course, there are many different reasons and dynamics for this, but I think one of them is separation. As the analytic process progresses, the process of leaving old habits begins. These attachments and addictions can include many areas, such as school, family, work, friends, partners, places, houses, etc. It can even be the way a melancholic mind carries “memories.”
Differentiation can be experienced with a sense of loss, and it can be experienced in the form of grief. We can see the sense of loss and grief as a stage of separation. It is a stage, and when fully explored – how is it possible to be “complete” (?) – it is complete and indeed a stage that brings the feelings of “wholeness,” “completeness,” and peace of mind.
We can be in a dependent relationship with many elements of our lives. Life begins with a complete dependence; in the womb, we feed on the mother’s body and then leave the womb, but continue to be nourished by the milk produced by the mother’s body. Then gradual stages of differentiation begin, even taking a few steps away is differentiation, and even before that, meeting the father and developing a close relationship with the father – a slight differentiation from the mother. Then making friends, moving in a different social environment, listening to the friends, not the parents, following behaviors that they will approve of in adolescence… Removing parents and then friends from the center of life and placing a partner there, is also a differentiation. Marriage, belonging to another family as an identity. The situation of having a child or caring for living beings is perhaps another differentiation from being a child. If your child is growing, that is a differentiation from him/her. If we go further, attempts at differentiation from the second family you have created, what in society might be called a “midlife crisis.” Still further, with retirement, voluntary or not, you leave the system that forms working life, differentiation, and physical separation does not always mean emotional separation. These processes are gradual, take time, and to some extent, adjustment.
The process of differentiation begins before the end of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis studies and sometimes continues in the person after it is finished. It is a process of separation and differentiation that is as beneficial as the addictive process necessary for studying spiritual issues in the process. Loss and grief… Gaps… Accepting loss and gaps, grieving, and embracing new possibilities.
Separation and differentiation, on the other hand, also mean growth. Not all separation is growth, sometimes separation can be an escape from spiritual possibilities, but all differentiation is growth: Mental growth. Let us look at growth in the physical sense. We call it an emotional size, maturity, matching the newly growing physical body, when the physical development, the transformation from the child’s body, and the emotional accompaniment are completed. Then the aging of the grown body, physical losses in the body, even the loss of a healthy body with some diseases, the loss of hair, when the losses are mourned and accepted, all are a period of differentiation and continued emotional growth. It is scary to think about the body’s death because even that is not saying goodbye to life. Even if death is not experienced in a concrete sense, some experiences sometimes feel like death: Lifeless, soulless… Sometimes we even have the feeling of being “dead,” or we observe that a close relative around us is “as if dead.” Of course, the state of leaving vitality here is not “growth,” not “differentiation,” but the continuation of dependence created by losses. To be revived, it is necessary to part with what has been lost.
Differentiation is independence, individualization, revival, acceptance. To build one’s individual life, to have independent experiences, and to make personal choices. To feel alive and free.
Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst in Formation IPA
Deniz Coşan is a Clinical Psychologist & Counselling Psychologist & Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst in Formation located in Istanbul, Turkey. She applies counselling, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for adults in private practice. Her sessions are both in English and in Turkish, face to face & online.