I first wrote this piece in 2013. Rereading it today, it’s even more applicable in today’s social-political climate. I reference EFT, also known as tapping, but the insights stand, regardless of which approach you use to move through your emotional and cognitive changes.
The relief of self-differentiation
I’ve discovered through my own process, and the process of my clients, several stages of self-differentiation. I first heard the term “self-differentiation” in 1997 at a week-long workshop called Self Awareness and Being taught by National Training Lab up in Bethel, Maine. I don’t know the proper definition of the term but I define it as:
The process of knowing ourselves as unique beings with our own needs, desires, and internal guidance system DIFFERENT than others.
A talk by Ken Wilber reminded me of the balance of the development of ourselves and the ability to have compassion and acceptance of others different than ourselves.
The stronger our sense of self, the more we can accept others different than us.
But there are some intermediate steps in this process that can include feelings that don’t make sense in isolation but do in the overall process of growth.
Blame can help
Blaming others can be a key part of this process. Blame can be liberating and energizing and can help point us to who we are. But it’s painful if we stop at blame. There is a delicate balance. Is the balance of saying “Yes” to who we are without saying “No” to the rest of the world. Put into the context of self-differentiation, we can see where blame fits and where it hinders.
Discontent is a doorway to expansion
Like all levels of self-growth, becoming aware of the stage we are in is the beginning to the shift to a new level of expansion. Notice that the shift from one insight to another often involves discontent before expansion.
Models help us
- Feel relief in our own process.
- Begin to notice what’s possible.
- Continue to have compassion for others in their process.
The four stages of self-differentiation might be described as:
I am just like everyone else, and that’s okay.
- A stage of innocence where we are not aware of our needs, desires, and self as unique however we find safety and relief in conforming, belonging, and acting like our group members.
I’m just like everyone else, and that’s not okay.
- A stage of discontent where we start to feel like we’ve stopped growing, are stifled, or feel less satisfied in our amorphous identity. In this discontent, the sense of self begins to awaken.
I’m not like everyone else, and that’s not okay.
- A deeper stage of discontent where we start to realize that we are different from others, that we have different needs and desires but it feels scary to leave the safety of the group. But it feels worse to keep conforming. This process can look like pushing against others in an effort to define ourselves. This tends to be where most self-help folks get to but get stuck. There is often a sense of moral imperative: “what I believe in is more right than what you believe in”.
I’m not like everyone else, and that’s okay.
- The current leading edge of my self-differentiation. I am aligned with who I am, what I value, and what I believe and I don’t feel threatened by others having different views. I don’t have to push against XYZ to know that ABC is right for me.
There are others who are like me.
- A stage that is emerging, with the insight and help of colleagues, is the idea that we can collaborate and be in community with others while staying in alignment with ourselves.
Something is wrong with me
When we first start our development work, we might not feel like we know who we are. We might feel that we are deficient because we don’t look like, talk like, or feel like the other members of our group. We do not yet see the value and uniqueness of who we are and we often blame ourselves.
In the set-up phrase the standard wording of “I deeply completely love and accept myself” doesn’t resonate and finding more appropriate wording helps. Beginning to realize the traumas we’ve experienced is a significant part of the process and EFT works wonders as we unravel our past. This is often the entry point for folks learning EFT.
Something is wrong with them
When we first begin to tap and process uncomfortable events, we might discover anger at being forced into a box. We might feel sad about our squashed development. We might feel anger at those who made us fit in or caused us pain. As we tap and release uncomfortable feelings from past events, we can begin to blame others in our lives who “made us feel less than”. We might start to express displeasure at our family members and past relationships.
This expression and stage are incredibly helpful and expansive for folks moving into their own sense of self. However, staying here will be limiting. Knowing when as a practitioner to fully support the client’s worldview and when to introduce a wider perspective is a delightful skill to have.
Something is right with me
Once we become comfortable with our experiences and have started to realize that we are allowed to know what we want, to have what we want, and to follow our internal compass, we might find relationships shifting, old habits changing, and we might find ourselves creating more and more of what we want. This is often where I use Family Energetics: to firmly and clearly realize that who we are AND where we come from is exactly perfect. And this leads us to the last step:
Something is right with them
In my Family Energetics work, clients find great relief in finding the love and acceptance they feel for their family. They can’t get to this step without touching the various stages of work. And in my client world, they can’t get to relief *without* this step of finding what’s right with others.