Differentiating from Your Family of Origin
You may handle family pressure by trying to conform or by divorcing yourself emotionally. However, there is an alternative. You can learn how to express your differences or differentiate without getting caught in conflicts or abandoning your significant others. Once you’ve left home, the best place to reclaim the freedom to be yourself is with the family that raised you because:
METHODS FOR DIFFERENTIATING WITHIN YOUR FAMILY
1. Separate, person-to-person relationships: Develop an individual relationship with each parent instead of dealing with them as a unit.
2. The I position: When conflicts emerge in the family, your goal is to state your position and underscore the fact that there are differences in the family. There are few opportunities to take the I position during periods of calm. Deaths, serious illnesses, family gatherings, weddings, divorces, and disclosure of secrets often spawn issues that are fertile opportunities to differentiate. Openly define where you stand on an issue, what you want, and what you intend to do without defending yourself, attacking, or withdrawing.
3. Neutralizing attacks: After stating your position, it helps to anticipate a series of reactions from your family. This backlash is so important that if it does not happen, you may not have made a successful attempt at differentiation! Initially, family members maybe surprised, hurt, or angry and label your ideas crazy, irresponsible, or immoral. Then they will do their best to convince you to change your mind. When this does not work, they may threaten to disown you, but these accusations will probably reach a peak and then subside. Finally, the family will come to respect and appreciate your convictions. “Surviving” expressions of individuality will help all family members differentiate. The hardest part of this task is to maintain contact while under fire.
Murray Bowen’s ideas on differentiation are summarized in Family Therapy in Clinical Practice (Jason Aronson, 1978).
Making a casual, empathic response will empower you and can defuse nonstop tirades. For example, if you are told that you are ungrateful, you can:
When you truly give up seeking approval, other’s judgments will not hurt you. However, if you cannot remain calm, state that you will revisit the discussion later. It is important to resume contact as soon as you are able to show that asserting independence is not the same thing as rejection.
4. The neutral stance: Even when you are not involved in a conflict between two family members, you can use their disagreement as an opportunity to differentiate by simply understanding thedifference in each person’s position. This takes you out of a judging position, demonstrates tolerance for varying viewpoints, and minimizes the chance for alliances to form. The following situations suggest ways to stay neutral without retreating.
Avoid alliances by exposing them when you sense someone is trying to get you to take sides: “Mom and I have been plotting how to get everyone over this impasse.”