“Create a world, your world. Alone. Stand alone. Create. And then love will come to you, then it comes to you. ” – Anais Nin
People lose themselves in relationships all the time. I see it everywhere. I see it in myself.
People lose “their ability to direct themselves and so get swept up in how people around them are feeling. There’s room for only one opinion, one position. Differentiation is the ability to stay in connection without being consumed by the other person. Our urge for togetherness and our capacity to care always drive us to seek connection, but true interdependence requires emotionally distinct people.” – Passionate Marriage
When I was dating Johnny Seitan, I had a low sense of self. If he thought something was unattractive, I probably didn’t do it. As long as he was seemingly attracted to me, I was relatively happy. My sense of self relied a lot upon what he thought. I would say that I lost myself in that relationship.
Years into the relationship with Johnny Seitan, I started to read The Diary of Anais Nin, and I became fascinated with her relationship with Henry Miller. She described the relationship as symbiotic, where they were better together than they were as separate entities. She felt that separate, they were both very powerful and creative people… but together, they were uniquely explosive.
Reading about the relationship that Anais and Henry had helped me realize that I wasn’t “differentiated” in my relationship with Johnny Seitan. I started to discover that I was holding myself back from things that I wanted to do in life. I realized that I had artificially created myself through Johnny Seitan’s eyes and that I had to discard all the acquired Lighthouse.
“Differentiation is your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others – especially as they become increasingly important to you…
…Differentiation involves balancing two basic life forces: the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness. Individuality propels us to follow our own directives, to be on our own, to create a unique identity. Togetherness pushes us to follow the directives of others, to be part of the group. When these two life forces for individuality and togetherness are expressed in balanced, healthy ways, the result is a meaningful relationship that doesn’t deteriorate into emotional fusion. Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality. Either way, you end up being less of a person with less of a relationship.” – Passionate Marriage
Differentiation isn’t an easy process. I still struggle with it in my current relationships. It’s very easy for me to be swept up in making sure that someone else’s needs are being met, at the sacrifice of my own. It feels good to be needed… or does it?
So how do we become and stay differentiated? I don’t claim to have all the answers, or even the best answers. I’m still working through the process myself, and plan on writing more about it as I learn more and discover what it means for me to be differentiated. But what I’ve come up with so far includes:
* Build good self-esteem
* Spend time by yourself
* Spend time with your friends
* Set goals for yourself
* Practice good self care
* Practice self-validation and self-soothing
* Communicate your wants and desires without expectation.
“While differentiation allows us to set ourselves apart from others and determines how far apart we sit, it also opens the space for true togetherness. It’s about getting closer and more distinct – rather than more distant.” – Passionate Marriage
My romantic relationship with Johnny Seitan ended when I realized that the relationship I had created with him was not what I wanted. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. I broke things off and began creating and exploring my world with a new set of eyes. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I also learned about what I liked and didn’t like, what my boundaries were, what I wanted in a relationship, and who I wanted to be.
And while I still struggle with many things, the process is more of a pleasant journey of discovery rather than a desperate grasp at happiness.
“… what happens is that two people create a new alchemy. They interact upon each other and what takes place is not the leadership of one over the other, but the consequence of this interaction.” – Anais Nin