Differentiation from Your Parents

Regardless of what happened with your parents in your childhood, you likely want to be at peace with this relationship, even if only in your own heart.  Being able to lead a life you enjoy is a symptom of the differentiation work you have already done. Going home to visit your parents and finding yourself caught in old dynamics or simply shut down and numb is a sign that there is more differentiation to do.

You might have heard yourself say something to a parent like, "Saying you're sorry is not enough!"  It's likely that a couple of things are true in this situation. First, you are likely still in pain over what happened in that relationship and have not found the healing you need.  

Second, there is likely some sense of "being held hostage" by the relationship dynamic.  This refers to enmeshment in which there is a push to get something from your parent, usually a healing experience or some replaying of how it "should have happened."

Tragically, trying to find a healing experience within the old relationship dynamic is very unlikely.  When a critical mass of suffering is reached this push for healing within the old dynamic is usually replaced with shut down and distancing.

On the other hand, if you see early on that healing cannot happen in that original relationship dynamic and pursue healing through other means, you have a better chance at differentiation from the identities of childhood wounding and from your parent.

As you reclaim whatever aspects of your experience, needs, aliveness, and/or expression that was ignored or blocked in some way growing up, your perspective of yourself and your parent changes.  This is one of the first signs of differentiation.

You begin to shed some old ideas about who you are.  As though waking up from a trance, you find yourself saying things like, "That's not true about me!" or  "I have come home to myself." It feels invigorating to shake off old labels and live more fully in the present with what's really true for you.

While your parent may be saying and doing the same old things, it doesn't trigger you the way it use to.  At first, you feel surprised that a familiar interaction doesn't stay with you all day. But more and more frequently, you happily find yourself quickly returning to a sense of groundedness and well being after a difficult interaction with your parent.

Next, you start to see the larger pattern of your parent's behavior.  For example, when you parent says they can't attend an important event with you, instead of imagining they don't care about you, you see how their behavior revolves around particular needs and perhaps reactivity.  Other examples from your life begin to become clear and you realize that those too were never about your worth or lovability, but rather just your parent struggling along with their own issues.

The more secure you are in your healing work, the more you access compassion for your parent.  When this compassion can be present in you without denying any of your own past or present painful experiences, you know that significant differentiation has occurred.

In differentiation, you see your parent fully as a unique person, not just in relationship to you.  You can appreciate how their history has shaped them. You see both their strengths and struggles. You can access compassion.  And, you can love them. All this can happen while maintaining your own boundaries, groundedness, and skill.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the differentiation process with your parent is that it is dependent on your own healing work.  It doesn't depend on something they do or don't do, nor on you analyzing it and thinking it through. Differentiation is the natural result of healing and transformation that leads to wholeness and integration and of heart, body, and mind.


Take a moment now to reflect.  Is there something that you are holding onto; waiting for your parent to get it right?  If so, name one small step you could take toward getting what you need in a different way.