I’ve discussed myriad topics on this blog ranging from community, body image issues, forgiveness, faith, PTSD, and recovery. I’ve also discussed something called ‘differentiation’ although I haven’t called it that. Essentially, the work I’ve been doing to extract myself from the toxic and abusive relationship with my mother has been the work of ‘differentiation’. Why is this an important topic?
Differentiation is a measure of intellectual and emotional maturity. How differentiated we are determines how well we are able to think for ourselves under pressure, how well we are able to remain clear-minded within relationships and communities that are becoming stressful, and how well we are able to maintain our principles, ethics, and moral code even if others disapprove of us. Doing the work of differentiation is key for any and all forward progress if we are to be successful in our relationships be they personal, work-related, or in the community because it is necessary that we all come to a point where we no longer need to rely on others to approve of us in order to feel good about ourselves. At some point, we all need to learn to self-validate. That’s what differentiation is about.
I’ve written a lot about Borderline Personality Disorder largely because my mother has BPD. 2-6% of the general population struggles with BPD, most of them women. I have not meant to vilify those who struggle with this potentially crippling personality disorder; the truth is, however, that those who have BPD often refuse to seek treatment, and they have the potential to do great harm to those who are in their lives particularly their children. It’s a very serious disorder that requires serious and long-term treatment.
My intent is to focus on the outcome of being raised by a BPD mother. As I explained in this post, she raised a victim. Because I was so thoroughly victimized by both my mother and my father, I was the perfect target for the human trafficker that abducted me. As I’ve said before, once you’re someone’s victim, you’re bound to be another person’s victim again. Victimhood has to be unlearned and healed. It becomes a state of mind and being especially if the victimization happened over many years as mine did. That’s why it is imperative to commit to the process of:
Separation–We are not the same people. I can leave the room, and you’ll still be there when I come back..
Individuation–I am an individual person who can think my own thoughts and make my own choices.
Differentiation–Not only am I an individual person who can think my own thoughts and complete separate actions apart from you, but I do not need you to tell me that I am okay. I can self-soothe and tell myself that I am okay apart from you. Even if you don’t approve of me, my choices, or even validate my feelings, I am still okay. I still feel good about myself. Your behavior does not affect how I feel about myself.
Allow me to bring in the idea of co-dependency, a topic I’ve never mentioned.
Traits of Co-Dependency
If you identify with the following statements, then you may want to seek help for co-dependency.
- My good feeling about who I am stems from being liked by you.
- My mental attention focuses on solving your problems or relieving your pain. Your struggle makes me unhappy.
- My mental attention is focused on pleasing you or protecting your or making you do things my way (for your own good).
- I feel important when I solve your problems or relieve your pain.
- My fear of rejection controls what I say and do.
- I value your opinion and way of doing things more than my own.
- I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel.
- I give to you and do things for you so that will like me, love me, stay with me. (online source)
Please allow to share this list with you once again:
Personality Traits in Victims
- A belief that if you love enough the person will change
- A belief that if you love enough the relationship will succeed
- Difficulty establishing and maintaining boundaries
- Not being able to say no
- Being easily influenced by others
- Wanting to be rescued from your life situation
- Wanting to rescue others from their distress
- Being over nurturing particularly when not asked
- Feelings of shame and self-doubt
- Low self-esteem
- A lack of memories about childhood or periods of adulthood
- Difficulty communicating
- A lack of self-confidence
- Wanting to please
- A lack of motivation from within and being motivated by what others want (online source)
If you see yourself in any of the above lists, it’s imperative that you engage in the therapeutic process of healing. Arriving at a place where we can successfully navigate the process of separation, individuation, and differentiation is not easy particularly if we have been abused in any way. The framework of our brains may have been changed if PTSD plays a role. If situational depression is in our lives due to past or present abuse, then the process of claiming our own personhood will remain nothing but a fantasy unless outside help is sought.
Lastly, nothing is impossible. When I started this blog in 2010 I was living in paralyzing fear of my mother. Yes, I had done just about as much psychotherapy as a person could do in order to “deal with” my terror. There comes a time, however, when the abstract work done in a safe environment must be put to use. Inevitably, we are sent out into the field, as it were, to do the real work of living. Every prayer, every declaration, every journal entry, and every promise that we hold dear are called into question when we see just how big the giants in the Promised Land really are. To me, my mother is a Titan, and I’m an ant. A grasshopper would have been a step up.
Alas, I remembered that I have indeed done my work. People with PTSD struggle with an idea that their perpetrators are “all-powerful”. I remembered this when I found a package on my doorstep on Good Friday last. The package was from her. The last of my all-powerful perpetrators. I was immediately trembling and nauseated…and angry. Once again, she trampled upon my personhood to get her own needs met. She ignored my letter and the boundaries that I set which stated clearly that there were to be no gifts. She was to go directly into treatment with a trained clinician, and any and all communication was to go through said clinician. I was reeling. As I explained in my last post regarding my mother, it was a Herculean effort on my part to take such strong measures with her. It was the last mercy I could extend her, my last effort to love her. I want her to get the help she so desperately needs, but her love is the killing kind. She needs to learn what love is, and I can’t be the one to teach her. Not anymore.
In that moment on my front steps, sitting next to the package, I made a choice to fight for myself, my beliefs, my daughters, my marriage, and my future. My own differentiation. I chose to believe that the work I’ve been doing all these years mattered. I chose to believe that love, respect, kindness, and goodness never come at the expense of another person’s identity. Instead, love frees others to become who they were created to be.
I sent the package back to my mother. I was shaking when I stood in the post office, but I did it. I differentiated.
I would not have been able to do that five years ago.
I encourage you, wherever you are on your journey, to keep going. Commit to your process of recovery, restoration, and the rediscovery of joy. It isn’t an easy trek, but it’s so worthwhile.
To get you started: