So, where do we learn differentiation—or our lack thereof?
In psychology, introjection is an unconscious internalization of the thoughts, behavior, or traits of others. It occurs as a normal part of development, such as a child taking on parental values and attitudes. However, it can also be a defense mechanism, and in many instances, introjection creates unconscious behavior, rigidity, anxiety, fixedness, and suffering.
We introject our level of differentiation from our parents and family of origin. Children usually recreate their parents’ level of differentiation or lower, since that is what they are shown. However, due to life circumstances, therapy, or being with a partner with a higher level of differentiation, children can evolve past their family of origin.
To increase your level of differentiation, you must begin to commit yourself to show up very differently in conflict with your partner. You must cultivate a tremendous amount of mindfulness and self-awareness. You must commit yourself to learn to regulate your nervous system, and speak calmly and directly when stating needs and boundaries. Finally, and equally important, you must commit to increasing your acceptance of your partner as separate person and to develop an authentic curiosity about their needs, boundaries, and experience.
If you struggle with differentiation, working with a relational therapist can help you with all of the above. They can also help you to gain awareness about low-differentiated dynamics that may be currently playing out in your relationships, and they can help you to strengthen your “I-position,” so that you have greater capacity to state your needs, boundaries, and values.