July was crazy - a roller coaster of a month in this neck of the woods - so I'm pleased to be well into August. The big highlight of late July was the visit of Dr Dan Papero from the Bowen Centre in Washington DC. Organising (in conjunction with a super efficient colleague) all the things necessary for hosting a workshop was quite full-on, though certainly worth it in the end. But phew....
What I liked best about Dan's visit was the chance to re-focus on some key ideas that Bowen was big on - in fact was ahead of his time with. His ideas permeate many models and types of therapy of the field I work in - even though these ideas are not always readily acknowledged.
Bowen was a great theorist - his research was solid, and he developed some sound ideas to help understand and explain human behaviour. Probably his most significant theory was the eight interlocking concepts - of which the biggest one was differentiation. It sounds complex, and maybe it is - but what's perhaps more relevant is how or where it fits in our lives and relationships.
Since then, I've been focusing on this more during appointments with my clients. You might have some ideas about what differentiation means - I'm not going to go into it too much right now. But what I will mention is how it (or the lack thereof) impacts on relationships - whether these are couple relationships or otherwise.
So what to look out for - I mentioned a few words about this over on Facebook a couple of posts ago - is the importance of not being too emotional. And yes, I know that likely sounds a weird thing for a therapist to say - as surely relationships are all about being connected and emotionally in sync with each other. But here's the thing - if our own emotions are not always well managed (because they are easily influenced by the words or actions of others), then we are vulnerable.
And so it follows, that if we are more differentiated - we will have a stronger sense of self, which is not influenced by what others may or may not want of me, and that we are in charge of our own thinking. Which in turn means that we'll be less emotionally vulnerable, and can be more responsible for our own thoughts and actions.
The folks at the Bowen Centre can offer a clearer explanation as follows:
"People with a poorly differentiated "self" depend so heavily on the acceptance and approval of others, that either they quickly adjust what they think, say and do, to please others....."
And "a person with a well differentiated self recognises her/his realistic dependence on others, but can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism and rejection, to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts, from thinking that is clouded by emotionality."
This makes sense - and when we are more focused on these ideas, our important relationships (and other parts of our lives) will run much more smoothly, and our personal stress levels go down.
"Some occasional thoughts about families, relationships, and other things that distract us...."