Look, Spaghetti Arms, This is Self-Differentiation

Self-differentiation is a building block of being a whole person in Bowen Systems Theory, and in my opinion, the key to a lot of personal peace. Here, let me get a Professor of Self-differentiation to tell you about it. (You can stop at the :15 minute mark. Or, you know, keep going. Because Grey and Swazye. swoon .... )

That's self-differentiation, right there. “This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don't go into yours, you don't go into mine. You gotta hold the frame."

Let's break those 15 seconds down, because Professor Johnny Castle isn't just teaching dancing.

“This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don't go into yours, you don't go into mine."

Self-differentiation means being clear about what is your dance space and what is the other person's. Where you end, and they begin. It's about having clear boundaries for yourself AND respecting the other person's boundaries.

"You gotta hold the frame." 

You've got to hold your boundaries while honoring the boundaries of the other person.

In relationships -- romantic, friends, co-workers, church members, etc. -- we connect and stay connected with someone else. We dance together, in mutual consent, taking responsibility for our own dance space. No wishy-washy spaghetti arms, and no blustering across the other person's boundaries.

It's not always easy. Frankly, it can be hard work to establish and maintain boundaries. There will always be other people who have opinions about your boundaries. People who decide it's time for you to jump, or spin, when you're not ready.

Knowing what is in your dance space means also understanding that you are responsible for what happens in your dance space. Things like your feelings, your wounds, your triggers.  Which sometimes means that you'll need to do some work on your own, or with a therapist, coach, or spiritual director, working on those things:

It's often not easy.

But then we come back together for The Dance. Hey, self-differentiation would be easy if we were never around people, right? But connection with others is key. Learning how to be connected, but not fused. Dancing together, but each responsible for our own dance space. And we're going to mess up. One of us will be farther along than the other. That's okay. Because we learn by doing. And so we mess up, and we improvise, and we keep on going.

And the more we do this ... taking responsibility for what is in our space, letting the other person take responsibility for what is in theirs, the more we are freed to do more, be more. It is a liberation, to be able to make our own choices.

In Dirty Dancing, Johnny has taught Baby "The Lift," but she's never been ready for it. But in the ending scene, Johnny gives her an inquisitive look. She nods. She's has decided that she is ready. And then:

And that's it, right there.

Good boundaries and self-differentiation mean we can FLY. 


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