Individuation & Differentiation

It is very important for us to develop our own personality and our own self.  As children, we separate from our parents and undergo the process of differentiation to begin the process known as individuation.  As, adults we can run into issues if we are not mindful of maintaining differentiation.

First, let’s consider differentiation.  Differentiation is the process of separating one’s own thoughts and feelings from the family’s thoughts and feelings, as well as the ability to separate one’s own feelings from thoughts.  A person that is undifferentiated might have a hard time separating what they think and what they feel – for example, when they need to consider a personal decision, they may be too flooded with feelings to think clearly.

 Mindfulness helps you to overcome this feeling of being “flooded”.


As for the aspect of separating one’s own thoughts and feelings from other people’s it can be seen in people who are closely emotionally tied to their family. They allow their family members to tell them how they think, feel and interpret their experiences. This makes the person dependent and excessively connected to their family of origin. The person does not become emotionally separated and does not develop their own ideas. The decisions that the person can make are limited by the opinions and feelings of the family, so the undifferentiated person is not truly independent.

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Individuation is the process of becoming oneself.  The individuated  person is the one who is developing their potential, making their decisions and becoming themselves.  It would seem that we all are our own selves, but this is not accurate.  We may choose not to develop our own inclinations, especially if we are undifferentiated. For example, take a person with an artistic talent and love for art who is encouraged by their family to study business. If the person chooses to develop their artistic talent and become an artist, they are going through individuation, but if they choose to go into business, they are rejecting their own self and not developing their potential. It may be said that individuation can occur after the person has become differentiated and is able to make their own choices.

When we talk about differentiation, the image that we usually have is that of undifferentiated children and parents. We can all imagine an adult son or daughter still checking in with their parents for every decision. But this is not the only possibility. I was inspired to write this article by a case of two twins. In the case of twins, there is the risk of undifferentiation and of a blocked process of individuation, because, rather than becoming two separate selves, two twins might develop a joint identity and be codependent on each other.

The twins that inspired me to write this article were two contestants on Extreme Weight Loss.  Robert and Raymond were 42-year-old twin brothers. They worked together at the same job and finished each other’s sentences. When they were thirteen, their mother was arrested and their father left the city, leaving them to look after their younger sisters. At their age, Raymond and Robert still live together and look after their sisters. Both brothers, working together, did lose weight, however, their case can lead to an interesting discussion on differentiation and individuation.

The twins at their age still live together, finish each other’s sentences, work the same job and, presumably, have the same problems that lead to overeating, causing both brothers to have similar weight problems. It’s worth noting that both of them chose to enter the program together and were able to work on their weight together, but not separately.

While we can’t be completely sure, this case does raise some questions on where there is a healthy relationship with family members and siblings and where there is a lack of differentiation. Consider a situation in which family members, be it parents or twins, encourage each other to stay in unhealthy habits or prevent changes or create a situation in which it’s not possible to change unless it is done together. The question is also how individuated is a person that follows the exact same path as another family member and that makes the same choices. It would seem that when there is a lack of differentiation and, consequently, individuation, that the individuals involved in such tight relationships deprive themselves of the chance of knowing themselves and being independent.

Differentiation & Mindfulness

Mindfulness strengthens and empowers individuals to begin to learn about themselves intimately so they can build confidence to become independent. 

Raymond and Robert had spent years without their parents due to being left abandoned by their father. They were forced to adapt quickly and during that time developed feelings of low self worth, and depression.  Like so many people, the event of them being abandoned, internalized into negative feelings and prevented them from moving forward into their own healthy person.  We don’t need to live our lives in self hatred, we can learn to love ourselves, trust ourselves and ultimately be our true selves.

Be Mindful, Be Yourself