In last month’s blog, I explored the importance of connection and separation in work and family relationships. Dr. Murray Bowen, an eminent psychiatrist, carried out extensive research on “selfhood,” or what he called an individual’s ability to “differentiate self from others.” His early studies of differentiation were initially based on parents’ ability to emotionally separate from their children to promote responsibility and autonomy.
Bowen made it clear that developing a strong self is different from selfishness or self-absorption; rather it is the basis for strong, healthy relationships. Without a self, it is unlikely one can function well in a marriage, a family or a work team.
Four decades ago, Bowen discovered that poor differentiation of self contributes to a variety of physical, emotional and relationship problems. Robust research supporting this correlation has continued.
Developing a self is not simply a set of new techniques aimed at quick, superficial changes. Rather, it requires a commitment to maturity, a lifelong effort that is never “completed.”
Jenny Brown, an Australian teacher and therapist, and a long-time student of Bowen’s ideas, recently authored an excellent book, Growing Yourself Up. In it, Jenny details some of the behaviors that express mature and immature connection, and mature and immature separation.
Below, I have expanded on her excellent descriptions, which apply to personal as well as work relationships, and in my view, offer leaders useful reflections for managing relationships:
Examples of Mature Connection
Staying in good contact with family members, friends and key employees.
Enjoying that we share some things in common.
Creating one-on-one interaction opportunities in a partnership, team or marriage.
Communicating responsibilities, needs, wants and expectations in any relationship.
Strategically self-disclosing: more significant relationships warrant deeper disclosure.
Listening in an effort to increase understanding.
Learning more about our different interests and viewpoints.
Treating the other with respect, kindness and affection.
Being able to disagree.
Moving quickly past insignificant annoyances and irritations.
Examples of Immature Connection
Expecting behaviors from the other that have not been articulated or agreed upon.
Viewing differences – in habits, views and preferences – as threats to connection.
Trying to get two others to like each other.
Expecting others to solve our problems or “make us feel better.”
Wanting the other to side with us in a conflict situation.
Assuming we have someone figured out.
Thinking more about “the other changing” than about “me being responsible.”
Passively going along, to keep the relationship harmonious at the expense of candor.
Blaming another for not behaving the way we want them to behave.
Spending all our interaction time in a group, with few one-on-one encounters
Examples of Mature Separation
Making independent decisions about my own life and destiny.
Taking responsibility for my own needs and growth.
Allowing two other family members to have their own relationship (separate from me).
Seeing my problems as my responsibility.
Respecting differences instead of judging.
When a problem occurs in a relationship, looking first for my part.
Supporting another to make different choices than I would make.
Permitting employees and children to take reasonable risks.
Basing my parenting on the reality needs of my child vs. my emotional needs.
Basing my leadership on the reality needs of the business and employees, vs. my emotional needs for approval or status.
Examples of Immature Separation
Engaging in convincing and persuading debates based on “my way is right.”
Withdrawing contact when togetherness is strained.
Believing that my priorities are the only ways to “demonstrate commitment.”
Distancing without communication.
Anxiously decreasing contact, thinking that doing so expresses “independence.”
Believing that disagreement or differences will weaken the relationship.
Believing my life will be unaffected by “not speaking” to family members.
Chronically wanting the other to take responsibility for the relationship.
Never sharing my views or always sharing my views.
Shielding employees or children from risk and adversity.
I want to stress that these are only examples. In a marriage, family or work partnership, it’s difficult to maintain the optimal degree of connection and separation that helps the relationship thrive. It’s always a work in progress.
The invitation of higher maturity is to pay attention to the emotional forces that trigger exaggerated responses. Conversely, it’s easy to disengage, believing higher maturity is not possible or relevant, since so many forces in society work against healthy connection and separation. For example:
“I’m nothing without you” messages dominate virtually all music genres.
Exaggerated togetherness is normalized in movies and sitcoms.
Extremist views dominate political processes and media responses.
Disagreements in families businesses and nations focus heavily on blame.
Every day, humans are killed because they reactively seek “separation” or “inclusion.”
In this environment, a leader or parent who can be responsible for self without wishing to change others, and who can summon the courage to think for oneself without distancing, and cooperate without losing autonomy, can function like a stone lighthouse in a fierce storm.
8 Responses to “November 2012: Examples, Connection and Separation, Mature and Immature”
November 02, 2012 at 11:57 am, Edouard Stacke said:
Many Thanks for this excellent contribution, I will spread around.
I fully share the contents and spirit,
November 02, 2012 at 3:30 pm, barbara cunningham said:
November 02, 2012 at 3:31 pm, barbara cunningham said:
I enjoy reading your thinking on the application of BFST principles in the business world.
November 02, 2012 at 4:20 pm, traci osullivan said:
HI John, I enjoyed your blog article. It would be nice if it were more openly accepted or discussed in workplace systems. It seems so many leaders have the need to impact the bottom line or to save face in their position ,that leadership becomes more of a caricature and less about bringing one’s best self to impact change.
November 09, 2012 at 1:47 pm, Peter said:
Mick, this is a great blog – really informative. Thanks.
It also reminded me of something Carl Jung said about people who prematurely take up a mystical practice in order to submerge their Ego with a Higher Self, God or whatever. He emphasised the importance of first fully developing the ego before even thinking abut such a practice, otherwise they would likely fall prey to mental illnesses like paranoia, psychosis etc.
November 10, 2012 at 12:08 pm, bob proctor said:
Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your next post thanks once again.
December 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm, Jim said:
After reading this article when it was posted, I got Jenny Brown’s book. It is a phenomenal read and helped me a great deal in re-orienting the way I look at all my relationships and focus on self control rather than on playing the “blame and change game.”
December 28, 2012 at 8:50 pm, Caroline Berry said:
thanks John for your expanded thoughts and the reference to Jenny’s work.