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Family Counselling: Differentiated and Undifferentiated Self

1. What are the characteristics of a well-differentiated and a poorly differentiated person?
2. How do these characteristics impact a person's reaction to grief?
3. How do these characteristics impact a person's reaction to the family life cycle?

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Differentiation of self refers to one's ability to separate one's own intellectual and emotional functioning from that of the family. Bowen spoke of people functioning on a single continuum or scale. Individuals with "low differentiation" are more likely to become fused with predominant family emotions. (A related concept is that of an undifferentiated ego mass, which is a term used to describe a family unit whose members possess low differentiation and therefore are emotionally fused.) Those with "low differentiation" depend on others approval and acceptance. They either conform themselves to others in order to please them, or they attempt to force others to conform to themselves. They are thus more vulnerable to stress and they struggle more to adjust to life changes. (534 Bowen 1974)

To have a well-differentiated "self" is an ideal that no one realizes perfectly. They recognize that they need others, but they depend less on other's acceptance and approval. They do not merely adopt the attitude of those around them but acquire their principles thoughtfully. These help them decide important family and social issues, and resist the feelings of the moment. Thus, despite conflict, criticism, and rejection they can stay calm and clear headed enough to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotion. What they decide and say matches what they do. When they act in the best interests of the group, they choose thoughtfully, not because they are caving in to relationship pressures. Confident in their own thinking, they can either support another's view without becoming wishy-washy or reject another's view without becoming hostile. (161 Bowen 1966)

Bowen (1966) listed several characteristics of the well differentiated and poorly differentiated person.

Profile 1. The Well Differentiated Person

1. Set well defined beliefs that are consistent with each other.
2. Can act on these beliefs and the principles that emerge from them even in the face of considerable emotional pressure from others to do otherwise.
3. These beliefs and principles are not rigid or dogmatically adhered to and the person can choose to modify them based on new knowledge.
4. Respects opinions of others and does not pressure others to change their viewpoints. In other words, differences are well tolerated.
5. The well differentiated person is keenly aware of the differences between her/his emotional subjective responses and her/his intellectual objective ones and cognizant of the value and limits of each type of ...

Solution Summary

In relation to family counselling, this solution describes the characteristics of a well-differentiated and a poorly differentiated person as a function of their impact on a person's reaction to grief and a person's reaction to the family life cycle.