Relationships and self-regulation
Differentiation is a fundamental concept in family systems theory. It is the ability to be in emotional contact with others yet remain autonomous with your own ability to emotionally function and self-regulate. A person who has poor differentiation skills lacks that emotional boundary between self and others. This prevents the thinking process from being overwhelmed by emotional feeling states. This person is like a sponge; absorbing emotion from others. On the other hand of the spectrum, is a well differentiated person, this person is able to respond based on acceptance of their own emotions, their emotions are not created based on someone else’s or what that person expects or the need to engage in a fight or flight response. This person does not suppress their emotion and this person does not act on their emotions impulsively.
On top of these two types of differentiation is both functional and basic. Functional differentiation refers to function-ability in relationship. This is to do with the need to be able to function well by allowing others to absorb unresolved emotions by co-dependently putting up with bad behaviour. If the people I am in relationship with reject my bad behaviour I might fall apart. Basic differentiation on the other hand is my ability to be able to function independently of others so that I do not need others to do my emotional work for me. I can remain engaged no matter what it is that is happening emotionally around me and not get lost in it.
So you can actually start to gage where it is that you are on this spectrum, the less basic differentiation you have attained then the more prone you are to experience emotional stress and physical illness as well as the need for emotional eating. This has a huge implication in regards to your relationship with your significant other. Marital quality and satisfaction is strongly and positively related to resulting immune response. Women who are more self-regulated, less emotionally dependent on a relationship that doesn’t work for them have greater differentiation and therefore better health. In every relationship there is a power differential, one person has a tendency to have more power. The less powerful partner in any relationship whether that has to do with your significant other, your parents, your children, your position at work, will absorb a disproportionate amount of the shared anxiety.
Power is to do with who is serving who's needs, in other words who is the care giver. The less powerful person has a tendency to be more psychologically unbalanced and it means that the relationship has become unbalanced, the less powerful person has functional differentiation; absorbing the stresses and anxieties of the more powerful around them while at the same time having to contain their own. The partner that surpasses their own needs for the sake of the relationship is the one that is going to have to develop a way to manage emotionally and that is where emotional eating comes in.
This mind/ body link and person to person link means that it is actually possible for anxiety in one person to be manifested as a physical symptom in another. This emotional disfunction is prone to develop symptoms in the person who has to adopt most in order to maintain harmony in the relationship.
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