This concept represents the application of Bowen theory to daily living in all areas of life through a long-term effort to live the principles of differentiation. Differentiation as a process involves both developing the strength to define oneself in one’s important relationships and gaining greater ability to manage one’s anxiety-driven reactions. Relationships with one’s partner, child, siblings, boss, co-worker, friend are all important to define and manage self in order to contribute to the best outcome for everyone. However, the emotional field of the family at the parent, grandparent, even great-grandparent levels remains the most effective emotional arena for long-term development and integration of oneself as a person.
Chronic patterns of reactivity in thinking, feeling and behavior develop in the emotional field of one’s family while growing up. In adulthood, everyone can recognize the emotional shift in oneself as an adult child when making plans to visit parents, or in oneself as a parent when one’s child is planning a visit home. The challenge of differentiation of self is first to see and take responsibility for one’s own part in keeping alive chronic patterns of reactivity. The integration of self at ever more subtle levels requires behavioural change. Base level shifts in differentiation include shifts in our impulse control from the cellular level to the psycho/social level of thinking, feeling and interacting. At the cellular level, it has much to do with using our observational and self-reflective abilities to gain greater conscious control over our stress response. At the psycho-social level, it involves increasing our ability to think, perceive, speak and act from a fact-based rather than a feeling-based assessment. Feelings then become one of the facts that provide valuable information in deciding what to do in a given situation rather than the emotional lens which colours and distorts perceptions and decision-making.