Differentiation and Integration from Dissociation and Fusion

As we step back and observe the aspects of our experience which allow for awareness, we construct ever better maps by a process of saying, "well, that is different from this, but those two fit together this way." We make distinctions or differentiations, and we discover similarities and integrate parts into a whole. There are healthy ways to do this which move us to a higher level and there are pathological ways to do this which move us to a lower level.

Conflicts arise in our awareness when things are not as we expect them to be. When we can look at what is happening and see the things that fit together and the things that are not the same and sort them out and make sense of them, then we can come to a way of being which is centered and calm and creative. But sometimes we find ourselves being flooded by the sensations, emotions, thoughts and wishes which make up our interior experience.

We will explore this process in some depth later in this book, but for now we want to acknowledge that very same stresses which can invite us into a more comprehensive way of being can also push us to regress to a less effective mode.

If we have sufficient confidence in our competence we can tolerate the stresses of things not being as we want. We can look more closely at the cause of the distress and notice what is happening and not happening and we can differentiate this from that. But when we are not confident or have already been thrown by a prior upsetting circumstance we are more likely to decide that we just don't want to look at either this or that; that is, we will dissociate or dis-associate ourselves from our experience.

Similarly we can notice the various aspects of our experience and put them together into new and novel ways of seeing, if we can tolerate the anxiety of not seeing things the way we always did before. But if we are stressed we are more likely to choose the old map or to be who others want us to be. We will choose to fuse with old ways of being.

Moving apart

Putting together

Pathological ways of being when we are under stress

Dissociation: choosing not to look at relevant differences, removing our awareness from sources of stress

Fusion: holding together things which don't belong, being who others want us to be and abandon our own integrity

Healthy ways of coping with complexity

Differentiation: being able to see how things are to be distinguished from each other

Integration: discovering novel and creative relationships between objects and perspectives

For this reason we want to remain calm and centered as conflicts arise for us so that we will use the conflict to propel us to a more complex and effective way of looking at our experience, rather than falling back to less effective ways of being.

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