Many of our clients come to us struggling with stepping into their full selves and owning their identities, choices, and values. Often this is related to the client feeling stuck in living life the way someone else thinks they “should” — whether it be their partner, their family, the dominant paradigm in today’s society, or their particular cultural group. Our work in therapy becomes a process of mentally separating or creating space between the client and that outside influence, so they have room to discover themselves and grow.
The psychological term for when we go through this journey of separation and self-discovery is individuation, an apt term because it essentially describes the process of becoming an individual. Individuation is ongoing rather than a single event, typically beginning in adolescence and continuing into adulthood.
Individuation is often discussed in the context of developing a unique identity and sense of self separate from one's parents, although many of the same concepts can apply to other relationships and one’s relationship with cultural forces and factors. For the sake of consistency and clarity, we’ll be talking about individuation from parents in this article.
There are many benefits to individuation, including:
When you individuate from your parents, you start to develop your own sense of self. You learn to trust your own judgment and make your own decisions, increasing your self-confidence and sense of empowerment.
Individuation helps you to have more honest and open relationships with your parents. You can express needs and wants that you hope will be met and fulfilled, while accepting the possibility of judgment or rejection. This can lead to stronger and more fulfilling connections.
Greater happiness and satisfaction with life
Individuating from your parents allows you to start living your life on your own terms. You can pursue your own interests and goals and make your own choices, which are key to life satisfaction.
How can individuation actually be achieved?
There are several ways to achieve individuation and many people find the below to be good steps in the direction of individuation.
Develop your own values and beliefs
What is important to you? What do you believe in? While parents and other important figures in your life may (or may not) inform your thinking, ultimately these are questions that you need to answer for yourself.
Make your own decisions
Making your own decisions doesn't mean that you can't ever ask your parents for advice, but it does mean that you need to be the one to make the final decision.
Take responsibility for your actions
Celebrate your successes and achievements - and own up to your mistakes.When you acknowledge your own power you no longer have to credit your parents for everything, but you can no longer blame them for everything too.
Learn to set boundaries
Practice saying no when you need to, and then practice saying no when you want to. Yes, even when it upsets your parents. Yes, even when they don’t understand. It can be really meaningful to have those conversations where your parents understand and accept your point of view, but if they are not able to achieve that you don’t need to allow their limitations to control your life.
Develop close relationships with other people
It doesn’t just take a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to be a person. When you have a number of people that you trust and care for to turn to for support and guidance, you will not have the same level of need to rely on your parents.
Create your own life path
Figure out what you want to do with your life and start taking steps toward making it happen. Too many people default into living the exact same life as their parents - if that’s not something that you actually want, don’t let it be your destiny.
The challenges of individuation
Of course, individuating comes with paradigm shifts and relationship dynamic changes that can feel really challenging, especially at first. Some common themes we hear from clients working on individuation include the following:
Fear of rejection
You may be afraid that if you start making your own decisions and living your own life, your parents will no longer love you.
Feelings of guilt
Involving your parents less in your life might make you feel like you are abandoning them or that you are not being a good child.
You feel angry towards your parents for trying to control you, or even grief for the years you spent not being your own person.
When you take charge of your own thoughts, you might find that your wants, needs, desires, and values are unfamiliar to you. You may not know who you are or what you want out of life.
Feelings of isolation
Particularly for those who have had enmeshed or codependent relationships with their parents, living life on your own can feel incredibly lonely. Without the role you’ve played in your parents’ lives for so long, you may feel like you don't belong anywhere.
Even through its ups and downs, individuation is a journey that's worth taking. If you are struggling with becoming your own person, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist. At Salt River Therapy, we can help you to understand your feelings and needs, and provide support, encouragement, and guidance as you discover yourself and live a life that’s more authentic to you. We’re ready to help — click the button below to schedule a free phone consultation.