From Robin Carnes and Sally Craig’s book Sacred Circles:
“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.” —Alice Walker
“We might look at our mothers as our first mirrors of ourselves. What they reflected back to us about ourselves we often took as the truth. When we begin to see our mothers as real people, not just as parents, who are struggling as imperfectly as the rest of us to make the journey, we see that what they mirrored back to us about ourselves as children was probably not about us at all but rather about who they were at that time. Talking about our mothers and how we feel about the people they were and are helps us to differentiate ourselves from them, even as we honor our connection with them.” (pp. 138-139)
Differentiating and connecting are both essential and complementary aspects of healthy relationship. Too little differentiation leads to enmeshment; too little connection leads to isolation. Too much differentiation produces distancing; too much connection undermines boundaries.
The metaphor I’ve often used for my own path with and around other people is planetary or stellar orbit: I travel an orbit myself, I have regular companions and am the regular companion of others. I cross orbits with others; I approach more closely at some times and more distantly at others. I attract some and am attracted by some. On rare occasions I crash into other travelers or am hit by one—but I still have my orbit to travel.
Our relationships are similar: partners, friends, siblings, parents, neighbors, coworkers, peer commuters, the panhandlers we pass each day, the accountants we see twice a year, our doctors and consultants, our religious teachers, and on, almost infinitely… Each of us has an orbit to travel. Each of us negotiates our connection and differentiation patterns with the people we meet and know. And both processes are necessary.
This is one of the insights that I processed over several years; it helped me to make sense of my relationships with other individuals but also helped me to understand and shift my relationships with the institutions I’m a part of.
If you missed this week’s series on sexuality and the Seventh-day Adventist church, I’ll be keeping the three installments up on this site: