Individuation: stumbling toward emotional self-reliance

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Ecstasy Flowers art by Ouvra aka Maria Rozalia Finna. Buy her art!

UPDATE 2020:

This post was integrated into chapter of my book, From Sh!tshow To AfterglowIf you’re dealing with a shitshow, the book will help you overcome personal trauma through creative self-development.

Read a free chapter, or buy the book from AmazonAudible, or your local bookseller.

Comments on Individuation: stumbling toward emotional self-reliance

  1. The owning your own feelings portion reminds me a lot of a section of the amazing and brilliant Come As You Are by Dr Emily Nagoski.

    “Staying over your own emotional center of gravity… means owning your feelings, listening to them, and being responsive without being reactive, taking emotions seriously without taking them personally.

    I’ve come to think of staying over your emotional center of gravity as the “sleepy hedgehog” model of emotion management.

    If you find a sleepy hedgehog in the chair you were about to sit in, you should
    • give it a name
    • sit peacefully with it in your lap
    • figure out what it needs
    • tell your partner about the need, so you can collaborate to help the hedgehog

    Getting mad at the hedgehog or being afraid of it won’t help you or the hedgehog, and you certainly can’t just shove it into your partner’s lap, shouting, “SLEEPY HEDGEHOG! ” and expect them to deal with all its spiky quills. It’s your hedgehog. The calmer you are when you handle it, the less likely you are to get hurt yourself, or to hurt someone else.”

    • YES! Totally loved that book (I mean, that cover art is a work of clever genius), and the section about the hedgehog is definitely relevant to trying to stay accountable for your own emotions in the context of a relationship. I also love that she uses some basic mindfulness practices with the hedgehog — notice it, name it, observe it.

      Semi-related: Have you read the Belhaven series, Dr. Nagoski’s attachment theory romance novels that she wrote under a pen name? They’re super fun for those of us who like our attachment theory research like we like our lovers: articulate, relatable, and go down easy!

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us. You put into words what I have been going through and my journey with individuation. I just came out of a 2.5 year long relationship where I lost myself in it completely. I’ve been coming to terms too with being able to blame myself when something is my fault and taking my own feelings into my hands. Basically, that whole mantra where it’s you who can control how you react to another person no matter what their reaction may be.

    Anyway, this was incredibly helpful, and I’m glad to see another person coming out better for it as a better version of themselves.

    Thanks, Ariel!

    • Yeah, being accountable for your reactions by standing back and learning from them, to see if you can reduce your own suffering (and reduce the misery you cause others) is tough work, but worth the time to examine.

  3. I came at this process the other way around… my life refused to provide me with certain layers of emotional support. It took me most of my existence to wrap my mind around the fact that the people who said they loved me didn’t have my best interests at heart. Only once I had gotten to a point where I accepted that, shit, apparently I’m a solo flier, did the person I will be marrying finally show up. I’ll be nearly 36 when that event rolls around.

    My whole life seemed determined to force me to accept my own individuation. I did things I wouldn’t have otherwise, like grad school and teaching. I did get there in the end. I did. But I also found something else out…

    There’s nothing wrong with the process of individuating. It’s necessary to existence. It’s also OK being a little codependent. If you can’t function without your partner, that’s one thing. But so much of my life seemed determined to force me to admit that I CAN DO IT ON MY OWN YES I CAN, and erase the fact that I do better in partnership. Financially, emotionally, mentally. (To be clear, Ariel, I don’t think this is what *you* were getting at, but just my own experience.)

    What I finally figured out is that both experiences are good and bad, yin and yang. Like much of life, the timing can be unfair as fuck. It’s not always when you’re ready for it and the process doesn’t always tie up neatly with a bow a la “Eat Pray Love.” There’s no trophy for having become a better person by the end. Sometimes you don’t become a better person. Sometimes it’s just about surviving. It’s a rare person who looks back on her life with unmixed feelings; the best way of dealing with whatever cycle you’re in may just be to shrug and say “it is what it is.”

    I know that as valuable as the process of individuation was for me, now that I’m in a partnership cycle, I sometimes look back and get very, very pissed off about how much more I could have accomplished had I experienced this level of support my whole life.

    • *starts chanting* MIDDLE! PATH! MIDDLE PATH!!

      I’m totally with you on what you’re saying here. For me, and other folks who’ve spent long stretches in partnership, you have to put in the work to learn how to healthily individuate. For folks who’ve spent long stretches out of partnership, it can be just as much work to learn how to healthily integrate and collaborate with another person. Either way, you’re probably confronting some vestigial family of origin stuff, and learning new stuff… which can be rough!

      I want to award a trophy for everyone putting in the effort… but then your third paragraph, though! That is some profound tl/dr. You nailed it. THANK YOU!

  4. I can relate so much. I’m currently in the “crying alone a lot” between the old relationship and whatever comes next. It’s definitely tough.
    I just went on this awesome retreat from one of my favorite teachers, Josh Korda (highly recommend his podcast Dharmapunx NYC for attachment centered stuff!) and I learned about Idealized Parent Figure Protocol therapy. It’s something I’m curious about to add to my toolbox.

    • Ooh, interesting. I hadn’t heard about Idealized Parent Figure Protocol therapy, but reading about it now, it reminds me a bit of some of the stuff I did last year… basically, trying to rewire myself to securely attach to my spiritual practice instead of a partner/parenting stand-in.

      Oh, humans. I have so much compassion for all the universality of our suffering. It’s the most ironic part of loneliness: we’re all united in it! We’re truly the least alone, in our feelings of being alone.

  5. I’m trying to understand this in the context of my failing marriage (we are separated and likely entering mediation to divorce). For owning your feelings with a situation like this that happened time and again: Husband states intention to do something that is self-gratifying, but not good for some part (or multiple parts) of our relationship. I state my feelings and ask him not to. He does it anyway. I get upset because my feelings have been dismissed (yet again). I feel hurt that I am ignored and that he always chooses the impulse to feel good over our relationship. I can take responsibility for the pain I feel and help myself deal with the pain, but where does this leave me and this relationship?

    • Sounds like it leaves you in a great place to focus your energy on your own growth and development, separate from the dynamic with him. From what you’re saying, it doesn’t sound like energy put into trying to change the dynamic has worked, and it could be time to redirect your efforts on internal work.

      I’m not really in a place to give relationship advice other than that. Ultimately, it’s all a bucket of pain either way, and I’m just some lady on the internet who doesn’t know you or your situation.

      Sending love, regardless, <3

  6. Oh Ariel, this piece was both timely and AH.MAZE.ING. This is everything that is slooooowlllyyyy (so so so slowly urgh) dawning on me…Thank you from the bottom of my heart

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