Seeking the Holy Grail of Differentiation: Holding Onto Myself Through the Layers of the Onion

My favorite author on relationships, David Schnarch, speaks about differentiation as a kind of “holy grail” of relationships. He says that the deepest and most lasting form of intimacy is born from ones’ capacity to both hold onto oneself and stay open to another at the same time. Through Shadow Work®,  I know that I live much of my life in the loop between the energies of Lover and Warrior, which are in many ways diametrically opposed. Lover energy wants to stay connected with the other and is willing to sacrifice connection with self in the process. Warrior energy is all about building and maintaining a sense of self and cares little about staying connected with other. I’ve played out this roller coaster ride in many of my relationships- going to one end of the extreme and then compensating with the other.

While I’ve learned a great deal over the years about how to moderate the extremes for a smoother ride, I’ve recently had the opportunity (and the challenge) of seeing how easily I give up my connection to myself when seeking intimacy with others. I often liken personal change to the layers of an onion. When I come back to the same issue again, and start to feel critical of myself for not having transcended a pattern, the onion analogy helps me recognize that I may have circled back to the same issue, but it is at a deeper level this time around.

This recent reflection has inspired me to take the next step in learning what it means to hold onto myself. I’m finding how to use my body as a barometer. When my breathing becomes shallow, I take this as a sign that I am leaving myself to focus on another. I’m discovering the subtle embodied shift that occurs when my attention resides internally rather than going out of myself towards another. And, miraculously, the result is often that I am more available for connection when I am more rooted in myself! When I stay with myself, I also come to know myself more fully. I am more aware of the emotions running under the surface, and more resourced to give them attention and care.  I feel that I’m discovering and integrating aspects of myself that have been blocked from my awareness for some time.

I could share a dozen stories of how I’ve worked with this issue over time. I believe that these kinds of relational patterns become embedded early in life, and it is only through peeling back the layers of the onion one at a time that we come to fully claim what is possible for us. If this story has inspired or intrigued you in some way, you may wish to contact me to explore how these ideas, of differentiation, and of different archetypes, can help you find greater wholeness and aliveness in your own life!

P.S. The book I mentioned above is called Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Schnarch!

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