My Differentiation of Self?
A Differentiation of Self: David Bates 2007
Breaking the Golden Rule!
“Don’t talk about emotional things,
you might upset someone”

Based on Bowen Theory

Separation - Shame - Loss

Early 1930's Clayton, Manchester, England, my three generational story, is moving towards me, via two families from the same working class area of this industrial northern city. On my mother’s side, a deep sense of shame and resentment is brewing in the emotional life of the Lee family. It is being shaped by a forbidden love, a union between a half brother and sister that produced my mother, and the divided affections of my great grandfather James.

On my father’s side of the family tree, my paternal grandparents have married and my grandfather is allowing himself to be the weaker partner in the marriage, which in turn allowed my grandmother to be a strong mother, who was very close to her children. Consequently my father, who is the oldest son in a family of five children, is becoming a parentified child.

Turning to my mother as an individual, her life seems to have been dominated by a deep sense of loss and shame, two bitter emotional pills that were unwittingly prescribed by her grandfather James Lee (1870 - 1952). James Lee married Mary Riley in Clayton, Manchester, England, some time in the late 1800's, and they produced ten children, one of which was my maternal grandfather Alfred Lee. Then when Alfred’s mother died, James got together with Mary's sister Margaret, and they had a little girl named Monica Lee, my maternal grandmother.

Alfred and Monica Lee, shared a great love of music and performing in music halls together, and they extended that love into the shape of my mother Audrey June Lee on the fifth of June 1931. After my mother was born they escaped the scorn of their siblings by moving to Bournemouth in the South of England.

Abandoned, unwanted, unloved and feelings of shame:

At the time of my mother’s birth, her father Alfred was a sick man with kidney problems, and there was a resentful emotional distance between Alfred, Monica and the rest of the siblings, because of the shame that had been brought on the family, by Monica’s pregnancy. During the first five years of my mother’s live, Monica left her daughter and Alfred three times to be with another man. And in those five years Alfred became sicker and sicker, which required his father James and step mother Margaret, to spend most of that period in the south of England, looking after Alfred and little Audrey.

When my mother was five years old, she was given into the care of her grandmother Margaret. She remembers how Monica took her into a bedroom and said "I have three lovely handkerchiefs here, choose one". Then Monica left the house and my mother never saw her mother again. So in 1936 at the tender age of five my mother is given over to the care of her grandparents, and returns to Manchester with them.

The next seven years were marked by a strong injunction placed on her by Margaret her grandmother, who forcefully suggests that Audrey would be better of staying separate from other children, and my mother remembers this as a period of gazing out the window, looking at other children who are with their parents. Then in 1939 at the age eight, her father Alfred dies and is buried in Bournemouth, he was only thirty five years old and my mother did not travel down for the funeral, or see his grave for decades to come.

Then only three years later in 1942 Monica died giving birth to her fourth child, one of three half sisters and a brother that my mother has never met. An interesting aspect of this period is that while Alfred was buried in an unmarked grave in 1939, by pure chance Monica ended up being buried directly opposite him in the next row of the cemetery in 1942. Then only two years after Monica died, her grandmother Margaret died in February 1944, leaving my mother all alone in the world save for James, my great grandfather.

For the next seven years my mother is cared for, and in turn cares for her aging grandfather, as she grows into a young woman. During this time James and Audrey only have each other, as they have been cut -off from James's other nine children and grandchildren. Perhaps nobody in the family wanted to really talk about such an emotionally difficult subject, and it was better to try to ignore it by not acknowledging my mother.

In August 1950 my mother met my father. What she brought to that relationship was a deep sense of loss, feelings of being unwanted and a family pattern of emotional distance and silence. They had a brief courtship, a brief period of real sunshine for my mother and then on the 16th July 1951, Audrey June Lee married Daniel Bates, they were pregnant at the time, a boy named David was on the way. Before I was twelve months old, Audrey lost her only connection with her family of origin, when her grandfather James died. Distance and avoidance seem to become the major themes of my mother’s life, due to her experiences with her family.

I am reminded very much of Monica McGoldrick's comment, “loss is the pivotal human experience”, (McGoldrick, M, 1995, p126), and how this has impacted my mother and influenced my own feeling for life. From Gerald Corey, "actions, and interactions that are characterised by retreat, fear and protection, tend to constrain growth and development".

The words retreat, fear and protection, leading to constraint resonate with me, and I feel it has been a constant struggle for me to UN-constrain my own innate nature, away from my programmed fearful emotional response. The sense of loss and feelings of being abandoned, unloved and unwanted, seem to have evoked a primitive defensive response in my mother’s approach to life. She is quite insular, very happy to be at home where she feels safe, not very adventurous, she seems fearful of the consequences of any activity that is outside her normal routine, or is not well planned in advance.

She finds it hard to initiate contact with others but is happy to be met.
My brother’s defensive reaction to my mother’s way of being, are summed up in his description of her as, conservative, selfish, self centered, insular, a taker, calculating with a hidden agenda. Words that seem to express the pain he feels about his relationship with her, words that he also uses to describe me.

Turning to my father's side of my family tree, Daniel Bates was born to Daniel Bates and Annie Artingstall on December 21st 1928, in Clayton, Manchester. My grandparents, Annie and Daniel lived in one room of a non family member’s house, and during the period they were raising their first two children, life was marked by poverty and the insecurity of the great depression.

My paternal grandparent’s early life was typically impoverished, my grandmother started work at age eleven in the famous Manchester cotton mills, and grandad spent a lot of his childhood dodging a violent step father. He spent little time in school and remembers sleeping rough under bridges, by the canal at night.

Over functioning and under functioning:

My grandmother was very much the earth mother, and in this role she functioned well, she was a big strong woman, but she chose to marry a smaller man. Perhaps to allow her to be the strong over functioning one in the family home, my grandfather acted weak and did not function well, he was perceived as the weak link in the family.

This weakness in my grandfather did allow my grandmother to be very close to her children and resulted in the oldest son Daniel Bates, my father, becoming a parentified child. This experience marked my father so much, that he had real difficulty relating to others, except from a parent stance, “He knew best”. Perhaps he had taken on so much of his fathers role in the family, that he became over identified or over invested in that role.


The way my paternal family related to each other seemed to be very antagonistic to me. I remember what seemed to be a family game of one up one down, which was conducted with a great deal of sarcastic personal insult, and it could easily be called the put down game. There seemed to be an attempt to feel better about your self by ridiculing the other, and when tensions did boil over, the exchanges where often angry and bitter.

They were an enmeshed family, they were to close, and they did not seem to think much about their situation. They simply reacted to each other emotionally. They were like those silver balls in a slot machine, endlessly colliding into each other. There daily survival routine and their cramped home left little space for each individual to think, to observe and reflect. They only had time and space enough to bounce of each other in that same knee jerk way that the silver ball bounces around in the slot machine, and they were surrounded by families doing the same thing. Doing the best they could with limited resources.

When I was a baby there were six people sharing that small two bedroom house, my grandfather suffered with ulcers and slept separately in a small space above the stairs, while my grandmother slept with her daughter in one bedroom, and the three boys who were still at home shared the other bedroom. It is not surprising, given the cramped conditions and limited resources that tensions boiled over in my Grandparents family, on the surface at least that tension could be blamed on their living conditions.

It seems whenever there was trouble in their relationships, something or someone was to blame! Perhaps the rise in tension between family members was really about trying to express the individual differences between them, in a situation that called for them to act the same as each other, in their effort to get on with each other. This is known as the pressure for sameness. Tension about the differences between us, and the pressure for sameness, is the anxiety of togetherness that rises in any group of people, and is according to Kerr and Bowen, an inherent anxiety between people which “reflects an interplay between two counterbalancing life forces, Individuality and Togetherness” (Kerr and Bowen, 1988, p59). I feel it’s an instinctive emotion that we are barley aware of.

An instinctual emotional drive that makes us act like others so we can feel safe in the world, and yet at the same time we long for individual expression, an instinctual emotional drive to express our uniqueness. How we are different from our parents and siblings, and how we are not the same.

I think it is an internal pressure for growth, to become the complete and unique individual we were born to be. Yet we are trapped by our need for others at the same time. This is the essence of dependency; we are dependent on the group to feel secure within ourselves, the secure base that allows us to function in a world where we feel far more vulnerable than we care to admit. For the sake of family unity, we seem to ask each other to understand things and do things in a similar way; this is the pressure for sameness.

Parents telling children about the “should and should not's of life” are the classic expression of this within a family group. The reaction to this pressure for sameness seems to result in the stronger personalities pushing the others to “do it my way”, which at the same time say’s “this is how I’m different”. In my father’s family this manifests itself in all four boys having strongly held and fairly aggressively expressed opinions.

Indeed my uncle’s summation of my father was “he was an opinionated prick, with little regard for other people’s feelings”. The main ongoing concern within my father’s family seemed to be about being seen as strong or weak, perhaps driven by the concern about my Grandfather’s role in his family. Indeed my grandmother and my father's disdain for perceived weakness, holds strong memories for me, and plays a part in my self image, after having so many problems with illness in my life.

Concern about health and about weakness and strength and knowing your place in life become the major themes in my father’s life, due to his experiences with his family. Concern about something, seems to be one of the ways people relate to each other, because we can’t discuss the emotional dynamics of our relationship to each other, we prefer to share emotional closeness through a concern about someone or something.

My Parents:

In September 1950, Audrey June Lee, an unwanted and unloved child, with a deep sense of loss met her ideal parent, Daniel Bates a boy so parentified by his parents relationship with each other, that he is stuck in his parent ego state. It was not an ideal match though in terms of closeness, they had different ways of being together. She seemed to want a certain kind of distance; she was emotionally cool. He seemed to want a certain kind of closeness, he was emotionally hot, but the lost child in her fitted perfectly with his father role. Expressed in terms of over functioning and under functioning the relationship was reciprocal “you can be the weak one and I’ll be the strong one”.

Bowen (1988) describes the way people are reactive to each other, based on a subjective feeling state of being, as opposed to an objective thinking way of being. It describes the way people in any emotional system react to each other based on the degree of unresolved and therefore largely unconscious emotional attachment to their primary care givers. People fall into reciprocal counterbalancing relationship to one another based on the functional role they played in their family of origin, and their current need for, or comfort with togetherness (closeness) and separateness (distance).

The way I understand functioning, is the ability of an individual to “be for themselves”, and how much they are being truly themselves in a given situation, versus how much they are trying to be what another person needs them to be. For example, if a married couple have an immature need of each other. Which means that both feel immature and inadequate, one partner may ease their fears of inadequacy, by trying to be the strong competent one in the household.

Their partner, who is often the more emotionally sensitive one, may unconsciously volunteer to play the role of the incompetent one in the household. It could be said that this is an expression of love, where one partner gives up or trades of their sense of self, their self respect, so that their partner can feel more sense of self, and have more self respect.

This is a way of bringing a harmonious balance the relationship, by acting out feelings of being immature and inadequate without ever addressing those feelings in a conscious way, by talking about it. Often the other partner will try to ease their own fears of inadequacy, by having a role outside the household were they in turn can feel competent. In my childhood home both my parents eased their fears of inadequacy outside the home in a work role. Inside the home my father seemed to do most of the domestic chores, in line with his facade of the competent protective father. While my mother seemed to be self absorbed and unwilling to participate, and this did not make for a harmonious balance in the household.

They seem to have been locked in a struggle between my mother’s insular fear of life, and my father’s desire to participate. In the end my mother won that struggle, with a series of geographical moves that slowly isolated my father from family and friends. And towards the end of his life with her my father found himself in a house on the Gold Coast looking after my mother, just like my great grandfather James did so many years before. For approximately twenty years before he died, my father suffered with a form of leukemia, which made him less able to participate in life and more able to send time alone with my mother.

My mother was twenty and my father twenty two, when they married on June 16th 1951, a marriage date pressured by my mother’s pregnancy with me. I was born only six months later, and my mother returned to full time work only three weeks after my birth, she then suffered the loss, of her grandfather only eight months later. On Christmas Eve 1951, around eight pm, my mother went into labor, which continued until around eight a.m. on the 27th when I was delivered with the help of metal forceps.

The length of the labor period left my mother exhausted, and I was quite scared from the forceps, so much so that I still have the indentations in my skull bone from that instrument. My mother and I have not been able to talk much about that experience; we still observe the family rule of silence about anything emotional. The best we can manage is a tremulous sarcasm about the difficulties of our relationship.

My Childhood:

At the time of my birth, my parents were living at 609 Ashton Old Road Openshaw, perhaps some five kilometers from the city center where my father walked to work each day. This was the house that my mother had lived in with her grandparents since returning to Manchester as a five year old. It was a typical terraced house, very small, two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs, with a toilet out in the backyard. I remember the tin bath that hung on the wall in the back room, there was no hot water, and kettles and pans of water were boiled on the rare occasions we had a bath.

It was small, dark and dingy, and from time to time infested with beetles from the smelly house next door, where an old man had lived alone for many years, and whose only sustenance seemed to be his endlessly smouldering pipe. I remember the coal fire in the living room, how smoke would fill the room for a while, because the coal had been damp from the prodigious Manchester weather. And I remember the picture of my mother and her grandfather James. They were arm in arm, walking into the church, the day she got married.

There was something about him that intrigued me. He looked distinguished, respectable, dignified. He seemed to exude an air of confidence and competence. He looked so self assured. He was different from the people in my father’s family.
I only knew him as my maternal great grandfather, and if I had known his name for all those years of my life before my first son was born, would I have still called my son James?

Is it just coincidence that my wife and I chose James as a name for James Lee’s great-great grandson? Or is this one of the quirks of generational family emotionality? The unconscious emotional river that binds the generations, and dictates our emotional responses to life and to others. My feelings about my great grandfather are perhaps best illustrated by an incident which took place in primary school, when I was about eight years old.

I remember walking down a stair well and having a vision of my self as a silver haired old man in my sixties. I looked just like him, and I had the distinct feeling that this would be the best time of my life. And of course that incident had been long forgotten, until this year when I found out the old mans name was James, and I wonder if that is meaningful or meaningless.

About a week after I was born, I was taken home to 609 Ashton Old Road, the house my mother had grown up in since she was five years old. I can only wonder what it was like then, did I have her all to myself, did we bond, did she breast feed me much? I really don’t know what it was like. Again she has not said much about it, perhaps later on I will be able to move closer to her and ask some more questions about it? My mother had to return to full time work only three weeks after my birth. My father had said “we can’t manage on one wage love”. Thus in a similar way to my mother I was given into the care of my grandmother.

And during those early formative years I spent more time in my Grandmothers home than my own. This resulted in my affections being split between two women; largely favoring my grandmother, much to my mother’s chagrin. I felt more attached to my grandmother than I did to my own mother. I remember how I watched my uncles and my auntie spar with each other, the sarcastic verbal jousting, that was, I presume, their way of trying to be close but different. Their way of defending their individual fears of inadequacy, by putting the other one down, their way of saying “I’m not like you”, “I’m like this”. And these days I’m becoming more aware of this combative way of trying to differentiate myself from others.

For so many years I’ve been in denial about it. When I’m with my family, I can act weak, helpless, and incompetent. I act out my secret fears of being an inadequate child. Then when I’m away from the family I deny my secret fears by pretending to be strong and adequate. I do that in the same way I saw my family of origin do it. I want to argue, I want to provoke, I want to win, I want to define my space, I want to show how I’m different, in this crowded home, this family we call community.


I mostly remember the early years of my life as being beset by illness, and feelings of separateness and tension. I seemed to spend most of my time my coping with one health issue after another. I had asthma from very early on up to the age of two or three, and then eczema, a severe skin irritation that required my hands to be bound to the sides of the bed on many nights to stop me from scratching my skin until it bled. The eczema stayed with me until the first years of primary school.


This was how I felt in relation to other people; most of my memories of my early childhood are of anxious avoidance of my father and the tension which I felt filled our home. In the other environment, my grandmother’s house was not particularly warm and embracing, I was known as the lodger, presumably resentment about me sharing this small space, and a reference to the money my parents gave my grandmother to care for me. So I didn’t have a great sense of belonging.

I remember always feeling anxious that something was wrong and, that it was my fault. I have found it hard to feel a sense of attachment to my parent’s, indeed I feel a particular distance with my mother, a distance I tend to repeat in all my relationships. I learnt to keep a low profile around my family, to be quite and unassuming. Although I do remember feeling calmer within myself then, than I have done since my adolescence.

In those days staying separate from others made sense, my detached position was congruent with my situation, but when I tried to take that sense of detachment into my adulthood, boy was it not congruent.


Seemed to be the ever present atmosphere in the house that I remember most about my childhood, right up to my adolescence and youth, in the early years you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Perhaps the tension between my parents was about their differences, part of which was the struggle between his enmeshed “in your face” style of closeness and her distant withdrawn style. And I was the meat in the sandwich.

Dreams and Fantasy:

Dreams and fantasy played a large part in my early self nurturing; they were always about the hero. The hero’s journey was the most common of my dreams. In one version I would be bound at the bottom of the ocean, with no chance of survival, only to affect a miraculous escape at the last minute. In primary school I loved the Bible stories, David and Goliath, Moses and the story of Jesus were my favorites. This was how I soothed myself when I was alone in my bedroom, to fearful to go down stairs, and risk my father’s temper tantrum.

The family projection Process:

This process describes how a family allocates levels of functioning between family members. Levels of functioning are based on reciprocating functionality, or borrowed and traded sense of self. This can result in one member of a family giving up so much of their sense of self, in order to calm the chronic anxiety, or tension within the family emotional system, that this individual becomes functionally impaired.

The impairment can take the form of a physical, emotional or social symptom, and has led to the phrase “Identified Patient” to describe the family member who takes on the role of binding the family’s anxiety about living together so closely while still being separate individuals. The anxiety within any family or any group of people is about the differences between them, and how those differences are dealt with.

For a couple such as my parents, with different childhoods, having different ways of being close to people, but sharing similar rules about emotional issues (don’t talk about that, it’s to upsetting). For such a couple it may have been easier to share emotional closeness (togetherness), through their concern for a sick child, than to share their concerns about each other.

Did I absorb the anxiety of our family home and transform it into illness, so that my parents could focus their attention on me and ignore their relationship difficulties. Did I play my part by using illness to attract sympathetic attention and get my needs met.

Being sick certainly calmed my father’s temper and brought out his nurturing parent side. Was it a classic triangle of interlocking and interdependent relationships that I was involved in, with all three of us getting our needs met in an unhealthy way? And these days I am well aware, of my tendency to try and evoke sympathy in others as a way of getting close to them and avoiding their expected attack. Self depreciating humor is my preferred method.

On the 31st of October 1958, my brother Phillip was born, another unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, which must have increased the tension between my parents. And I fled that tension within the house. I was between the ages of seven and nine, and during that period I ran away from home four times, and on the last occasion I was determined not to return to my parents.

However I was approached on the streets late at night by two women, who promised to take me to their home after hearing my story, but took me to a police station instead, an action I was very annoyed about. During my stay in the police station I refused to tell the police my address, saying that I did not know what it was. I remember the disappointment and fear I felt the next day when my father arrived to pick me up.

Then only a few weeks later, I felt the need to escape the family home again, where I felt frightened and unsafe and I did not feel I belonged with these people. But this time I tried to enlist help from my grandparents; I went to their home and asked if I could live with them, explaining how I felt. After explaining that this was not possible, my Grandfather accompanied me back to my parent’s and gave them a lecture about not looking after me properly. It was the only time in my childhood I can remember my Grandfather functioning in this way; he was usually surly and withdrawn.

However this did not sit well with my father, who was embarrassed by my Grandfathers rebuke, and could only see my behavior in terms of a naughty, ungrateful child. This reaction, coupled with my experience of no escape, set up a resolve in me to leave home when I was legally able, and never to see my parent’s again. At that time I was genuinely frightened of my father’s anger, I could not understand why it was so disproportionate to whatever it was that I might have done wrong. How could he explode into such rage and resentful anger over such simple mistakes as spilled milk or a forgotten item on a shopping list?

I think it is a measure of his level of differentiation; his actions came very much from a feelings base, without the ability to reflect on what was happening before him. He simply reacted in the same way his father had done, and his father before him. And indeed it was very common in the area I grew up in for parents to project their frustrations onto their children in the same undifferentiated way.

My Brother:

Our kid! As we call our siblings back in England. My grandmother called him a “cheeky monkey”, and I have always thought him to be far more of a Bates than I am. He could always give cheek and get away with it, he seemed more sure of the response than I did, more comfortable with that game. When he was little, I had my far share of looking after him. From the age of three or so, I would walk him down to my grandmother’s house in the mornings and home again at night.

I remember well an incident when he went running of towards the traffic on the main road we lived on. Luckily he stepped of the kerb between two parked cars and fell over. I can still feel the sense of relieve, if he had died I was pretty sure I would be killed to. Detached is the word he used to describe me recently, and with seven years between us, and the parental role I have played in his life. Perhaps it is no wonder that we don’t really feel like we are brothers.

I do remember playing soccer with him, getting into trouble and working out ways to avoid the retribution with him. I remember trying to be there for him, like when he needed to enter the work force. I arranged for him to spend a week working with me, while he was in year ten at high school. And then I spoke to the company bosses about an apprenticeship for him. I was in close contact with the company management at the time. I was the service department’s union delegate. And much later when I had built a successful retail business, I invited him to come to Sydney and join me in that business.

Again I paved his way into a profession; one that he is still works in.
I can’t say that Phillip has ever seemed to want to do anything for me. And he seems to prefer to make fun of me, than make any attempt at understanding me. I’m just “our David” delivered with that same scornful look and a shrug of the shoulders that I always seemed to get from that other Bates that was so prominent in my life.

Perhaps that’s my fault, with my self depreciating sense of humor or what appear to him as my seemingly endless excuses about illness. Or perhaps it is his defensiveness, his own feelings of inadequacy that are projected against me. That old Bates family game of ridicule; put the other one down before they get a chance to put you down.

Maybe it’s his size, my brother is short like my mother, I’m not sure how tall he is, but my mum is only four feet eight inches tall. And they do seem to share the same primitive defense of selfishness, holding whatever they have so close, and giving little away.

On Christmas Eve 1961 we moved into our first new home at 5 Sheldon Drive, Clayton Bridge, and I turned ten two days later. The move into this new home saw a dramatic change in our standard of living. Dad had bought a new car only six months before, and so we had gone from a house that was demolished later as part of a slum clearance project, to everything brand new, new car new house, and new furniture.

But the new home did not bring much of a change in the emotional climate inside those walls, my mother was still passive aggressive and emotionally withdrawn, my father was still over reactive and took out his frustration with angry outbursts against me and my younger brother, who as he got older began to share this burden with me.

Childhood pain:

It is not the physical pain that I suffered as a child that has always troubled me, although these days some of my fathers so called discipline would land him in trouble with the department of community services. It is the emotional abuse that transpires when an adult takes out their own frustrations on a child, particularly when that adult uses all the emotional force they would use, when defending themselves against another adult.

When their frustration with their own life, is consistently and continuously projected onto the immature ego defenses of a child, and when that child is your own flesh and blood, that is what I find hard to bare. And then on top of that, there was my mother’s emotional distance, she seemed so lost in a world of her own back then, indifferent to me, even resentful to me. Loss is the sadness within me that still lingers from those early years.

I felt unwanted, just as my mother had, I was something that happened to my parents, not something they had desired. At various times in my life, when our relationship was under strain, they seemed to talk at me, or talk about me as if I were someone else’s child. These feelings of loss and the lingering sadness, is about that lost connection, an engagement in each others lives that we never really had.

Feelings of Weakness:

At the age of eleven, I took the eleventh plus examination. This was designed to stream children into two different levels of high school education; grammar school, for those entering into a professional career and secondary school, for those destined to fill the ranks of laborers and the various trades. Unfortunately, with such an anxious disposition I did not do well in the three-day examination. From this experience and with my family concern for knowing one’s place in life, I retained an attitude that higher learning was not something I should aspire to. And it further entrenched my self image as a weak person.

Health issues:

When I was Twelve years old, serious illness entered my life again, I had smoked two cigarettes, trying to be cool with my peers, and this resulted in me becoming ill with yellow jaundice. The resultant weakness in my physical condition brought on a fairly serious problem with asthma again, and this period saw me miss the first four months of high school. I remember the weeks and weeks, which I sat upright in bed, breathing very shallow, trying to prevent that awful coughing and the mucus on my chest. My experience with asthma seems to have helped me to experience a rather anxious adolescence, a way to be friends with others by nurturing their feelings of strength, compared to my weakness.

However after that period of illness, I did enjoy the next three years, I remember striving to overcome my feelings of inferiority with a sense of industry towards schoolwork. I rose to the top of the class by the end of year three, and had developed one or two close friendships. Unfortunately, that strengthening developmental period, was disrupted when we moved to another part of the country.
In 1965 my father took a sales job that saw us move to the south of England. First to a small country town called Wallingford on the river themes, where we lived for about six months. Then we moved to the south coast town of Eastbourne, where we lived until we came to Australia, in February 1970.

The move south at the beginning of my fourth year in high school, was a difficult experience for me. I went from feeling the kudos of being top of the class, in my all boy’s school in Manchester, to floundering in a much newer and comprehensive school for boys and girls. And then in the middle of that last school year, I found myself in a similar school in Eastbourne. All the improvement in self esteem that I had worked hard for after the failure of my eleventh plus exams disappeared that year, and I felt like a person of limited abilities again. I felt angry that my parents had shown their usual lack of concern for me, by uprooting me from Manchester just as I was starting to feel more comfortable, confident and competent within myself.

However the move south did change the usual family dynamic for a while. For the whole period of time in Wallingford, and for a few months in Eastbourne, my mother was more like a traditional housewife and mother. She stayed home and cooked and baked, and I found out that she was a better cook than my grandmother. Indeed the time we spent in Wallingford, was the closest my mother and I have been.

During the school holidays that year, the three of us, my brother, my mother and I actually went bike riding together. We set of down the country lanes and had actually a good time together. But unfortunately mum had fall that day, and I can’t recall us doing an activity together again. I feel that the isolation from family and friends back in Manchester, did force us closer together as a family, having no family and friends around us, we only had each other to rely on, and we were being kinder to each other. So that last year of high school was regressive for me, I felt incompetent at school work and lonely and isolated in this new place where I made no new friends.

My Youth:

In July 1967, my father took me down to the employment exchange for in interview about work, I was fifteen. I remember a rather strict looking man, who said “there’s not much available son, but what about an apprentice motor mechanic, would you fancy that?” Being such a compliant little boy, of course I said yes.
So I went to work in a mechanical service and repair garage attached to a jaguar dealership. I worked at the garage for nine months, until I was forced to change careers due to another skin compliant. I developed severe dermatitis, due to the constant exposure to oil and grease every day, and this felt like another reminder of my physical weakness.

But those nine months had been a reasonably good period for me; I had established my first friendship since leaving Manchester, with a boy I met at technical collage.
So at this point I had to leave my chosen trade for the sake of my health, and I was lucky that my boss had a friend who owned an electrical contracting business, and he arranged for me to become an apprentice electrician.

Feelings of Avoidance and Distance:

Staring this new trade was challenging for me because it meant working with other apprentices as well, this was a much bigger company than the car company I had worked for. At this point in my life I was uncomfortable around people of my own age, and I felt the boys in this field to be brighter and much more competitive than the group of boys I had been going to collage with as an apprentice motor mechanic. My usual pattern of evoking sympathy in others, in order to draw close without fear of the expected attack, did not work well in a competitive peer group environment, it must have seemed rather pathetic to others. You see I had never been allowed to challenge my father or my uncles.

The Bates side of the family has always reacted forcefully to any criticism. They are particularly sensitive to jibes about their intelligence, and react with the old family put down game of sarcastic ridiculing of the other person. In my sympathetic approach to my family of origin, I had learned to use self depreciating humor to join in. This is one of the ways I behaved with my peers, and often this was annoying to people I was trying to get close to. I was falsely placing my self on a lower level than my friends, and that is not friendship.

Starting a new apprenticeship at this point also meant that I had to go to technical collage towards the end of the first year of study. Being the new kid in class, I was very self conscious and anxious about my ability to cope, and subsequently I skipped those day classes for the rest of the year. This reduced my anxiety about how to be with my peers, but increased my anxiety about feeling inadequate, I was aware that my distancing behavior was wrong, I was denying my own relational needs, out of a fear that was irrational, I felt weak and I was anxious about that.

Withdrawal from engagement with life and resort to fantasy:

I spent those days when I should have been at collage, walking the streets to pass the time away, it felt like those nights I’d walked the streets when I had run away from home, I was safer there, there was less fear of assault, but I was running away again. I would lose myself in fantasy about relationships with others, conversations and activities that went on in my head rather than the reality of a face to face encounter. I had a growing need for a relationship with a girl, but my usual feelings around girls were similar to the gulf between me and my mother, I had no idea what to do or say, how to be close to a woman.

And when I did think about my situation, I used distance again by intellectualizing the reasons for my insecurity, rather than face the pain I felt. But this was a distance that removed me from myself, it was me and my fear that I was running away from, not the other apprentices at collage. That year passed, and I did resolve to engage more with my peers, I even joined a youth club, made some new friends and even started speaking to girls.

I had gotten away with skipping technical collage for those last few weeks of the previous school year, and I resolved to start a fresh and stick with my new collage studies and my new class mates. I even became friendly with a group of boys from collage, actually becoming a best friend to Gordon Whitehead, the coolest dude in the pack. Things were looking up again just like the period in high school when I’d worked my way up to the top of the class. I was growing here, trying to develop my adult self.

Then in 1968, twelve months before we actually left the country, my parents announced that we were going to migrate to Australia. For months I told my parents I did not want to go, I preferred to go back to Manchester and live with my grandmother. I tried to differentiate from my parent’s then. My father was also reluctant to leave England at this time; he had been offered a big promotion, back in the north of the country. He loved his work and the company he worked for, but my mother must have felt threatened by this, I remember them having many fights during this time, with my father often trying to enlist my support against my mother.

Perhaps my mother felt she was losing him back then, he was growing in confidence, and moving towards other people, while she was feeling stuck in some meaningless retail job. Eventually after my father had caved in to her wishes, he and I had a blazing row about me staying behind, and when I tried to compromise and said I could follow them out to Australia later, he told me they would disown me if I did not come with them. The next day I caved in to their wish even though I could have realized an earlier dream of not seeing them again if I had stuck to my guns.

Just before we came to Australia I remember an incident that has repeatedly entered my thoughts over the years. Instead of defying my father and going out for the night, I was more fearful of his rage than the embarrassment I felt at telling my friend Gordon Whitehead. I could not go out and meet the girls he had arranged for us to be with that night, because my mother had forbidden it. “Just jump on the bike and lets go he said” I chickened out, my friendship with Gordon ended that night and we left for Australia shortly afterwards.

In terms of differentiation, this was probably the biggest mistake of my life, if I had been strong enough to withstand the pressure to conform, the pressure to feel the same as my parents did, I might have avoided much anguish later in my life, anguish that came from confusion about the difference between doing the right by myself and doing the right thing by others. Thus there was another short period of my life, when I was starting to find success at work and in forming friendships with both sexes that was curtailed by another geographical move. A geographical move engineered by my mother, and inspired by her feelings about distance, avoidance and isolation.

Australia was a culture shock for me, eighteen year old's here, were different from back home, it was all about the beach, and I could not swim very well, and I was self conscious about my skinny weak body. So a pattern of isolation began to manifest again when I avoided any new peer groups and became lonely and homesick for the United Kingdom. Indeed another pattern of running away developed when I skipped technical collage classes again, telling myself I needed to look for another job so I could get myself back to the UK.

In fact I skipped so many days at collage, that I had a problem now of defrauding the company of pay. This then became such an issue to me that I did run away completely, and took myself of to Melbourne, because I couldn’t tell anyone about it. I really was regressed then, I was nineteen years old and I’d been feeling almost as timid and frightened and confused, as I had when I’d run away at the ages of eight and nine. Mind you, it did bring things to a head and led to a resolution of that problem.

After two years of no social life with people of my own age, and two years of further developmental delay. I finally moved away from my parent’s home, and tried to grow again, in terms of my relational needs. But now I had real issues in relating to my peers. Since leaving Manchester at the age of fourteen, I had spent far more time with my parents than with my peers. I still had that general feeling of anxiety, those fears of assault when in crowds, and particularly with males of my own age, I expect others to attack me, the way my father did. Although I did not know it then, I had become strongly identified with my father, because of my isolation from a peer group; he was my dominant male role model.

And I related to others like he did, I approached people like a parent, wanting to be an advisor rather than a friend. And with women I was worse; I really did come across like some “I know what’s good for you” superior twit. And of coarse this did not endear me to people, so I was concerned that I would not find a mate.

The re-enactment of my family pattern:

Then in August 1972 I met a nice redheaded girl named Sharon Pascoe, and the attraction was instinctual, both my grandmother and my father are redheads, both had a very powerful presence in my childhood, and I’ve always had a thing for red haired women. Sharon’s way of being close, her way of dealing with others was so familiar to me. She was a like my dad, she had real feelings, and she showed them to me, but she could not talk about them, she could not reflect on them. She had the same family rule, “don’t talk about emotional stuff, you might upset someone.”
She was also the oldest child of an oldest child, were one parent seemed to dominate the household, and the family of the other parent was emotionally unknown to the children.

I recognize this in my own family, possibly going back generations, and no doubt caused by emotional cut-off, the logical result of that golden rule, “don’t talk about emotional stuff, you might upset someone”. She was just like me, when it comes to the “should and should nots” about life, the family rules, the model to live by that we take with us. I feel that I was over influenced by my same sex parent’s, my father and his family.

And yet when people talk about me in relation to my family, they say “your so much like your mother”, same dark hair, same sensitive nature, “your to sensitive for your own good David”. But I do have darker hair, I do favor the Lee side of the family tree, and I do have a curious mind that wants to more than just make funny sarcastic comments about everyone else, Dad!. My father did not seem to understand that differences can be embraced, can be celebrated, and can be learned from. He often said “if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you”. What he meant was, why can’t I treat you, just like my father treated me, and why can’t you respond just like I did, when I was a boy. Because I’m not you Dad!

When we first got together, Sharon seemed very comfortable with my parent style of closeness, and I loved her cheeky little girl way of relating to me. For five years we had an on again, off again courtship, which is a good indicator of the level of un-differentiation that we shared? We both operated from a feelings base, not an objective thoughtful base, but at that time I did not understand this because I thought I was intelligent. And what I was wanted to do, was repeat the same household dynamics I had grown up with, but with my own added improvements.
But Sharon does not favor her mother’s side of the family, like me her dominant natural traits come from her opposite sex parent, and that parent’s side of her family tree.

She was overprotected and both her parent’s fears about competency were projected onto her, which left her with fears of being infantile, fears that I suspected I shared. Sharon comes from a working class inner city family. Her mother Judith Underwood is the oldest of nine children, which included twins who died of infectious illness, before twelve months. Judy is similar to my father; she is also a parentified child for the same reasons my father was, and is stuck in her parent ego state with little movement between the three ego states of child, adult and parent.

Sharon’s maternal grandmother, the one she knows, was a very similar woman to my paternal grandmother. A strong capable matriarch, who became the center of a large and very close, extended family. Her maternal grandfather was very similar to my paternal grandfather, and he was also perceived as emotionally weak, but physically aggressive. Sharon’s father was the youngest of three children, whose father died when he was a small child, and he was raised by his very thrifty mother and a cruel step father.

His childhood experiences were underscored by the great depression, his face to face encounters with poverty, starvation, homelessness and death marked him for life. He was content for nothing more than the walls of his home and the walls of the factory he worked in, seven days a week for decades. Perhaps he was content, perhaps he was fearful of the world outside those walls, were he had seen and experienced so much loss. His attitude to life was all about protection and constraint, rather than growth and development, and I recognize those two dilemmas in my own life.

On his side of the family there was that familiar emotional distance, between the siblings and the mother, that there is on my mother’s side of our family. Jack Pascoe, my father in law, was the most passive and compliant man I have ever met, with very little formal education, he was self conscious about his level of competence, which is something he passed on to his daughter. His passivity and compliance fitted perfectly, with his wife’s overprotective parent style of closeness, some how though it seemed to fit.

Perhaps jack was another child who felt unwanted and found his perfect parent in his spouse, just as my mother had. Perhaps that’s one way of looking at it. All my wife’s maternal uncles are passive and compliant, while all her aunt’s seem to be the dominant parent in the home. This particular model of over functioning and under functioning relationships is the model of married life that Sharon brought with her into our marriage.

Me and that Woman:

On the 25th November 1977 I David Bates married Sharon Ann Pascoe, I was twenty five and Sharon was twenty one, we knuckled down to work for our future. And of course our respective families future, for we were the new generation, we were both the oldest grandchildren in our families of origin. We were not a well suited couple; we tolerated our differences while denying they were an issue between us.

We fought with each other in trying to communicate those differences between us, the song “Love is a Battlefield” was our anthem. We both denied our own secret fears that no one else would have us. Perhaps if we could have embraced those fears, and acknowledged our dependency on each other, the marriage may have lasted.

We worked hard, bought our first home and I tried to become a good provider, I established an electrical contracting business, but with the ever fluctuating fortunes of the building industry, there was always going to be stormy weather. In January 1980, we had been married for just over two years when I had an emotional breakdown, and was diagnosed a schizophrenic. The emotional rollercoaster ride of the next twenty years could easily be a novel, but not here.

It began one Sunday morning, Sharon had packed her bags and left, “I’ve had enough of this shit” she said. Two weeks later I found myself waking up, from three days of chemically induced sleep, bewildered by what had happened to me, and trapped in the hands of the insightful, caring and compassionate mental health profession, oh! Shit. That Sunday morning I had reached the point in my life, were my families golden rule had landed me in trouble, I felt detached from other people and I was not allowed to talk about it.

Sharon had not really left because we were having a crisis. She had left me because we had different ways of doing things, different expectations, and we just could not talk about that. It had been my dilemma for years; I remember in my early twenties I had tried to talk about our family experience with mum and dad.
But back then, they had reacted defensively, they got anxious, and when I persisted they accused me of blaming them and they withdrew emotionally. That had been at the time when I first met Sharon and I had felt safe enough to challenge my parents about our family and its emotionality.

Mental illness:

So does my attempt to explain MENTAL ILLNESS in emotional terms, sound like I put the blame for my breakdown fairly and squarely on Sharon’s shoulders. When I start with “she walked out on me” it does sound like I blame her, and so the conversation stops and the golden rule keeps me trapped.

But how do I begin to unravel the complicated web of feelings, thoughts and emotions that make up a life, were do I begin. And when others are inextricably wrapped up in your life, how do you unravel the tangled emotional web of actions and reactions, both conscious and unconscious, without it sounding like your blaming each other, at least at the beginning of the explanation.

I admit it now of course, but I not understand it back then, I could not admit to myself that I was heavily dependent on my wife’s presence in my life, I really needed her to be there, so I could to feel secure within myself. At that time I must have felt that she was the only person I was attached to, the only person I felt safe enough with to expose my feelings of weakness to. The only person I could allow myself to feel vulnerable with.

Back then though, I consciously denied the depth of my need of her, I was busy pretending to be her parent, I was the mature one, I could cope, and I really had no idea about my own emotions. Every relationship I’ve had, has felt like a repeat of the distance I feel from my mother, the gulf that divides the primary relationship of my life, is repeated over and over in all my other relationships, except the one with my women. With my partners, who have all had similar family dynamics to me, I attempt to heal that primal wound, but back then of course, I did not realize that I was doing that. My denial of the depth of my need for Sharon was so strong, and my sense of self so false, that when she did walk out, I was lost.

Over the previous years of my life, I had built up a false sense of myself, one that is at odds with my natural makeup. It was, and largely still is, a self that is based on how I get my dependency needs met. The way I try to be close to others, so that they will be close to me, and make me feel safe in the world. What I learnt to do as child was to look for the sympathetic response. I had asthma as a baby until I was two years old, and then eczema until I was about six.

Some people believe that asthma in babies starts as the baby’s response to the mother’s anxiety about her competence with her child. In those early years of illness what responses had I observed in my parents. At the time of my birth, and for most of my childhood I felt frustration and tension within my parents. Perhaps as a child I sensed that the best way to calm this air of tension was for me to be ill.

It attracted a sympathetic response from them, a response that over road their feelings of frustration and anger, and my father certainly had problems controlling his anger. I’d had to be careful how I approached my dad, and being ill was the only guarantee that he would not explode. When I was ill, I was looked after and felt safe, and feeling safe was one of my primary needs. The price I paid for seeking safety was developing a self image of weakness, and I constantly deny my own natural strengths, in order to maintain this facade of being weak. For most of my life I have had fears of being a fraud, of being a pretender.

Did I pretend to be ill; in order to get my needs met in my early environment? Was I untrue to my own instinctual nature, by pretending to be weak? Was I being false to myself? Did I trade of my innate sense self? Bowen (1985) describes “levels of solid self and pseudo-self in a person”, as part of the struggle to differentiate.

I feel that I have been wrapped up in my pseudo self for so long, that I’ve lost touch with my solid self. These days I seem to carry a lot of tension in my body, and I wonder what it is about. At times I feel like my head is divorced from my body, especially when I attempt intellectualized explanations for my feelings. Perhaps that older congruent defense of retreating into my head to escape the rage and tension in my family home has led me into an in-congruent relationship with my own house. My body! I do think I deceived myself, I deceived myself so well that most of my solid self, most of my instinctual natural genetic traits, have remained, unexpressed.

Thus there was this gap inside me, a gap between the false pretend me, the pseudo me, and that more solid me that I yearned to express. And when Sharon left me that Sunday morning, I fell into that gap. In object relations theory, mania is a primitive defense against object loss. Perhaps I’d lost my object, my object of affection, my love, my anchor, my ground stone, and my flight into madness was the expression of my terror at that sense of loss. Or was I simply trying to express myself in another way? Was I simply trying to express more of myself?

When Sharon left, I felt an opportunity to stop pretending and be real. And in that first week I felt more like me than I had ever have done in my life. For the first time I felt really alive, every thing was new, I could hear, see, taste, touch and smell, so much better. I was not confused by the pretense in me then, I had dropped it, like taking of a heavy overcoat and letting it fall to the floor, I had dropped my pretend self, and was trying to discover who I was. It was wonderful, I did not feel withdrawn from life then, I was not in the hiding position. I was not disconnected from my own experience of myself and my place in the surrounding environment.

I remember the sounds of the birds, the feel of the grass and the colors. And Sharon did come home on the Monday night, and in that first week of so called mania, she had her first orgasm since we’d been together. All this was so wonderful, I felt relaxed with myself and energized at the same time. But perhaps underneath that, there was an old fear, the fear it would be taken away from me. Weather that fear relates to my father’s anger, or to my experience with the forceps at birth, or my feelings of being a fraud, I can’t say.

But fear has always been present in my life, a feeling that I carry with me everyday. A fear that something is wrong, a fear that makes me hesitate and stops me from embracing my own life. That fear kept me awake at night. I did not want to let go of feeling this good. What if I’ve lost it in the morning? I felt so engaged with life now, and I did not want to go back to the disengaged pretense that I’d known before.

So! Was I caught up in the real double bind of my life, the fear of living and the fear of death? How much can I embrace my life? As a child life seemed dangerous, those forceps, all that tension, frustration and anger. And death! Well, being a pretend sick weakling, how far away from not being alive, had I been anyway? I was caught between the fear and the desire, just as I’ve always been. And with ten or so, mostly sleepless nights in a row, I started to become delusional.

Two weeks into this manic period, a family drama took place in my living room. My Grandparents were in Australia at that time and they came with my parents to see me. They had heard that I was behaving strangely, and I was, I was over emotional, I wanted to embrace everyone, and that was not like me. As I behaved in this over expressive way towards my parents, they backed away from me, they were frightened of me. But my Grandmother was sitting down in an arm chair. I collapsed in her arms and hugged her so tight, I swear her heart stopped for a couple of beats, and I mumbled some words about love, about her being my real mother.

My mother reacted with anger; she demanded that they leave, her my father and my grandparents. I tried to talk to her about my feelings, but she was adamant. As they were leaving she said “I’ll see you in hell before I forgive you”.
Was this the generational pain acted out that day in my living room?

All the pain of rejection and the loss of attachment were played out between two unwanted children. All the hurt she feels at being abandoned, rejected and unwanted, being fostered out to her grandmother. The loss of her parents Alfred and Monica and then her grandmother and grandfather, and the loss of her entire family background.

It’s a lot of pain mum! And some how she had always shared it with me, she had made me feel that loss through the distance between us, through the hurtful things she could say to me. Words that carried such venom, that I felt stabbed by a knife. And of coarse she did not do that deliberately, how could she know how to be attached to her own child, when she had not known it from her own mother.

Then there was last Friday, with that person in group therapy who most reminds me of her. Another red headed Celt like my father had said “look at her now, tell her how you feel” “tell your mother how you really feel” “what did you want from her”. So I looked at her and tried to find the feelings that have been buried for fifty four years. I said “why didn’t you love me” “why did you let me go” “why did you give me up!” “I want you to hold me, and never let me go!”

All that pain! Perhaps it had eased the burden for her, made it easier to carry the pain. Perhaps it was my duty as her son, as a Lee, to help her to carry it, to some how take in those feelings of shame. The Lee family shame that had been projected onto her, as an unwanted child.

The Label:

Living with the label “mentally ill” is a difficult road to hoe. Over the next eighteen years I struggled trough the trial and errors of different medications. I was hospitalized about a half dozen times, and had mini mania periods that I did my best to cope with, while still working.

But for eighteen years it did allow me to repeat the under functioning and over functioning pattern of relating to one’s family, that I knew so well. It allowed me to continue to be the Identified Patient in my own family and in many ways it allowed Sharon and I to avoid the differences between us. We went on to produce four beautiful boys, who are now in their youth, and are trying to find their own way of dealing with the effort to differentiate from our enmeshed family, as they grow into adulthood.

In 1998 I cut-off from my parents and my brother, I moved out of the family home, and lived with my oldest son for a while, in fact I’ve lived with him on and off since that time. I have had three de-facto relationships since then, and started three counseling courses and read dozens of self help books. I have joined several social groups and learned to dance well. But I still keep my distance from people, I still exhibit counter dependent behavior, I deny my need for people by keeping my distance and doing everything on my own, I find it painful to ask for help.

It’s a defensive emotional reaction to my experience of others. I keep my distance, and I blindly follow the golden rule “don’t talk about emotional things, you might upset someone” In the last eight years, since separating from my wife and cutting off from my parents, I have struggled to re-define myself, in terms of how I feel about myself.

And during this time I have oscillated between feeling weak and feeling strong. It is fair to say that I have had less trouble with so called mental illness, than in the previous years, even though I have managed it without drugs. Although that could be a simple combination of my long experience with the warning signs, and my aging body. I still feel the tension inside me, the double bind, between letting my emotions, my natural energies flow, and constraining myself, for fear of! I don’t know what.

And today as I write this assignment, I’m at the beginning of another relationship, another attempt to heal that primal wound. Another attempt to get close to someone, another attempt at healthy attachment. Of course I will try not to repeat the familiar enmeshed patterns that have brought me this far. I will try not to attack her, not to rebel against her, or to comply too much with her.

Although that has been my way of getting close in the past. To comply with her wishes, to be what she needs me to be, until I’ve given up so much self respect that I cut-off. I withdraw emotionally and punish her for taking me for granted. Or so I perceive.

And of coarse we share those familiar family dynamics. Enmeshment, compliance, fear of differences, the emotional over reaction of withdrawal, or rebellion, and the old golden rule “don’t talk about emotional things, it creates anxiety” But she does have such a wonderfully different accent, and it could be different this time?

Back in February 2001, my father died, and I did grieve his passing, his loss, but it was not like the grief I feel now, for the loss of my mother all those years ago. Even though my relationship with him was a conflicted one, there was some engagement with him, there was some attachment, and I did feel his emotional attachment to me while he was alive. But for me and my mother there seems to be so little sense of attachment, perhaps we are too similar in our fear of attachment to others.

Perhaps we fear rejection so much that we dare not go there with each other. And all these years later, after so much of that emotional river has gone under the bridge, is it too late? Too late to talk about us? Too late for me to talk to my mummy? Too late for her to talk to her baby?

And who knows if a tangled web of choked emotions leads to mental illness. Did I prime myself for it all those years ago? When I decided to get my nurturing and security needs met through illness. Did I confuse sympathy, with love? Did my fear of rejection, my sense of detachment, lead me to rely too much on fantasy? The way I’d sustained my self during long periods of loneliness, because I did not know how to express the full range of my emotions. As I grew older and did not meet my own body’s desire for growth and for integration, that internal desire, produced its own rebellion.

I do believe I was unbalanced emotionally. That my problem was not just a chemical imbalance as that first psychiatrist asked me to believe. My unbalanced emotional life has always expressed itself most profoundly in my compliance. When the authority figures in my life have told me to behave, I have always done my very best to comply. Such is my desperate need for approval and some sense of attachment, of belonging somewhere. And for twenty six years now I have done my best to accept and comply with the label mentally ill, I have tried to tell myself that I belong in the house of the mentally ill.

Freud hypotheses about a life force he called libido, an energy that fills the body with a desire for living, for the full experience of life. Jesus simply said “will you be whole”, and I ask myself what does that mean, “to be whole”. I think it means being true to your instinctual nature, living your life the way nature intended, being in touch with and expressing your emotions.

Using all your natural talents and learning to sing and dance like your ancestors, if that is what’s in your blood. Obviously I can’t say any these things with any real degree of certainty! In my own journey of differentiating I’m still confused about what a fact is and what a feeling is, when it comes to interpreting emotions, feelings and thoughts. But I do wish we could have broken the golden rule, and talked about emotional things.

Thursday 16th November 2006, I was standing in the kitchen trying to understand why I was feeling upset and thinking that there was emotional distance between me and my new partner. I had sent her a text message earlier that day and she had not replied, so I was feeling hurt. The hurt I felt was on an instinctual and emotional level, and my thoughts were driven by feelings. I tried to draw back from my feelings and reflect on what had happened, and why I was reacting this way.

What I managed to observe, was the un-differentiation within myself, “my triune brain” (Bowen, 1988, p33), the three layers of brain functioning that make up my experience. I was able to think objectively about my experience, using the intellectual layer of my brain to observe how my instinctual and emotional levels had generated feelings of discomfort.

A fear that had been compounded, by my intellectual layer accepting this instinct driven emotional reaction as a real event. This is perhaps the real meaning of differentiation, with further education and observation; it is possible to differentiate from one’s own instincts and emotions to improve one’s level of functioning.

Word count: 12,668


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