Many women and men enter a significant time of transition in their 20s and 30s. This is the phase of life where differentiation happens. Differentiation occurs when a person is able to view him or herself as an individual, distinct from their family of origin, and assert these differences. During their twenties and thirties, women typically leave home and transition out of the educational system. Suddenly they are on their own, removed from the shelter their parents or college once afforded them. This makes differentiation more important, but it is far from easy. It comes with pressure to chose a career and make a living, redefine relationships with parents and siblings, and commit to a primary romantic relationship. It is a time when women are supposed to solidify their individuality…That’s a pretty tall order, especially when society and family are inadvertently insisting that you conform to the status quo.
Contemplating a different life than what is considered “normal” can be very stressful. Every decision can feel like it is a HUGE mistake with dire consequences. What are the next steps I should take with my career and degree? There are things I like about my relationship but there are things that bother me. Is this the right relationship for me? How will my history affect my ability to be happy in a relationship and to have the family I have always desired? Where do I want to settle down? Is Los Angeles the right place for me?
This phase forces us to engage in the process of differentiation like no other period of our life. During differentiation, a person separates out their expectations of themselves from the expectations placed upon them by family members. This process can be very difficult as people around us do not always like this change and may judge our decisions or be less supportive than we had hoped.
When we push ourselves to differentiate we are creating our own individuality. Being in therapy for transitional women and men is very powerful. Therapy can give a person the guidance and support they need to break free of the expectations placed upon on them, to develop a strong sense of self, and to take the pressure off of what you “should” be and make room for who you truly are.