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What are Separation and Individuation Issues?

The term “individuation” refers to the process of developing a sense of individuality. This individuality manifests itself as personal perspectives, emotions, and beliefs, separate from those of friends or family. Individuation is an ongoing, and some would argue lifelong, process.

The inability to individuate impedes the development of one’s sense of self, which can cause significant distress. Issues with separation and individuation can manifest as difficulties pursuing goals that differ from their family and friends’ wishes, which can result in feelings of depression and anxiety. A lack of individuation can also lead to co-dependence, problematic romantic, familial, and professional relationships, difficulty with independent decision-making, and a sense of aimlessness in life.

What are the causes of Separation and Individuation Issues?

Issues with separation and individuation are generally caused by developmental factors, such as family dynamics, though untreated mental health concerns may also impair this process. Individuation begins in infants, who gradually begin spending increasing amounts of time away from their mother. This process accelerates during adolescence, when a child begins to explore their identity further as they gain more freedom to act autonomously. Impediments to this process, such as a family’s refusal to accept aspects their child’s burgeoning identity or attempts to hinder their independence, may negatively impact the process of individuation. When a parent or family impedes individuation, it is often self-serving where their child may be acting as their caregiver or providing some psychological support in an unhealthy dynamic.

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What is the prognosis for Separation and Individuation Issues?

Therapy is a useful tool for working through Individuation and Separation issues in that it allows for an open space to acknowledge aspects of the self that one is unable to express elsewhere. Therapy can help individuals suffering from Individuation and Separation issues practice setting boundaries, communicating assertively, and building confidence to express their genuine selves. Additionally, in therapy these individuals may explore the possible factors that contributed to their stunted individuation, as well as address possible underlying mental health concerns. Family therapy is also important, to address dynamics directly with family members that may be preventing a child from separating and individuating.

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