individual tulip in a field

Tools for Individuation

This section involves the tools for developing individuation, meaning that this will help you separate your implicit and explicit sense of self from automatically internalized others during development or your current power dynamic. This needs to be done during the activation of implicit memory otherwise reconsolidation does not take place.

The automatic tendency to internalize others boils down to past or present needs that are perceived as in jeopardy relating to social bonding, attaining life sustaining or life promoting resources, and the avoidance of physical harm or social harm (e.g. a damaged reputation or ostracization). In other words, feeling liked, being safe, and getting needs met for the implicit or explicit drive for sustaining or advancing one’s values and goals in life.

Where the common challenges are stems from: 1) the subconscious template you have from early development or past experiences that causes you to automatically see yourself and the world through this past template leading you to feel, for example, like a helpless child, hated by everyone, powerless, etc.; and, 2) a lack of skills, strategies, competencies or the ability to perceive your situation more adaptively to deal with challenges in life that would otherwise result in continued perceived powerlessness, and thus, subsequent automatic internalization of others’ perceptions of you.

At a broader level, cultivating embodied awareness of your own perception and emotional experience fosters an internal locus evaluation, which is a buffer from outside psychosocial influence, and paradoxically, can help you feel more comfortable connecting with others since there is a balance or synergy between individuation and connection.

However, to get practice utilizing the tools for individuation you will need to be familiar with when applying these during the process of reconsolidation, I recommend practicing each exercise so that you gain procedural familiarity with the respective tools. Again, the real change comes when the implicit memories are activated during the exploration stage because reconsolidation can only happen when the implicit memory is activated. However, practicing the individuation tools can help gain familiarity with these so you can be able to use these during the process of reconsolidation.

Let’s look at the reasons why we internalize or take on the perceptions of others. Acculturation is one, implicit fear of our safety, and the tendency to bond with our caregivers are additional factors. If the power dynamic is too great and maladaptive we can internalize others to an extent that our sense of self at an implicit level becomes undifferentiated from others.

A keyword and concept here is an “implicit sense of self”. It may not be a conscious feeling of yourself. What we are aiming for here is fostering the unconscious perception of yourself. This is not to say that we are a discrete entity apart from our environment. It means that we are multi-dimensional human beings with dimensions of individual and group identity. Both are important and necessary to exist for thriving. We internalize the values and beliefs about self, others, and the world during development. This is a natural process to help us survive in the world – it is automatic.

We tend to internalize the values and beliefs from our immediate power dynamic because fitting in is a matter of survival since bonding with the figures in this dynamic are needed to attain care (food, protection, shelter, and affect regulation). The challenge is that this imprinting during a neurobiologically sensitive period of brain development creates a sturdy template of beliefs, values, and relational styles that are difficult to change.

From an evolutionary perspective it may have been adaptive for our ancestors who would typically rely on and spend their entire lives within the same social group, however, for modern day humans who have the options and resources to attain these survival needs from other sources, it may not be so adaptive given that we are generally not as reliant on this same social group and power dynamic our entire lives.

The problem is that this template encodes in memory systems that are especially associated with the body, movement, emotions, and senses – the experiential memory systems, we could call them. These are harder to access and impact from a conscious approach because most of our lives are spent interacting with others using language. While language is a crucial social individuation tool that symbolizes experience, it is still removed from the actual experiential memory systems in so far that it does not rewire them.

You must engage the body, movement, emotions, and senses in a situational context in order to affect these respective memory systems. For example, if you want to learn to drive, you need to actually engage in the experience of driving involving the body, senses, movement and so forth in order to form the automatic way of being you are aiming for. This is the same for any new way of being in life, though there are added dimensions of relationality, emotions, and an appropriate learning process conducive to therapeutic change that is needed which is not often part of real-time lived experiences. These added dimensions foster more optimal development than real-time constraints allow just as many other training environments that increase make the process more conducive to effective learning.

The degree to which you internalize others is what you are aiming to foster change in. When trying to establish greater individuation, there will likely be automatic counter thoughts, feelings, and impressions that come up such as being afraid of being disliked or hated, feeling lonely, being ostracized, harmed, or maintaining our needs being in jeopardy. When this happens it can be helpful to do the following exercise that helps to implicitly clarify and internalize what our current options, capabilities, supports, and resources are to reconsolidate the implicit internal model creating the maladaptive perception from past experience. These may be worries about what would happen if you do have a stronger sense of self. Some thoughts might be “would others not like me” or “would they be angry at me”? When this happens, shift into the following individuation tools.

Here are the tools for fostering greater Individuation when you are using the template provided in the chapter, “Worksheet for Changing Limiting Beliefs”.

Individuation Tools

Benefits of Individuation

Becoming aware of the benefits of your new way of being can help to prime the reward circuitry in our brain and create motivation. We may not have been approved of for having self-agency or being assertive, so we may not implicitly associate benefits to this way of being.

Also, our focus of attention during a reactive mode is to avoid loss, so when our mindset changes to also include motivation for attaining that which adds and not only maintains, this can provide the necessary motivational drive and organization of inner resources to drive toward individuation.

TOOL: Benefits of Individuation

Become aware of what the benefits might be in the present of having a stronger sense of self, and being more comfortable being assertive in a socially acceptable and ethical manner.

Empty Chair/Two-Chair

This exercise can help you with experiencing yourself apart from enmeshment with others in order to increase healthy differentiation of self (i.e., individuation). This is not to say that the goal is to become a discrete entity from others or our environment. We are indeed interdependent, but we also have individuality as well as group cohesion. A group cannot exist without individual components because otherwise it would not be a group, but an undifferentiated mass.

The objective is to gain a degree of individuation. In other words, the point of this exercise and section of the chapter is to help counteract the lack of differentiation within the “mass” if you are enmeshed, so that you can be a healthy individual that is also part of the whole. Increasing individuation paradoxically helps to make it easier and more satisfying to connect with others because we are not solely dependent on others and therefore can both need them and have autonomy – in other words: having a balance.

INDIVIDUATION TOOL: Empty Chair/Two-Chair

  1. Find a private space where you can move around a bit so you can switch chairs or places where you stand. Become aware of your body, your sensations, and your approach and withdrawal impulses by starting to move your body and assessing if it’s a positive or negative value you are experiencing and modify the movement and the expression in an attempt to find what resonates. This is an ever evolving process and a continual process of exploration and adjustment and modification moment to moment – in other words, self-attunement.
  2. Become aware of your feelings, and any impressions, images or automatic thoughts you are experiencing. Bring to mind what your values, long-term goals, and immediate objectives are apart from the other person. Focus on the embodied feeling and experience of this. Stay with this experience and linger on it for 10 seconds.
  3. Now, as you are still aware of your experience, notice the felt sense of this in your body and stay with this while you become aware of the other person, their body, the physical separateness between your bodies, what their sensations might be, what their approach and withdrawal impulses and what their values, goals, and objectives are.
  4. Now gently and gradually solely turn your attention back to your awareness of your body, your sensations, your approach and withdrawal impulses, feelings, impressions, images, automatic thoughts, core values, long-term goals, and immediate objectives apart from the other person. Focus on the embodied feeling and experience of this. Stay with this experience and linger on it for 10 seconds.
  5. Bring to mind what your values, long-term goals, and immediate objectives are apart from the other person. Focus on the embodied feeling and experience of this. Stay with this experience and linger on it for 10 seconds. Now, as you are still aware of your experience, notice the felt sense of this in your body and stay with this while you become aware of the other person, their body, the physical separateness between your bodies, what their sensations might be, what their approach and withdrawal impulses and what their values, goals, and objectives are.
  6. Now gently and gradually turn your attention back to your awareness of your body, your sensations, your approach and withdrawal impulses, feelings, impressions, images, automatic thoughts, core values, long-term goals, and immediate objectives apart from the other person. Focus on the embodied feeling and experience of this. Stay with this experience and linger on it for 10 seconds.
  7. For at least 10 seconds, allow your attention to gradually and gently oscillate back and forth at a slow, comfortable and relaxed pace between your experience in your body, the felt sense of the values and goals you have apart from theirs, and their sense of self and the physical separateness you have from them. Be aware of the felt sense of these as you do this.

View Face & Body in Mindseye

We often look out into the world without being aware of ourselves. I don’t mean being self-absorbed. I mean having embodied awareness while being aware of ourselves in the same manner we are aware of others in how they perceive us. To accomplish this, it can help to visualize our face and body in the same manner we usually perceive others so that we are not solely looking out and absorbing others’ responses without perceiving ourselves.

We often become so engrossed in the outside world that we may solely be aware of the responses of others which may contribute to automatic internalization of others’ perceptions. There is often no buffer between what our perceptions are of the outside world and that of our inside. We tend to internalize others by seeing through their eyes. You need to begin seeing through your own eyes and develop an internal locus of evaluation.

INDIVIDUATION TOOL: View Face & Body in Mindseye

  1. In your mindseye, become aware of the image of your face and expression in the ever-flowing present of real-time experience and stay with this for 10 seconds while being aware of your body and the felt sense of this experience.
  2. Savour this and be aware of the emotionally rewarding aspect of this experience for 10 seconds.
  3. Now become aware of your body position in your mindseye and where you are in the space in your environment in the ever-flowing and real-time present moment while also still seeing your face and expression at the same time. Stay with this for 10 seconds while being aware of your body and the felt sense of this experience.
  4. Savour this and be aware of the emotionally rewarding aspect of this experience for 10 seconds.
  5. See the emotion and feeling in your eyes, see the feeling and emotion in your body language, and be aware of the felt sense of what your intention and objectives are.
  6. Notice the deeper values, goals, and reasons you have that others may not see.

Compare Capabilities, Options, Resources, Supports

The degree to which we implicitly internalize others is often contributed by the degree of empowerment or powerlessness we implicitly believe that stems from earlier experiences where we perceive ourselves as powerless. Thus, when we become aware of what our present capabilities are in comparison with others in the present, this can help reduce the tendency to internalize others’ perceptions automatically.

INDIVIDUATION TOOL: Compare Capabilities, Options, Resources, Supports

  1. Notice any feelings or impressions of powerlessness that you feel. This could be feeling physically weaker, an image of yourself as a child compared to them, etc.
  2. If you are not aware of any that is fine – you can just solely become aware of the positive content. If you become aware of any feelings of powerlessness and the like, contemplate what your capabilities, options, resources, and supports actually are with the other.
  3. Or, if you cannot identify anything consciously, just be aware of the feeling tone in your body, any sensations, and be present in your body while you are aware of the context of the situation. This will activate implicit memories associated with the context.

Cared For

Perceiving being liked and loved is a key factor that determines the degree to which we automatically internalize others’ perceptions of us. The negativity bias also works against us here because those who do not like or love us become most salient in our attention. This is not to say that we need everyone to like us. This is meaning that we need to change the deep-seated lack of love or not being liked in our implicit memory.

Approval and being or feeling liked is a crucial aspect of individuation because our sense of self is significantly or entirely relational. We may be able to develop an intrapsychic self-relational style of attachment once we have the cognitive capacity. However, at early developmental stages our caregivers are perceived as part of ourselves and any response is therefore internalized.

INDIVIDUATION TOOL: Cared For

  1. Who would like or love you for the way that you want to be that is healthy and thriving for you? Or, who is it that you love that this way of being you are trying to attain is for? This could be from a person, animal, God, or even a fictional character (e.g., Santa Claus).
  2. As you do this, become aware of who would like or love you for the way that you want to be that is healthy and thriving for you and your loved ones? Or, who is it that you love that this way of being that you are trying to attain is for? This could be a person, animal, God, or even a fictional character (e.g., Santa Claus).
  3. For at least 10 seconds, allow your attention to gradually and gently oscillate back and forth at a slow, comfortable and relaxed pace between the feeling of the person disliking or disapproving of you and the feeling of who does love you that you value that this way of being is for and how this is healthy and thriving for you.
  4. If you cannot identify anything consciously, just be aware of the feeling tone in your body, any sensations, and be present in your body while you are aware of the context of the situation. This will activate implicit memories associated with the context.

Their Role in Your Life

When we are undifferentiated from others at an implicit level we unconsciously view others as having an important and central role in our lives – even when they actually don’t and it is maladaptive for us. This causes us to automatically rely on their approval. To resolve this issue during exploration and reconsolidation use the following exercise:

INDIVIDUATION TOOL: Their Role in Your Life

Become aware of what role they actually have in your life and what role you have (and want) in theirs.

Specify the Extent & Duration that You Need Them

Even though we may not be consciously aware of it, our beliefs and attitudes can be influenced when our needs are unconsciously perceived as being in jeopardy. This perception may not be what is actually happening in reality, and our automatic unconscious assessment of whether we have the options, resources, support, and ability to cope with it may be based on the implicit memory of the status of this at an earlier stage of development when we experienced formidable adversity.

Assessing what our needs actually are and the extent and duration you need to rely on them for, and your options and capabilities in the present can reduce the tendency to be undifferentiated and internalize others’ perceptions. Become aware of whether you need this person in your life, for what, and whether you admire their characteristics as a person.

Consider the various basic needs in your assessment of whether you need them. Note that this does not mean that the other person does not have basic human value. We are trying to establish whether there is an implicit maladaptive belief of needing to be dependent on them.

INDIVIDUATION TOOL: Extent & Duration of Need

  1. Become aware of anything automatically arising regarding feeling that you need them or their approval.
  2. Now, become aware of whether you actually need this person in your life, for what, and whether you admire their characteristics as a person. Consider the various basic needs in your assessment of whether you need them. Note that this does not mean that the other person does not have basic human value. We are trying to establish whether there is an implicit maladaptive belief of needing to be dependent on them.
  3. For at least 10 seconds, allow your attention to gradually and gently oscillate back and forth at a slow, comfortable and relaxed pace between the feeling of needing the person and the what you actually need this person for your health and thriving. Be aware of the feeling of this in your body as well.

Notice What You Are Doing Well

If we are always automatically noticing and aware of our flaws and mistakes, this can contribute to the tendency for us to internalize others’ perceptions and remain in an undifferentiated state because we feel disapproved of and start to crave connection. This causes us to look for approval from others for a sense of self-worth. Begin to notice what you are doing well according to what is healthy and adaptive for you and your values and loved ones in an ethical way.

This can be both a daily practice as well as a specific individuation tool to use. During reconsolidation, use this tool by becoming aware of what you believe you are doing well and whether you believe it is right or necessary to the best of your judgement, whether this is in line with your values and goals – in essence, your own approval of what you are doing.

INDIVIDUATION TOOL: Notice What You Are Doing Well

  1. Become aware of aspects that you are doing well according to your values, ideals and goals.
  2. Contemplate how you can encourage yourself using the adaptive relational skills toward yourself.