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Levels of Differentiation

On the lower end of this scale developed by Murray Bowen, the founder of modern family system theory, are those with little sense of their unique God-given life. They need continual affirmation and validation from others because they don't have a clear sense of who they are. They depend on what other people think and feel in order to have a sense of their own worth and identity. Or out of fear of getting too close to someone and thus swallowed up, they may avoid closeness to others completely. Under stress they have little ability to distinguish between their feelings and their thought (intellectual) process.







  • Can't distinguish between fact and feeling

  • Emotionally needy and highly reactive to others

  • Much of life energy spent in winning the approval of others

  • Little energy for goal-directed activities

  • Can't say, "I think ... I believe ..."

  • Little emotional separation from their families

  • Dependent marital relationships

  • Do very poorly in transitions, crises, and life adjustments

  • Unable to see where they end and others begin


  • Some ability to distinguish between fact and feeling

  • Most of self is a "false self" and reflected from others

  • When anxiety is low, they function relatively well

  • Quick to imitate others and change themselves to gain acceptance from others

  • Often talk one set of principles/beliefs, yet do another 

  • Self-esteem soars with compliments or is crushed by criticism

  • Become anxious (i.e., highly reactive and "freaking out") when a relationship system falls apart or becomes unbalanced

  • Often make poor decisions due to their inability to think clearly under stress

  • Seek power, honor, knowledge, and love from others to clothe their false selves


  • Aware of the thinking and feeling functions that work as a team

  • Reasonable level of "true self"

  • Can follow life goals that are determined from within

  • Can state beliefs calmly without putting others down

  • Marriage is a functioning partnership where intimacy can be enjoyed without losing the self

  • Can allow children to progress through developmental phases into adult autonomy

  • Function well - alone or with others

  • Able to cope with crises without falling apart

  • Stay in relational connection with others without insisting they see the world the same



  • Are principle oriented and goal directed - secure in who they are, unaffected by criticism or praise

  • Are able to leave family of origin and become an inner-directed, separate adult

  • Sure of their beliefs but not dogmatic or closed in their thinking

  • Can hear and evaluate beliefs of others, discarding old beliefs in favor of new ones

  • Can listen without reacting and communicate without antagonizing others

  • Can respect others without having to change them

  • Aware of dependence on others and responsibility for others

  • Free to enjoy life and play

  • Able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of stress and pressure

  • Able to take responsibility for their own destiny and life

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