I have recently been a bit overwhelmed with various aspects of separation and thought I might write about it for this month’s blog. I am also inviting anyone with thoughts, experiences, and wisdom about this most difficult psychological task to write to me about what you have learned so that I may incorporate all comments into the next blog, which may be titled: “Separation Pondering, continued.”

Separation occurs in so many forms and stages of our development from the earliest 1.5-3.0 year old Separation/Individuation Phase to adolescent separation/individuation, leaving for college, and on and on. We have to deal with this stage of development – and the feelings evoked when we are experiencing it, which tend to be from hard to horrible or almost unbearable – over and over in our lives.

Throughout our lives, we separate from our parents, from our children, from our significant others, and from our identities (e.g., upon career changes or retirement if we are career-focused, or upon children leaving home for those whose work was centered at home during the child-rearing period). Also, if we are therapists, we separate from our clients repeatedly, sometimes when such termination is appropriate and positive, and sometimes when it is precipitous and ill-advised.

Irrespective of the type of separation, it is usually accompanied by strong feelings – at least it always has been for me. At times, the pain of separation may also be mixed with a sort of relief, depending upon the circumstances. That relief may be ego syntonic or not, and if not, it may evoke guilt and more sadness (as in the loss of an ill parent whose care and tending required many hours and much energy from the adult child caregiver, or in the case of a therapist who is relieved to see a difficult client terminate).

Separation is never black and white, or easy – in my experience. It is, however, usually growthful. And, most folks I know are really, really glad when they have moved through the separation pain and suffering!

I am a therapist, a lawyer who defends therapists, a mother of now college age and beyond children, and a lecturer primarily for health care providers. I have recently moved from a city that I both loved and feared, even hated at times for its random violence and ill treatment of poor people. This move to Denver has been mostly positive, but of course, it is also a mixed bag of separation feelings from time to time. I have waxed and waned with my separation experiences from New Orleans (fortunately, I still go back frequently for work and so forth, which provides me with a continuing connection to my adult city), and with becoming an empty nester after my second child left for college last year, then returned for this summer only to separate more fully and leave again a few days ago.

How do we take care of our deepest selves while undergoing the shifting sands of separation? There are no easy answers, it seems to me. I try to talk with trusted friends and take care of my physical self – the latter is the one thing I can control when all else seems out of my control. What else? I have been reading more books by Yalom about existential issues in and out of the therapy office, Brene Brown’s book on vulnerability (Daring Greatly) and just lots of reading, in general. Reading has always helped me get through the hard times.

What works for you? Write to me. Send me your thoughts and experiences with making that journey more bearable, more instructive.

I will blend your thoughts along with mine in the next blog.

Thanks for taking time to share your experiences.


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Deborah M. Henson