The problem is that neither partner can maintain his or her sense of identity and groundedness in the presence of the other.
Both people take everything personally and become reactive by withdrawing coldly or picking a fight. They swing between attack and capitulation. Bitterness and frustration cause them to withdraw from each other, but when apart, they feel unbalanced and empty. Any connection at this point, even bitter fighting, makes them feel more alive than when alone.
To resolve the anguish of emotional fusion, individuals need to become more highly-differentiated, that is, emotionally separate, and therefore, less reactive.
1. permit you to get intensely involved with another person—emotionally, intellectually, physically—without becoming infected with the other person’s anxiety, and
2. eliminate the need to withdraw from or control the other person to modulate your own emotional well-being.
Ironically, becoming more emotionally objective and separate allows you to become more intimate. Although you may think that falling apart with anxiety shows that you care, it is actually a self-centered and ineffective way to respond to your own anxiety. It causes people to focus more on you instead of the problem at hand.
Someone who is differentiated may care just as deeply or more so about another person or a difficult situation but is able to contain his or her emotions. This allows a person to bring rationality and wisdom to the a situation rather than simply cause more anxiety that spirals out of control.
Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the situation will improve.
While you want to be considerate of those close to you, you do not want to be excessively worried about their reactions. True intimacy means you can express yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions freely and deeply without emotional manipulation. When you retain some objectivity and stay calm in the face of another person’s anxiety, you can grow emotionally and intellectually, often enticing the other person to do the same.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD