Just So You Know

Today’s Just For You is short and sweet, but will be helpful nonetheless. Last week I listened to one of the best conversations I’ve heard on the dynamics of abuse.

If you’re like me, I thought abuse was always physical. Not so. Over the last several years, I’ve learned about emotional abuse and the real damage it causes. Melissa Clark, a licensed professional counselor, has a conversation with Bob and Polly Hamp, Christian counselors who own a private practice called Think Differently Counseling. They speak honestly about the dynamics of abuse, how the church often perpetuates the problem, and how to set clear boundaries in an abusive relationship. You’ll be better for listening to this conversation and I can say for certain you’ll learn something.


My readings for school and conversations within my cohort over the last few weeks has me thinking about the term we use often: dying to self, along with a fairly new concept to me, self-differentiation, and the often forgotten part of the greatest commandment: love God, and love others as yourself. The yourself part gets less attention, partly out of fear. We refuse to acknowledge the essentiality of knowing and loving ourselves because we believe, and we’ve been taught, that we are nothing but depraved, sinful worms whose hearts can’t be trusted. We forget that God called everything He made good, and after He made human beings He called His creation very good (Genesis 1:26-31). That’s another blog post for another day.

As my thoughts swirled, I wrote this in the class forum this week:
My quotes this week centered on the essentiality of self-differentiation. We can be self-differentiated and empathetic (I prefer the word compassionate) – in fact, we should be. For me the readings highlighted our basic need for deep connection and how it is hindered when we are not self-differentiated. Not only is healthy connection hindered but becoming virtuous is also. If I am “hooked” into the emotions of others, my reactions are based on outward circumstances, not the self-regulating inner place. The peace that transcends all understanding begins with our work toward self-differentiation – that is knowing who God is and who we are. It includes becoming the whole person God created us to be and is the work of a lifetime. This inner work allows us to be shepherds who love deeply, care well, and be non-anxious image bearers bringing light and hope into the spaces we find ourselves.


One of the authors we read this week mentioned the importance of us increasing our tolerance to other’s pain. This made so much sense to me. Many times I have “helped” others because the pain of watching them in pain felt intolerable. Since doing my own work of setting boundaries (which is a result of self-differentiation) and learning to sit with the sadness or pain that my loved ones are experiencing instead of “helping,” I am allowing them to experience a catastrophe, which Brad D. Strawn and Warren S. Brown discuss in their book, The Physical Nature of Christian Life. This catastrophe is an opportunity for them to change and grow. It can take a lifetime of catastrophes for any one of us to finally make the choice to change, but if we never experience them, we won’t.

These thoughts may seem all over the place but they’re coming together. God is bringing them together and changing me through them. I highly recommend the book mentioned above.

What do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts about dying to self, self-differentiation, and learning to love ourselves.

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  1. Debora Smith on February 25, 2022 at 1:14 pm

    This was so helpful. I hadn’t heard the word “self-differentiation.” It makes so much sense and seems connected to the caution for me as an empath not to go over the top with empathy because that is not healthy for anyone. Being able to tolerate someone else’s pain without it destroying us allows us be be true spiritual companions. My supervisor recently told me that when I am witnessing someone else’s deep agony, I must tell myself, “This is not my emergency.” If I let it become my emergency, I am useless in the companioning process. In spiritual direction training, I have learned to let people sit with their pain, holding them in God’s presence, but not urging them on to resolution too quickly, listening deeply to their story without trying to fix.

    • marieg on February 25, 2022 at 1:24 pm

      Thank you for adding your thoughts. This is helpful to me as I continue to process. Especially for people helpers, the work of self-differentiation is a necessary and holy work. ❤️

  2. Claire on February 25, 2022 at 5:31 pm

    Thanks, Marie, this helped me a lot. It reminded me of things I knew but forgot and taught me news ways to think about my history. Very grateful.

    • marieg on February 25, 2022 at 5:35 pm

      I’m glad it was helpful, Claire. Grace and peace to you.

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