THE ROLE HOME CAN PLAY IN THE PROCESS OF DIFFERENTIATION AND INTEGRATION PART II
In the first part of this two part blog post we set the scene for a tension that is fundamental to the experience of being human. From the moment we are born we begin negotiating the challenging dance between ensuring our individual needs are fulfilled and that at the same time we are accepted by, and integrated with, the people and the wider world around us. This body we all find ourselves in has many and varied needs that must continuously be met to ensure our survival. Beyond that we also have needs which may not be vital for survival but are essential for our thriving; needs such as the need for a feeling of self-worth and self-esteem or the need for a sense of growth and development. Most importantly, humans are deeply relational beings. Not only do we thrive when we have a sense of acceptance and belonging from the people around us, more importantly, aspects of our sense of self can only develop in relationship to others. Balancing the many and varied needs of the self with the ways that the cultures, societies, and individual people around us can limit the satisfaction of those needs can create a tension between us and the wider world around us. The many cultural norms and values imposed on us from birth can often inhibit the exploration and development of the elements that are core to our sense of self, and limit our imagination in terms of the many and varied ways our needs can be satisfied in meaningful ways.
The struggle between differentiation (becoming an individualised self) on the one hand and integration (feeling that self integrated into a wider whole) on the other, follows us through much of our life. In our own way, each one of us struggles to on the one hand, differentiate ever more fully from the world around us, defining with ever sharper clarity, obtained through the unique experiences we collect throughout our lifetime, who we are on our own unique path. At the same time, the process of differentiation is necessarily connected to our environment and the other living beings we interact with. It is through engaging with the wider world that we can begin to define what we are and what we are not, thereby creating an authentic sense of self rooted in real-lived experience.
In the book “The Meaning of Things” psychologists, researchers, and authors Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton point out that this two-sided dialectic of differentiation and integration is also reflected in the history and etymology of the word symbol. They point out that “in ancient Greek, sym-ballein meant to ‘throw together” or “join”. The phrase came to designate a coin that two friends break in half, each with the hope of reuniting. When the two friends would meet again, the joining of the two half coins signified the relationship between the two persons, so the separation of the coin served the larger purpose of unity. Thus, symbol originally meant that which brings people together.”
It is fascinating to consider that the very origin of the word symbol captures both the ideas of differentiation and integration. Throughout the course of human culture people have used symbols as a means of both highlighting their uniqueness and as a means of integrating the self into large identities. For example, symbolic decorative elements in body art such as tattoos serve to both distinguish the uniqueness of the individual, for example by drawing on their unique story to emphasise something personal to them, while at the same time using wider cultural references, aesthetic styles, and symbols that have meaning within the wider culture.
The deeply ingrained tendency toward symbolism within human culture is also at work within the spaces and environments we create. As Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton highlighted, we may live in physical environments, but we are constantly creating cultural environments within them.
Our homes can be powerful symbols of the self when we have the freedom and the means to construct them in a way that embodies aspects of what we consider to be valuable and significant in our lives. There is no space more amenable to being shaped according to our unique preferences and desires than our home environment. Our homes are our physical shelters and places of emotional solace and rest. Our homes are spaces that can represent and reinforce who we are making our sense of self tangible to ourselves and visible to others.
Our homes contain many of the objects that reflect the diverse elements of our personality and are therefore valuable expressions as well as reinforcers of who we are and what we value. Our home environments don’t just serve to facilitate the activates of our daily lives but also act as the containers for our emotional worlds and the activities that make life meaningful.
Our homes exemplify that there is more contained within our physical environments than merely the sum of the objects within them. The unique combinations of spaces and objects that are specific to each individual home often reveal the personal and cultural symbols that are cherished, whether consciously or unconsciously, by the people who live within them. Our homes not only reflect something about who we are as individuals but also something about what we have internalised from, and how we relate to, the world around us. Our homes are a reflection both of our personal sense of self as well as the wider cultures and systems we are a part of.
Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton argue that due to their symbolic nature, our homes are an important tool in the process of differentiation and integration. With regards to the process of differentiation, our homes contain objects that serve the symbolic function of highlighting our uniqueness – for example, our skills, or personal interests, our superiority over others, etc. Objects that highlight achievements such as accolades or the unique qualities or experiences we have had, such as our travels, qualifications, trophies, etc. all serve the process of differentiation, distinguishing us form others and emphasising our individuality.
On the other hand, many of the symbols within our homes serve to highlight and reinforce our sense of belonging to groups, organisations, to family, or belief systems and ideologies. The objects within our homes that highlight our shared origin with others, shared belief system, shared values, shared belonging to groups or institutions all serve to symbolically express and reinforce the integration of the individual within their wider social, cultural, and relational context.
Through displaying photographs of family and friends we both reinforce the value that these relationships hold for ourselves as well as signalling to others that we belong to a wider group of people. Similarly, by displaying religious symbols, we highlight and reinforce our shared beliefs and values to ourselves as well as affirming our affiliation with our religious group to others.
Moreover, this distinction between the objects that serve to differentiate us from others and those that serve to integrate us into the broader systems we are a part of are not always clear cut. Often times, the objects in our homes serve both purposes all at once. For example, the display of trophies, qualifications, and accolades serve to at once reinforce the sense of affiliation and belonging to the institutions and activities that award them as well as highlighting our own unique achievements that distinguish us from others.
In order to thrive across the human lifespan, we must continually finesse the difficult task of staying connected to both ourselves as well as the wider world around us. We must cultivate our individuality in increasingly complex and differentiated ways while at the same time discovering ever deeper ways to integrate this individuality and put it to use in service of something beyond ourselves. The more we can cultivate our own unique story and point of view, talents, and abilities and put these to use to serve other people and the world around us, the more whole we grow to feel.
It is one of the great ironies of life that we become whole by giving up ever greater parts of our ego. A further paradox is that this has to be done while simultaneously cultivating an increasingly individuated sense of self; one that does not rely on the external world for validation or its understanding of itself but instead uses the unique experiences, skills, and perspectives to tend to something in the interconnected sphere we all share.
When we are mindful and considered about how we create our home environments and the objects we bring into them our homes can help to cultivate and reinforce this process. They can help us to cultivate a self-world system in which our unique psychic energy becomes increasingly invested in goals transcending the personal needs of the ego while ultimately nourishing it and helping it to individuate. In a very embodied way, our homes can help us to clarify and reinforce who we are and what matters most to us. When we use this ability mindfully in service of understanding, connecting to, and developing our unique sense of self while at the same time integrating that self deeply within the context of the world around us, our homes can help us to grow and develop in ways that are essential for thriving.
The images above show various different items from our upcoming Vintage and Collected Collection as well as our Safari Daybed, Kapok Safari Daybed Mattresses, Handspun Cotton Cushion Covers in Ecru, a brand new Handspun Eri Silk Cushion Cover that will launch soon, Hand Forged Copper Bundt Cake Mould, Handmade Linen Napkin Sets in Off-White, Copper Tea and Coffee Canisters, Shuro Palm Trivets, Hand Carved Black Walnut Cutting Board, Hand Carved Coffee Scoop, Brass Coffee Pour over Stand, Pallares Solsona Professional Kitchen Scissors, various natural cleaning brushes, Tawashi Brushes, Classic French Table Glasses and Cotton Lantern Lampshade.