“When are you going to grow up?” How many times have you heard this question asked or thought about asking it of someone else? It is all too easy to think that if that other person would grow up just a bit, we could get on with being our own mature selves.

Dr. Murray Bowen, however, says that growing up, maturing or, his term, differentiation of self, doesn’t work that way. The concept of self-differentiation can be confusing but, put simply, it refers to the ability to think as an individual while staying meaningfully connected to others. It describes the varying capacity each person possesses to balance their emotions and their intellect, and to balance their need to be attached with their need to be a separate self. Bowen proposed that the best way to grow a more solid self was to do it in our relationships with our families of origin and in the other systems of which we are part. He found that even an incremental improvement in the self-differentiation of an individual member of a system would have a profound effect on the whole system.

The fact is, it is never too late to grow up! Harriet Lerner PhD says, “The only person we can change and control is our own self. Changing our own self can feel so threatening that it is often easier to continue an old pattern of silent withdrawal or ineffective fighting and blaming.”

The overriding question for growing ourselves up is: Am I up for addressing the immature part I am playing in my relationships? Seeing what we need to change about our unhelpful reactions, and working on them in the world of relationships, creates ripple effects into the systems of which we are part. It can even ripple into future generations!

Jenny Brown, in her book Growing Yourself Up, lists six attributes of being a mature self in your relationships. See what you think of her checklist.

1. Have your feelings without letting them dominate; tolerate delayed gratification.

2. Work on inner guidelines, refrain from blaming.

3. Accept people with different views; keep connected.

4. Be responsible for solving your own problems.

5. Hold on to your principles.

6. See the bigger picture of reactions and counter-reactions.

How did you do? If you aced this checklist you have need of Healthy Congregations. If, like me, you recognize that you have work to do on growing up in your relationships, let’s talk. The Healthy Congregations Initiative in our presbytery can help you and other church leaders grow yourselves up a notch or two … and you will be amazed at the ripple effect that growth will cause in your congregation.