Characteristics of Well-Differentiated People

This edition of Mentor Online is adapted from several “family systems” sources, including the work of Dr. Peter Steinke, the author of How Your Church Family Works and Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach.

A well-differentiated person thinks from an “I” position and focuses on their own behavior rather than on the behavior of others. This means that a well-differentiated person:

  • Lets others know what they are thinking and feeling and stays in touch with them.
  • Manages their own anxiety.
  • Makes distinctions between facts and feelings.
  • Affirms their own values and beliefs without attacking or judging those of others.
  • Does not demand that others should think, feel or act as they do.
  • Accepts differences between them and others, knowing that differences alone will not cause disputes.
  • Takes responsibility for their own anger, frustration or distress; and does not accuse others of being the cause of these issues.
  • Lives by their own goals rather than the rules of others.
  • Refuses to coerce, will or threaten others into taking responsibility for them (or their pain).
  • Forms open, one-to-one relationships with people, avoiding what is secretive or collusive.
  • Changes thoughts of victimization to thoughts of “What can I do?”
  • Gains space or time or another’s perspective in order to get a clearer picture of things.
  • Contains their own reactivity to the reactivity of others.
  • Takes a stand and maintains a non-anxious presence.
  • Does not confuse closeness with sameness, or differentiation with isolation.
  • Avoids thinking that sees others as “either/or” — either good or evil.
  • Looks at how they may have contributed to a problem.
  • Accepts anxiety, tension and pain as part of the human growth processes.
  • Cultivates their own imagination rather than concentrating on only the observable.


“Self-differentiation is a life-long process. The best of the species only achieves it seventy percent of the time.” — Dr. Peter Steinke

Published by

Retired Lutheran (ELCA) clergyperson. Founder & owner of Brookover Leadership Development & Consulting, Inc. (1967)

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