Standard Article


  1. Daniel K. Lapsley

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0847

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Lapsley, D. K. 2010. Separation-Individuation. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. University of Notre Dame

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Separation-individuation is a fundamental organizing principle of human growth that has implications for adaptive functioning across the lifespan. In its most general sense individuation refers to a process “by which a person becomes increasingly differentiated from a past or present relational context” (Karpel, 1976, p. 66). Mature differentiation resolves the relational tension between agency and communion. Regarding communion, individuation requires maintaining a sense of attachment and connection to others—children and parents, mentors and protégés, friendship dyads, romantic partners and spouses—but without enmeshment and fusion with them. Indeed, the extent to which one experiences the self as fused with another is an indicator of how well communion is differentiated from enmeshment. Regarding agency, individuation requires a mature sense of autonomy and independence, but without isolation and alienation. Hence the goal of individuation is the capacity for autonomous selfhood in the context of ongoing relational commitments.


  • agency;
  • attachment;
  • individuation;
  • self-differentiation;
  • separation-individuation