Charlie El Awbery

Notes on The Evolving Self
Part II: Chapters 4 and 5

May 11, 2020 |  Categories:   learning   Kegan  

Part Two: The Natural Emergencies of the Self

My notes from here on are from the second part of The Evolving Self. This section of the book moves from taxonomy to ontogeny. “If persons simply remained forever in one or another of these evolutionary truces, then understanding another might only be a matter of grasping their underlying psychologic. But these self-other distinctions are in fact tenuous, fragile, precarious states." The whole of the second part of the book is about the experience of the process of change. The stages are like markers of a period of relative balance in an ongoing, ever moving process. Development is an adaptive process. Adaptive not in the sense “of ‘coping’ or ‘adjusting to things as they are,’ but in the sense of an active process of increasingly organizing the relationship of the self to the environment. The relationship gets better organized by increasing differentiations of the self from the environment and thus by increasing integrations of the environment.” (Pg. 113.)

Chapter 4: The Growth and Loss of the Incorporative Self

This chapter covers the beginning of meaning-making, the birth of the object. The infant is embedded in its own sensing. The primary care-giver provides the context in which development from entirely ‘psycho’ to ‘social’ takes place. “There is a real human environment in which [the infant] lives, with which it confuses its own sensing and moving. Winnicott’s view, the ‘holding environment’ in which the infant gradually differentiates itself from its surroundings.” (Pg. 116.) “There is never ‘just an individual’; the very word refers only to that side of the person that is individuated, the side of differentiation. There is always, as well, the side that is embedded; the person is more than an individual. ‘Individual’ names a current state of evolution…a maintained balance or defended differentiation; ‘person’ refers to the fundamental motion of evolution itself, and is as much about that side of the self embedded in the life-surround, as that which is individuated from it. The person is an ‘individual’ and an ‘embeddual’. (Pg. 116.) “The infant’s first evolution of meaning, then, involves his differentiation from complete embeddedness in the life force. But he does not transform himself, he does not go through this alone. He gets a kind of help that is more than some other separate entity coming to his aid; he gets help from that which is in some way a part of him. Evolutionarily there is a sense in which the infant (and the person throughout life) climbs out of a psychological amniotic environment.” (Pg. 121.) The ‘embeddedness culture’ is that psychological amniotic environment. Some part of the culture of emebeddedness always assists in the delivery to a new evolutionary balance. It is “that most intimate of contexts out of which we repeatedly are recreated…It must hold on. It must let go. And it must stick around so that it can be reintegrated.” (Pg. 121.) He recounts an awful story of a neglected baby, Violet, and her survival strategy. She gave up on attempts to establish a context of embeddedness by 15 months. By 2 yrs old she was mute, with a vacant expression and no ability to focus on anything or anyone. “Her pain can be understood as a resistance to the motion of life…She is actively and uncompromisingly set against the motion of her own life.” (Pg. 123/124.) “The question is: what are we up to when we respond to anxiety? What are we trying to do? Are we trying to make a bad feeling go away? Are we trying to make it so he can go back to feeling the way he did before, so she can go back to what she was doing before? Is our response essentially to the anxiety, or to the person who is feeling anxious? This is a subtle but critical distinction. The usual caring response to negative feelings is an attempt to relieve the feelings. This is a well-intentioned, humane and understandable response…it is also an extremely problematic response, and more so when it comes from the person’s holding environment.” (Pg. 125.) He describes the difference between responding to the protection of made-meaning rather than the experience of meaning-making. (Pg. 125.) How we respond to a person in anxiety is fundamental, because it raises the question of who we believe the person to be. “When we respond not to the problem or relief of the problem but to the person in her experience of the problem, we acknowledge that the person is most of all a motion.” (Pg. 126.) Speech as a subtle form of touch. (Pg. 126.) “In cases where the culture of embeddedness has serious difficulties letting go, some surrender of host-like functions has probably taken place, and the host seems to experience something like the child’s experience of a loss of self. In such situations the evolutionary host is drawing upon the guest as if the guest were a culture of embeddedness for the host.” (Pg. 127.) The host is deriving an inappropriate support from the guest. The culture of embeddedness should remain in place during the period of transformation and re-equilibration so that “what was a part of me and gradually becomes not-me can be successfully reintegrated as object or other of my new balance.” (Pg. 129.) Growth is not about killing off the past, but successfully reintegrating it.

Chapter 5: The Growth and Loss of the Impulsive Self

This chapter describes the transition from stage 1 (Impulsive) to 2 (Imperial). See my previous post for a diagram of Kegan's developmental helix. This transformation “might be called the birth of the role.” (Pg. 137. ) “A move toward a kind of cognitive, affective, interior, and behavioral self-sufficiency which was not there before.” (Pg. 138.) “Viewed from the outside the child is moving from a fantasy orientation to a reality orientation.” “Crucial to the change is that the person confuses us less with himself – and not quantitatively less, but qualitatively less. For the young child, other people are confused with the satisfaction or thwarting of his impulses.” (Pg. 140.) “The sealed-up, self-sufficient, competency-oriented child is a function of a balance whose central hopes and yearnings are about the self. This shift from an overly integrated balance to an overly differentiated one is repeated later in life, usually in late adolescence or early adulthood.” (in the stage 3 to stage 4 shift). (Pg. 143.) Kegan discusses the variations in nature of differentiation at this stage that can lead to incomplete, or distorted transition. “In undergoing this transformation, the person is faced with the need to take leave of his or her young child; the question is where the child goes. Do we differentiate without ever successfully reintegrating, in which case the child may get lost and an overdifferentiated, over-adult, ‘realopathic’ quality may take over? Do we never successfully differentiate, in which case an overintegrated, loose-boundaried, ‘pretend adult’ style may get its start?” (Pg. 143.) How the small child navigates the growth and loss is related to how s/he is received, nurtured and contradicted (all important) by the holding culture. He tells a story of his daughter caught in a dilemma at this stage, having taken a toy from a friend for her own play, but feeling some turmoil about having done so. “…she neither played with the toy nor hid it away. Instead she came to look for a parent, and sought to initiate what I suggest is the hardest kind of conversation, because rather than meeting the first requirement of human interaction – the presentation of a coherent self – her conversation is about the very inability to be any longer coherent; she is presenting instead two selves, not because she is crazy, but because she is evolving.” (Pg. 147.) Integration involves consolidation and control of the previous impulses into a new balance. There is a discussion about school phobia being a common working out of the contradictions of this transition. (Pg. 150/151.) “Psychoanalytic theory argues for a clear role difference between parents as if sexual identity is tied to role performance. Among the characteristics of mature adulthood from a constructive-developmental point of view…is the capacity to see oneself as a man or woman without fear of acknowledging fully one’s yearning for inclusion or autonomy, respectively. By that account the most developed parents would both be champions of both sides of this fundamental human tension, and their parenting roles might each reflect confirming and contradiction, nurturing and limit-setting.” (Pg.153.) “It is important to bear in mind the distinction between abandoning the old longing on behalf of the new, and integrating the new with the old, a distinction essentially between the dichotomous and the dialectical.” (Pg. 154.) Latency in transition is not a matter of hiding or dampening the impulses, but of integrating them into a new organization. The final point of integration of the impulses as not other, but not subjectively dominant, is that at which “the child takes upon herself that authority which before had to be exercised by others.” (Pg. 159.) He finishes the chapter with an illustrative story of an 8 year old boy who decided that he’d had it with his parents and packed a suitcase, announcing that he was leaving. (Pg. 159.) “The parents sympathized and watched him pack a few things into a bag. They told him how much they would miss him and bid him farewell. They watched discreetly from a window as their son walked away from the house and fell into playing with some friends from the neighborhood. Before too long it was dusk and dinnertime and the boy’s friends headed off for home. The parents watched their son as he stood for a long while by himself, then stood for a long while by his little suitcase, and then slowly, dejectedly began to walk back home. The parents were concerned about what would happen at their re-union. They saw the shame on their son’s face and they did not want to humiliate him further; and so they ended up making what is often a wise choice when one is not quite sure what to do. When their son returned they remained seated, kept their mouths closed, and offered the boy a quiet undemanding attention. They watched as he sat down in a chair opposite them, and then he too was quiet, pensive, self-absorbed. No one said a thing. Finally the family cat ran across the middle of the room. The boy looked up and said to his parents, ‘I see you still have that old cat.’” (Pg. 160.)