Charlie El Awbery

Notes from the Evolving Self

May 11, 2020 |  Categories:   learning   Kegan  

Chapter 8: The Growth and Loss of the Institutional Self

This is the penultimate chapter of the book, focusing on the final transitional phase to developmental maturity. It is the final progression, away from a biased emphasis on either interconnectedness or autonomy – but the movement is towards communion, away from separation. “This evolution brings into being the self as a form or system. Its strength is its capacity for self-regulation, its capacity to sustain itself, to parent itself, to name itself – its autonomy.” (Pg. 222.) “What is experienced from within the balance as independence and self-regulation might as accurately be seen from beyond the balance as a kind of psychological isolation or masturbation.” (Pg. 223.) People who have reached this point of psychological maturity might seem narcissistic to those looking from the interpersonal worldview. From within the institutional perspective, there is a vulnerability to anything that threatens self-control (it’s a similar vulnerability to that of the imperial position). “The child’s rage and shame and fear of her own impulses certainly find echoes in the institutional adult’s depressive self-anger, guilty self-shame, and fears about boundary loss. As we will see in this chapter, the experience of losing one’s balance, when the balance is the institutional, consists in feelings of negative self-evaluation, feelings that one’s personal organization is threatened or about to collapse, fears about losing one’s control and one’s precious sense of being distinct.” (Pg. 223.) The classic stuckness of the institutional self is presented as the perception of the sexual partner as ‘the problem,’ preventing the desired intimacy one seeks. This happens because of the requirement in the institutional balance for the other to fit around or into self-autonomy. (Pg. 224.) There’s a reluctance to admit to and articulate need, and a self-deprecation for having needs. “The institutional balance, which brings into being the self as a form, has its cognitive manifestation in the full development of the formal operational system which Piaget describes. …it transcends the concrete, subordinating it to general forms, abstracted, decontextualized organizations of the particular. (Pg. 225.) To move on from the institutional ‘truce’ one has to permit ideological forms to be relativized, on behalf of the play between forms. A sign of the transition is that there is a simultaneous surrender of the identification with the form, while preserving the form (rather than destroying). “Suggesting that there is a qualitative development beyond psychological autonomy and philosophical formalism is itself somewhat controversial, as it flies in the face of cherished notions of maturity in psychological and philosophical (including scientific and mathematical) realms. It suggests that objectivity defined in terms of abstract principles and the independence of rules of order from the phenomena they govern may not be the fullest notion of maturity in the domain of science. And it suggests that highly differentiated psychological autonomy, independence, or ‘full formal operations’ may not be the fullest picture of maturity in the domain of the person.” (Pg. 228.) Kegan cites William Perry’s book, Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years as source for his constructive-developmental synthesis. This stage (and psychological/philosophical thinking about the stage) involves a new orientation to contradiction and paradox. (Pg. 229.) Motion, process and change are the primary feature of reality, not forms and entities. Rather than movement within a form, the orientation is toward movement through forms. Rather than have the experience of contradiction ‘happen to’ it, this stage seeks out contradiction and is not ultimately threatened by it. The transition is away from self-organization for the purpose of resolving or driving out conflict into conflict nourishing growth. The tension between systems creates their dynamism. “When the institutional balance is threatened we hear about a threat to the self, a concern about the self, the self that has been in control. This is not what we heard from the interpersonal balance under threat, where the concern for oneself is expressed in terms of the other. In the earlier balance we are hearing about a threat to the sense of inclusion; in this balance we are hearing about a threat to the sense of independence, distinctness, agency.” (Pg. 231.) All transition is not only painful: it can include ecstatic, positive, transcendent experience. “Features of the positive experience of transition out of an ultimate orientation to one’s ‘form’ might include the relaxation of one’s vigilance, a sense of flow and immediacy, a freeing up of one’s internal life, and openness to and playfulness about oneself.” (Pg. 231.) Viewed from the old perspective, that might be seen as boundary loss, impulse flooding, and “as always, the experience of not knowing.” This is felt meaninglessness. “Though every shift involves a philosophical crisis, this one may do so self-proclaimedly; while every shift involves the relativizing of what was taken as ultimate, this one raises the spectre of relativism self-consciously, precisely because it is the first shift in which there is a self-conscious self to be reflected upon.” (Pg. 231.) Suicide: Pg. 232 – 233, there is an analysis of suicide attempts and how they look and sound from different transitional periods. By definition, suicide occurs not when someone is mostly embedded in one of the states of evolutionary balance, but in a period of disruption and transition between truces of meaning-making.

“The phenomenological side of that cold Piagetian/biological notion of differentiation is repudiation. I must for a time be not-me before I can reappropriate that old me as the new object of a new self. The first moves toward reconsolidation in stage 3 may involve the killing of any of my needs, the attempt to be not-me (who is his needs) – the early adolescent ascetic. The first moves toward reconsolidation in stage 4 may involve the ideologizing of intimacy, the killing off of all interpersonal relationships, lest I be devoured in them; an attempt, again , to be not-me (who is his interpersonal relationship) – the precipitous, temporary, and usually vacillating celibate. Similarly, in the shift to stage 5 there is often a sense of having left the moral world entirely (‘ought’ is no longer in my vocabulary’); there is no way of orienting to right and wrong worthy of my respect. This is the killing off of all standards, the attempt to be not-me (who is his standard) – the cynic, or existentially despairing.” (Pg. 233.) People may live along a wide continuum of health or malaise at any evolutionary moment, but how they experience is first of all a function not of where they are on that continuum, but where they are in their evolution. (Pg. 233.) The breaking up of the autonomous self: As the institutional self is lost, the institutional balance (Kohlberg’s ‘conventionality’, Piaget’s ‘formalism’) has become relativized; it is no longer ultimate; it has become unhinged. (Pg. 236.) Typical of this transitional stage are thoughts about wisdom, how and when to circumvent the rules, understanding when rules could or should be broken and why, and when not; balancing the general and the specific, taking institutions and individuals into account. “What is cracking here is that whole construction of the self as a system, form, or institution of which ‘I’ am the administrator who must keep the organization intact, a way of seeing now seen through.” (Pg. 237) … “the instinctual is seen as antagonistic to the judgemental.” As the balance begins to totter, people might speak of feeling isolated, discovering a terrible loneliness, alongside a fear of closeness. In order to give the instinctual life some play, one must suspend judgement. “but what is actually being suspended is a form of judgement, a form of authority bent on internal control. With the relativizing of that authority, the erotic can once again come into play. But until the new balance has evolved, the ‘instinctual’ may be seen as in battle with the ‘ethical,’ and ‘victories’ by the ‘instinctual’ must be paid for by perceiving them through the lens of the not fully moved over ‘ethical,’ where they are experienced as flooding, loss of control, evil or underground activity. (Pg. 237.) As the institutional balance breaks, the person becomes more available to and interested in a kind of sharing and intimacy with others. But intimacy in the next balance is the self’s aim, rather than its source. It involves a self that travels between systems, or exists in the dynamism between them, not in the dynamism between individuals. The terrifying approach to the transformation is one of exhaustion, a feeling of wanting to give up, feeling overrun and exhausted by the possibility of what looks like the unending effort of such motion. There is an anecdote about Kenneth, who wrote this on his own stage 4-5 transition: “He left because what he wanted was not here; he came back because it was to be found only here. What he wanted was beauty, and beauty, though he did not know it at the time, is the doorway to the room…he could only be outside the room or inside the room, for it was impossible to stand in the doorway. So he kept going back and forth, in and out.” (Pg. 239.) People can come to feel manipulated by someone in stage 2, devoured by a person at stage 3, but by someone in stage 4 they are likely to feel mediated, “that they are filtered through some system rather than in direct contact with the person.” (Pg. 242.) “Thus, the hallmark of the institutional balance – its self-possessiveness – is also its limit, a limit which tends to show itself more clearly in the private regions of love and closeness than in the public light of work and career.” (Pg. 242.) The culture that holds and recognizes the institutional balance is the culture of ideology. Most obviously this occurs in work environments, but can just as powerfully get constructed in loving relationships, which get organized around the exercises and preservation of one or both parties’ self-contained identity. “Such relations can be mutually supportive, warm and loving; they might even be marital relations of long standing; what they cannot be is intimate.” (Pg. 243.) “While the world of work is ideally suited to the culturing of the institutional balance, work settings which can encourage, recognize, or support development beyond the institutional are quite rare.” (Pg. 243.) Workaholism as the analogue of self-abnegation. (Pg. 246.) “The picture of the workaholic – with his or her all-consuming investment in the exercises of achievement, self-esteem, independent accomplishment, self-discipline, and control – looks like that of the evolutionary truce of institutionality in peril…I doubt very much that we would find many workaholics who have come to the interindividual or intimate evolutionary balance.” (Pg. 246.) Making the transition:

“Where the institutional balance has a wariness about losing the stability and self-subsistence of ‘the form’ (personal or public), the interindividual balance is more likely to be wary about losing sight of the temporary, preliminary, and self-constructed quality of any particular form.” (Pg. 247.) There is an analysis of marital arrangements that maintain an institutional balance, or a balance between one person in interpersonal balance and one in institutional. (Pg. 249.) These can be stable, complementary and can work well. The domain of love is not necessarily any a better culture for the development and practice of adult intimacy than the domain of work. Marital balance can just as much serve to defend against the development of intimacy, as can work. (Pg. 252.) “The transcendence from the tyranny of the form – the theme with which this chapter began – may evidence itself cognitively in terms of dialectical thought, or sociomorally in terms of a postideological construction, but what it seems to come down to most centrally in the wider arena of the psychological self is the capacity for genuine intimacy.” (Pg. 253.) “The image of an adult relationship that is genuinely intimate – sexually, but in every other respect as well – brings to light again the theme of reciprocity first seen in the interpersonal balance. Traveling once more over familiar psychological terrain, the evolution of meaning, in the interindividual balance, encounters a similar theme at a whole new level of complexity. Reciprocity now becomes a matter of at once mutually preserving the other’s distinctness while interdependently fashioning a bigger context in which these separate identities interpenetrate…are co-regulated, and to which persons invest an affection supervening their separate identities. Reciprocity now becomes a matter of both holding and being held, a mutual protection of each partner’s opportunity to experience and exercise both sides of life’s fundamental tension.” (Pg. 254.) In the interpersonal balance, relationships that nurture synchronous longings for intimacy and autonomy are sought and treasured. Such relationships nurture growth and exploration of that tension itself and the movement it generates, rather than protecting against that force.