Charlie Eleanor Awbery

Notes from The Evolving Self
Chapter 6

May 11, 2020 |  Categories:   learning   Kegan  

Chapter 6: The Growth and Loss of the Imperial Self

This chapter is about how the move from stage 2 (imperial) to stage 3 (interpersonal) occurs. The 8 year old boy at the end of the last chapter had preserved his dignity. Years of hard won differentiation stood behind the ‘you’ in his sentence “I see you still have that old cat.” But the impulse has now been brought to the status of object and there is a new, continuing sense about things and people. (Pg. 161.) “To hold without constraining may be the first requirement of care.” (Pg. 162) The parents enabled him to take over the controls and authority that they formerly exercised. The culture of embeddedness of the imperial stage nurtured role recognizing, institutions of authority and role definition. Peer gangs require role-taking. The function of contradiction to enable growth in and from this stage of balance occurs when situations begin to demand mutuality. Trustworthiness is expected, and that the person will hold up his or her end of a relationship. Relationships of shared internal experience start to take the foreground, family and school permit themselves to become secondary to peer group relationships. (Pg.165.) Kegan notes the regularity of practices of child cultures across the world. The same word play and elaborate rituals are passed from generation to generation. Many of these are about the exercise and celebration of role. “Although their content may seem perfectly meaningless – for instance, if two people say the same thing at the same time they must link fingers, recite the proper incantation, and remain silent until a third party asks a direct question – the child’s investment flows from the very heart of its meaning-making, for the form of the ritual is itself its function and meaning.” (Pg. 166.) Each can display to the other their ability to exercise their prescribed role. Each can predict the behavior of the others. “At this time the organism, which for so long has been cultured, begins itself to assume the function of culturing, a function crucial to the continued survival and enhancement of that greater life community of which it is a part.” (Pg. 166.) Strong, robust connections are in fact easier to separate from than conflicted, tentative, or ambivalent ones. (Pg. 168.) Emotion is key to the transition into interpersonal understanding. “Out of this evolutionary motion, which we are, we experience emotion (this is what the word means – ex + motion: out of, or from, motion). Any theory of emotion must begin by naming that motion it regards as the source…feeling may be the sensation of evolution; more complexly, the phenomenology of personality in its predicament as self-constituting meaning-making.” (Pg. 169.) Painful emotion is characteristic of the point at which adaptive balance is challenged. “These are the moments when I experience fleetingly or protractedly that disjunction between who I am and the self I have created; the moments when I face the possibility of losing my self; the moments that Erikson refers to hauntingly as ‘ego chill’. The chill comes from the experience that I am not myself, or that I am beside myself, the experience of a distinction between who I am and the self I have created.” (Pg. 169.) At the emergence from the imperial balance the self’s embeddedness in its needs, interests, wishes becomes vulnerable. That is “the organization of meaning in which I am my needs (and other people are presumed to be theirs) is threatened. I sense that it is not working. I am meeting up with experience in the world that cannot be made sense of according to my present way of organizing reality.” (Pg. 169.) There’s a period of testing and a defensive posture against the challenge. “But whatever the balance that is being defended, the sense is that I work okay, if others would just shape up – and the shape I would like them to shape up to is the one I have known and loved so long but no longer can make work – my own.” (Pg. 170.) Part of this chapter is devoted to looking at two different institutions and their relative capacity/failure to assist individuals from stage 2 to stage 3. The most frequent evolutionary balance in prisons or corrective institutions seems to be the imperial balance. Kegan poses that a good institution enables prisoners to move from imperial to interpersonal stance. He compares a prison program that does this successfully, to a psychiatric program that fails. There are some common traits of people stuck in the imperial balance, beyond the environmentally congruent age:

An institution can fail by not replicating a wholesome culture that enables personal evolution, but it can also fail by insisting on an evolutionary state that does not yet exist for the individual. (Pg. 176.) His negative example is one of a teenage girl stuck in pre-adolescent imperial balance. Her “parents love her, and the hospital was ready to care for her, but she was unhelped because no one could feel moved by or attracted to her. On the contrary, people found her revolting. People are moved by heroic and vulnerable expressions of dignity and integrity, and no one could see these qualities in the way [she] lived her life.” (Pg. 177.) The institution let her down, because they regarded her as how they thought she ‘should be’ for her age, not as who she was – somebody still embedded in the self that embodies personal needs as ultimate purpose. They expected stage 3 capacity before she had made the transition. “This is not to suggest that Terry’s behavior should go unassailed. It is to suggest that before someone deals with her behavior, someone must see her. It is to suggest that her behavior is the vulnerable and heroic exercise of her integrity. ‘Integrity’ seems the perfect word here, as it has a biological as well as a psychological meaning, and both are intended. When I feel recognized and have a sense that you understand how I am experiencing my experience…I can find your limit setting tolerable and even a relief; if I do not feel recognized, I resent it as a violation of who I am – which is what it is.” (Pg. 181.) The contrasting success story is of a prison program that introduced inmates to a trade, at the same time training reliability and cooperativeness. Richard, on arrival, was labelled unemployable. On leaving: “It used to be, when I screwed up I worried that I was gonna get it; now when I screw up I worry that other people are going to worry.” But in this program “the values of cooperation, mutuality, joint decision making, taking responsibility and sharing are not placed in the foreground. What Richard saw when he first arrived was a half-finished boat in a boatworks; a letter from a buyer offering several thousand dollars for the boat when it was done; competent adults who knew how to finish the boat and who were willing to teach people like himself how to build them. Richard was engaged by the program, the constructive-developmental perspective would suggest, because he was first of all communicated with at the most fundamental level of his meaning-making, which was, at this point in his development, oriented to personal control, personal enhancement (even aggrandizement), and the display of, and acquisition of, personal competence.” (Pg. 182.) “At the powerful, subtle levels his inability to be interpersonal was not only not being tagged as a problem, but the strengths and motivations of his noninterpersonal instrumentalism were being recognized.” (Pg. 182.) The project provided a version of the bridging function that occurs in natural evolution.