Charlie Eleanor Awbery

Notes from The Evolving Self
Stage transition

May 11, 2020 |  Categories:   learning   Kegan  

Chapter 7: The Growth and Loss of the Interpersonal Self

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Chapter 7 documents the key stage transition from 3 to 4: leaving behind the interpersonal as predominantly influential, moving toward a new balance characterized by self-authorship and psychological autonomy. The stage parallels the earlier developmental path between impulsiveness and imperialism. The movement is towards un-bonding/separation, as opposed to bonding, which the transitions on the other side of the helix require. For stage bridges involving separation, energy must be mustered and taken or recouped from the environment. For transitions involving a bonding trajectory, the subject has to see that they are holding back from giving/releasing energy for others. “The whole notion of latency – of a Dark Ages in personality development – is one of Freud’s least preservable constructions…fails to consider the possibility that the intellectual development and self-sufficiency of middle childhood (which it recognizes) are actually in part those same impulses integrated into a more complex organization…the evolutionary model permits one to observe recurring phenomena of similar color and tone throughout the lifespan without having at the same time to regard such similarities as regression or recapitulation.” (Pg. 188.) The chapter starts with an anecdotal tale of a young person leaving home and going off to college, experiencing loss, isolation and depression. He was conflicted about wanting to go back home, and being annoyed with his parents for saying he could go back home and they wouldn’t feel let down. He was hoping to be taken back; but once he realized the contradiction, and that he was also hoping not to be taken back, he started to change. He began to talk more about making decisions that pleased his own wishes. “He found – paradoxically, he thought – that as he began to think more about ‘deciding for myself’ he also began to feel less lonely.” (Pg. 185.) Parallels between the institutional and the imperial are drawn. They both involve a kind of self-possession, a sealing up. They favor differentiation over integration, agency and independence over inclusion. (Pg. 189.) The later stage contradicts not impulse confusion, but “confusion as to who it is that defines his purpose and directions.” Kegan gives an example of a life-crisis that facilitated the transition into the institutional stage, of an adult discovering they want a same-sex relationship. “Imagine what the meaning of homosexuality can be for a person whose balance is embedded in the interpersonal.” (Pg. 192.) There’s a strong need for approval at stage 3. Wanting others to think well of you, wanting others to accept you, people to confirm you. Rather than these seeming like concerns that one might have, they seem to be the person. How things appear can be the ultimate issue, if meaning is derived from how others see us. The need for approval can lead to manipulative behavior, to a half-hidden sense that one is presenting a false self to others, in order to be oneself through living and fusing with others’ authority. (Pg. 202.) “Here I have lived for years as a person worthy of others’ approval and affection; I have met their expectations and seen myself through their eyes. And now, through absolutely no fault of my own, I discover that there may be something about me which would make me unacceptable and disappointing to all those persons. It seems so terribly, so horribly unfair.” (Pg. 192.) “Because it is out of this very confusion of the self with these other persons that the interpersonal self emerges, the inability to meet their expectations and be acceptable in their eyes is nothing short of the ultimate inability – the inability to make myself cohere. I have turned against my self. I have become riot.” (Pg. 192.) The new balance solves such dilemmas, by moving over the interpersonal from subject (or structure of knowing) to object (or content of knowing). Trust, the foundation stone for the interpersonalist balance, is found wanting as an ultimate good. (Pg. 195.) Each stage involves its own way of making meaning. It’s possible to be caught between these options for meaning-making. Only once one cognizes them as real options in relation to one’s life can the transition between stages start to occur. “Taking a relationship into one’s hands means moving over the very structure of ‘relationship’ from subject to object. But that ‘going over’ (ubergang) phenomenologically amounts to, first, the relativizing of what was taken for ultimate, a loss of the greatest proportion; and second, a period of not-knowing, of delicate balance between what can feel, on the one hand, like being devoured in the boundarilessness of the old construction, and the selfishness, loneliness, or coldness of being without ‘the interpersonal’ on the other.” (Pg. 197.) The new institutional balance brings inside the conflicts that earlier were located between oneself and another. ‘Self’ no longer resides between oneself and another. At first the new internalized self can seem tiny, vulnerable, fragile, embodiment of a difficult struggle against an all-engulfing, constant pressure from outside. The new self moves from a fragile presence to “a more reliable context which places limits on” relationships, the termination of which “had earlier raised the specter of annihilation.” (Pg. 197.) “Interpersonally embedded sexuality can amount to an ethic of ‘my pleasure is your pleasure,’ ‘what satisfies me is that you are satisfied.’ This does not look like a position of subservience or self-abnegation until the institutional balance, when the notion of an independent selfhood is paramount.” (Pg. 204.) “Sometimes the me-I-have-been starts to look more like the expectations of other people, often one’s parents, who are just now gradually being separated from oneself. This is the disembeddedness at the heart of the shift from the interpersonal to the institutional balance, a separating out of a confusion which raises the classic question of this shift – ‘who is in charge around here, anyway?’ ” (Pg. 205.) “in the institutional balance, guilt is a matter of violating one’s own standard, irrespective of the other’s expectations.” (Pg. 207.) One thing that precipitates the crisis of the 3-4 stage shift is the threat of the loss of one’s most important relationships. It can be experienced as the threat of the loss of one’s own self. There’s a section on how the balances of stages 3 and 4 relate to gender, and different cultures – and how a dominant culture can hold back a whole population from maturing. (Pg. 208-9.) No real conclusions are reached – there are some inclinations, such as American culture tending to favor the independent balance, or women tending towards interpersonalism. American culture supports independence and differentiation, but hasn’t found a way to respond to the disruption such growth entails, ‘or to support the new integrations such growth demands.’ (Pg. 218.) “If we live at a time when there is more fundamental change in adulthood than ever before, we may be faced with a task that is also historically unprecedented, at the growing edge of our culture’s evolution: how to fashion long-term relationships, even ‘long-term communities’ which are the context for fundamental change rather than ended by it.” (Pg. 218.) “Among the most important functions…of the women’s movement has been to provide that culture of embeddedness ­– a counter culture – which recognizes and holds the emergence of a personally authored identity.” (Pg. 213) … “giving one a feeling of control over the present, an understanding of one’s collusive role in one’s constraining past, and a program for the future; draw and preserve lines of differentiation between the group of which one is a part and groups of which one is not a part – all are expressions of a fundamentally new evolutionary truce which makes the self an organization or an institution.” (Pg. 213.) “It is easy for a given group to make its persuasion the standard.” But he emphasizes that in psychology and in Western culture “one finds a conception of growth as increasing autonomy or distinctness. The yearning for inclusion tends to be demeaned as a kind of dependency or immature attachment. Only a psychology whose root metaphors intrinsically direct an equal respect for both poles (and orient to the relations between them) can hope to transcend this myopia.” (Pg. 209.) Difficulties in transition:

It’s only once firmly embedded in stage 4 that the possibility of further transition can occur, that “ideological forms [can] permit themselves to be relativized on behalf of the play between forms.”