By Gregory Mitchell
A common misunderstanding is in place these days about the nature of Ego and the importance of its development. It is commonly misidentified with the concept of egocentrism: the selfish or "bigheaded" personality, which is actually a trait of a person with a weak and undeveloped Ego. In fact this misunderstanding is the result of mis-translation. The definition of Ego in the west was set by Freud. If you read Freud in the original German, he calls the Ego the Ich (the German word for 'I'). In Latin, the word Ego means 'I'. Without an I you cannot be anything in the real world we live in.
There is no point in not having an I, as without an I there can be no awareness of oneself as a human being. The process of transcending the Ego, as described in Eastern and New Age philosophies, is often misinterpreted as meaning to erase the Ego but in fact the opposite is the case. To transcend does not mean to disappear, it means "to no longer be limited by," or "to grow beyond in an integrated way."
The Conscious Ego is synonymous with the Conscious Mind, it is not something contained within the Conscious Mind, like a floating iceberg. If you knock out the Ego - this can be done by a surgical intervention - you have a state of No Mind. This means that you have no conscious mind.
The Ego is not bad; it is necessary for our healthy existence. In our understanding of eastern philosophy, that part of us that leads us to wrong doing has been translated as Ego by westerners, but it is not the "Ego" that Freud defined. It would be better defined in the west by Freud's Id which is the animal nature. To understand the true role of the Ego in the structure of personality, it is necessary to be familiar with Freud's terminology, which has remained widely accepted in modern psychology, beyond the boundaries of Freud's original psychoanalytic methodology.
Cognitive psychologists have recently found Depth Psychology (the theories and methods of Freud, Jung, etc.) an interesting area to research. They refer to the Unconscious as the Nonconscious, being primarily concerned with conscious cognitive processes, but recent research has uncovered both cognitive and affective mental processes that continue at a deeper level than conscious processes and which affect the conscious workings of mind - see Cognitive Unconscious. Using brain scanning techniques it is possible to perceive exactly which brain structures are in use when different types of mental process are utilized; researchers have already identified, to a large extent, which parts of the brain are used to accomplish the various functions of memory (see The Architecture of Memory), speech, emotional responses and habitual learned actions, some of which are not consciously perceived or controlled.
Since the functions that depth psychologists have identified are genuine phenomena, within the next ten years cognitive researchers will discover a number of subconscious and nonconscious structures equivalent to the Anima, Shadow, Superego, Id, Somatic Memory, Computational Structures, and others yet without name, and be able to identify which brain organs are involved. But they will not discover the Unconscious Mind to be something separate from these structures. If the terms Preconscious, Subconscious and Unconscious are used at all, they will be used as adjectives to describe how deeply these unconscious structures are buried, and whether they are open to introspection. Preconscious will mean "easily accessible," Subconscious will mean "only accessible under special circumstances," and Unconscious will mean just that - "not open to introspection under any circumstance."
Id: In Freudian theory, the division of the psyche that is totally unconscious and serves as the source of instinctual impulses and demands for immediate satisfaction of primitive needs. Such needs seek satisfaction in accordance with the pleasure principle and are modified by the Ego and the Superego before they are given overt expression.
Ego: a concept referring to the conscious or Preconscious (i.e. accessible) parts of the psychic apparatus. Part of the Ego organization, however, is in a state of becoming conscious and part remains unconscious. The Ego represents what seems subjectively to be reason and common sense. It is that part of the personality which is experienced as being oneself - that which one recognizes as 'I', one's face to the world, at a particular point in time. One of the fundamental functions of the Ego is Reality Testing - reaching into the real world to see if what is believed to be the case actually proves out - but this does not bear full fruit until the Ego has become Autonomous, thus substantially set free from inner conflicts between the Id and Superego.
Superego: that part of the personality which influences self-observation, self-criticism, and other reflective activities. That part of the mind in which parental introjects (see Introjection) are located. The Superego differs from the Conscience in that: a) it belongs to a different frame of reference, i.e. morality not ethics (what one should do, rather than whether it is right or wrong); b) it includes unconscious elements; and c) injunctions and inhibitions emanating from it derive from the subject's past and may be in conflict with his present ethical values. The Conscience may conventionally be considered to be contained within the Superego; however, when ethical awareness is developed beyond convention, the autonomous Conscience may then replace the installed morality of the Superego.
It is not maintained that the Superego is an accurate replica of the parental figures who have been introjected, since the most significant internalizations are found to occur early in childhood, when the infant endows his mental objects with his own characteristics. During the pre-logical stage of Ego development, the Superego acts as a very restrictive parent, however as successive stages of cognitive maturity are attained, control passes from the Superego to the Ego, unless normal development is thwarted. With greater freedom from Superego constraints and greater self-awareness, cognitive processes play an expanding part in the developing sense of morality, and this is culminated by an active searching towards a Universal Ethical System. At the post-conventional levels of Ego, Moral and Spiritual development, the Ego is gradually overcoming the Superego, until a stage is reached whereby the Superego no longer plays more that a passive role and the subject operates on an Ego Morality, rather than a Superego Morality. A fully-realized person has gained Ego Autonomy and overcome the Superego.
Introjection: the process by which the functions of an external person are taken over by its mental representation, by which the relationship with a person 'out there' is replaced by one with an imagined person 'inside'. The Superego is formed by introjection of parental figures and it may be analyzed into a number of component introjects (the good/bad internal father/mother). Introjection is both a defense and a normal developmental process, depending on the context. Introjected parental figures act as guardians of a child until he or she can understand what to do in the absence of such guidance. In a mature mind, such introjects are inspected and they provide guidelines only, whereas in the immature mind, they operate subconsciously as inhibiting restrictions and enforcing controls (though they may also be rationalized consciously and be part of the subject's belief system). In healthy development towards maturity, introjects are a necessary transitional phase; however if normal development is hindered (the case with many people), introjects continue to control perception, attitudes, goals, and behavior. The Autonomous Ego is free from Superego programs.
Ego autonomy, individuation and creativity
We are all born without any Ego strength. For that matter, we are all born without an Ego. Being born without any sense of Ego means that at first there is no 'I,' there is only enmeshment. We come into this world still attached and enmeshed with our mother and without the ability to distinguish ourselves from her. We develop more and more of a sense of self as we face reality. Gradually, as we grow and interact with the world, we work through the stages of Ego development. This is the process by which we become an autonomous, inner-directed human being. We call this process Individuation.
According to Hartmann (1939), the Autonomous Ego is a conflict free zone, free from the war between the Superego and the Id, and it has its own autonomous system of drives, derived from the instinct for self preservation. A developed, Autonomous Ego is a conflict-free sphere of consciousness; there may be underlying conflicts outside this sphere that further development may resolve, but the consciousness within has a clear identity and is able to interact with the world independent of Id and Superego influences. It is free to reality test and to innovate creatively.
The history of Western civilization is, with the Ego's increasing capacity to reality test and therefore to reason and create, a story of progress from faith to reality testing. Man has gradually been discovering more about nature and how to control it. Through reality testing, for example, we no longer accept the idea that one becomes ill because of evil spirits. We have advanced to the point where we can often pinpoint the exact bacteria that are the cause of many diseases. Further, we know enough about science to prevent and cure many others. Additionally, we have had an explosion in technology that exemplifies our ability to bend nature to our will, making what had previously been fantasies into reality. These are examples of man's direct control over our environment through scientific knowledge and our understanding of cause and effect, rather than illusory control through faith.
The Ego can only become truly Autonomous by overcoming the Superego. The Autonomous Ego, by and large, is free from the dictates of the Id and has outgrown the Superego. The Ego understands and integrates the energetic drives of the Id and sublimates them toward loving sexuality and creative activity. The Autonomous Ego creates his or her own moral code and relies on his or her own sense of right and wrong, based on rational and objective analysis. This is an Independent Mind.
Both Ego strength and independence from the Superego are essential for an individual to be truly creative, outside of the box of his upbringing and parental and peer standards. The Superego stands in the way of major creativity by suppressing any thought or feeling that is too unconventional or that may be subject to external criticism, so it routinely censors anything truly creative. Freedom from the Superego is a necessary prerequisite, but creativity outside the boundaries of the ordinary also requires sufficient intelligence applied to an appropriate, wide-ranging database.
Creativity research has traditionally regarded the creative process as involving a full or partial regression of the Ego to a more primitive state of consciousness. While some playful and creative activities may be characterized by voluntary and/or involuntary regressions, more meaningful creativity requires access to the unconscious imagination without a corresponding loss of Ego functions. Creativity requires a relatively intact Ego; when the Ego deteriorates, so does the creative product. Combined with Ego strength, unconscious processes such as imagination and intuition become consciously directed and work in collaboration with the integrative functions of the Ego, such as logical thought, which are related to directed creative effort and implementation.
Integration is not only a normal function of the Ego but also a defense against disintegrative tendencies from the Id and Superego. Ego strength is necessary to empower creativity, which is essentially an integrative force based on love and the sublimation of aggression, energized by the Libido. Freud postulated that human beings are dominated by two basic instincts: Eros (the sexual drive or creative life force) and Thanatos (the death force or destructiveness), both forms of Libido energy. These instincts are also an aspect of what Jung termed the 'Shadow' - an unconscious part of the Ego, and receptacle for that which we have for one reason or another disowned or wish to remain out of sight and those qualities that one would rather not see in oneself, as well as unrealized potentials. By illuminating the Shadow into consciousness, its energy becomes a resource for inner-directed positive action rather than other-directed destructive actions. We need to integrate the Shadow and achieve sufficient Individuation, in order to overcome the Superego and achieve Ego-Autonomy.
Intelligence, which is essentially the ability to quickly establish new and multiple linkages between thoughts, ideas and feelings, is a necessary requisite of the creative synthesis. Freedom and mobility in the use of symbols is another requirement. True creativity does not stem from the Id; it is the result of a synthesis occurring in the unconscious Ego with conscious Ego direction. It's emergence into consciousness is prompted by relative freedom from repression and the dictates of the Superego. Creativity reduces instinctual tension, it fuses pleasure with reality, and satisfies the Libido.
However, a weak Ego run wild, out of the control of its Superego and driven by the Shadow, is not the means to valuable creativity; that is the route to hypomania, or even to mania and psychosis. This is also seen in some mystical and drug experiences, and even states of passionate love, if the Ego is unprepared to cope with such intense narcissistic and libidinal pressures, independent of guidance from the Superego.
Ego strength is the power, determination and ability to engage reality for whatever we find it to be - to accept what is as existing and to then use our cognitive-behavioral, emotional and relational skills to deal with such. Ego strength also refers to the inner personal strength by which we tolerate stress and frustration and to deal with reality without falling back to infantile defense mechanisms. A strong Ego can tolerate a difficult situation, can cope and then will look at it realistically and act on a solution. Ego strength, then, is our ability to play the Game of Life according to whatever curves life throws at us. The stronger our Ego grows, the more of a sense of self we develop and the greater our skills and resource to handle whatever comes.
The weak Ego and impulsiveness
The personality traits of a weak Ego include: authoritarianism, conformity, dogmatism, other-directedness, other-determinism, field-dependence, not tolerating uncertainty, low self esteem, and an egocentric viewpoint. An egocentric person is self-centered, having little or no regard for interests, beliefs, or attitudes other than one's own.
In comparison, the traits of a strong Ego include: strength of character, inner-directedness, self-determinism, field-independence, high self esteem, the acceptance of a plurality of ideas, and an idiocentric viewpoint. People who have an idiocentric value orientation tend to emphasize their own goals and needs over those of the groups to which they belong, and to be independent and self-reliant.
The weak Ego doesn't easily face, take in, and cope with what is. Instead it fights reality, hates it, and wishes it otherwise. Expectations are unrealistic and based on inadequate understanding. Reality seems too big, too frightening, too overwhelming ... and so we avoid the encounter. We feel unresourceful, weak, fragile, unable to cope, etc. The weaker the ego-strength, the less we will engage reality and the more we will flee to superstition, wishing rather than acting, and to addictions.
We need to be very much in touch with our feelings but still to remain intelligent about it - to remain in control, not driven by our emotions. We need a balance of left and right brain - rational mind and emotional mind, logic and feelings, intellect and intuition. This is where mindfulness and wisdom is found.
We tend to be too cut off from our feelings, in order to suppress painful ones - and this becomes a habit. Academic education reinforces this imbalance. And then we lose a lot of our creative and intuitional ability. At the same time, however, when those emotions 'escape' we tend to be driven by them, and think and act impulsively, without wisdom.
Deferred gratification or delayed gratification (as an aspect of emotional intelligence) is the ability of a person to wait for things they want. This trait is critical for life success. One often sees the lack of this ability with kids who act without thinking first, can't wait their turn in line or in a game, blurt out answers in class, speak when they're supposed to be quiet, maybe show aggressive behaviors, are often a little too loud, sometimes fight, and so on... they often get labeled with ADD. They impulsively say the wrong thing at the wrong time and then think, "Why did I say that?" The other kids are asking, "Who is this guy?" and often begin to avoid him. Impulsive people are not learning from past mistakes, and they're not listening. They haven't picked up on those subtle social cues that everybody else has learned, and so they're socially awkward and often don't know why. And this applies to adults too of course.
Those with poor impulse control suffer from "weak Ego boundaries"; the term comes from Sigmund Freud's theory of personality where the Id is the pleasure principle, the Superego is the morality or parent principle, and the Ego is the reality principle. The Ego's job is to satisfy the needs of the Id while being conscious of other people's needs.
Freud's definition of the Ego has it representing reason and circumspection. Most people are unaware that Freud's meaning of Ego is not some center of passion or self-serving desire - that is reserved, instead, for the Id. When we believe a person has a "big Ego" we are really referring to the Id running rampant. A person with a weak Ego tends be infantile in their approach and more egocentric than a person with a developed Ego. The Ego's job is to contain and direct the passions. It isn't the Ego which makes us yield to temptation or puts the weapon of anger in our hand; in fact, it is the Ego which apologizes. We can think of the Ego as being more like Dr. Jekyll while the Id represents Mr. Hyde. It is far better to have a strong, well-developed Ego than to fall prey to the Mr. Hyde within us who wants to rule our lives making the Ego its servant.
The marshmallow experiment is a famous test of this concept discussed by Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, in his popular work. In the 1960s a group of four-year olds were tested by being given a marshmallow and promised another, if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Korzybski said that most people are to some degree impulsive, therefore there is a compulsion to act or break out in speech and this limits their intelligence. His advice - when you feel this coming on - is to stop for a count of ten to let your much slower cortex (thinking brain) catch up with the emotional limbic system, before you act or speak. He went on to say that many people have an under-aroused cortex and an over-aroused limbic system: they guess rather than work out the solution to a problem, or when they are making a decision they don't work through a list of alternatives. A person in that state seeks immediate closure and cannot reject an immediate reward (immediate gratification) for a larger reward in the future, because he or she is acting impulsively - not being conscious of their choices. Acting in a more considered and intelligent way, on the other hand, will be much more true to the person's real needs and purposes, and therefore to their heart.
The remedy: mindfulness
Mindfulness has to do with the ability to accept, in a non-evaluative and nonjudgmental fashion, both oneself and the current situation - and how one feels about it. Acceptance of reality is not necessarily approval of reality; it is simply not being blind to it, not resisting nor distorting it. Then we can see the truth.
Fixed beliefs are always a limitation and unnecessary - they cause all the types of harm that occurs in the world, especially when they are rigidly identified with or attached to, so that one cannot tolerate another having different beliefs or it is felt to be a threat if they do. Provisional beliefs are necessary, as one needs to make a map of the world, but they must always be open to revision. Be open to the opinions of another that provoke a new view of things, or that seem to conflict with what you already know. It makes it easier to see the middle path, the shades of grey between the black and white of opposing viewpoints.
So, if you feel an impulsive reaction coming on - and you feel you are being driven rather than being the driver - then take a pause, breathe deeply for several seconds and look at your options, the pros and cons - BEFORE you say or do something that isn't really congruent with your inner truth.
Intuition is not subjective truth or inner knowing if it is based on a reactive emotional response, whether a painful feeling or even a good one. How do you know if it's reaction or a fast input? Emotional intelligence is about understanding emotions, not just accepting that whatever raises your heartbeat must be the way to go. Emotions always follow an interpretation. Reality testing is necessary, to see if there's more to it and you need to look deeper, or if it's an answer but in the wrong direction perhaps with thought distortions, or if it's somebody else's subjective truth rather than your own.
Training in Mind Development can benefit you in a number of ways, depending on what areas you feel you are weak at, or what you want to change about yourself and your capabilities. If you do these courses you should expect to see stable improvements in your career and abilities. You should have better judgment, increased mental speed and will power, better self-expression, the ability to study effectively and recall what you have learned, more creative insights, and confidence in your capacity to achieve your personal goals in life.
Loevinger's stages of Ego development
As we grow up, our Ego (the self-image or sense of being) puts changes in place to make coherent meaning of what is happening as it experiences day-to-day life. The Ego is not a thing we have, it is a large part of who we are, the analytical function of mind, including reasoning and conscious memory. The Ego is constantly engaged in making meaning out of life experience, organizing and reorganizing everything it sees, feels, hears, touches, senses, thinks and tastes. It does this to create and recreate a human viewpoint - your viewpoint. This is the individual perspective which each human can rely on to approach the enormous job of living life. Our Ego works tirelessly to make our world-view out of the barrage of conflicting information that we are immersed in everyday.
Jane Loevinger (born 1918) was a developmental psychologist who developed a theory of Ego development which emphasized the gradual internalization of social rules and the maturing conscience, for the origin of personal decisions. Her Sentence Completion Test (SCT) covers a broad range of Ego functions including moral development, interpersonal relations and conceptual complexity.
Jane Loevinger's Ego development theory proposes that individuals progress through a series of stages that reflect increased levels of cognitive complexity and Ego maturity. Loevinger proposes that the level of Ego functioning influences how an individual perceives and interprets personal experiences and interpersonal relationships. She describes nine stages of Ego development, which may be broadly divided into Pre-Conventional, Conventional and Post-Conventional.
Babies are born with no Ego, their sense of being is not differentiated from the world around them. They are pre-social, communicating only at the perceptual level. This stage of Ego development aligns with the Sensori-Motor stage of Cognitive Development as described by Piaget - see the article Adult Intellectual Development. The dominant mode of representation of the world is through kinesthetic senses.
In this mode, associated with very young children, people are little aware of distinctions between self and other, and as suggested by the name, they are often impulsive in their behavior, though curbed by restraints, rewards and punishments. Others are seen in terms of what they can give; they are "nice to me" or "mean to me." It is a present-centered orientation and causation is restricted to the physical; there is no sense of responsibility for psychological causation. This stage of Ego development aligns with the Pre-logical intuitive stage of Cognitive development. The dominant mode of representation of the world is through auditory senses.
An awareness that others have their own viewpoint starts to arise, and with it a sense of self. However, it is a very limited sense of self in which any opposition to the desires of the self is labeled as "bad," anything congruent with the desires of self, "good," and little capacity for introspection or real empathy exists. The self-protective, egocentric person doesn't want to "get caught" and immediately labels anything that impedes the self's getting its way as "bad," so they are largely amoral and externalize blame. There is the beginnings of self-control and the anticipation of rewards and punishments. It is a state of opportunistic hedonism. This stage of Ego development aligns with the Low Concrete Operational stage of Cognitive development. A concrete visual mode of representation has become the predominant way of thinking about and remembering experience.
An awareness of the needs of others starts to arise, and the need to ingratiate oneself with others becomes paramount as a way of achieving harmony, being well liked, and satisfying one's own needs in turn. This is an 'allocentric' orientation - the individual tends to be cooperative, interdependent, and to have a strong need to affiliate with others. The person is quick to take stereotypes roles and follow the rules of the group, with little sense of self - they are 'field-dependent,' dependent on direction from others. Security is found in belonging and behavior is judged by external standards, not by inner-directed intention. Thought processes are still limited to the level of concrete operations, with the ability to think systematically and quantitatively but little ability to think abstractly or in terms of hypotheses (formal operations). This stage of Ego development aligns with the Concrete Operational stage of Cognitive development. For conceptual information which isn't easily represented using pictures, symbolic representation is used, including inner speech, using words as formalized symbols which 'stand for' the concepts.
Now the need for independence from norms and expectations arises, to assert and prove their competence, and to reject the constraints of either oppressive authority or the docility of the conformist. Most teenagers at one point or another exhibit this stage strongly. It is the beginnings of the inner life. Thought processes are beginning to become more abstract but remain naive. This stage of Ego development aligns with the Low Formal Operational stage of Cognitive development.
By now an individual has achieved a strong sense of self-identity, without the fragility and defensiveness of the previous stage, and is capable of and desires to work and cooperate successfully with others to achieve shared objectives... a person working in enlightened self interest to further his or her own career, while also being useful to the organizations they work with, and thereby, ideally, society as a whole. He or she is aware of their personal goals and ideals and has a sense of responsibility. Rules are internalized - they have a sense of self apart from that of their peers and act from their own determinism. The person can see themselves from the other's point of view and guilt occurs as a result of from hurting another, not from breaking arbitrary rules. Thought processes are at the level of Formal operations, with the ability to think logically about abstract problems and hypotheses. At the Concientious Level a student starts to gain an idiocentric value system. People with an idiocentric value orientation tend to emphasize their own goals and needs over those of the groups to which they belong, and to be independent and self-reliant. This stage of Ego development aligns with the Formal Operational stage of Cognitive development.
Note: The lowest level of Systems Intelligence - being aware of the systemic context of one's behavior - starts at the Conscientious Level. A person needs to have developed some level of detachment before he is able to see himself as part of a system. This detachment only comes with Formal Operations, even if the only goal is to conform. Before a person has reached the level of Formal Operations, he is running on automatic, he can only conform to simple systems like the family, and he is not aware that he is part of a larger system. Awareness that he is part of a system is only the first step, an individual will have to reach the level of Postformal Operations before he can have an impact and change a system in any but a minor way - and by this I mean a change for the better.
The individuated person, while accepting the need to work with others in society, is skeptical of organizations and insists on the need to critically evaluate one's participation in them, and doesn't take for granted that working for the good of any organization, however socially respectable it may be, is necessarily beneficial to society as a whole. They have an 'idiocentric' value orientation and tend to emphasize their own goals and needs over those of the groups to which they belong, and to be independent and self-reliant. They are inner-directed. Self esteem is based on competence, not on others' real or imagined opinions. There is a greater tolerance of self and others. They are introspective and aware of inner conflict, hence there is a distancing from role identities, and an awareness of responsibility for personal development. They tend to be deeply concerned about higher goals beyond mere worldly success (as defined for example in our society almost exclusively by economic performance). This stage of Ego development aligns with the True Formal Operational stage of Cognitive development.
The person with an autonomous Ego is aware of inner conflicts of needs vs duties and can integrate their own different identities. There is a concern for emotional interdependence and self-fulfillment and freedom from imposed ideas of right and wrong. They can tolerate ambiguity and integrate their own and others' ideas - their thought processes are at the level of Postformal Operations. The person with an autonomous Ego becomes a mentor for others, and sees the successful development of others as paramount to society. At this stage, he or she has overcome the Superego. This stage of Ego development aligns with the Postformal operational stage of Cognitive development. The Postformal individual is more intelligent about the systems that he interacts with, becoming able to manage, sustain, initiate and provide leadership for productive, inovative and well-run systems of organization.
Wisdom is more than performance and cognitive functioning or personal attributes. Instead, we may view wisdom as an aspect of Postformal development. Wisdom is the result of exceptional self-development, including Ego maturity and Postformal operational thinking. Postformal development is often associated with a decentering of the Ego and the ability to think dialectically, to reconcile opposites, wherein an individual is able to integrate various aspects of the psyche - the Ego, Shadow, Animus, Anima, etc. - and accept inherent contradictions and alternate truths.
This is the self-actualizing individual who has a fully worked out identity. He or she has transcended internal conflicts and achieved a high degree of inner peace and poise, empowered by integration of their strong Ego with the whole of their being and a sense of unity with the world around them. He or she is rarely flustered or perturbed by difficulties, and tends to radiate a calmness, warmth and compassion for others that is always noticed by all around them. In terms of thought processes, the integrated person rediscovers Korzybski's notion that "the map is not the territory." The linguistic process of splitting into polar opposites and the attending value judgments can become conscious; they start to see life with a universal or cosmic perspective. Good and evil, life and death, beauty and ugliness may now appear as two sides of the same coin, as mutually necessitating and defining each other. Achieving this state of being requires parallel cognitive, emotional, personality, moral and spiritual development, described in further detail below. This stage of Ego development aligns with the Metavert stage of Cognitive development.
In summary, these stages portray development as encompassing increasingly complex perceptions of the self and others. Conscious preoccupations move from the concrete to the abstract, and time orientation shifts from the immediate to the long term. The perception of other people, initially organized around simple dichotomies (e.g., nice vs. mean) becomes increasingly complex, encouraging a greater toleration of individual differences. These changes are accompanied by increasing psychological awareness and recognition of one's own internal motivations.
When they are adults, most people would be at the Conventional level. Mind Development is an ideal method to take a student from Self-Aware through to Autonomous, and the The Insight Project course the rest of the way.
Flexibility, cognitive complexity, and increased tolerance for ambiguity are key components of Loevinger's model of Ego development. Ego development is characterized by a more differentiated perception of the self, the social world, and the relations of one's feelings and thoughts to those of others. Each successive stage reflects the development and increased complexity of personality dimensions. A student, then, cannot reach the highest levels of Ego Autonomy described by Loevinger - the Autonomous and the Integrated - unless he or she has reached the Postformal stage of operations.
There is a high correlation between Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development, Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development and Loevinger's Stages of Ego Development. Cognitive Development is a necessary condition for Moral Development, and Moral Development is a necessary condition for Ego Development. The independent variable that causes this high level of correlation is a subject's level of Cognitive Complexity. A variety of research suggests that people have the potential to gradually reach higher levels of mental complexity throughout the course of their lifespan. Cognitive Development increases the symbol space of the conscious mind as well as the speed at which it is accessed, in order to increase the capacity for cognitive complexity, with all the attendant benefits that ensue.
As our minds develop, an increasing complexity of cognitive operations is required in order to know, understand and manipulate the world around us. When we are infants, we experience a lack of differentiation between subject and object. In short, we are one with the world. However, as we grow, our capacity to distinguish ourselves from the exterior world develops. When knowledge is embedded in our subjective awareness, we are controlled by it, captive to it, and identified with aspects of its meaning. In contrast, knowledge becomes objective to us when we can take a perspective on it, hold it as external to our own experience, and take responsibility for it, because we are no longer captive to it. As humans grow and develop, we become increasingly objective in our perceptions of the world, eventually resulting in the ability to entertain multiple points of view beyond our own. The ability to abstract from concrete situations increases and we are capable of imagining many scenarios and possibilities.
At the Concrete Operational stage of cognitive development we make unilateral descriptions, focusing on one idea or argument and not identifying alternatives. As we develop toward Formal Operations we can identify simple and obvious conflicts but without making a deeper assessment of the situation. By the stage of late Formal Operations we are starting to perceive an emergent complexity; we can identify more than one possible explanation or perspective. True Formal Thought accompanies the ability to make broad and informed interpretations and we are able to manipulate ideas within the perspective that has been established. At the level of Postformal Operations we are capable of an integrated analysis of all relevant factors - we can review the situation in terms of a network of cause-and-effect relationships, extrapolate ideas, and approach the problem from a new point of view.
So, as our minds develop, our thinking becomes more complex. This complexity refers to the number of separate factors and variables which need to be taken account of. Analysis of a situation or issue recognizes the connections and relationships among these elements, and is necessary to see the full picture and all its implications. People who are capable of cognitive complexity are multidimensional in their thinking.
People capable of complex thinking tend to take in more information and form more well rounded impressions than less complex persons. They are more flexible and fluent with creative ideas in novel situations. Less complex minds are prone to polarize on an issue and stick with the established solutions of others; because they cannot perceive counter-arguments they are more open to persuasion.
As one progresses in level of Ego development there is increased variability in self-experience. It has been found that at lower levels of Ego development, evaluation of negative aspects of the self was more restricted compared to the positive aspects. Higher levels of Ego development are associated with greater recognition of negative aspects of self - there is more willingness to introspect in a realistic manner and to come to terms with Shadow aspects of the personality. Recent research at the Young Adult Development Project in Massachusetts revealed that enthusiasm, affection, concern and neutrality were directly associated with the higher stages of Ego development, whereas sadness and anger were inversely correlated with Ego development. These associations were similar for both genders.
Our cognitive ability also impacts human relations. People capable of a range of cognitive complexity from basic to advanced can relate happily to both a dustman and a university professor. Those with a low level of cognitive complexity stick to their own - they may experience problems of self esteem when they talk to people with more sophisticated minds, and they are prejudiced when they look down on people more basic than themselves.
Our ability to think about and integrate complex issues also relates to our ability to make ethical decisions. Systems of 'morality' are, essentially, a complex set of rules, with multiple levels of reward and punishment, aimed at regulating the behavior of those in a particular society. Such systems have their origins in the distinctly human ability to make reasoned choices, to make decisions about our human nature and what we wish to become. Morality is thus the embodying of particular values and options in ourselves and in our communities. However, the complexity of ethical issues do not readily present simple "right" or "wrong" solutions. It requires considerable intelligence to take account of multiple simultaneous ethical perspectives and to find harmony between dissonant value systems.
Selman's stages of Perspective Taking
Very young children don't understand that other people have different feelings and experiences from their own. But this perspective-taking ability develops over time until it is quite sophisticated in adults. Robert Selman, a psychoanalyst, developed a model to describe the development of perspective-taking.
Note that the sixth and seventh stages can only develop during adulthood by making a conscious and determined effort to undertake the development of mental capacity.
- Undifferentiated perspective
Children aged 3-6 recognize that the self and others can have different thoughts and feelings, but they frequently confuse the two and attribute their own or another influential person's perspective and moral obligations to everyone else.
- Social-informational perspective
Children aged 5-9 understand that different perspectives may result because people have access to different information. Despite the realization that the perspectives can differ (based on the different information that each may have) the preponderant tendency is to consider one's own perspective as valid and by exchanging information, attempt to make another's perspective line up with one's own. So this perspective is marked by self-interest and deal-making.
- Self-reflective perspective
Children aged 7-12 can empathetically "step in another person's shoes" and view their own thoughts, feelings, and behavior from the other person's perspective. They also recognize that others can do the same and that another's perspective can be equally valid given the other person's unique situation.
- Third-party perspective
As children mature into adults with Formal operations, they take more information into account. They realize that different people can react differently to the same situation. They develop the ability to analyze the perspectives of several people involved in a situation from the viewpoint of an objective bystander or neutral third party. This includes the ability to keep multiple perspectives in mind at the same time. One does not see from one single perspective and then from the other - one looks at the entire big picture or social fabric and understands that different people are having different perspectives.
- Societal perspective
Those capable of Postformal thinking develop the ability to perceive how different cultural or social values would influence the perceptions of an objective bystander. They realize that the neutral third party perspective is not really neutral but influenced by the societal and cultural context in which the bystander lives and is reflective of those values. They perceive that communication in a group is regulated by social agreements and disagreements.
- Relativistic perspective
At this stage, the individual is aware that social viewpoints are relative rather than absolute and that a group of people examine events according to their personal systems of analysis, which are influenced by such factors as their life histories, the social setting, and their present emotional state. Moving to higher perspective stages involves taking in more and more information to form one's perspective, therefore fully expanded function at this stage would require some thinking at the mature intuitional or Metavert level.
- Universal perspective
We can postulate a further seventh stage in which a universal viewpoint is adopted. A person at this stage would have transcended the culture he is part of and his personal experience and feelings. This transpersonal perspective would encompass all available objective viewpoints and factors in a situation, independent of personal and cultural alignments and prejudices.
Robin D. Dovin in 1972 described the relation of perspective taking to moral judgment: "Every decision, from trivial considerations of where to have lunch to the momentous conclusion that it is right to risk life for the realization of some ideal, is made by a man who has personal interests, group loyalties, and his own preferences and aversions. In many practical decisions, such as choosing an investment portfolio or inviting guests to a party, we expect these particular interests to play a role in guiding the choices. By contrast, we are suspicious of a moral decision if personal preferences or limited loyalties may have played a role in the choice. An individual's commitment to make his moral decisions with due regard for the interests and welfare of all other men, rather than on grounds of his loyalty to racial, social or national groups, depends primarily on his awareness of himself as an autonomous moral agent. The achievement of this universal perspective is an urgent social priority in a world divided by cultural prejudices."
Kohlberg's stages of Moral development
Kohlberg and others have proposed that Cognitive development is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for Moral development and, in turn, that Moral development is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for Ego development. Stage transition occurs in response to life experiences that are structurally disequilibrating, personally salient, emotionally engaging, and interpersonal.
The highest stages of personal development arise from a parallel development of our cognitive faculties and our ethical nature. A large part of moral development consists of letting go of social conditioning. Through moral development, the ability is gained to step outside of social reality and objectively reassess the agreed-upon morality of the current culture.
The current morality exists, as do all moralities, to promote the survival of particular groups. We can escape from the social reality of our culture, not so much by rebelling against it but by adopting the bridge of a new moral philosophy, based upon a much more enlightened and scientific way of looking at the world. This is based on objective observation of the reality that exists. Whether a person has his eyes open or shut, whether he or she is there in person or not, the nature of the physical universe remains in existence and cannot be rationally denied. Gravity for example, is a reality you'd better believe in; it is senior to whether you are a Christian or a Jew; senior to any religion or belief system: if you fall out of a window, you will hurt your head!
Transition from stage to stage is by conflict and disequilibrium, followed by equilibration, as the individual both assimilates the environment and adapts it to himself. Piaget also believed that moral conceptions went through such sequences, a notion that Lawrence Kohlberg at Harvard has taken much further, to a widely researched theory of the development of moral judgment. A Structuralist* philosopher, Kohlberg has likened the seven stages of moral development (shown in the Table below) to an ascent from the shadows of Plato's allegorical cave into the sunlight of True Justice.
[*Structuralism looks first to the principles by which an entire phenomenon is organized, and only then interprets the elements within that structure according to their relationships with the whole.]
From about the age of 2 years to 25 (after which cognitive development usually ceases), a person will grow through at least the first few of the seven stages shown in the Table, in a sequence which does not vary and is irreversible. In the following table, Kohlberg's stages of Moral development are integrated with Piaget's stages of Cognitive development, and also with Loevinger's stages of Ego maturity and Selman's stages of Perspective Taking.
Table of Cognitive and Moral Development
One can observe an unfoldment of the successive stages of Superego maturity, which occurs in parallel with the unfolding of the different cognitive stages of the Ego. Kohlberg found that in many cultures, young people between the ages of 2 - 25 develop from Stage 1 onwards in an invariable, irreversible, step-wise sequence; the majority reach Stages 3 or 4 but few reach Stage 6 or Stage 7. Each successive Stage is a cognitive transformation of earlier ones, and each level incorporates earlier ones in a hierarchical system of increasing differentiation and integration. Change from one Stage to the next is precipitated by moral conflict involving expectations and reality, with thesis and antithesis giving way to higher synthesis.
This theory involves the interaction of the individual and the environment. It is concerned with the evolution of moral values to the point at which they are directed by the ethical nature of the individual. Moral value in the pre-conventional stages is defined in terms of self-centered needs. At Stage 1, the individual is primarily motivated by desire to avoid punishment by a superior power, whether parent, teacher or employer, etc.
At Stage 2, concern has shifted to the satisfaction of physical needs, and the individual develops an awareness of the relative value of needs in terms of demands for exchange and reciprocity. There is a preponderant tendency to favor one's own self-interests over those of others.
At the next two stages the subject is at the conventional level, where moral values involve conformity to traditional role expectations and the maintenance of existing social and legal order. The Stage 3 individual is motivated to avoid social disapproval for nonconformity, and would like to be judged by his intentions. There is an interpersonal focus: all moral/ethical conduct is guided by the dictum of good outcomes and relations between the parties concerned, and especially those closely empathized with.
The Stage 4 person understands how his role fits into the social institutions approved by others, and he seeks to perform his duty - to meet the expectations of society. Thus the criteria of ethical actions are judged as to how they influence the social fabric - whether they lead to maintenance of social order or are subversive to it.
The three post-conventional stages represent the most advanced stages of moral development. Decisions are based on consideration of shared values rather than on self-centered interests or blind conformity to social standards. The Stage 5 individual perceives his duty in terms of a social contract, recognizing the arbitrary nature of rules made for the sake of agreement. He avoids infringing the rights of individuals, or violating the welfare of the majority.
The Stage 6 person has become independent of the Superego's influence and creates his own moral code. He relies heavily on his own conscience and the mutual respect of others. He recognizes the universal principles that underlie social commitments and seeks to apply them as consistent principles of moral judgment.
Kohlberg further speculated that a seventh Stage may exist (Transcendental Morality or Morality of Cosmic Orientation) which would link ontological beliefs with moral reasoning.
At the sixth and seventh stages of moral development, a student has made the transition from a Superego morality to an Ego Morality. The Superego has fallen away.
Spiritual development & overcoming the Superego
Spiritual intelligence relates closely to Kohlberg's moral developmental stages as well as cognitive and Ego development.
At first individuals in one way or another rely on some authority outside themselves for spiritual beliefs. Young children follow the beliefs of their parents. They tend to imagine or fantasize angels or other religious figures in stories as characters in fairy tales. Elder children tend to respond to religious stories and rituals literally, rather than symbolically. This is a form of pre-conventional spiritual intelligence. As individuals move through adolescence to young adulthood, their beliefs continue to be based on authority focused outside themselves.
Primitive peoples, such as hunter gatherers, have Naturalistic intelligence to a high degree and this is woven into their systems of religious belief. For example, among the Australian Aborigines every animal and plant has a spirit, and they are to be respected accordingly. Their very survival depends on this. For the Aborigine his Naturalistic intelligence is his spiritual intelligence, but for many people in normal society as well, especially for those in tune with nature, being present with animals and the countryside may provide a profound sense of spiritual upliftment.
Naturalistic intelligence is a form of pre-conventional spiritual intelligence, which aligns with Concrete Operations. This is reflected in Pagan and Pantheistic beliefs and relates to Kohlberg's Stages 1 and 2.
Individuals tend to have conformist acceptance of a belief with little self-reflection on examination of these beliefs. Those individuals who develop further begin a radical shift from dependence on others' spiritual beliefs to development of their own. Individuals are no longer defined by the groups to which they belong. Instead, they choose beliefs, values, and relationships important to their self-fulfillment. They may be atheist, agnostic, or ascribe to a religion that makes sense for them. These are forms of Normative (conventional) spiritual intelligence, and align with Formal Operations. This is reflected in Conventional beliefs such as the established religions and relates to Kohlberg's Stages 3 and 4. Most people remain at this level.
Progressing further, persons still rely on their own views but move from self preoccupation, or from dependence on fixed truths, to also consider others' points of view and integrate them if appropriate. They tend to be more tolerant and begin to consider serving others. Such individuals have their own interpretation and combination of a range of philosophies, which may or may not have an overtly spiritual aspect but nevertheless provide a comprehension of existence in their own terms. They begin to search for universal values, such as unconditional love and justice. This is a form of Existential (post-conventional) spiritual intelligence, which requires an Autonomous Ego which has overcome the Superego, and aligns with Postformal Operations. At this level, a person goes beyond having to have fixed beliefs or literal dogma. This doesn't exclude Naturalistic and Conventional beliefs but they will be held in a more open-minded and enlightened form. This relates to Kohlberg's Stages 5, 6 and 7.
Although students at the entry point of Mind Development may have naturalistic or normative spiritual experience, they are unlikely to have developed insights of their own before they have substantially completed their development at the level of Formal Operations, and students will not have major insights that synthesize a wide range of views unless they have substantially completed their development at the Postformal level, and also reached Kohlberg's sixth level of Ethical Thinking (ethical universality).
Each of us is capable of spiritual experience, especially at the concrete level, but we differ in the degree that we can make sense of it. Individuals will ponder 'deep questions,' sometimes even from childhood, but generally come up with copied, trivial or naïve answers. Only with corresponding cognitive development will their spiritual development become more sophisticated. Spiritual intelligence is different from but is likely to accompany and facilitate - and be facilitated by - the integrative vision-logic of advanced cognitive development.
The levels of spiritual intelligence reflect the transcendence of self awareness and the potential integration between one's rational and emotional aptitudes. In their book "SQ - Spiritual Intelligence," Zohar and Marshall attached the following qualities to an individual who is spiritually intelligent. The individual...
- addresses and solves problems of meaning and value
- has the ability to assess their course of action or their life-path
- realizes that he is a spiritual 'creature' and asks questions like: "Why was I born? What is the meaning of life? Why should I go on when I'm tired, depressed or feel beaten?"
- has virtue, the ability to ask questions about good and evil
- has the ability to "dream, to aspire, to raise ourselves out of the mud"
- realizes the human potential to facilitate between reason and emotion, mind and body
- recognizes the ability to heal oneself and to make oneself whole
- recognizes existing values with the ability to creatively discover new values, with the realization that one is not culture dependant
- is creative and uses this quality to be flexible and spontaneous.
- is willing to try and resolve life's problems and to deal with them
- will be able to transcend to intrapersonal and inter-personal relationships
- has transpersonal visions of goodness, beauty, perfection, generosity, sacrifice, etc.
- is a servant leader and an person who inspires others
- is able to identify the spiritually dumb culture of society with its pressures, urges, needs, and satiations
- can see the reality behind surface desires
- can reflect deeply on what he thinks with a deeper and wider framework of his deepest motivations and life's purposes
- seeks self-awareness
- can stand against the crowd, or is able to hold an unpopular opinion about something they deeply believe in
- knows who he is and what he believes in
- lives by the golden rule
- possesses intense personal integrity
- has the ability to see life and others as fresh as through the eyes of an child
- has the capacity to be flexible (actively and spontaneously adaptive)
- has the capacity to face and transcend pain
- has the quality of being inspired by vision and values
- is reluctant to cause unnecessary harm
- has a tendency to see the connections between diverse things (being 'holistic')
- has a marked tendency to ask "Why?"
Ideally, spiritual intelligence should be moderated by the application of our other intelligences, so the psychic energy of religious belief is directed into productive channels. Unsublimated religious belief can become a problem; it is only a hair's breadth from fundamentalism.
The spiritual dimensions have significance for Creativity. The Values described above are those of a person who has overcome the destructive element in his makeup. Sublimation of religious beliefs provides a powerful drive to be creative. Many highly creative people have a high level of spiritual intelligence, hence many of the greatest works of art and music are the result of the sublimation of this religious drive. Many of the greatest artists sublimated their religious drive in the service of the church - they were creating for God.
Although the church is no longer the major customer in a largely secular world, the higher products of Creators arise from the sublimation of the religious drive in service of the society they live in. For example, Faraday was a Quaker and he expressed his religious values through his scientific work. Sublimation of the religious drive is a powerful tool for the reconciliation of Eros (the instinct for life through love, procreation and creativity) and Thanatos (the instinct toward death and destruction). More on this in the article about Sigmund Freud.
The transpersonal: transcending the Ego
While your "outer self" - the daily waking consciousness of the Ego - is focused upon the external world, your inner being encompasses all aspects of your consciousness. Your inner being includes your outer self, your subconscious mind, the "unconscious" parts of mind-body functioning, as well as the super-consciousness of the transpersonal realm. Your inner being is your complete consciousness. It is all of the "separate" parts of your consciousness in one unified package. Your inner being is also the real you, the complete you. It is also been referred to as your "Higher Self." In a state of mindfulness, it may act as witness to the workings of the mind and the Ego.
Development away from faith and towards reality testing in the advanced societies, since the middle ages, has been the evolutionary unfolding of the successive stages of Ego development, the changes in technology this has brought about, and the change in character structure, from Tradition Directed to Inner Directed.
Faith in an outcome implies that one has no rational means to test if it is possible. Spirituality based on faith is therefore hollow; spirituality based on reality testing has genuine substance - it transcends (integrates and goes beyond) reality; it does not replace it. It is the spirituality of the Here & Now; its truths are observable, they are not beliefs nor hopes. It is also much needed.
With the development of the strong and educated Ego and accompanying scientific method, the cusp has more recently turned downward toward a materialist society that has a weak sense of self and is easily manipulated - a transition from Inner Directedness to Other Directedness and a decline in Ego Autonomy, especially for the masses. To continue in a direction of advancement, rather than a return to religious ritual, a new spiritual awareness based on objective and personal observation is required, with introspection balanced by reality testing. For this to be possible, sound education which includes development of cognitive and emotional intelligence is required, to first establish Ego Autonomy, and then the balance can swing back from the consumer-oriented society toward a society with high ethical values and post-conventional spiritual intelligence; a way of life with genuine meaning and fulfillment.
The Ego is only a barrier to spiritual insight when it is weak and full of mental distortions and conflict - when it envelopes all the available attention so the inner being cannot function. Then there is the behavior that is commonly associated with Ego-centricism such as selfishness, arrogance or narcissism, or even psychoses such as schizophrenia. In fact these are the product of a weak and confused Ego, uncleared of false conceptions and internal conflict and so no clear sense of identity, with a fearful clinging to itself and no concept of an external viewpoint. Ego Autonomy is the precondition for successful work at the Transpersonal Level. Ego Autonomy corresponds roughly to Maslow's Self-Actualizing Need... see The Road to Self-Actualization.
The Higher Self
Assagioli's purpose was to go far beyond psychoanalysis; to create a scientific approach which encompassed the whole man - creativity and will, joy and wisdom, as well as impulses and drives. Moreover, he wanted this integrative approach to be practical - not merely an understanding of how we live, but an aid in helping us live better, more fully, according to the best that is within each of us. This conception, which he developed in the 1930s, he called "Psychosynthesis."
In Psychosynthesis, it is said that a person has a personality and a higher consciousness, the Higher Self. However, personalities in the world are obvious to us all; the Higher Self is only present for those with eyes to see. Assagioli's view of synthesis is of becoming more and more aware of the Higher Self, not only in oneself but also in others. His view, and the view of most spiritual disciplines, is that the Higher Self is basic and enduring, and that personality, though necessary for being in the world, is relatively superficial and changeable.
The Higher Self is the context, the home, the "unmoved mover," the uncreated source of life; the personality is full of content, learned responses, and is dynamic. The Higher Self may in many people never be recognized in any explicit way, and the nature of this barrier and how to remove it, to become "enlightened" or to "awaken," is the area which we are examining here, preparing for with Mind Development, and ultimately resolving on Trans4mind's advanced training course, The Insight Project.
In both mystical and creative states one finds elements of joy, union, ecstasy, absorption, loss of self-consciousness, and loss of sense of time... a state of 'flow.' In such states one has split from the Superego. But one still has need of Ego as a controlling and integrating center of consciousness; indeed, the stronger the better, so that it may be serenely quiet in its presence and not intrude into the experience.
A "no mind state" or a still and quiet mind as achieved by meditative practices as an aid to unitary perception may be achieved by either "switching off" the Ego or by clearing the Ego of it's anxieties and distortions. The former path is to go "out the bottom," to not exist, and the latter is to rise above, to exist in an expanded form, to realize that one further exists as a Higher Self, witness to the Ego and part of a greater whole - to embrace the physical, emotional and mental dimensions of humanness, for which the Ego is the appropriate vehicle, empowered by a higher source.
As Ken Wilber puts it: "One of the many reasons we have trouble with the notion of "egoless" is that people want their "egoless sages" to fulfill all their fantasies of "saintly" or "spiritual," which usually means dead from the neck down, without fleshy wants or desires, gently smiling all the time. All of the things that people typically have trouble with - money, food, sex, relationships, desire - they want their saints to be without. "Egoless sages" who are "above all that" is what people want. Talking heads is what they want. Religion, they believe, will simply get rid of all baser instincts, drives and relationships, and hence they look to religion, not for advice on how to live life with enthusiasm, but on how to avoid it, repress it, deny it, escape it... But "egoless" does not mean "less than personal," it means "more than personal." Not personal minus, but personal plus - all the normal personal qualities, plus some transpersonal ones."
Development at the transpersonal stage is a process of integration of identities, of unifying at a higher level - an integral process. Egolessness does not mean the absence of a functional self (that's a psychotic, not a sage); it means that one is no longer exclusively identified with that self, the Ego, or its sub-personalities. The path to transcend the Ego is accompanied by cognitive, moral, Superego and spiritual development as described above; it is through strengthening the Ego and determining a truth within that includes all, that we are able to detach from the world of suffering, attachment and resistance. The way out is the way through.
Please see the accompanying paper, Adult Intellectual Development for further important information that fills out the picture of how Ego Autonomy may be developed.