The 5 stages of growing up according to Kegan
About 65% of the general population — never become high functioning ‘adults’.
Robert Kegan, a former Harvard psychologist, claims that adults also go through the stages of growing up and most of us still lack an independent sense of self because so much of what we think, believe, and feel is dependent on how we think others experience us.
How do we grow? When do we become independent individuals and gain wisdom?
Kegan’s theory outlines 5 distinct stages of development .
Before we go into the theory, we need to understand 2 key concepts:
Many of us think that being an adult simply means getting better at what we do (i.e. acquiring more skills and knowledge). Kegan would DISAGREE.
According to Kegan, becoming an adult isn’t about learning new things (adding things to the ‘container’ of the mind), it’s about transformation — changing the way we know and understand the world (changing the actual form of our ‘container’).
This happens to us all the time. Think, for example, of a book you reread from high school. While the information is the same (same words, same book), the way you experience and understand the book (and the world!) is fundamentally different. This is transformation.
It’s only through transformation that we can transition to higher stages of development (this is also why personal tragedy can be such a catalyst for growth).
Subject -Object Shift
Transitioning to higher stages requires a subject-object shift — moving what we ‘know’ from Subject (where it is controlling us) to Object (where we can control it).
The more in of our lives we take as Object, the more clearly we can see the world, ourselves and the people in it.
Subject (“I AM”) — Self concepts we are attached to and thus cannot reflect on or take an objective look at. They include personality traits, assumptions about the way the world works, behaviors, emotions, etc.
Object (“I HAVE”) — Self concepts that we can detach ourselves from. That we can look at, reflect upon, engage, control and connect to something else.
For example: Many of us experience a subject-object shift with regards to religion. When we’re young our religion is subjective — i.e. I’m Catholic, I’m Jewish — and dependent on our parents or community. We don’t have the capacity to analyze or question these beliefs.
When we’re older, religion becomes more objective — i.e. I’m no longer my beliefs. I am now a human WITH beliefs who can step back, reflect on and decide what to believe in.
From my experience, the more I can step back and analyze, reflect on my own behavior, feelings, desires and needs, the more I can operate from a place of wholeness, peace and strength.
This detachment is not indifference, it is the act of viewing these things objectively, i.e. I am not my feelings, emotions, past or beliefs, I have .feelings, beliefs, emotions, etc.
Transformation and the subject-object shift are critical for adult development.
Stages of Adult Development
Our goal is to understand at what stage we are and at what moments and with whom we interact. Only then can we change our vision, thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Stage 1 — Impulsive mind (early childhood)
Stage 2 — Imperial mind (adolescence, some percent of adult population, too)
Stage 2 used to include only adolescents, but many adults never get past this stage. I feel like we all know a person who falls into this category.
Subject: IS needs, interests & desires
Object: HAS impulses, feelings & perceptions
In Stage 2, the emphasis on one’s own needs, interests and agendas is primary.
Here individuals view people as a means to get their own needs met, as opposed to a shared internal experience (how we feel about each other). They care about how others perceive them, but only because those perceptions may have concrete consequences for them. For example, when Stage 2 friends do not lie to each other, it is because of a fear of the consequences or retaliation, not because they value honesty and transparency in a relationship.
Socialized mind (58% of the adult population)
Most of us are in this stage.
Subject: IS interpersonal relationships, mutuality
Object: HAS needs, interests & desires
In Stage 3, external sources shape our sense of self and understanding of the world.
Whereas in Stage 2 the most important things were our personal needs and interests, in Stage 3 the most important things are the ideas, norms and beliefs of the people and systems around us (i.e. family, society, ideology, culture, etc. ).
For the first time we begin experience ourselves as a function of how others experience us. For example, we take an external view of our ourselves (“They’ll think I look stupid”) and make it part of our internal experience (“I am stupid”).
We get our thoughts, beliefs, morals (what we know to be true) from external sources.
We take too much personal responsibility for how other people experience us. As a result we spend too much energy trying to avoid hurting other people’s’ feelings.
We look for external validation to derive our sense of self. For example, a student doesn’t know whether he has successfully mastered a subject until he sees his grade on a test; an executive doesn’t know whether a particular meeting was successful or not until her colleagues tell her it was.
We don’t have an independent, strong sense of self. When there is a conflict between important ideologies, institutions, or people, we have a hard time answering the question: what do I want? We’re too busy focused on others’ expectations or societal roles.
- Self-Authoring mind (35% of the adult population)
According to Kegan, about 35% of adults live at this stage.
Subject: IS self authorship, identity and ideology
Object: HAS relationships, mutuality
In Stage 4, we can define who we are, and not be defined by other people, our relationships or the environment.
We understand that we are a person, with thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are independent from the standards and expectations of our environment. We can now distinguish the opinions of others from our own opinions to formulate our own “seat of judgment”. We become consumed with who we are — this is the kind of person I am, this is what I stand for.
We develop an internal sense of direction and the capacity to create and follow our own course.
We can question expectations and values, take stands, set limits, and solve problems with independent frames of mind.
We can explore other thoughts and feelings, creating our own sense of authority or voice.
We can take responsibility for our own inner states and emotions — “I feel angry because I interpret what you did as a violation of important values of mine, and if I interpreted your actions differently I might feel sad instead.”
We generate our understanding of the world and are not unduly shaped by the context in which we find ourselves.
We realize that we’re always changing, that who we are is something that we can still negotiate.
Stage 5 — Self-Transforming mind (1% of the adult population)
Object: HAS self authorship, identity and ideology
Only 1% of adults reach Stage 5.
In Stage 5 one’s sense of self is not tied to particular identities or roles, but is constantly created through the exploration of one’s identities and roles and further honed through interactions with others.
This is similar to the Buddhist concept of an evolving self — a self that is in constant flux, ever changing.
We are both self-authoring and willing to work with the authority of others. We can not only question authority, but also question ourselves.
We are no longer held prisoner by our own identity. We see the complexities of life, can expand who we are and be open to other possibilities — we are reinventing our identity. Our identity is limited — our circumstances in life will continuously change and our identity needs to change with it.
We can hold multiple thoughts and ideologies at once. We can understand things from many different perspectives.
Now that you’ve reviewed the stages, which Stage do you honestly think you’re at?
According to Kegan, we all believe we’re in a higher stage than we are. So do think where would you like to be?
What we need to do to move to higher levels - we can discuss that next time, but for now join the Evolution game and our community of the super people.
There , we are working within our friendly company to be on the 4th level in the near future and we encourage everyone who feels superhuman abilities to move forward and higher together with us.
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