Inner Conflict as a Path to Higher Development – Part III

Continuation of Part II…

Beyond Level III there are two higher stages of development.  Both of these stages are rare, but they have been attained by various members of our society and so they remain possibilities.  Level IV is the stage of self-actualization.  The individual is autonomous, responsible, and in control of his or her life.  All of the characteristics which Maslow (1970) has identified in self-actualizers apply to this group :

  • Clear, more efficient perception of reality
  • Acceptance of others, self, nature
  • Spontaneity; simplicity; naturalness
  • Problem-centredness rather than ego-centeredness
  • The quality of detachment; the need for privacy
  • Autonomy; independence of culture and environment
  • Mystical and peak experiences
  • Deep sense of identification, sympathy and affection for humanity
  • Deeper and more profound interpersonal relations
  • Democratic character structure
  • Discrimination between means and ends, between good and evil
  • Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor
  • Creativeness
  • Resistance to enculturation; transcendence of any particular culture

Individuals are able to actualize those higher values that they became aware of in Level III.  They can commit themselves to service, but not at the expense of self.  Their own growth is dependent upon their compassion for others.  Concern for self and concern for others are no longer polarized; they are synchronized. 

The shame and guilt of Level III is replaced by greater self-acceptance, and the “striving” for higher level development is replaced by the recognition that the development is occurring.  Inner conflict, fear of failure and resistance all diminish as this inner security is gained.  Those at Level IV do not have to force inner change; they are able to use their directive skills to allow the evolution to happen naturally.  Frequently those at Level IV are more concerned with social transformation and work in the world – a perspective into which they fit their ongoing inner work and ever-deepening autonomy.

Beyond self-actualization, there is even a more advanced level of existence, one that has only been reached by a cherished few.  One transcends the ego at Level V, and becomes in harmonious unity with the universe.  There is no split between “what is” and “what ought to be”; the individual is a living manifestation of “what ought to be.”  Among the individuals who have attained Level V are counted Dag Hammarskjold, Peace Pilgrim and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

It is important that the therapist recognize the difference between a set of societally imposed “shoulds” and an inner vision of a personality ideal in assessing a client`s level of development.  “Shoulds” are a Level II phenomena; self-chosen ideals are Level III phenomena.  They are quite different.

Against the background of this theory, the positive value of supposedly neurotic traits which may surface during midlife crisis can be seen.  The dark underside of the crisis, those often surprising feelings of “wrongness,” of guilt for no reason, of nagging depression and senseless despair take on new meaning.  They can be signs of growth, growth away from adapting to societal norms toward the beginnings of interiorized, self-grown values and gropings toward autonomy.

What is the role of the therapist then, in this situation?  First of all, simply viewing the conflict and anxiety as positive signs of growth and health has itself and ameliorating effect.  The long overview becomes hopeful even though the immediate process remains painful.  The therapist can support clients during the transformation process, helping to reframe the elements of the situation in a positive light.  The thrust of Dabrowski`s Theory of emotional development might suggest validating these genuine feelings, allowing the disintegrative process but noting indications of new growth in such areas as owning one`s experiences, examining one`s values, asserting one`s rights and beliefs.  Emerging sensitiveness and reflectiveness are to be celebrated.  Knowing that the ordeal is a necessary part of growth toward a higher integration can help both client and therapist to manage more wisely and to continue – each of them – along the long road to authentic self-actualization.

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This entry was posted in Abraham Maslow, Authenticity, Humanistic Psychology, Mental Health, Personal Growth, Positive Disintegration, Self-Actualization, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Inner Conflict as a Path to Higher Development – Part III

  1. Zen Greenway says:

    Very interesting. I’ve had several transformation experiences in my life and I see some of their defining characteristics here. I’m a little surprised that guilt and depression are listed so prominently, however. Of course there are always things I regret about my previous life when I realize I’m changing again. And that can be depressing, but the most striking feelings for me are usually a renewed sense of freedom and a deeper sense of connection to myself. It’s like changing out of a sweater that’s gotten too small. Suddenly, there’s all this room!

    • lthibault11 says:

      I think that anxiety can occur when we are going through substantial disintegration of the personality. There comes a point in growth when the inner landscape becomes so far-removed from the outer environment that a significant amount of dissonance occurs. That type of growth has a huge impact, not only on ourselves but on those around us who expect us to remain the same people, possibly leading to feelings of guilt. This can create inner conflict, which leads to anxiety, which is sometimes linked to depression. I find Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration fascinating in that it actually views the angst as a valuable component of growth. It’s kind of comforting I think. I like your analogy about moving out of a tight sweater and suddenly having more room. It is freeing and exhilirating. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Zen Greenway says:

    Hmm. Yes. I forgot about “those around us who expect us to remain the same people”. That does generate guilt for me. Interesting that I totally glossed over that. So … more to think about.

    • lthibault11 says:

      Lol, I don`t blame you for glossing over that. Who the heck wants to feel guilt? Is there a more useless human emotion than guilt? It generally serves no purpose. Unless of course you are some kind of serial killer, in which case you probably wouldn`t feel guilt anyway.

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