In human growth and development, we follow a track some suggest reflects our evolution as a species. In the terminology of Loevinger’s Ego stages, we go through Symbiotic, Impulsive (terrible 2’s) and Self-Protective stages as we develop into a little person.
Assuming a reasonable environment meeting our basic needs, we then move into the Conventional stages of development through the school years. These stages are called Conformist, Self-aware, and Conscientious. Most adults stall out at one of these stages. There is nothing calling on them to take it further or there is resistance to the required transformation. We’re more motivated to fit in than grow.
Rather than sticking exactly to how psychology usually talks about it (you can explore the above link), I’m going to frame it in terms of development of consciousness. In the Conventional stages, we’re trained by our family, school and society how to behave and relate to others. It is rules-based with variable punishment consequences if we don’t stay in line.
This ego mode gives structure for our sense of conscience, of right and wrong, good and bad. This sense is externally based yet becomes rooted as deeply internalized should’s and must’s. As we identify with our roles in our community (school-grounds), they become part of our identity. Obviously, some of the feedback we got as kids was designed to control or repress us.
If we continue to grow as a person, we move into Post-Conventional or Post-Formal stages. (usually late teens at the earliest) This includes Individualistic, Autonomous, and Integrative stages. In other works, we begin to think for ourselves and reexamine some of our programming.
Teens who shift to a new peer group with new beliefs are simply replacing one set of beliefs for another. They may be searching for independence but are trading one group for another they can fit in to rather than really breaking away. Same with people who jump on a new spiritual bandwagon. Again, Post-Conventional is about individual reexamination of inner disconnects and the development of our own personal outlook. This is often coloured by our early programming but nonetheless is an effort to discover who we really are.
And that search for self can lead us into much deeper territory. But we may also experience a sense of being “lost” for a time.
As we grow and the intuition kicks in, then becomes our dominant source, we begin to run into scenarios where it conflicts with our should’s, our conscience. Further, as we heal our earlier baggage, we release some of those earlier should’s. This is when we begin to shift toward consciousness and inner direction as our guide and mature past the constraints of family and society.
Some speak quite darkly about our early programming because at this stage, it can be quite difficult to clear, rooted right in the identity. It can also seem starkly embarrassing when seen directly. Often we find ourselves still identifying with childhood name-calling, for example. Yet it’s often still being cleared during higher stages. Keep in mind that this is how we learned to be in the world. While there may seem to be an endless peeling of the onion to clear the baggage, we’re only clearing those aspects that no longer serve or that are unresolved. If we dumped all of our programming, we would be a stranger in a strange land, even to ourselves.
At this stage, psychology is still exploring. Cook-Greuter proposed Construct-Aware and Unitive stages. One branch of psychology is exploring Transpersonal stages but they’re mostly influenced by Buddhist thought which has largely forgotten more than one higher stage.
But essentially at this point we get into the development of consciousness itself, underlying our experiences. First stage is transcending the ego-self into Atman, the cosmic self. Second stage is getting to know the relationship between Self and the world. Third stage is uniting the two. We then move into a post-Consciousness stage known as Brahman. I explore this in detail in a number of posts here. You can browse the subsections in the lower part of Key Posts for much more.
Coming back to the theme, through the approach and the stages of development of consciousness itself, we are driven by consciousness, not the old rules we once learned. For some, the shifts are gradual and gentle and we may not even recognize some of the changes – until perhaps we meet someone from our past who hasn’t changed much. (laughs) For others, the shifts can be large and eventful. The advantage here is the process becomes more obvious.
All this is not to say we no longer have a conscience. It’s more a shift from a personal or community one to that of the Divine.