Every human being passes through stages of less developed species in the course of his individual development (ontogenesis), see graphic:1According to Stanley Keleman, Emotional Anatomy, Center Press, Berkeley, 1985, S. 85
Our abilities and our state of being then also resemble our evolutionary ancestors to a certain extent, which is a clever move by nature. Because we have the abilities of these species at our disposal for a lifetime.
Hierarchically arranged stages nested into each other
Development is characterized by the nesting of developmental stages into one another, which are also organized hierarchically. This means that later developmental stages include earlier ones. Earlier developmental stages are no longer the default mode, but are available when more highly developed systems either fail or are not appropriate in the situation:
On the left side of the graph you will see a healthy development, where higher developed levels include and generally suppress lower developmental levels. Lower developmental stages are available when they represent a better adaptation to the life situation. Example: Humans usually walk, but they can also crawl if they have to pass through a narrow tunnel. If an escalation occurs, verbal de-escalation is the most mature way of dealing with the conflict. However, it may turn out that this is not the most appropriate reaction in a given situation, e.g. if you are physically attacked. In such a case only fight or flight helps. If the going gets tough, you can always play dead, too.
On the right side you can see a partial development, which is typical for developmental gaps. This construct is very susceptible to unwanted regressions, the falling back to lower developmental levels in the case of excessive demands and stress. This is due to the fact that the individual developmental stages are not allowed to mature, which automatically also leads to them not interconnecting. Higher developmental levels are then taken over by lower developmental levels in the case of increased demands, because the higher developmental level has never developed its full functionality. Example: Someone wants to lift something over his head. But in doing so, a neonatal reflex is triggered that brings the person to his knees. Or in the case of an escalation, which should have been solved verbally, the attacked person panics, strikes or freezes.
So it is not so ideal for humans to be partially stuck in an early stage of development… But that doesn’t happen as rarely as you might think. Therefore, knowing the characteristics of each developmental stage is helpful in identifying and closing developmental gaps.
Characteristics of the individual development stages
In the following, the individual human development from fish to man is traced.
In the womb, we float in amniotic fluid and therefore experience a state of weightlessness. We do not yet need to be able to handle gravity.
What you can do:
If the mother gets into a stressful situation or if the amniotic fluid is affected, we already have the ability to freeze from the 5th week in the womb. This is made possible by the fear-paralysis reaction, which is also accompanied by a release of cortisol and thus also slows down our metabolism in parts. This has the advantage that the mother is left with more nutrients for a defense and also toxins have less of a dangerous effect when the cells partially shut down. The disadvantage of all this is, of course, that every healthy development needs nutrients and that rigidity, should it be permanent, does not exactly stand for a nice start in life. Even in adulthood, we sometimes freeze like a rabbit in front of a snake. If we get into a state of shock, the state also resembles the freeze of the fear-paralysis reaction: in both cases we wait for better times.
What you can’t do yet:
Move in a coordinated way. Also the skin of an infant in the early stage of pregnancy is not as thick as the skin of a baby, what is already in the world. Embryos are almost transparent, so you can see the organs through the skin. Due to the darkness and warmth of the womb, the embryo does not need to defend itself against external stimuli, everything is dampened by the mother’s belly. The baby is supplied by the placenta and later by the umbilical cord. This means that there is little independence even with regard to simple acts such as swallowing. Movements are more like twitching. Thoughts and feelings in the early stages of brain development are rather shadows that cannot be properly classified – but they are nevertheless stored in the cell memory.
,How developmental gaps show up:
If a person still exhibits strong traits of the fish period, individual disorders may show a link to this early stage:
- Persisting fear-paralysis reaction
- Translucent skin, vein markings
- High sensitivity to environmental stimuli
- Slumped posture
- Head too large in relation to body (common in children)
- Affected person appears in need of protection, delicate and also childlike
- Little stress tolerance, need to withdraw and curl up like a baby
- Problems with the adrenal glands, possibly first increased cortisol levels, later adrenal exhaustion
- There is very little awareness of oneself, one’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily functions (watery eyes are not noticed, food around the mouth does not bother)
- There is a possibility of digestive problems due to immaturity of the digestive organs, the immune system may be poorly developed.
Transition to reptile:
Each subsequent higher stage of development also expands the abilities of self-awareness (proprioception). This “distance” often allows people to perceive what state they were in, basically when they are on the way out of it.
Therefore, during the transition to the reptile stage, there can be a perception of one’s own helplessness and overload, which has often been pushed away on a daily basis by iron will before.
In addition, compensations that the affected person has built up break down through neurotraining (but sometimes also through hormonal changes/stress) and the true state of development becomes visible. In neurotraining, this is always a temporary state, which is very soon replaced by abilities of a more developed nervous system.
Then the first signs of the reptile state already show up, which is clearly more linked to the sympathetic nervous system. This can be strange at first, if so far, the person was under the spell of the non-myelinated branch of the parasympathetic nervous system, which provides for rigidity and not for relaxation.
Reptiles are not exactly cuddly creatures. They perceive touch as a threat, react with lightning speed when they think they are under attack, and there is not much more to their lives than eating, fighting, reproducing and sleeping. Babies aren’t that much different in terms of brain structure either, as recent brain research has shown, “Newborn babies are not very social; they sleep most of the time and wake up when they’re hungry or wet. After having been fed they may spend a little time looking around, fussing, or staring, but they will soon be asleep again, following their own internal rhythms. Early in life they are pretty much at the mercy of the alternating tides of their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and their reptilian brain runs most of the show. But day by day, as we coo and smile and cluck at them, we stimulate the growth of synchronicity in the developing VVC. These interactions help to bring our babies’ emotional arousal systems into sync with their surroundings. The VVC controls sucking, swallowing, facial expression, and the sounds produced by the larynx. When these functions are stimulated in an infant, they are accompanied by a sense of pleasure and safety, which helps create the foundation for all future social behavior.”2Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma . Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle version, referring to Porge’s theory of the myelinated vagus nerve.
What you can do:
Babies can practically only make themselves heard out loud at the reptilian brain stage. They expect their needs to be recognized and met immediately. The Moro reflex is still (partially) active at this early stage and the adrenal glands are also often in an adrenergic state. For even if you cannot yet actively flee or fight, all the muscle groups that will later enable you to perform these activities are already active, as is the internal activation that accompanies these states. When children are a little older, they enter the “dino stage”: there is a lot of fighting and in the end someone always dies. The “no” stage, which occurs at about 2 years of age, is also accomplished with the help of the penetrating power of the “me, me,me” brainstem.
What you can’t do yet:
At this stage, babies need to be heavily regulated from the outside, as they have little self-awareness and are not always as aware of what need they are vocalizing. It is the parents’ task to take care of the baby. Particularly at this stage, this includes a lot of physical contact, eye contact and also conveying a feeling of security. Already in this stage, children can perceive conditions of the parents and after a few weeks also mirror and react to them. After all, chameleons are also reptiles. Because of their great dependence on parents, babies have little choice but to adapt and manipulate the environment to their liking through their own behavior, which means, “Don’t leave me, feed me, or don’t cause me pain!” Some babies become compliant, others scream all day. What is done is what mobilizes the parents. The baby is quickly overwhelmed by sensations, while feelings of hate, love, competition have to still form. Initially, there is no awareness of the subjectivity of the parents. After all, one is symbiotically fused with the mother and does not really know that one is a separate living being until about 3-4 years of age. In a transitional phase out of symbiosis, all others are objects then to be controlled from the center of one’s little world. Compassion, empathy, etc. must first develop, but can be simulated in the sense of a survival strategy. But in reality it is not about the other, because one cannot recognize him as a subject yet. The world view is simple: enemy or friend, mine or not mine.
How developmental gaps show up:
If the affected person still exhibits strong reptilian stage traits, the following may occur:
- Needs must be met immediately
- Situations are always first checked for threat potential.
- If there was no affectionate touch in the parental home, the affected person may find it rather unpleasant and avoid physical contact (or just tolerate it during sex).
- Black and white world view
- Negotiation, mediation and verbal communication can be difficult – in extreme cases, impulsive hitting or running away.
- Threatening situations can be accompanied by strong fear, which also leads to the affected person lashing out or going into a blood frenzy.
- Few facial expressions and little body language, even other people’s facial expressions and gestures often can not be interpreted correctly.
- Little ability to classify one’s own feelings, often the affected person feels at the mercy of these feelings.
- Difficulites with focus, because the brain stem interferes with the work of the frontal cortex.
- Selfishness: how can I turn the situation to my best advantage?
- Selfishness is often expressed through manipulation of the environment
- Lack of bonding and relationship skills: give and take do not balance each other out
- Lack of ability to separate, fear of being taken over or, at the other end of the spectrum, dependency arises, often also in alternation
- In the case of a persistent Moro reflex (child startle reaction), stress often lasts for hours, since the nervous system cannot regulate itself down – since the adrenal glands also fire the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline into the body as a result of the Moro reflex, this can also lead to overstimulation and later exhaustion of the adrenal glands.
- Needs often cannot be accurately perceived and named, one eats indiscriminately and sleeps with partners who may be sexually attractive or just there without meaning anything
- There is little flexibility in the psychostructure, changes can be perceived as threatening – just as small children do, it can then be that your girlfriend stares at your shoes, which she does not like, because you never wear them otherwise. And just as a small child may not recognize mommy when she wears a lot of makeup, a woman may get a blank look on her boyfriend’s face when she wears makeup.
- Planning the future, cleaning up the past is difficult
- Routines provide support
- Events often cannot be processed in “real time” – one has to withdraw to come down, to feel oneself
- Reactions are generally reflexive and little conscious, movements often cannot be executed consciously, coordination and fine motor skills are lacking – at least in some areas – muscles do what they want, not what they are supposed to do
- Basal senses are poorly established and coordinated: Body perception (proprioception), balance (vestibular apparatus) and upright posture leave much to be desired. In extreme cases, running is done in the “dino gait”, which can also be seen in small children who have not been walking for long: Buttocks backwards, upper body forwards, head in front. The arms are slightly stretched forward, bent and move together to the left and right while running, while the hands, slightly spread, don’t really know what to do. There is waddling and the upper body appears stiff.
In this stage, neonatal reflexes dominate, which actually always persist in a “reptile state”.
The transition to mammalian:
In the transition to mammalian, children discover sharing and genuine compassion. They become more aware that they are part of a group and not alone in the world. The limbic system continues to develop, so feelings begin to play a big role. So does identity. The child looks at himself in the mirror and says “I.” If the reptile phase goes well, the child can successfully break away from symbiosis, i.e. fusion with its parents. With the recognition of its own subjectivity, it can increasingly truly recognize other people. Discernment is also strengthened. Needs can be recognized and named more precisely. The child is no longer quite as dependent as it was as a very young child and also becomes selective about company (a first sign of this is being shy with strangers). The child begins to slip into different roles (now there are also lions and knights, not only dinos) and is increasingly oriented not only to its parents. Rules can now be followed to some extent, needs can also be satisfied with some delay. Coordination increases, after all, mammals are motorically much more dexterous than reptiles, which usually move somehow by snaking. Interest in one’s own body awakens, one’s own limbs are examined, the child is pleased when asked: Where is your nose? Where are your eyes? Through facial expressions and gestures, the child can communicate very well without speech – provided that the child has been adequately mirrored by the parents. Stories with animals and families become interesting. The child perceives himself as part of a family system.
Mammals are much more social creatures than reptiles. Accordingly, language becomes important, even if only through sounds, gestures and facial expressions. There are clear hierarchies within the group, power relationships and optics matter. Cooperation and strategies can be negotiated within the group, thus rudiments of an intellect and time consciousness can be identified. Mammals can also feel and express sadness or joy. Individual personalities can also be identified. Different from the reptiles, there is also a brood care. This does not last as long as with the human being, who cannot come full-grown in to the world because his head is too big in the adult age (which masters a big human brain). An adult head does not fit through any birth canal. So nature has considered that the brain capacity may well correspond to the stage where the child is. Less complex abilities require a less complex brain. A less complex brain may also be smaller. So we come into the world with a slimmed down version and minimal brain equipment, but we have been given the opportunity to update the nervous system. There is also not much “software”. But nature has given us instruments to acquire more of it, namely by the neonatal reflexes, which serve as a bridge to higher development stages, as well as the assumption that we can “download” everything from our parents that we need to get into the full equipment of the species human being. In the mammalian state, then, we learn the basics of being human, namely that we are integrated into a social structure.
What you can do:
In the mammalian stage, both hemispheres of the brain begin to interconnect. The right hemisphere of the brain, which is much more active in the preverbal age, gets expression through the left hemisphere, if all has gone well. The left hemisphere of the brain, which is responsible for speech and writing, develops slowly. Through this development, the child’s world also becomes less magical. The child understands that it is not gone when it simply closes its eyes. It also understands at some point that it is not a lion, even if it can imitate it and thus try out what it is like to be big and proud. The acquisition of skills becomes important and must be acknowledged: “Look what I can do!”. Despite a residue of self-centeredness, the child now sees himself more as part of the group, first his family, then peers. Intimate relationships become important, first best friends, then sexual partners with the onset of puberty. Analytical thinking takes shape, feelings and needs are still perceived, but they do not solely determine a decision.
What you can’t do yet:
True individuation and individuality is not yet a feature of the mammalian stage. The child does experiment with identities and boundaries, but a distinct and formed personality cannot be discerned until mid-puberty. The human body is not yet capable of self-regulation. Thus, children cannot be expected to make balanced and rational decisions that take into account the good of all. Children are still dependent on the regulation of their parents, who must encourage but also limit the child for his or her own good. Motor and sensory skills are also not yet fully developed; the human being is not yet fully grown.
How developmental gaps show up:
If the mammalian stage has not been well passed, the following may occur:
- There is a fear of being ostracized and cast out of the group
- Waiting for approval and permission to be who you are
- Status symbols and demonstrations of power through performance remain important.
- You’ll conform too much to the expectations of others, both in relation to friends, partners and superiors, but also as a citizen you will tend to be “good”
- In some cases, the not-yet-quite-successful individuation must be further expressed through teenage rebellious behavior, e.g., passive aggressiveness or senseless opposition
- Dealing with authority is not successful, you cannot follow where it would make sense and you subordinate yourself where you should resist.
- Dramatic love relationships take place, separations can often not be processed until years later – you may wait for the ideal dream partner and often miss the right partner.
- If the sexual development has not been optimal, there is a tendency to brother-sister relationships or you do not look for a man or a woman, but a parent for your children.
- If the integration of neonatal reflexes has not succeeded, there are disturbances in the posture and sensory apparatus
- Should the linking of the left and right hemispheres of the brain not have succeeded well, the abstract and the concrete cannot be connected with each other, as a result of which creativity cannot express itself.
- The ability to recognize patterns in the world and in one’s own life can be poorly developed – if they are recognized, the ability to find solutions for the concrete situation may be missing.
- You can only adopt and copy methods and skills, but rarely create something of your own – methods can only be learned through small-step instruction
- Learning comes through constant repetition, not through the immediate learning from experience and the appropriate knowledge to anticipate and avoid situations in the future.
- Analytical thinking is poor, problems cannot be unpacked backwards so that the cause can be identified and eliminated
- It is difficult to look at an issue from several perspectives – perhaps 1-3 steps ahead can be thought, but not how actions 10-20 steps ahead will affect one’s life and society.
- Analytical decisions cannot be made because they are blocked by overwhelming feelings.
- Discipline, i.e., acting on the difference between what you want right now and what you want most, is still hard to do
- Paradoxes cannot be held well, the “both and” is hard to do
Transition to human:
By age 21, the human should be fully capable of self-regulating, i.e., making balanced decisions without outside help. If attachment has been successful, the young adult is now also capable of having relationships and can give and take in a balanced way. Dealing with sexuality has been learned. Sexual partners are ideally no longer selected solely on the basis of hormone status, but also on the basis of character. As a young adult, group approval is still important, as is the desire to prove oneself. Relationships can be overdramatized in their importance at this stage, so that books like Goethe’s “Sorrows of Young Werther” are written – although such drama is actually already proof that the symbiosis may not have ended so optimally after all. Nevertheless, it is normal that one’s own identity in this phase still strongly depends on the reflection by a romantic or sexual partner. Ideally, not only are the neonatal reflexes integrated (after about 12 months), but sensory and bilateral integration are also fully accomplished (after 7 and 21 years).
In our view, humans are in more of a mammalian state until the age of 21. The specifically human potential is only developing and becomes more and more visible on the way to adulthood. The maturation of the physical body with all its components (nervous system, endocrine system, immune system) is the prerequisite for emotional maturity, which in turn is the prerequisite for higher levels of brain development that an adult can go through. Thus, by the time people reach adulthood, they are busy acquiring all the skills they should have in their toolbox, and then they can really get going with their individuation. That means that personal development and the unfoldment of individual potential can only start then. If everything goes as it should, the person is now capable of self-transformation. This includes the ability to be creative. He no longer needs therapists or coaches to mirror, nurture and support him. One piece of information is enough and a short phase of practice. Transcendence begins to play a role: Who am I really? Are we alone in the universe? What is spirituality for me?
What you can do:
Emotional maturity and the ability to regulate oneself should be given from the age of 21. This makes it possible to pursue plans, to delay the satisfaction of needs, to make good compromises in human relationships. One does not make oneself a victim. There is active effort on solving problems. This certainly includes the desire for self-optimization. But this is pursued so that the true self can express itself better and better and not to get or keep approval and a place in society. Friends, partners and professions are only chosen if they support and promote one’s own individuality – only then are compromises made. The goal is basically a win-win-win situtation: what is best for me, for you, and for society as a whole? As one’s own complexity grows, so does the desire to reflect it externally and in one’s relationships. The desire for a partner with the four “yeses” grows: erotic attraction, emotional connection, mental connection and spiritual connection. At the same time, the capacity for autonomy grows. Thus, intensity can be lived and held without getting lost in it or burned by it. In society you do not subscribe to a role, as a lawyer you are reliable and rational, but after work you can move sensually to tango music and to your children, you are a loving parent. There is an emphasis on a pluralistic and democratic community. Hierarchies are understood as an important ordering principle, as long as they are used situationally and flexibly, instead of in an authoritarian fashion. All stages of development of a person and societies are respected, while at the same time further development is encouraged. Awareness of the functionality of the whole is strengthened – you do not “solve” problems that reappear elsewhere. True sustainability is a given.
What you can’t do yet:
Adulthood develops in stages, accordingly children are not small adults. It is very important to take this into account, because overtaxing children (mentally, emotionally, physically) by forcing them into positions too early for which they are not yet ready is a guarantee for developmental gaps. Even seemingly minor things, such as putting children who can’t yet walk into walkers or bouncy seats, can have a lasting impact on neurological development. Not showing young children boundaries and involving them in democratic processes far too early, such as negotiating bedtime with 3-year-olds, produces children who are insecure and not mature. There is a reason behind the fact that full legal capacity is only given from the age of 18 in most countries. Children can be expected to make small investments with their pocket money, but far-reaching contracts should still be supported by adults who can show the young person the prospects and consequences of the transaction. The smaller the child, the more he or she has to move around. Long periods of sitting still and nonstop analytical-mental activity stifle creativity. Moreover, one should not be surprised if sensuality falls short in adults if the appropriate sensory stimuli were not provided in childhood (hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, seeing) because virtual reality has replaced real reality.
The further development of the human being:
Human development does not stop with adulthood. Development is always open ended. Characteristic of development is an increase in complexity and the ability to view reality from several perspectives that can be held side by side at the same time. In addition, more and more internal and external processes are turned into objects, that is, they can be viewed from a distance. Only in this way does the self, the inner personality, not collapse every time changes occur from within the body or from outside. The self becomes more and more self-aware and thus, in a seemingly paradoxical way, more and more capable of contact with the environment. Intimacy and intensity increase as more and more dimensions open up. This paves the way for the 6th sense and also the super-intuition – when you simply know things because you are able to tap into information fields that go beyond the purely sensual, emotional and mental local level of the brain.
Thus, for a young adult, the next two stages of brain development are what developmental psychologist Robert Kegan has called “Self-Authoring Mind” and “Self-Transforming Mind.”3very nicely presented in: McNamara, Rob. The Elegant Self: A Radical Approach to Personal Evolution for Greater Influence In Life (Kindle item629). Performance Integral. Kindle version.
Self-Authoring Mind4McNamara, Rob. The Elegant Self: A Radical Approach to Personal Evolution for Greater Influence In Life (Kindle items772-777). Performance Integral. Kindle version.
Identity: the ability to write, create, and renew from within.
Location: Inside self-authorship
Substance: Self-directed vision
Functionality: Reshaping social, cultural, and relational contexts through the inner intelligences of the self.
Typical of this stage is the need for autonomy. One is proud of being able to get along in life without a partner; one can be alone with oneself. Professionally, you can swim against the current, because you believe in yourself. You can create things that are not accepted by society because they are ahead of their time or only of interest to a minority. One’s own gender and personal identity is preserved by saying, “That’s just the way I am, you can leave if you don’t like it.” Needs and characteristics are (still) identity-forming: “I don’t feel feminine when I walk around in a sweat suit all day” or “I go crazy when I’m not allowed to go to the gym!”. For many people, this stage is synonymous with personal development. It’s about finding out which individual characteristics belong to you and which do not. Thus, this state also automatically has something that separates and excludes.
Self-Transforming Mind5McNamara, Rob. The Elegant Self: A Radical Approach to Personal Evolution for Greater Influence In Life (Kindle items1223-1227). Performance Integral. Kindle version.
Identity: the interpenetrating self or the interpenetrability of self-systems.
Location: outside polarity, within unitive/integrative space.
Substance: Dialectical co-creative connectedness.
Functionality: enhanced intimacy, dynamic co-creative boundaries, spontaneous attunement, confidence in conflict, and a broader range of creativity
In the Self-Transforming Mind, you eventually come to understand your own limitations. While it’s nice to put on a great dress as a woman, you realize that sweat pants can’t reduce you in your femininity if your female identity is real. The world doesn’t collapse if you can’t go to the gym once – even if you like to do it and it does you good. You are much better able to react flexibly to life. Discipline is important, but it is not carried through without consideration. You become more sensitive to subtle currents in yourself and in society and are therefore able to act in the right place at the right time. The identification with certain categories ceases. While in the Self-Authoring-Mind you still had to identify yourself compellingly with your star sign, your party or your gender, you now see that these aspects can only ever represent one perspective of reality. And that many of these categories represent a starting point and that everything can and should be transformed so that no developmental standstill occurs. The need for companionship is on the rise again. You desire people in your life who support you in your own development. You realize that human needs for closeness, sex and exchange are not synonymous with dependence.
While only about 30-35% of all adults ever really arrive at the Self-Authoring-Mind, only 1% do so at the Self-Transforming-Mind. These statistics are about people who can act stably, i.e. without the danger of regression, from the point of view of these advanced adult stages of brain development. The prerequisite for this stability is thus the absence of developmental gaps.
Development does not stop with the Self-Authoring-Mind and the Self-Transforming-Mind. But how the next stages of adult development could express themselves will only reveal themselves to people who have completed their development up to these stages without any gaps. The goal is not to get higher and further as fast as possible, but to really mature for the benefit of all.
Recapitulation through neurotraining
These stages above can show up in stressful situations in the sense of an unwanted regression. But also during the neurotraining these stages can appear again briefly, because the training always starts at the beginning of the development. The trainee recapitulates his own development in a fast run to close gaps.
The corresponding topics of the respective stage can then become more apparent. The reason for this is the cell memory, whereby, for example, violent emotions can boil up again, which were experienced in a certain stage of development and are now reactivated by certain movements: “It is precisely from this limbic system that sensations, passion, drive, fear, anger and sadness arise. If the brain stem represents survival, it is the midbrain and limbic system that represent what we call instinct. The latter also largely control our metabolism and metabolic responses to the world around us. The limbic system is thus involved in the storage of memories, which is why children seem to learn better when they are physically and emotionally connected to the object of learning. Also, this involvement may be the reason that memories of past traumatic experiences reawaken the physical feelings of fear and horror that were associated with the original event.”
6Blythe, Sally Goddard. Grasping and Begrasping: How learning and behavior are related to early childhood reflexes (German Edition) . VAK. Kindle version.
picture credits: own work/Canva, title: United States Geological Survey – Graham, Joseph, Newman, William, and Stacy, John, 2008, The geologic time spiral-A path to the past (ver. 1.1): U.S. Geological Survey General Information Product 58, poster, 1 sheet. Available online (public domain).