Emotional development, emotional maturity and BPD

Since my post about social maturity made me think a lot about why my social maturity is so limited, I spend some time learning about emotional maturity now. (My mom wonders if I’m sick, wanting to know so much about those things all of a sudden, lol.)

Anyway, I was wondering if not emotional maturity comes first and is what enables people to become more socially mature, too, so that if there’s no emotional maturity, there can be no true social maturity, no matter if I logically understand the concept or not. And my mom said that might well be true, because the emotions get processed in the amygdala inside the brain, which is a region that has connections to most other areas in the brain that are concerned with other functions, like rational thought. Which means strong emotion upsetting the amygdala might well on a biological level put other functions temporarily out of order. Kind of cool stuff, in a way.

But back to the emotional maturity. So I was finding out about this guy Erikson, who way back in the 1950s already thought out a model that includes the emotional development and which stages it might follow. So here’s a brief summary of his stages. (He put them all into a category that’s a sliding scale between opposites, so good as well as bad development gets captured, which is kind of clever, I think!)

1. Learning basic trust vs. learning basic mistrust

He said that’s what happens in the infancy when the baby either learns that it is properly and reliably attended to and develops a feeling of basic trust, or gets the crap end of the deal and learns that it won’t be considered and won’t have its needs met, developing an inner feeling of basic mistrust. Or is somewhere in between and ends up feeling ambivalent, I suppose.

2. Learning autonomy vs. learning shame

He said that when kids have more control, like from around their second birthday to their fourth, they try themselves out and either experience they have a certain power and can do stuff, developing an inner sense of being their own capable person, feeling proud and good about themselves, or they are constantly told not to do this, or punished for trying out their new skills, and made to feel ashamed about what they do, starting to feel like they can’t make it right for anyone and are bad people, developing a basic sense of shame. (My, how I can identify with that one!) Or most people will be somewhere in the middle between the two, probably.

3. Learning initiative vs. learning guilt

He said that from age 3 to 6 (roughly) kids develop their imagination and fantasy, learn to get along with others, like taking turns, or leading or following if all goes well – or if shit goes wrong and they aren’t supported in a healthy way, they learn to be afraid of failing, don’t dare or don’t know how to play with others and stay outside, always need someone else to help them and don’t have the same skills at playing and no healthy imagination. Or somewhere in between again. Sliding scale and all that.

4. Learning industry vs. learning inferiority

He said that school aged, kids either learn to be productive, to get along well with classmates and be able to follow and negotiate rules, to do more structured and less playful stuff like schoolwork or team sports, and learns self-discipline, too. If gone wrong, the kid only learns that it doesn’t suffice in those areas, that it isn’t successful in school, that others are doing it all better, feeling inferior and like it won’t ever be worth it to try harder. (Or somewhere in between again.)

5. Learning Identity vs. learning Identity Confusion

He said during adolescence, the now older children learn how to answer the “who am I?” question with a satisfying result. Self doubt and a little confusion about identity and roles, and experimenting with different things are part of the process for everyone, but if all goes well in the end there is self-certainty and anticipating achievement and feeling good about oneself and having a set of ideals. If it doesn’t go well, one might find a bad identity (like that of a troublemaker) or no identity at all, leading to self-consciousness, or still being on the lookout, toying around with possible identities, not really being able to enter adulthood and feel like a proper, defined person.

6. Learning Intimacy vs. learning Isolation

He said if all goes well, people can now enter relationships, use their positive emotional skills to be good partners and tell who would be a good partner for them. They learn how to be intimate, emotionally intimate, too, in a secure relationship. Well, and if things go south, the opposite would be true, instead of positive intimacy people would learn emotional isolation and feel detached from others. Or somewhere in between again.

There are two more stages, but they only apply in later adulthood, so I’ll leave off here. If you are curious, just Google Erik Erikson. (His mother wasn’t feeling too creative when he got named. Hehe.)

Anyway, after summarizing all that, what do I make of it?! Where are people with BPD? Where am I?

I think it’s safe for me to say that in all of those categories I’m pretty far out on the negative side. I did not grow up in a family where I could have learned basic trust, and I can feel to this day that I always err on the side of mistrust and suspicion of others motives, feeling unsafe with them, like something bad is about to happen, they will turn on me, abandon me, etc.  I also was made to feel ashamed of myself a lot, I was always the one who didn’t fit in and would watch others, not playing with them. I always felt and still feel inferior to others, identity confusion describes me to a tee and I’m feeling isolated and alone totally easily! (Gosh, can I just start over, please?! Not the most uplifting thing to realize.)

Hm, but even having learned all that I don’t feel an inch less confused and puzzled about the whole thing. It’s so, so, SO tricky! What do I make of that now? I have no idea. I’ll keep thinking about it and if I have new thoughts, I’ll be back. Unless the topic frustrates me too much.

How about you? If you have any thoughts, and feel like sharing, shoot!

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Social maturity and borderline personality disorder

When I was surfing the web the other day, I came across a paper about social maturity and I found the title intriguing, as social maturity does definitely not describe me at all, yet is something I wish I had. I started to read the article, but was quickly put off it because it’s a lot of text and virtually no pictures and lots of big words and had me feeling stupid and frustrated in no time.

But one of the advantages of having a mom who’s a shrink is that I can ask her to read it and then explain to me what it’s all about in terms I can understand.

So here’s – in a nutshell – what the article says. Which is basically that this guy Kegan assumed that people’s social maturity (= the degree of understanding of the social world) develops after a similar pattern as cognitive maturity (= the degree of ability to make sense of stuff and understand logic up to abstract concepts). He assumed that it develops in stages from basically “no social understanding” up to “being able to understand even very complex social problems”.

He suggested these stages be called:

  • Incorporative
  • Impulsive
  • Imperial
  • Interpersonal
  • Institutional
  • InterIndividual

Here’s a short summary of what each is supposed to mean:

Incorporative stage: the baby not having any sense of self yet, only sensory experiences and reflexes (like crying in response to an unpleasant sensation)

Impulsive stage: the baby realizing it actually IS not its senses and reflexes, but HAS them, that there is an “I” separate from the senses and reflexes that has needs (= impulses) and can take action to make stuff happen (e.g. cry intentionally to satisfy an impulse like hunger.) Others aren’t understood to be separate beings yet, but just something that be called into action to satisfy an impulse.

Imperial stage: the child becomes aware that it IS not her needs but HAS them, and that it can consciously manipulate things or people to get them satisfied. It expresses those needs and demands them met, without considering anyone else, because while it is now aware that others are separate from them, there is no awareness that they have feelings and needs and their own perceptions, too (kind of like they were robots, I figure, that can be manipulated into satisfying needs).

Interpersonal stage: the child becomes aware that other people actually are NOT robots, but have needs and feelings and own perceptions, too, that need to be taken into account. At the same time there is no inner guideline yet that tells the child whose needs should be more important – it can be the needs of others (always putting others first) – it can be its own needs (always putting itself first) – or it might go back and forth between the two. Children can now experience things like guilt or shame and a conscience, too, because they have become aware that they are not the only ones with valid needs or feelings.

Institutional stage: the child realized that there are institutionalized (= agreed upon by society and established) values and ideas and principles that can guide her behavior, like “fairness” or “honesty” or legal boundaries. The child can grasp why those are important and can (or should) not just be ignored when they are inconvenient.

InterIndividual stage: the adult realized that his or her own institutionalized values, ideas and principles aren’t the only valid ones, and that even values that other groups of people have agreed upon can be valid and justified and can be considered and respected for social interactions, even when they are not shared, or conflict with the own set of values etc. Even many adults don’t reach this stage, though, and continue to simply condemn or disregard institutionalized ideas that don’t agree with their own.

Okay, so far so good. I got it that far.

The next point the essay talked about was how people with personality disorders are supposedly stuck in earlier stages of social maturity. Like a Narcissist who can genuinely not comprehend on a social and emotional level that other people have needs and feelings that need to be considered, too, and aren’t less important than their own. While they might KNOW that, it has no social or emotional meaning to them and they are stuck at the Imperial stage, demanding everyone satisfy their needs. Which is not generally well liked in people over three or four years old.

So what about BPD? I suppose that personally I am stuck at the Interpersonal stage, with occasional lapses to the Imperial stage. I am usually aware that other people have needs and feelings, I am utterly capable of feeling shame and guilt, but I am not yet able to reliably let institutionalized principles guide my decisions about whose needs and feelings are more important in which situation. While I KNOW about those principles and values etc, I can’t feel them in those situations and can not apply them yet.

Which makes me wonder, what do people need to advance? How do you get more socially mature? I’m sure it must have something to do with experiences, because if it was only about knowing about those things, I would be there.

I’m wondering if maybe one stage needs to be completed with a satisfactory result in order to properly “graduate” to the next? Like when those earlier stages have been somehow messed with, maybe you just don’t have collected enough of what’s needed to proceed? So maybe I need to figure out what people are supposed to learn and experience at the interpersonal stage in order to advance . . .

Gee, I don’t know, it’s complicated. My mom has no good answers ready either. The essay said Kegan wrote a book that covers those questions called “In Over Our Heads”. Maybe I need to get my mom to read it . . .  😀

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