What Developmental Stage Are You In?
Infancy, toddlerhood, school age, pre-adolescence, adolescence–all these developmental stages look crazy different from each other. In each of them, we have different needs, motivations, interests, attitudes, emotions, and cognitive abilities. But our development does not stop at 18 or 21 or whenever we deem adolescence to be over.
We keep unfolding and growing long after our bodies reach their highest height.
A wide view of it all looks like this:
We spend the earliest years of life creating and solidifying an ego-self and the rest of our lives loosening it to recover our true nature.
(For the record, I wish we could just stay connected to our truest nature from the beginning, but I can’t seem to change human design—not even for my own children.)
I find the process of returning to our authentic nature an adventure full of grace, awe, that requires resilience, and courage. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world to me and I want to write about it, to synthesize and share what I’ve seen so many people—clients, friends, strangers and myself–undergo to maybe help us all get back to our essential nature sooner rather than later.
Zooming in, here’s a more detailed look at this building-up and breaking down process of human development…
In childhood, we bump up against the world at nearly every turn. In infancy there are bright lights, loud noises, cold, wet diapers, food doesn’t come quickly enough, and then it makes our tummies hurt, and we get put down sometimes and feel alone in the world.
In early childhood there’s being told ‘no’, frustration with our own limitations, over-tiredness and distracted or angry parents.
In elementary school there are mean kids, and teachers who don’t listen, and school-work that’s boring, and having to sit still.
In high school, what should I wear, and will they like me, and why can’t I (fill in the blank) when everyone else gets to?
At each encounter with tension or pain, our ego makes conclusions and strengthens its survival techniques: Okay then, our egos decide, I’ll be nicer, or louder or less visible or smarter or faster or more helpful or demanding depending on what I think will get me what I truly want—love, belonging, safety, connection, meaning, peace, joy, freedom.
Then, in early adulthood, it all solidifies as identity. This is who I am and who I’m not, what I’m into and what I’m not, what I believe and what I don’t. In the most ideal situations, we are blessed enough to have the internal and external support to develop healthy identities that are flexible and generous rather than rigid and self-conscious or self-protected.
But either way, being fixated on a defined sense of self that boxes us in to chasing happiness and avoiding pain is not sustainable.
In our middle adulthood, we begin to realize that these ideas of how we have to be in the world, our identities, might be off base. For most of us, while our identity is loosely based on our essential nature, the creation of our self-image tends to come from external places like cultural or familial conditioning that may not actually fit for us. We may be trying to adhere to ‘should’s’ or expectations or the belief that we should be able to or even can control the outcome of things if we just behave the right way.
A sweeping example of this is the mainstream idea that education, marriage, children, and money will make us happy, followed by, for many, the realization that hamster wheels aren’t actually ever going to bring the rewards we’re looking for or the way we show up in our relationships is causing so much pain. Our identities may stem from a set of painful negative beliefs about ourselves or the world that we mistakenly adopted during childhood as survival techniques. A young adult walking around with a (conscious or sub-conscious) belief that she’s not enough will likely work her ass off to disprove that or succumb to circumstances that reinforce it. As we enter into middle adulthood, many of us begin to get suspicious that maybe there isn’t enough striving that will solve our problem. This stage of life then becomes a process of coming to terms with the idea that ego-identification and running from old pain doesn’t work.
During each developmental stage, we find ourselves somewhere on the continuum between having won the grand prize available to us in that stage or suffering greatly without it. Example: during infancy, the grand prize is learning that we can express our needs and that they will be met in this world. Failing to experience that truth, we might leave infancy feeling powerless and/or that the world isn’t a safe and generous place.
The grand prize of middle adulthood is that after we shed old negative beliefs and limited perspectives, we shift our devotion away from achieving the outcomes that we associate with success or happiness and toward a commitment to self-love and authenticity with much less need to manage it all.
Here’s to the uncovering of old beliefs, the healing of our early wounds and the freedom to connect to our authentic selves!
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