With our discussion of Freud as our general model, we will examine the remaining theorists on our chart, identify the areas that they agree are essential for successful resolution of the various stages, and then group them together and see where the overlap falls. Ready to do this?
This should not take that long, as we worked out a lot of the kinks in how we move through the successful resolution of stages and build upon those successes. Let's try Erikson, because I like how he represents his stages as a series of conflicts, which I think is a nice metaphor for how it feels to go through the process. In the first stage, Erikson represents this conflict as one of trust vs. mistrust. We want things to come out on the trust side. The key to this is consistent, attentive, accepting parenting. Great. This establishes, among other things, the pattern of emotional reliability, that you can trust people in general, which is the foundation of all future interactions for the individual.
In a way that lends itself well to the construction of an interdependent development model, Erikson acknowledges the importance of potty training in a different way than Freud. Freud concerned himself with the development of the capacity for self-regulation, where Erikson looked at the consequences of that accomplishment. Having exerted control on themselves, the child now wants to set about exerting control on other things. This is a great time to give the child more choices to be in charge of, like what they wear, or what they have for lunch, or what movie the family watches, as a gradual encouragement in the exertion of themselves on their environment. This conflict is characterized as autonomy vs. shame and doubt. Again, there can hardly be much disagreement about which side we are pulling for. Encourage decision making in choice context, where there are no wrong answers, and encourage the act of making the choice.
At this point I think that we have enough on the table to begin talking about the developmental process. We have mentioned stages and aspects and phases, and maybe it still feels like we haven't described anything, yet. We know that people are complicated, so it stands to reason that the developmental process, if it is to be in any way accurate, will be at least similarly complex. Generally, the way that complex problems are broken down is by isolating different aspects and dealing with them in isolation before then considering them in collaboration. Which is actually exactly what psychology has been doing for the last couple of decades! Great news. So, applying our First Law of Human Dynamics, we want to identify different parts of people that we think every person has.
First we can identify the body. We all have one. At least, as far as I am aware. When I run into a disembodied human I will update my perspectives. So we have a body, and that body goes through a series of changes that compound in a gradual process leading to a greater complexity, and an accompanying greater range of functionality. This is the foundation for a lot of the changes that happen in the other areas of development. To be clear, I am not suggesting that every psychological change is entirely determined by biological changes. There are definitely social, cultural, geographic, and general environmental factors that come into play. What I am saying is that some of these developmental changes are made possible by biological changes. The ability to walk depends on the post-natal growth of the inner ear allowing for balance. Puberty follows the advent of hormones and a bump in brain space. There are things that we can do that hasten or inhibit those biological changes, but those biological changes create new capabilities and functionalities. If I want to understand the process, I start with the biological, and then I understand different aspects in light of those biological parameters.
This is a good point to address what has been a frequent misunderstanding in the many conversations that lead to this project. DNA is awesome. We understand a lot about the mechanics of how we work in light of the recent work in genetics. I just submitted my 23andMe sample a few weeks ago. I'm excited to know about my genetic marker and predispositions, because I know exactly what they are: markers and predispositions. Here is the critical distinction: genes are not fate. A high-risk allele just indicates that your risk is higher. You then have a choice as to whether or not to modify your behavior to adjust for your higher risk. What appears to be the difference between genes and fate is human volition. We have a lot of influence acting upon us at all times, and usually by being aware of them we can more appropriately decide how to respond to them.