Self-Regulation and Maturity
MaturityThe definition of maturity is the completion of a stage in physical or mental growth. From the perspective of Integral Evolution, maturity implies that our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies are fully operational, at optimal capacity and integrated with each other.
Efficiency and Energy PreservationNature will always opt for the most efficient and least energy consuming way of expression, which is codyfied in our genetic blueprint. Adverse circumstances, however, can lead to a less than optimal genetic expression (also called epigenetics), meaning that our genes can be expressed on a spectrum from optimal to bad to not at all. Efficiency and energy preservation depend on the optimal expression not only of genes, but of all body systems. That also includes an optimal cooperation of every cell and every organ in the body. Thus, integration is a natural result of mature body systems.
Control over Body, Emotions and MindMaturity also means that we have become masters over our body, emotions and mind. Maturity will also result in an integrated self, meaning that there is only one executive personality making decisions in one’s life, instead of competing ego parts. It is only through maturity that we can use the full spectrum of our human possibilites. Before that, we often operate out of a “default” mode, meaning that we lack flexibility to react to situations apropriately. Very often, we react to our environment, instead of acting in it. If we are ulucky, our environment will overwhelm us before we can even react.
Self-RegulationAnother aspect of maturity is the ability to self-regulate. Self-regulation is a process in which a system auto-adjusts to internal and external changes. On a biologic level, self-regulation is called homeostasis. The ability for homeostasis enables us not to lose all the blood in our head and faint when we get up or to get hungry when we use up all our blood sugar. We sweat when we need to release heat or toxins. Besides biologic homeostasis, there is also psychological self-regulation. This corresponds to the ability of the self to change its own emotional or mental environment and its reactions. Psychological self-regulation can happen in different ways: 1Baumerster et al., Self-Regulation and the Executive Function: The Self as Controlling Agent in A. W. Kruglanski & E.T. Higgins, Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles :
- The self substitutes a reaction or a behavior with a less frequent, but desired reaction – one would love to be lazy, but understands that working out is a better choice.
- The self can delay gratification – one would like to have a nice new car, but doesn’t have to steal it to have it right away.
Consequences of a Lack of Self-RegulionIf we can’t self-regulate as adults, we will always be and stay victims, of ourselves and others. Without self-regulation, the a person can neither truly know what is happening inside the body, nor in the environment. Reality and the truth of one’s life will be distorted. Esoteric traditions like to call this state the ego, which is an umbrella term for immature and disintegrated physical, emotional and mental functions that express the lower part of our human spectrum. The only thing the ego wants and is able to do is to survive. It is a sub-optimal epigenetic expression of our genetic blueprint. The ego, other than the self, runs on a default mode. The self, on the other hand, is the structure that we need to express our highest genetic, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual vision.
Body and Psyche are a TeamIt is important to understand that physical and psychological self-regulation depend on each other. They should operate as a unit, but don’t for most people. There is a strikingly universal expression for a dissociated and not integrated unit of body and psyche: “The price for ignoring or distorting the body’s messages is being unable to detect what is truly dangerous or harmful for you and, just as bad, what is safe or nourishing. Self-regulation depends on having a friendly relationship with your body. Without it you have to rely on external regulation—from medication, drugs like alcohol, constant reassurance, or compulsive compliance with the wishes of others. Many of my patients respond to stress not by noticing and naming it but by developing migraine headaches or asthma attacks.”3Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma (Kindle-Positionen1704-1706). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle-Version Therefore, one important implication of self-regulation is autonomy, meaning that our own well-being can be achieved and maintained without the attention, approval or help of others. Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual autonomy is what really distinguishes a grown-up from a child. There are obviously degrees of disturbances in self-regulation. People with a very strong inability to self-regulate will not be able to take part in normal social and emotional life. They are in deed like children in a grown-up body and need to be taken care of.
Highly functional and still deficientWe are mostly entrained to think that successful people have mastered self-regulation. But functionality and self-regulation are not the same. The psychologist Lisa Schwarz 4Lisa Schwarz is the founde of the trauma theray model https://comprehensiveresourcemodel.com points out, that many highly functional individuals are very disintegrated at their roots. Unilateral skill profiles are often an attempt of the system to compensate for evolutionary gaps. 5Meyer-König, Homöopathisches Bonding II, S. 18 An example of this lopsided evolution can be seen in the known fact that the often brilliant heads of successful companies are deemed to be sociopaths. Many brilliant artists struggle with a feeble personality. I have heard of several successful stock brokers diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. The whole Nazi state was a great example of eficiency and manageurial skill, but at what price? The problem with unilateral skill profiles lies in their lack of integration. Lack of integration will lead to trade-offs in a beneficiary personal and spiritual evolution. It will ofen produce individuals with power who do not know how to wield it and who do not understand that true mastery signifies power over self and not over others. No leap in evolution, spiritual advancement or alchemical change will ever happen when evolution is not truly integrated and therefore complete. Unfortunatelly, functionality is often mistaken for self-empowerment. While functional individuals may often think that they are capable and in control, they are mostly acting out on their hidden fears that make them look for success and the approval of others. They are not living their life any more than people who are obvious victim of their circumstances. Disintegration will, sooner or later, always go along with a sense of futility. One way to deal with this state is to look for more compensations on the outside – more success, more drugs, more sex, more adoration or more spiritual bliss. But the actual root case of the problem will obviously never be eliminated with this kind of behavior.
Maturity and Happiness are flip sides of one CoinSome pepole want to start small and just be happy for once – personal development and spiritual evolution be damned. Especially, if life hasn’t been kind so far. Unfortunatelly, there is no getting around self-regulation if happiness comes first. Two topics are generally connected to a happy and fulfilled life: the power to shape life according to one’s own ideas and needs and to have fulfiling relationships with people. For most people, especially romantic and sexual relationships play a big part when it comes to happiness. It should have become obvious by now that taking charge of our own life is close to impossible, or at least very hard when we are first and foremost victims of our own disregulated inner environment. It isn’t hard to imagine what happens when two dissociated individuals who lack the ability to self-regulate get entangled with each other. People who can’t self-regulate need others to give them stability. People who can’t self-regulate do not have a sense of self. They lack healthy personality structure and personality borders. But fulfilling relationships require the ability to connect as well as the ability to give and receive. Both of these requirements are not given in a child-like individual that is stuck in survival mode. The reasons for this are rootet in biology as well as in psychology. Biologically, it is our neomamalian frontal cortex that allows for intentional communication. The ego construct, however, is stuck in the reptilian stage of brain development, making every communication about fight, flight, freeze, hide or submit. This stage of brain development is usually reserved for really small children whose fears need to be taken care of by loving adults. Should these fears not be taken care of by loving adults, they will turn into a self-perpetuating loop. The parts that have not been taken care of at the apropriate time will still be waiting for the proper “cues” to evolve, read unconditional attention by someone who doesn’t expect anything back. Relationships are, by definition, not unconditional. They are only healthy when giving and taking is balanced. Any (perceived) withdrawal of love will likely trigger emotions of anger, hurt and fear of death, the reptilian brain will act with fight, fight or freeze, all rationality will be gone.6Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma (Kindle-Positionen1115-1116). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle-Version. Even more so when the neomammalian brain has only been developed rudimentary, which is the case when our physical body has not reached maturity yet. Should our body stay immature, our emotional development will be arrested. Our emotions will still be stuck in the stage of “merging”, which excludes connection by definition. Connection is only possible between two autonomous individuals. Merging only works as a source of fullfilment in very early life, until the 18th month to be precise. After that, we will only feel emotionally nourished through connection.
LonelinessShould we be stuck in the merging stage after the 18th month of live, loneliness is the state we will be in, no matter whether we are physically alone or not. Since humans are social beings, they will try to create constructs that look like relationships from the outside, but without the fullfilment, hapiness and joy that can only be a result of true connection. These states of loneliness may look like the following 7adapted from Erich Fromm, “The Art of Loving” in Meyer-König, Säure Brevier
- The relationship binds partners through a common destiny that serves as a bulvark against the loneliness, sexual benefits included if one’s lucky (partners keep their distance because merging was a painful experience in the past)
- Partners are surrogate mommy and daddy to each other, or more like siblings, sexuality and passion are likely not part of the deal for very long (being regulated in one’s basic needs for safety and structure is essential here)
- Partners stay emotionally distanced (partners keep their distance because merging was a painful experience in the past)
- People remain in a child-like naiveté and avoid romantic relationships alltogether
- The opposite partner is adored, while the partner loses himself in its object of adoration (merging is extreme in this relationship, it gets an erotic nuance)
- People look for substitutes in their imagination and get stuck in phantasies with movies, books or pornography (Just another way to avoid the pain of an unfulfilled symbiotic stage)
- One’s own shortcomings are projected on the partner, the only way to feel less helpless is to try to change the partner, who will never be good enough in fullfilling the neediness (this pattern often happens with people who deem themselves rational individuals, if just the partner would be just as rational as they are…)
- Every discussion is interpreted as rejection, there is a phantasy that people who truly love each other never disagree (a variation of the mommy and daddy theme)
Maturity and Health are also interdependentShould hepiness not be on your bucket list, you might be interested in health. And yes, health requires the ability for self-regulation on all levels. We are talking homeostasis here, of course, but also emotional and mental stability. Our physical, emotional and mental bodies have always been interconnected, but are they also integrated? Physical problems often arise when there are no words for emotions. There is a technical term for this called alexithymia. Alexithymia is a widely spread phenomenon. In this condition, people “tend to register emotions as physical problems rather than as signals that something deserves their attention. Instead of feeling angry or sad, they experience muscle pain, bowel irregularities, or other symptoms for which no cause can be found.”8Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma (Kindle-Positionen1732-1734). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle-Version It does not only lead to psychosomatic or functional symptoms. Alexithymia is a general state of being out of touch with one’s needs, which will influence the way we make decisions about nutrition, relationships, drug consumption, overworking ourselves etc. Sooner or later, those choices will likely manifest first as functional symptoms and later as organic damage. Alexithymia is almost an automatic result of deep trauma. But one wouldn’t have to be traumatised, when the physical and emotinal bodies are simply stuck in evolution. However, trauma and an arrested development are mostly both at the root cause of alexithymia.
ConclusionWhatever you do or want: Maturity and the ability to self regulate will have to part of your tool kit. Real adulthood and all connected benefits require an Integral Evolution. But how do we get there? Paying due to nature, its laws and requirements, especially the evolutionary order and the order among organ systems.
Evolutionary OrderAs stated before, evolution unfolds according to predetermined steps in growth that build upon and include each other, resulting in an integration of a coherent self. The self then presides over a body-mind unit that enables further development of even higher parts of the self. In the following chart you will find a rough overview over the human evolutionary order:
It is a well known fact that babies are unable to self-regulate in every possible aspect, since they can neither control their excretions nor feed themeselves. The physical body needs to reach a certain degree of maturity first in order to be able to work on the self-regulation of emotions. When children have learned how to feel, the evolution will continue with the mind. Obviously the maturation of the body will continue during emotional and mental evolution, as puberty proves. Through the interconnectedness of all systems of the body, some development happens side by side. However, the body needs to be mature to a sufficient degree in order to be able to handle the emotional development. The spiritual development is the crown of the evolution as a whole. It is when we reach spiritual maturity that true personality development starts, the embodyment of our highest potential.
Chain of Command within the Body’s Systems
Chains of command within the body are important in many ways.
Every society needs organisation. In this case, we are talking about the organisation of the cells in our body. And every organisation needs at least temporary leadership or administration. In our body, the brain takes over this job. Its rank within the chain of command is derived from its function to build connections. Through the brain’s data highways, even cells hidden deeply within the body are able to take part in what is happening in the outside world. This is why all other body systems will have to subjugate themselves under the brain’s rule.9Lipton, Biology of Belief, S. 125, Kindle
Energy, on the other hand, is what makes life possible in the first place. That is why our mitochondria, which harvest energy for our body in our cells, are the secret boss in our body.
Our hormonal system is responsible to channel energy or ration it when necessary. It reacts to commands from our nervous system and the mitochondra, among others. Thus, hormones are the executive arm of the leadership and have a pretty strong position within the hierarchical order.
Hormones also greatly influence the body’s police corps, our immune system. The immune system is tasked with the defense of our body’s inside from outside threats.
On a finishing note, one would have to mention all other body systems as well, like digestive and detoxing systems, the skin and the musculoskeletal system. They all play their part in a functional body-mind unit.
In other words: any kind of self-empowerment starts with the nervous system, fueled by the mitochondria.
Should the mitochondria not be able to harvest energy, the whole system will not work as intended. Find more about mitochondriopathies here.
Image: IStock, Licence 29.11.18