Self-Regulation and Maturity
The 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 Preservation
Nature will always opt for the most efficient and least energy-consuming way of expression, which is codified 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 the optimal cooperation of every cell and every organ in the body.
Mature systems always operate in the most efficient way. Mature systems that cooperate in the most efficient way will result in integration.
Control over Body, Emotions, and Mind
Maturity also means that we have become masters over our body, emotions, and mind.
Maturity will also result in an integrated psychological 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 possibilities. Before that, we often operate out of a “default” mode, meaning that we lack the flexibility to react to situations appropriately.
Very often, we react to our environment, instead of acting in it. If we are unlucky, our environment will overwhelm us before we can even react.
Another 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 biological 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 biological 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 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.
What sounds little spectacular at first sight, has a wide range of consequences for our lives as individuals and as a species, since “Most of the social and personal problems that afflict people in modern western society have some element of self-regulatory failure at their root. This is not to say that better self- regulation would alone solve all society’s problems — but it would probably go a long way toward that end.“2Baumerster 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 .
Consequences of a Lack of Self-Regulation
If we can’t self-regulate as adults, we will always be and stay victims, of ourselves and others. Without self-regulation, 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 Team
It 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, as Bessel van der Kolk states:
“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 indeed like children in a grown-up body and need to be taken care of.
Highly functional and still deficient
We 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 founder of the trauma therapy 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 stockbrokers diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. The whole Nazi state was a great example of efficiency and managerial 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 personal and spiritual evolution. It will often 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.
Unfortunately, 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 their hidden fears which are the ones that make them look for success and the approval of others. They are not any more in control of their lives than people who are an obvious victim of their circumstances.
Disintegration will also, sooner or later, 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 cause of the problem will obviously never be eliminated with this kind of behavior.
Maturity and Happiness are flip sides of one Coin
Some people want to start small and just be happy for once – personal development and spiritual evolution be damned. Especially, if life hasn’t been kind to them so far. Unfortunately, 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 fulfilling 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 dysregulated 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 a 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. Most “inner children” are still fighting for survival and their default mode is only to receive, not give.
The reasons for this are rooted in biology as well as in psychology. Biologically, it is our neomammalian 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 appropriate 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. It is only during childhood that relationships are meant to be one-sided. During childhood, caretakers need to take back most of their own needs in favor of the child’s needs. The caretaker “merges” with the child engulfing it in its own emotions without the child needing to reach out and connect.
From a child’s perspective, any (perceived) withdrawal of love will likely trigger emotions of anger, hurt, and fear of death, the reptilian brain will act with fight, flight, 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 symbiotic “merging”, which excludes connection by definition. Connection is only possible between two autonomous individuals. Merging only works as a sole source of fulfillment very early in life, until the 18th month to be precise. The process of separation from the mother will not be complete at this point in our development, but will gradually proceed until about the 21st year of age (emotional maturity). After that, we will only feel emotionally nourished through mutual connections.
Should we be completely stuck in the merging stage or should we not have separated from our mothers appropriately until our 21st birthday, 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 fulfillment, happiness, and joy that can only be the result of a true mutual 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 unites partners through a common destiny that serves as a bulwark against loneliness, sexual benefits included if one is 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 altogether
- The opposite partner is adored, while the adoring partner loses himself in its object of adoration (merging is extreme in this relationship, it gets an erotic nuance)
- People look for relationship substitutes in their imagination and get stuck in phantasies through 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 fulfilling one’s 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, the phantasy prevails in which people who truly love each other never disagree (a variation of the mommy and daddy theme)
Maturity and Health are also interdependent
Should happiness 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 somehow 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
Alexithymia does not only lead to psychosomatic or functional symptoms. It 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 emotional bodies are simply stuck in evolution. However, trauma and arrested development are mostly both at the root cause of alexithymia.
Whatever you do or want: Maturity and the ability to self-regulate will have to be part of your tool kit. Real adulthood and all connected possibilities require an Integral Evolution.
But how do we get there?
Paying due to nature, its laws and requirements, especially the evolutionary order and the ranking order among organ systems.
As stated before, evolution healthily unfolds according to predetermined steps in growth that build upon and include each other, birthing a coherent self. The self then presides over a body-mind unit that enables further incarnation of even higher parts of the self.
In the following chart you will find a rough overview of 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 nor comfort themselves. 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 master emotions, the evolution will continue with the mastering of the mind. Obviously, the maturation of the body will continue during emotional and mental evolution, as puberty proves. And emotional evolution will continue through the maturation stage of the mind. 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 emotional body needs to be mature to a sufficient degree in order to be able to handle the mental development. Spiritual development is the crown of evolution as a whole. It is when we reach spiritual maturity that true personality development starts, enabled by the embodiment 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 organization. In this case, we are talking about the organization of the cells in our body. And every organization 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 deep 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 for either even distribution of energy, distribution of energy to where it is needed most, or rationing of energy when necessary. It reacts to commands from our nervous system and the mitochondria, 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