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Previous: Fear

Growing Up

Haven't we all been told at some stage of our lives - "When are you going to grow up?"

What does this mean? Aren't we are all continuously growing and developing in different ways and in different areas all the time?

Our growth and development have long been discussed in many ways, but to understand emotional growth I began with "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" (for example Wikipedia has quite a good description: Maslow) which many  would know.

Maslow's basic principle is that we must first attend to the basic needs of the body such as food and water, before we can address our needs of safety and physical protection, needing others and company, self development before reaching for our true potential. This was often drawn as a pyramid showing the bottom needs as the large bar at the bottom and our potential that is at the very top.

Maslow was a Motivational Psychologist and his hierarchy of needs gives a priority for our motives - and perhaps our emotions.

So my understanding is that the same principle holds with our development of our emotions. Before I go on, I would like to remind the reader that this progress is usually represented as a Pyramid, with most our development being stuck at the bottom levels, and it is not a simple progression from bottom to top like rising up the classes at school. We need to continually understand and improve the way in which we handle ourselves at the lower levels, and the levels are all "Both, And" not "Either, Or", so we can never escape the importance of dealing with our basic needs. Also, in any one situation, many levels and needs can exist side by side.

So onto Emotions:

1. Survival

At the most basic level, our emotions operate as their instinct - we see a pleasure and want it straight away, and if we don't get it, we readily give up, wanting to blame someone else for it, or get too scared to try it again. Remember, this happens all too commonly in our lives, but at this level we are quite unaware of our feelings, or even actions, often denying them later - for example "I was Not Angry". So we need extra care to try to be mindful of these reactions and even allow other people to remind us, rather than letting out usual habit of hiding them or denying

Operating in instinct mode, our responses are limited, as they cannot readily be combined, and so we are operating on one emotion at a time - either fighting, hiding, taking or letting other take from us. Most often we end up having one response one day, and having quite an opposite reaction the next. So, for example, for the first time we are hauled over the coals by our boss, we may become excessively hurt, giving in to their demands, and not defending ourselves in any way - but the next day we may wake up angry, and storm into the boss's office, demanding an apology (or resigning)!

This response takes up the largest part of our lives, no matter how experiences we may think we are, but fortunately most often remains dormant in areas of our lives that we rarely visit, or have little need to develop. What we need to learn is firstly to be aware how common these responses are, become much more aware of them, and to learn how to respond using these instincts in a more helpful manner (for example not letting them just escalate out of control!) Learning is prevented if we merely pretend that they do not exist, or that we are "better than that" when we see others responding this way - it is better to merely say "thank goodness I wasn't stuck in that situation".

Our best way of handling this situation is to remember similar situations in similar areas of our lives (for example - when told off by a teacher rather than out boss) and try to use this experience. Of course, most of us would forget we are doing this, and often react as if we are bing told off by Mummy or Daddy - not helpful at work. Remember, out real task here is to try to be Aware we are in this level.

My favourite example when discussing emotional development is to use the example of learning to play tennis. At this level, playing tennis is very much a case of "Hit and Giggle" at a picnic or on holiday - when we have little understanding of what we are doing and just happy if we get the ball over the net. The hard thing is that as we often forget this, and if we are more experienced, laugh at the reactions of those less well developed.

At this level, we can never really be aware of our emotions and they are deeply unconscious, all we can really begun to discover is our reactions and responses.

2. Childhood

Don't we hate being treated like children when we are adults, and yet we continue to need others to learn new ways. To learn to move beyond our instincts in an area that we are yet to have any experience, we need someone who has had some experience to teach us. Otherwise we would need start from scratch and reinvent everything that has been done before us. But more importantly, we need a person to connect to, as it is only through our personal connection with someone that we can truly learn. Of course, this connection may be through a book, but then as we read, we begin to have a personal connection with that author.

But in the first instance, it is more than that. As babies we are totally dependent on others to survive. It is our parents (in whatever form) who provide our basic needs as we can do nothing except respond by instinct. As we grow, we learn not only our basic functions such as eating, sleeping and walking, but we also learn to talk - out of a need to communicate and express ourselves to another who is close. As babies, we cannot speak, but freely communicate through our emotions with one who will accept this emotional exchange. A mother doesn't just interpret a babies sounds and actions, but somehow also "feel" what the baby feels, and if distressed, detoxifies that feeling by providing whatever basic care may be necessary. Perhaps out of a need to develop finer skills in communicating its feelings, and to return that experienced from its parents use of language, a baby starts to use words that combine feelings and sounds, to transfer knowledge with the words acting as greater symbols which can be communicated to all. True learning requires a deeper human relationship.

So to move to the next stage of development, we need a "parent" to teach us and gives us the necessary rules to begin. This person may be our biological parent, it may be a family member, a teacher, a coach or tutor.

So back to our example of learning to play tennis. This is hard to learn from a book. We need a person who can show us how to hold the tennis racket, how to serve, how to return the ball when coming from many different angles, show us where we are making mistakes, and learn learn the rules of the game. The coach will give us set ways to play the game, and make us practice until these rules become second nature.

Our emotions at this level are beginning to emerge. Although the beginning of our training may not be pleasant, we enjoy our success and want to please our parent or coach, we are aware of our frustrations when we do not succeed and convert our energies into more effort to follow the rules that have been given to us. However, some rebel or give up - our task is to try, try, try again until we succeed

3. Society

We become aware of a world outside our families when we are quite young, and probably first fully leave our families when we enter school, even if only for a day. In Primary School, however, we have a teacher who is in many ways a de facto parent, and we continue to learn knowledge to help us in our basic survival not only at home, but also in our community.

Once we enter Secondary School, however, we are very much more on own own, and need to team up with others to learn, both in knowledge and in many sports. At this time we enter our Peer Group, co-inciding with our entry into puberty - an interesting time when the increase in hormones also increases our emotions. This increase in emotions means that the simple rules that we learnt at home no longer see to be enough. We learn new rules in the group or team, and we learn to become part of that team. We enter the group at the bottom, endeavouring to please those above us and as we grow in acceptance in the group, we start to carry the strength of that group behind us, and we have a sense of belonging. In return, we continue to learn from the group and they teach us further. This is true at school, in sport, as an apprentice for a trade, or even as a doctor in training.

Some succeed well in this domain and learn to manage the group skilfully, some want to rise to the top to become the "King of the Castle", some use the power of the group meet their own needs - we name them after animal groups - the bitches and the bullies, same fail in the group and are continually downtrodden, and others escape having less experience in this area only to seek a higher level. But we all need to have some understanding as how how to manage at this level.

As for our example of playing tennis, we have left the coach for now and begun to play in a social group in competition tennis. If we have not been a member of a tennis club before, we start at the lowest ranking, competing against the weakest players. If we win, we rise up to challenge stronger players, but we are also open to being challenged by those who believe they can defeat us. We then rise to a level where we can rise no further, but safe from those below - our "niche" where we are comfortable. If we are very good, we can rise to the top to become the team captain or leader. Not many are good leaders at the top - some rise but coercion, some rise by manipulating the team, and some, use their power at the top for their own needs. I consider this pattern of belonging to a team or group as the pattern we mostly see in our society - in business, politics, our Universities and groups of all kinds. Unfortunately much of our society demands a stronger sense of development than that formed amongst our peers during puberty. But we will discuss True Leadership later.

We certainly become more aware of our emotions during puberty. Some emotions, especially those relating to sexuality and our relationships become dominant. But I believe they all become heightened by our hormonal awakenings. Just as we hand our emotions over to our parents or teacher to better learn, at this level we hand our emotions over to the group and our friends, as we so often see in sporting events or parties. Although we seem to be more aware of our basic emotions - happy when we succeed, upset at failure, able to turn frustration into overcoming our difficulties, and learning to face our fears - we all too readily attribute the cause of our emotions to others - pleasure to those we fall in love with, and pain and anger to those who hurt us. But our task here is try to own our emotions and accept them for what they are.

4. Parenthood and The Academy

Such is the pull of our animal needs and the need to propagate our species, that most of us will find a suitable mate, develop a home together, have our own children to raise and ourselves become parents. We can become parents in many ways, not only by having children ourselves. whenever we take someone under our wing to teach them a basic skill starting from helping them move on from their instincts and teaching them to follow a basic Art. However it is a mistake to think of ourselves as parents if we are merely helping people move up in the ranks - we are then merely team members helping each other out. 

For most, we leave the team and move to an Academy - be it for coaches or doctors, with the aim of learning how to learn, learning principles rather than merely learning rules and protocols. How we wish there was an Academy for parents, where we have no choice but to learn on the job! And at University, many would complain they are no longer taught how to learn. At this level of learning, the task is very much focussed on knowledge, with exploration of the methods and writings from the past, as well as exploring the understanding of our teachers in the present.

For parents, knowledge seems of little use, and the older we are - hoping to be more mature - the harder it seems to become. However we have learnt much about the world by the time we have our own children, and want to share that knowledge as best we can.

A certain mastery of emotions is also required. There is a hollow emptiness of knowledge without heart or passion, and as we have stated, the pursuit of knowledge requires a perseverance that outlasts any initial investment. But perhaps the most vital emotion to understand is how to use our fear. As a child we are learnt to trust our parents for security and in the group we are taught to be prepared and trust each other. But whether a parent, a teacher or a doctor, our fear may not merely be overcome or avoided - it must be faced. Our fear helps us to both  be aware and alert. A parent worries for their child and seeks help if they cannot solve the problem themselves. A doctor, with all their knowledge, is taught to never go against a gut reaction if they suspect an emergency is at hand. A guide leading a group through the bush appears bold and without fear, but remains alert and aware of any looming dangers, only to show the group a hidden snake or animal the others may have missed. Fear protects and guides us, which in many ways seems the opposite of all we have learned.

5. Mastery and Wisdom

We all want to be wise, and we are all wise in small areas of our lives. This is the top of the pyramid in our lives, but it is very small, and we can never be fully wise, as there is so much of our lives yet untapped. But we can continue to grow and develop.

Mastery is about learning to fly by the seat of our pants, in a fluid and smooth way, combining all our emotions into the process. It is about learning to play the piano with skill, then putting the book away and this time - just learning to play with feeling. Bruce Lee - who introduced Kung Fu martial arts to a new generation once said - "Develop technique, practice technique, then forget technique". It is just as much to do with knowing the right thing, but having the ability to put it into practice - with our heart and with passion. If we can do this, it becomes a joy to watch or listen to. The music comes alive and no longer like computer generated music. Watching tennis becomes a joy to see not just a good return, but something that is pulled out of the hat to master the strength to win the game. These are our music and tennis Masters - and there are so few of them, but so easy to pick if they are - they just "have it" - a touch of "magic". This is what I believe is the "Self-Actualisation" of Maslow, or what Jung termed "Individualisation"

But let me say again, we all have a touch of it, it is where we all want to be and grow. Many are called but few are chosen - but this is where we should aim.

We know that knowledge does not make us wise and usually gets in the way. We know from our experience that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. As a Doctor, I continually meet people who want to show us how much more they know, but in fact as we learn more, we only learn how much more there is to learn, making us more humble, and less likely to tell others what we think we know. Knowing more rarely helps, we need to learn from experience, combining our knowledge with our skills and compassion to be good Doctor, only occasionally hitting on some wisdom that may help.

The path to wisdom is not a direct one. In fact, to obtain wisdom and mastery, we usually have to go back to the beginning, but I think we need to do this for every stage we go through to rework the lessons at each stage. So in our tennis example, we need to go back to play picnic tennis before entering into competitions, or becoming the coach. And if we want to be Masters, we need to be able to go back and learn from the children.



Next: Mud Map

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