Human Development: A Psychoadaptation perspective

Development is an interesting process. It begins with conception and ends when the individual’s last breath is taken, and the heart beats for the last time. Although there are many theories of development, each is wrought with flaws. For it is impossible for one to answer the ultimate question regarding causation. The constant tussle between science and ethics will not allow it. Thus, it is up to reason and experience to fill in the gaps. That, my reader, is what I will do here.

Development is a never ending process. Through development, one progresses from a poorly differentiated state to a highly differentiated state; a state in which each facet of the individual is clearly outlined and well defined. We will explore many examples in the coming chapters, but let’s take something I am familiar, mathematical competence.

Mathematics is not everyone’s favorite subject. Indeed, most people would rather eat raw sewage than learn how to calculate the variance of variable, or explore the nature of a slope. However, with practice, one slowly begins to appreciate mathematics, and as one conquers each progressively higher step in the process, one’s mathematical competence increases. This, my reader, is the essence of development; there is constant forward motion.

In addition to forward motion, there is differentiation, at least that’s what I promised, no? Well, there is. Let’s look again at mathematics. Some of us are more gifted than others, yet not all of us are gifted enough to master every skill in mathematics. Thus, there is differentiation in our abilities, and our competence beliefs. For instance, one may feel far more confident with statistics at the formulaic level than at calculus, which is the foundation of most statistical analysis. Thus, one may have a well developed statistics competence but a poorly developed calculus competence. This is differentiation.

Psychoadaptation deals well with the issue of development and competence beliefs. Interestingly, it is competence beliefs that are at the heart of all development. The more competent we feel, the more likely we are to approach challenge. The less competent we are, the more likely we are to eschew novel situations, particularly those that may result in failure. People hate failure, and will do everything possible to avoid it. Thus, if one doesn’t feel competent, she is less likely to approach potential failure than if one feels competent, thereby reducing the likelihood of development.

Competence beliefs are key to psychoadaptation. Psychoadaptation posits the existence of barriers in the path to development. Barriers are no more than mere hindrances that can curtail development. If one is ready to move forward in her development, regardless of domain, one will transcend the barriers. If, on the other hand, one is not ready to develop because the disequilibrium associated with moving forward is too profound, these barriers will become massive and covered with barbed wire. Nobody willingly places one’s self on the path to sure destruction.

Development from a psychoadaptation perspective is a violent act, destroying the old and replacing it with the new. In this book, my goal is to teach you about the nature of adaptation. Incorporating the perspectives of many of the foremost scholars in psychology, psychoadaptation is a creative synthesis. The ultimate aim, though, is to provide a practical theory that will allow those working in the field to help clients achieve a coherent and powerful sense of self.

Self is indeed the aim of this process. Self is the sum total of all of one’s competencies and self-identifications. A coherent self accepts all of one’s experiences, negative and positive. A powerful self is able to facilitate change, both in the self and in others. Although it is certainly important to change others at time, no change is possible unless one changes the self first. Thus, having a sense of self that is fluid and malleable is critical.

Human development thankfully is a life long process. We begin developing once we are conceived, when the sperm meets the ovum. From that point on, development takes off. Psychological development begins once the individual sees light for the first time. This development, however, depends on the individual’s environment, and its conduciveness to change. The more conducive to change, the more likely one is to develop in a positive sense. However, this propensity depends on one’s earliest systems, such as the home environment and daycare center. If these systems encourage development, it is likely to take place. If on the other hand they eschew development or even encourage the status quo, development will not take place. Thus, a very effective environment is one that actually provides the complexity needed to encourage and facilitate development.

A complex environment is key. Complex environments challenge the developing person’s beliefs. The worst possible situation is an individual who never encounters complexity and as a result believes that her premature perspective is well developed. Society provides ample opportunities for development. So long as one is exposed to them, the opportunity is there. If the developing individual agrees to challenge the self, the opportunity for development exists. If on the other hand the individual eschews such opportunities, development is likely to fail, for development requires transcending barriers. An absence of barriers, whether perceived or real is enough to derail development.

Each of us is born into a series of contexts. These contexts either encourage or limit development. However, even in limiting contexts, we continue to develop. Development is a natural process that is boundless. It is boundless, however, only if parents provide endless opportunities for development. If parents fail to do so, development will also fail.

This first chapter is an introduction into psychoadaptation. In the rest of this book we will discuss what it takes for an individual to move forward from the current sense of self to a higher self, one that will allow the individual to experience the highest form of development, what I like to call the oceanic feeling.

Throughout the rest of this book I will provide important lessons in self development. Equipped with years of research, theoretical knowledge, and practical experience, I will guide you through the self journey from the current self to the highest possible self. I hope, my reader, that you will not only move forward in your self-understanding but also actually move forward to a more profound sense of self, a sense of self that you deserve and void of pretensions.

Strap on your seat belt and let’s go for a ride!

Random thoughts of the day: July 14

Yes, it’s Bastille day. I know we are not French, but it is a holiday nevertheless, and it’s good to celebrate holidays. OK, so I was playing tennis today with my friend and coach Dan. We were at a high school in the Philadelphia suburbs. Football practice was going on behind us. I was hitting my serves and forehands really well, although I was and am still struggling with my two-hand backhand. Making the transition has not been easy, but I am seeing progress.

After working on serve and volleying, I proceeded to end the session with a game of 10 points. Either Dan or I would start the rally and one had to win the point. I was hitting well but starting to get tired. I guess that’s nothing extraordinary for a 51 year old man when playing with a 21 year old. I missed a couple of balls long, and this obese dude walking around the courts laughed at me out loud. Not once, but twice did he laugh. I was about to say something to him, but never got the opportunity. Honestly, all I wanted to say was that he should pay me for the entertainment.

Learning new skills is difficult, particularly when one is older and wishes to perform at a high level. I work hard to play my best all the time, and exercise intensely to achieve the fitness I need to withstand the pounding of a tennis session with a Division I athlete. I have fun playing tennis, and it’s my fantasy to play at a high level. As a youngster, my family couldn’t afford to give me the training I needed, not in tennis, martial arts, or anything for that matter. I had to work on my own to earn my lessons.

Today, as an older man with a teenage son, I actually work hard to afford the lessons necessary for my son to achieve skills in tennis, flying, and skiing. He is good enough at skiing to start teaching this year. He is good enough at flying to earn his private pilot’s license when he is of age. It’s tennis that requires some work with him. I am confident that within one year he will be well prepared to play high school tennis. I want him to be fit for a lifetime, just as I am. I may not have ever been good enough to achieve D1 status in sports, but at nearly 52, I’m in pretty damn good shape.

I guess that’s all I wanted to convey on this Tuesday evening. I love sport and exercise, and have incorporated it into my life. I think we should all do the same. I know it’s hard to go from sitting on one’s butt to moving like one really means it, but if you try hard enough you can achieve it. Trust me on this one 🙂