Thoughts regarding one’s make-up, self-management and dealings with the world. I build upon my systemic view of the human system with characteristics: open, goal oriented, inner directed, feeling, thinking, behaving, and self and surroundings monitoring, expanded in another note. Also maturing individuals in maturing partnerships have and display respect, autonomy, commitment, openness, connectedness, attentiveness, nurturance, protectiveness, arousal and friending, also expanded in another note. In still another note I think about relationships are inside and are colored by the state of past relationships as well as affected by the status on basic tasks. The maturing adult strives to get and maintain a handle on four tasks.
First, “individuation“, the process of internal integration, becoming one within, becoming autonomous. We experience life, grow and develop in pieces like separate construction sites. Just as construction projects tend to grow into each other making an integrated whole, so do our internal experiences move toward coming together. As this happens we emerge as a separate human being with integrity and clearer boundaries. This provides each of us with clarity about our unique feelings, thoughts and behavior and the availability to be in sound, connected, adult, peer relationships.
Second is the task of the acquisition of a “sense of self-reliance” not the same as the skills of self-reliance. A person with relatively few skills may have a good sense of self-reliance while another person with many skills may have a poor sense of self-reliance. Parental mirroring and affirmation is instrumental here and with or without it the task is now ours. This has to do with taking care of oneself, being affirming and nurturing, owning the task and responsibility for it and thus providing for peace with oneself.
Third is the task of “sexualization” in its broadest sense. Some people are turned off by this word because of the unfortunate equation of it to “genitalization” and/or the caricaturing of Freud and his concepts which were certainly constrained by the culture in which he lived. I refer rather to aliveness, arousal, directedness, excitement, strength, softness, tenderness, toughness, sensitivity, sensuousness, vigor and generativity. This provides for drive and energy.
The fourth task is “career development“. I refer here not simply to one’s “job”, albeit an important part but rather to what I do with my life — how I choose to spend my life. This has to do with how one balances life and the content whether work, play, study, exploration, partnering, child-rearing, organizing, and participating. Every parent has experienced the relief when their child becomes clear about what to do in and with life. This provides for expression and function.
The better handle we have on each of these four tasks, the more mature we are and are so seen by others. In this process we are more likely to get into and maintain adult, peer relationships. Many of us get married the first time early in life before we have much more than a toe hold on one or more of these tasks. Once married, if we do not understand what is happening as the “individuation-separation” process occurs and we externalize, with the ease and societal approval of physical and legal separation, act out and physically separate from a spouse, we are left no further ahead, vulnerable to get into another relationship even more hampered than before. For most of us, making progress on these tasks occurs after we have married and in too many cases after we are divorced. For too many divorced this does not even occur then. For this reason I encourage individuals already in a committed relationship to stay there while they are “finding” themselves. In many instances apparent marital dysfunction resolves as the two individuals get a handle on themselves.
Many events may interfere with the smooth evolution and exercise of these tasks: physical or psychological absence of parents, physical or psychological traumata, illness or combinations of these. We cannot change the past but must not continue to recreate it and so need to reparent ourselves, acknowledge our hurts, heal and achieve mastery even with our pain and sadness and seek help for illness to enable a return to health.
I have been asked how to work on these. First and foremost is awareness and monitoring of these tasks. For each we need to identify, acknowledge and appreciate the feelings which exist. Further while open to others’ thoughts we must clarify and value what we think; these are the most important thoughts in our world; choose actions based on what we think; be thoughtful; list needs and implement a plan to meet each of them. Where some needs require other people, we want to enter into interdependent arrangements and be clear about what we give in order to get needs met. We need to list wants, say what we want, implement a plan to get what we want; persist; value our self, mentally, spiritually, physically and implement a plan to take care of ourself. Finally, we need to clarify what we want to do with our life and implement a plan to at least explore our wish. In this era more than a few of us are “retiring” or changing what had been an assumption about the rest of our life and moving on to a new phase. With increased clarity about how one wants to use life the greater the likelihood that there will be many phases in the adult passage.