Jane Loevinger devised an ego development system that closely resembled moral development, but was broader in scope and used empirical evidence. Loevinger began with an objective test of the mothers‘ attitudes to family problems, which she called the Family Problems Scale. Loevinger detected that women who scored at the extreme end of the authoritarian scale also were the most immature. Additionally, Loevinger found that a non-authoritarian and liberal personality was not the opposite of an authoritarian personality; rather, a detached and disorganized social style was the opposite of an authoritarian, showing evidence of a curvilinear relationship.
Loevinger further described the ego as a process rather than something. The ego is a frame of reference the personality uses to interpret the world. Developing her theories over time from her initial framework, she conceived a developmental model with nine sequential stages; each stage represents a more complex view of oneself in relationship to the world.
Loevinger’s Stages of Ego Development
In this stage, the child affirms his increasing sense of self and thus, sees the world in very ego-centric terms. During this stage the child may be preoccupied with the body’s impulses, especially sexual urges and aggressive impulses. The child’s impulses confirm their sense of self but are restricted by their environment. If someone meets the needs of the child, they are ‚good‘, and if they don’t, they are bad. Rewards and punishments are seen as „Nice“ or „Mean“. The child’s orientation during this stage is to the present rather than to the past or the future.
This stage represents the initial step towards self-controlling the child’s impulses. Duing the Self-Protective phase, the child understands blame, and externalizes it to others or to circumstances. The child needs a moral, strictly enforced, and unchanging sense of order. While a certain degree of abstract cohesiveness has been achieved, morality is just a matter of reward and punishment.
School aged children progress to the next stage of conformity. They begin to see themselves and others as needing to conform to socially approved norms. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and those rules are the same for everyone. Behavior is judged by external actions, not by intentions. The child begins to identify his well-being with that of the group, although there must be a strong sense of trust. During the Conformist phase, the child trusts and likes people within his own group, but may reject any other group. Stereotype roles based on social desirability are also embraced.
Loevinger reasoned that the Self-Aware Transitional Stage was the model for adults, and had the opinion that went beyond this stage before they were least twenty-five.
This stage is characterized by an increase in self-awareness and the ability to imagine more than one possibility in a situation. This is the beginning of a stable and mature life, one with the development of self-awareness as well as self-criticism. However, there remains a close tie to the norms and expectations of society, somewhere between the stereotypes of the Conformist and the acknowledgment of individual differences at the higher levels.
By this stage, the internalization of society’s rules is complete, while at the same time, exceptions and are recognized. Ideals and goals are acknowledged, with a new sense of responsibility; guilt is triggered when there is a transgression against another, rather than by breaking rules. Seeing things in a broad social context is offset by seeing the self as apart from the group, as well as from the other’s opinions. Tht person chooses their own standards, and other people are judged by their motives and not just by their actions.
During this stage, people develop both a respect for interpersonal relationships and individuality. To go beyond the Conscientious Stage, one must become more tolerant of themselves as well as others. The individualistic ego develops a more broad-minded tolerance and respect for the autonomy of individuals. Personal experience is opposed to nonsubjective reality, and inner reality is differentiated from outward appearance.
This stage is marked by the person freed from the demands of conscience; at this stage a person is able to conceptually integrate new ideas. The autonomous person also recognizes their limits of autonomy, in that emotional interdependence is a given. Self-fulfillment becomes the goal, rather than achievement. There may be a better capacity to both acknowledge and to cope with internal conflicts.
There is a high tolerance for ambiguity as well as conceptual complexity, as well as a capacity to grasp concepts of polarity and integrate ideas.
This stage is rarely attained. During this stage, learning is understood to be unavoidable, and the unattainable is abandoned. The ego has attained wisdom, as well as empathy towards oneself and others. There is a capacity to be aware of one’s inner conflicts, but also to reconcile and make peace with one’s conflicts. The reconciling of inner conflicts means to cherish one’s individuality. This is key to Self-Actualization, along with a complete, personal identity which includes recognition of one’s destiny.
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