The sequence for growth and change has its foundation in basic trust leading to the ability to have hope as discussed in the prior blog, but also has important successive and progressive stages necessary for increased potential for later growth. The six stages in this theory lead eventually to rewards, benefits, or the realization of growth or change. Such growth or change is both incremental- that is quantitative and qualitatively substantial. Moreover, a person can rotate several times through these stages gathering quantitative growth each time, which creates the critical mass of development that leads to leaps forward in growth, change, and maturity- that is, hopefully wisdom. Trust-Hope was the first of the six states and the first two-stage pair. Here are all six stages again as well as their pairing leading to greater change.
Simple and small things a person has hope for coalesce into a larger formation of possibilities in the ability to have dreams. It is developmentally appropriate for young children have fantasies as their dreams. Being or becoming a fairy princess or Spiderman reflects their developmental inability to distinguish reality from fantasy. They are just learning about how the world works in the pre-operational (magical thinking) and concrete operations stages up until pre-adolescence. They may also dream of running faster than the wind, or becoming a rock star like Taylor Swift, or a superstar athlete like Stephen Curry, or a world-renown author such as J. K. Rowling. In those intermediate years between fantasy or dreaming and adult accomplishment are the experiences in the real world. The child who is not the fastest on the playground, has trouble keeping in tune, cannot make a jump shot, or has not turned out multiple stories has experiences contrary to realization of their dreams. On the other hand, the child no one can catch in a race, sings with the voice of an angel, is always the first player picked in playground games, or has contributed regularly and been published in youth journals has received affirmation that his or her skills at least suggest that such dreams are possible.
Dreams Validated by Experience vs. Grandiosity
Throughout childhood, people have experiences whereby they gain knowledge, develop skills, and explore their capacity. As these experiences validate or invalidate potential competency in achieving their fantasies or dreams, they become more or less realistic. Children figure out that fairy princesses and superheroes exist in books, computer games, television, and the movies but cannot be their future. Some children, teenagers, and adults continue to have fantastical dreams despite real life experiences that disconfirm their capacity and show limited skills inadequate for such achievement. While a common recommendation is to never discourage another person’s dreams, some dreams are simply outside of one’s realistic capacity. For them, dreams are not aspirations that motivate and direct energy and work, but grandiose dreams that will waste time and resources.
Dreams to Purpose
When a dreams is validated frequently and relatively consistently by real life achievements and increased skills intrinsic to them, the child, teenager, and adult gradually develops an identity consistent with the dream. “I’m a fast runner.” “I’m a good singer.” “I’m a really good basketball player.” “I’m a writer.” The dreams of being the fastest runner, a singing star, a NBA basketball player, and a published author become more realistic over time and with good experiences. They evolve beyond some mental exercise to having more structure and direction. As current and subsequent steps to further move towards achieving that dream become evident, the dream triggers a sense of purpose for the child, teenager, or adult. The individual becomes purposeful in pursuing his or her craft, developing increased skills, gaining formative experiences, and exploring all aspects for growth and realization. The runner or singer, basketball player, and author tries different techniques, adapts his or her diet for greater fitness, pushes out the edges of his or her skills, studies accomplished role models who have achieved his or her desired dreams, and anything else that may further growth and development.
However, if the basic trust is missing so that the teenager or adult has a foundation of mistrust in self and others, with false hope, and grandiose dreams, an erratic sense of purpose develops that operates more as slogans than structure or direction for activity. The teenager or adult can spout the righteous principles of effort, dedication, and discipline but fail to practice them. Without a true sense of purpose, there is not the focused energy and efforts that increase knowledge, skills, and sophistication. Activity or behavior is erratic- at times, even contradictory to moving one towards realization of dreams. Exercise is skipped, an audition or music rehearsal is skipped, there is languid effort at basketball practice, and no writing schedule is followed. Success of others is attributed to luck while one’s own mediocre or absent opportunities attributed to bad luck. Magical thinking extends well beyond early childhood and becomes the justification or excuse for failure.
Goals to Investment
As development continues and the sequence and progression accrues more foundation with trust, leading to hope, leading to dreams, leading to a sense of purpose, then setting goals to achieve the purpose becomes logical. The structure and direction gained from a sense of purpose moves from the more general to the more specific. The general goal of gaining more experience, resources, and skills points the teenager or adult to specific goals such as a workout plan to increase muscle mass and reaction time, taking voice lessons to improve vocal range, making the school team, or writing every day for two hours. Rather than expansive undirected energy directed in some amorphous manner, goals that serve the purpose/dream become where action and energy is directed. Without a sense of purpose, the teenager or adult will set goals that are not cohesive or serve anything in particular. Busy being busy. They become goals of activity- being busy but without developing skills, resources, or knowledge or moving one any closer to the original desire. Energy may be expended in spasmodic intense bursts now and then, repetitively, with little or no effect or efficiency. Weights may be lifted, songs sung, balls bounced, or stories written… goals “achieved” without any progression or development. Busy for the sake of being busy becomes a waste of energy, but some kind of pseudo-justification for trying.
Rather than busy being busy without purpose or results, the teenager or adult with a solid sequence and progression of accrued development has goals that his or her investment of time and energy is more likely to bear fruition. A person without the same foundation invests in empty, erratic, and scattered goals leading to little growth other than a lot of classes taken, time spent, purposeless skills, unproductive exercises, and unfulfilled dreams. Depression, anxiety, and often resentment often result. Such a frustrated teenager or adult has increased vulnerability to self-soothing with alcohol, drugs, and any number of self-destructive behaviors. On the other hand, healthy trust and genuine hope, realistic dreams and resultant purpose, lead to setting productive goals that consistent investment is much more likely to lead to growth and desired change. Even when dreams change and purpose may shift with challenging or unexpected experiences, basic trust in self and others and resultant hope allow for shifting to more productive goals and investment or re-investment that serves realizing the teenager or adult’s aspirations.
Satiation and the Aimless Teenager
The three pairs of this developmental sequence and progression: trust/hope, dreams/purpose, and goals/investment also suggest the three areas to direct support or interventions with the aimless teenager. Ordinarily, parents and adults promote the teenager setting goals for his or life. The expectation is that clear goals will lead to investment towards achieving them and therefore, progression towards some mature productive life achievements. The fallacy of this approach is that setting goals and/or encouraging investment in them is only effective if the earlier developmental stages to growth and change have been solidly experienced. Without healthy trust/hope and dreams/purpose development, promoting further disconnected goals and energy or investment will lead both the teenager and well-intended to further frustration. Thus, attention to goal setting and investment of attention and energy must be qualified by examination of whether the needs of earlier developmental stages have been satiated.
Satiation of developmental needs triggers the individual, couple, and family’s progression on to the next developmental challenge. Setting goals and investment of energy are subsequent stages dependent on earlier formative stages. Until the developmental needs of the stage are met, an individual will stay in the stage or be pulled back to deal with unresolved tasks or energy. Harriet’s compulsive attempts to gain intimate validation through successive relationships reflected the lack of resolution of her developmental attachment needs. Sufficient quantitative experiences create satiation of developmental needs, which facilitates qualitative change into more mature stages. Satiation of unmet developmental energy or needs may be a key issue for many teenagers (and adults). The parent or adult’s role is to facilitate satiation of unresolved, denied, suppressed, and unfinished developmental needs for the teenager that have interfered with moving forward in life, including healthy relationship functioning.
Failure Provides Information
When setting goals and directing investment of energy fails to produce rewards, benefits, or realization, that the failure provides important useful information. Failure points to one of two theories. One is that the teenager is somehow inherently flawed, either intellectually, morally, or characterologically. The other theory is that the rational reason for not following a logical course set by appropriate goals and investment is that there is some important and compelling blockage to the teenager’s failure to progress. That would be that earlier development either at or in both of the two earlier stages: trust/hope or dreams/purpose was not satiated. Attention to one or another stage thus becomes the focus of support or intervention. If there is a solid foundation of trust/hope, then encouraging dream building makes sense. If there are dreams that are reasonable given experience, skills, knowledge, and/or resources, then provoking various options for following through on them helps the teenager develop a sense of purpose. If there is weakness or insecurity in the basic stage of trust/hope, then support should orient to examining how trust/hope was not developed and creating new experiences to build or rebuild basic trust and the ability to hope.
Resiliency and Repair
Resiliency allows for skipped, rushed, incomplete, stalled, regressed, or suppressed developmental energy to be re-stimulated in the organism. While someone may pass through a critical period for development without meeting his or her/their developmental needs, the critical period is not an absolute period. Fortunately, resiliency allows for second opportunities later in life to achieve another language, learn how to ride, and develop secure attachment. A teenager displays resiliency when he or she they attempt intimate relationships poor early attachment. And try and try again. Resiliency offers hope to that despite early or previous losses, stress, and trauma, one can recover and progress nevertheless. Despite disappointment and emotional abandonment as she emerged from his childhood, Harriet continued to seek emotional sustenance from intimate relationships. Although immature and damaged, her ability to elicit, absorb, and reciprocate nurturing was not extinguished. Greater awareness and subsequent compensatory skills modified her attachment style. Resiliency allowed her to have a reparative relationships with key people.
Each Stage and All at Once
Repair- that is, support and guidance needs to happen at each stage, but also realistically happens all at once. One cannot reset the clock and go back in time to an earlier developmental stage to address unfinished issues. Current challenges demand attention in the shadow of previous deficits. Wise and sensitive attention in any of these developmental stages foster. Practically, the individual and particularly the teenager often goes through all of the stages simultaneously. Although sequence and progression principles apply, while the individual deals with any particular stage demands, all stages are challenged. Gains and positive experiences with trust, hope, dreams, purpose, goals, and investment interact to mutually affirm each stage. Success in setting goals and investment enables one to trust and have hope however slightly and incrementally. It also validates that tentative dreams and purpose are possible. Dreams that become more realistic and turn into some attainable purpose in life not only leads to goals and investment but also affirms trust and hope.
Anything that leads to rewards/benefits/realization reinforces all stages in the developmental sequence. This also means that whatever stage a person or teenager may be in, any interaction or experience potentially activates the developmental sequence for growth and change. Thus, inactivity and/or a paralyzing fear of failure becomes the major blockage to growth and change. In other words, one way or another get the teenager to do something! Anything will do in a way. Anything is better than nothing, as nothing facilitates more nothing, while anything may promote something. Becoming inert or not putting oneself out- not risking probably is based in lacking basic trust and/or hope. The parental or adult instinct is correct. Get that teenager to somehow do something!