The idea that people continue to develop throughout their adult lives is the leading edge of psychology today.You might hear it called ‘developmental psychology’ or ‘integral psychology’ or ‘ego development theory’ .
The notion of ‘development’ is that people can gain broader and deeper perspectives as they mature. This is different from gaining new skills such as learning a better way to communicate, or how to manage your anger constructively. It has to do with changing the underlying structure that you use to make meaning of your world — your values and beliefs. For example, we see how teenagers or young adults are driven by their need to belong to their group, to identify with the group norms and blend in. But at a certain point, the young person realises that they want to be recognised for their unique qualities, or would like to be known for their particular expertise. Blending in is no longer the most important thing; now they want to be differentiated. This transition from Diplomat to Expert is a major developmental step. The values and beliefs that fuel our meaning-making have changed.
As opposed to models of Types, where you are considered pretty much born with a certain tendency, trait or preference, the developmental models consider the human journey to be a progression through known stages, in a fixed order (i.e., you don’t skip a stage).
There are things you can do that will help or retard your development. Stressors can cause regression to an earlier stage. Occasional ‘peak experiences’ can give a temporary glimpse of a later stage. But you have a ground of being in your life, a general way of making sense of your experiences and understanding your world. Your development pace is rather slow; you can be years in a particular stage of development.
Some of the thought leaders in this developmental world are Ken Wilber, Robert Kegan, Bill Torbert and Don Beck. All of these will be explored in more detail in other postings.
The important thing to understand is this: there are several ways to look at and to understand individual differences. Type afficionados find sufficiency in explaining these differences by some sort of Typing scheme, such as Myers Briggs Type, Enneagram number, Belben Role, etc. The Stage modelers see people as fundamentally changing throughout their lives. I think each view has merit. I believe that exploring individual differences in terms of Type can open our eyes to accepting that other people are different from us, and that the differences don’t mean others are better than or worse than us. But I also believe that if we consider only Type, our perspective is limited. Developmental models hold out more hope: what we may find limiting today can (and will be) outgrown as we develop to the next stage of our lives.