The development of Relationships and Groups in seven phases 

Relationships and groups progress through the same kinds of stages as people do in their personal development.

Phase 1 Undivided unity

Two fundamentally different needs are at work in us. The one is directed toward being yourself and becoming yourself. The other need is to merge (again) into a larger whole. The struggle with both needs plays a critical role in our development, especially in relationships. The desire to be secure in something that is complete continues to pursue us our entire life.

Phase 2 The old group

The characteristics of phase 2 manifest themselves most clearly when we are 'in love,' especially when the feeling is mutual: you entirely lose yourself in one another. You overlook the rough spots, you don't let irritations rise to the surface, and quarrels and conflicts rarely occur. The same is true of the first—enthusiastic—phase in a new collaboration.

Phase 3 The 'I'-person

In this phase you allow yourself to become aware that the other has imperfections or weaknesses that are annoying and bother you. You quarrel, or you hold back and get even by means of hidden obstruction.

You assert yourself by imposing (often with the best of intentions) something on the other. You give the other, unasked, solutions to their problems or try to convince him or her that you are right.

In the 'I' phase (ego phase) the issue often is, who is in control? Whose ideas or norms will predominate? Who leads and who follows? The battle in this phase involves determining the rank order in the relationship or group. This phase is often also a period of conflict, disappointment, drifting apart, and distance, so that you no longer know how to go on. The result is a calling to account primarily on the basis of rules and habits and not on the basis of mutual growth potentials. This in the end works negatively and sooner or later it comes to an explosion or the relationship breaks down.

Phase 4 The transformation

How do you move as partners from phase 3 to phase 4? By acknowledging that you don't know anymore, that you feel powerless (without laying the blame with the other). Partners or teammates who give each other room and safety to express their frustrations, fears, or pain bring about a entirely new, extraordinary atmosphere. It is important here to acknowledge that the other is not only different from you, but essentially also a stranger whom you can nevertheless learn to know and understand. The latter happens only when you move away from your self-involvement and enter into the experience of the other in a manner free from control or obligation and try to understand this experience from the inside. With this new way of relating to each other a relationship develops that is freer and deeper. Phase 4 especially involves awareness (by means of reflection) and conscious choices of the self, both in relation to yourself and in relationships with others. You feel what it feels like for the other and how this is for yourself.

Phase 5 The spiritual self

From phase 2 to phase 4, development was primarily a personal matter. In phase 5 you are still fully engaged with your own personal and spiritual development. In order to build new, i.e., free relationships with other people you must first become independent, also spiritually. Personal leadership (being the leader of yourself and of your own fate) means following a path of development in which you increasingly know yourself to be responsible for your own choices, behavior, results, and well-being. In phases 2 and 3 the ego-character still has a dependent, reactive manner of dealing with others because you let yourself be determined by what others think and by circumstances. When you act pro-actively it is no longer your environment but your own principles and values that are the basis for your actions. What matters in phase 4 and in subsequent phases is increasingly transmuting your reactive behavior into pro-active behavior.

Phase 6 The new community

Relationships and team members who find themselves in phase 6 want to communicate openly and well with one another; they want to understand the team members and their background, and they want to interact in a personal manner. In short, they want to grow together and be connected with one another. Thus a sense of community develops. The more you develop in this way, as individual in relationship with others, the stronger your inner self becomes. Working in a team or relationship is, like playing in an orchestra, a major social task in which you continually come up against your own inabilities and the imperfections of the others. You continually practice becoming more and more human in the true sense of the word.

In this process it is important that those involved feel safe. When there is an environment where people listen to and understand one another, you can put off the armor of the ego: there is no one who criticizes you or wants to change, convert, or convince you or put you in a box. You view the fact that the other is different not as a threat but as an addition. You try over and over again to make yourself inwardly open and free in order to absorb new viewpoints. This does not mean that there will be no more quarrels, but you no longer lose yourself in them because you understand them and can give them a place. You learn to deal with conflicts together in such a manner that each team member feels him or herself to be understood and respected.

Many people experience in this learning to restrain the aspirations of the ego a kind of pain. This pain is felt because you must give up giving free reign to your ego if there is to be room for true contact with the other.

Phase 7 Differentiated unity

No one can play a symphony by him- or herself. Nor does a symphony come about when each individual plays only his or her own part. It is only when each individual in an orchestra becomes attuned to and cooperates with the other orchestra members that the full richness of the symphony can resound in its full glory. The glorious performance of the symphony takes shape when individuals play their own instrument well and play it in cooperation with the other players in such a way that the input of each individual contributes to the realization of a new whole.

Adapted from: Transforming People and Organizations: The Seven Steps of Spiritual Development by Margarete van den Brink (Temple Lodge Publishing, Forest Row, U.K. 2004).


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