The personal life-path in seven phases of development 

Phase 1 Undivided unity

As infant we experience, unaware of ourselves, as being one with our mother and with the rest of our environment. It is a situation of total dependence. Around the third year the infant begins to say 'I' (the stubborn phase) and appears to be able to say 'no.' Thus the child feels for the first time the distance between itself and its surroundings. This is an important step on the way to independence.

Phase 2 The old group

As the child is growing up, it is part of a group. First the family, later also school, etc. It is important to belong to a group for a sense of connectedness, acceptance, and security. On the other hand, you can feel imprisoned in a group and it can limit your possibilities (you say 'I' but you really mean 'we'). It is clear that for your sense of self and your sense of wellbeing you are entirely dependent on the adults and children around you and on your relationship with them.

Phase 3 The 'I'-person

Around the age of 12 puberty sets in, in which the next step is taken toward personal independence. You begin to form your own opinions, which brings with it clashes with the opinions and will of others. By gradually loosening the bonds with your environment and taking your place over against the world and other people, and by maintaining that place, you develop as growing human being your own personality, your experience of your own 'I', and thus your own identity. This is why the confrontations with this world are necessary: to make you aware of what is possible and what is not, and of who you are and what you can do. In this phase your ego develops. You also like for others to acknowledge and value your achievements. In this phase you are to a large extent dependent on your environment and on what others think of you.

Phase 4 The transformation

Questions surface such as, 'What do I want to do with my life?' The inner struggle manifests itself in various ways. In the first place as insecurity and fear. You ask yourself, 'Things must be different, but how?' In this period many people land in a crisis. They get stuck. An inner struggle between the ordinary 'I' (the ego) and another aspect that lives deep within (the spiritual self) emerges. The more deeply and intensively you begin to deal with the essential questions, the more this spiritual self emerges and grows inwardly as a spiritual power of consciousness. In this process the point of reference shifts from the outside to the inside. The support and footing you first sought in the external world, you now increasingly find in your own soul (your own inner world). You learn to trust it and to live out of this new inner power of consciousness.

Phase 5 The spiritual self

You learn to find an inner balance, to come to rest, to take distance. You learn to distinguish between what is important and what is not, to become the master in your own soul (your own inner world). Because you have found yourself you can let go of and transcend your ordinary self (your ego). As the powers of you higher self increase, something emanates from you that is of benefit to other people.

Phase 6 The new community

This phase is characterized by involvement with others. You can see the other as he or she is, with all good and all weak aspects. You don't adopt an attitude of dominance or ascendancy, but rather one of service toward the other. The deeper you go in finding yourself, the greater your interest in other people becomes. You learn to have compassion without trying to provide the answers.

Phase 7 Differentiated unity

In this phase you see that every human and his or her task in this life and in the world constitute an essential link in the chain of humanity as a whole. Consciousness, clarity, freedom, and moral strengths such as authenticity, integrity, justice will be operative, but especially true, selfless love. And because the spirit, no matter how differently it may manifest itself from individual to individual, is nevertheless one in all, people in this phase will feel a unity, multifaceted and variegated.

In more than one phase simultaneously

Looking back on your own development you see that you do not go through the phases one by one. In practice it appears that one phase is predominant in a given period of life, but that at the same time you still live in the previous phase(s). For example, you may note how difficult it still is for you to deal with authoritarian persons and how reactive you still are in your contacts with them. Human development is clearly not a linear, but rather a cyclical process: you return regularly to aspects of yourself that have remained underdeveloped in an earlier phase. Thus now you can learn as yet to deal proactively instead of reactively with an authoritarian person.

When development cannot proceed further but is driven back, a deep fear of loss of self emerges. Such fear can evoke hatred for those who cause this suffering. In phase 3 you can prove yourself by presenting yourself positively to the world, but you can also do it in a negative way, e.g., through (senseless) violence.

Man and women go through the seven phases in different ways

There are centrifugal (female) and centripetal (male) forces.

In the female psyche, the centrifugal force is dominant (linking, receptive, warm, vulnerable, empathetic, emotional, intuitive, associative, communicative, open). This force moves from the center toward the world around it, i.e., it moves naturally away from itself and seeks to connect with the people around her and with the greater whole. In doing so she can easily lose herself.

In the male psyche the centripetal force is dominant (analytical, thinking logically, detached, sensible, cool, combative, competitive, assertive, efficient, goal-oriented, result-oriented, decisive, directed toward self and the matter at hand, but with a tendency toward tunnel vision). The male has a tendency to turn inward and thereby move away from the greater whole, from the world around him, and from other people. The centripetal force keeps him together, close to himself, and he can more easily focus his thinking through his will. Thus he does not lose himself as easily.

In practice we usually have a mixture of the two. In general we can say that to the degree men and women develop as people in the course of their life and become conscious of the qualities of the opposite sex that lie hidden within themselves, they will as yet develop these other qualities, thereby becoming 'more whole' human beings.

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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