Thursday, September 25, 2008

Allport's eight stages of self (proprium) development

While we are at the subject of personality, it would be instructive to note the contributions of Gordon Allport. He has had a seminal influence, introduced traits, but was simultaneously a believer in the uniqueness of an individual and wholeness of personality. His identified adjectives, amongst others, were subjected to factor analysis by Goldberg and that revealed the famous five (or the Big Five). However, one of the things that never caught up , was the term proprium he introduced for self. However some of his concepts for self have stood the test of time.

This post is about the development stages by which the self or unifying personal meaning construct of a person develops. Like most of the other developmental stage theories (like Loevinger's ego development theory) this too follows a eight stage unfolding of self.

  1. The Sense of Bodily Self, which is a sense of one's own body, including bodily sensations, attests to one's existence and therefore remains a lifelong anchor for self-awareness.
  2. The Sense of Self-identity , which is the second aspect of the proprium is self-identity. This is most evident when the child, through acquiring language, recognizes himself as a distinct and constant point of reference.
  3. The Sense of Self-Esteem or Pride, which is an individual's evaluation of himself and the urge to want to do everything for oneself and take all of the credit.
  4. The Sense of Self-Extension, occurs during the third year of life, which states that even though some things are not inside my physical body they are still very much a part of one's life.
  5. The Self-Image, or how others view "me" is another aspect of selfhood that emerges during childhood.
  6. The Sense of Self as a Rational-Coper occurs between the ages of six and twelve in which the child begins to realize fully that he ahs the rational capacity to find solutions to life's problems, so that they can cope effectively with reality demands.
  7. Propriate Striving, which Allport believed to be the core problem for the adolescent. It is the selection of the occupation or other life goal, the adolescent knows that their future must follow a plan, and in this sense makes them lose their childhood.
  8. Self as a Knower:The knower (thinking agent) "rides" on top of them. The thinker is different from his or her thoughts, is Allport's stand, contrary to William James, who ridiculously maintains that "The thoughts themselves are the thinker"
Note that this concept of self is more in cognitive terms while Loevinger's is more in psychoanalytical terms.


Another alternative description of the same stages is present here:

Sense of body develops in the first two years of life. We have one, we feel its closeness, its warmth. It has boundaries that pain and injury, touch and movement, make us aware of. Allport had a favorite demonstration of this aspect of self: Imagine spitting saliva into a cup -- and then drinking it down! What’s the problem? It’s the same stuff you swallow all day long! But, of course, it has gone out from your bodily self and become, thereby, foreign to you.

Self-identity also develops in the first two years. There comes a point were we recognize ourselves as continuing, as having a past, present, and future. We see ourselves as individual entities, separate and different from others. We even have a name! Will you be the same person when you wake up tomorrow? Of course -- we take that continuity for granted.

Self-esteem develops between two and four years old. There also comes a time when we recognize that we have value, to others and to ourselves. This is especially tied to a continuing development of our competencies. This, for Allport, is what the “anal” stage is really all about!

Self-extension develops between four and six. Certain things, people, and events around us also come to be thought of as central and warm, essential to my existence. “My” is very close to “me!” Some people define themselves in terms of their parents, spouse, or children, their clan, gang, community, college, or nation. Some find their identity in activities: I’m a psychologist, a student, a bricklayer. Some find identity in a place: my house, my hometown. When my child does something wrong, why do I feel guilty? If someone scratches my car, why do I feel like they just punches me?

Self-image also develops between four and six. This is the “looking-glass self,” the me as others see me. This is the impression I make on others, my “look,” my social esteem or status, including my sexual identity. It is the beginning of what conscience, ideal self, and persona.

Rational coping is learned predominantly in the years from six till twelve. The child begins to develop his or her abilities to deal with life’s problems rationally and effectively. This is analogous to Erikson’s “industry.”

Propriate striving doesn’t usually begin till after twelve years old. This is my self as goals, ideal, plans, vocations, callings, a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. The culmination of propriate striving, according to Allport, is the ability to say that I am the proprietor of my life -- i.e. the owner and operator!


I can easily relate these to the general eight stage framework:, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the readers!!

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