II. 2. John’s Path to Maturity

 

Throughout our lives, up to the simplest actions we perform, our behavior is being driven by two major instincts: self-projection and self-preservation. Our survival and well-being depend on how we manage the balance between them.

As we develop, we gradually become aware of our own unique spiritual, emotional and physical needs, inclinations, capabilities and strengths, on one hand, and our weaknesses, on the other. This process inevitably turns self-projection and self-preservation from mere instincts into powerful driving forces.

The choices we have to make for achieving the balance between self-expression and survival start becoming more and more conscious based on what we know and want about ourselves. Each and every one of these choices finds its ultimate reference point in our self-perception. We reassess our urges, necessities and strongpoints, as well as our known natural limitations, so that the action we undertake won’t limit our self-expression, keeping us safe and unharmed at the same time. Subsequently, after our action has taken place, the results of it lead us to conclusions, which enrich our self-perception.

Our self-perception is built of circumstances about ourselves which we are aware of. They are arranged in a hierarchy which changes constantly according to the results of our actions. But this hierarchy is not only dynamic; it is also contradictory. It is built by circumstances which are being supported by our self-projecting drive, and others, supported by our self-preservation drive. Those two groups, one being the engine of our personality, the other serving as brakes, are in a ceaseless conflict, with each one of them trying to push this or that of “its” circumstances to an upper, more important place, where it would have more influence upon our actions. The final arbiter in this struggle is the environment. Our experience in dealing with it either empowers or discourages a certain circumstance in its significance to our behavior, rearranging its place in our inner hierarchy.

Let’s say that John is extremely proud of his muscles. He is the strongest kid in his class, and he never misses a chance to impress the girls by threatening or even beating up some of the other boys. And since some of the girls get really impressed, the awareness of his physical strength becomes a top circumstance in his self-perception. A couple of years later John is admitted in a sports school, where most of the boys in his new class are stronger than him. Girls’ attention being still his top priority, he realizes that he is no longer able to attract it through his muscles. So John starts inventing pranks on the teachers, thus evoking the approving laughter and interest of some of his female classmates. Isn’t it logical then, that physical strength drops from the top position of John’s inner hierarchy, and is being substituted by his naughty imagination, which serves him much better in the changed environment. Both inner circumstances are parts of John’s self-projecting drive. Within a period of several years each of them has occupied the leading place in his self-perception. And he has changed their position in his inner hierarchy because of the changes in his environment. But let’s imagine further, that on one of his consecutive pranks John is caught and severely reprimanded by the principal. He gets so scared of his potential expulsion from the school that he stops joking on the expense of the teachers once and for all. For the time being a new circumstance takes the leading position in John’s self-perception – his inability to get over the stern school rules. This circumstance, obviously, is pushed upwards by his sense for self-preservation. Due to it John changes his behavior completely. It would take him time to restore his self-confidence and find another self-projecting circumstance suitable to his changed perception of the environment.

Our self-perception is directly connected to our perception of the environment. John has underestimated the power of the principal in enforcing the rules. This circumstance has been an insignificant part of his idea of the surroundings. That’s why he allowed himself the liberty to go against those rules. Once he discovers that he is wrong, the principal’s authority becomes a really important circumstance in his perception of the environment – to the extent that he rearranges his priorities, i.e. the hierarchy of circumstances constituting his self-perception and driving his behavior.

© 2008 Peter Budevski

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