Thursday, November 10, 2005

Learning to Respect the Blue vMeme, Part Two

Please see Part One of this discussion before reading Part Two.

[Prefatory Note: Ken Wilber argues that Spiral Dynamics is simply a values line, one of many developmental lines. I would counter that within the Spiral framework, all the developmental lines can be expressed and contextualized.]

In the previous installment, I provided a long-winded explanation of how the Blue vMeme works at the cultural level (lower left quadrant). We saw that Blue emerges to provide order and meaning to a world that, at the Red level, is experienced as chaotic, violent, and meaningless.

At the individual level, Blue works in a very similar way.

As children, we are born into a Beige state, focused purely on survival. Very soon, however, we begin to learn rules for acceptance and belonging. As the emotional self emerges, the world becomes a mysterious place filled with unseen forces. We begin to create stories to explain the world around us. Slowly, at around 12 to 24 months of age, an ego begins to form as a way to distinguish the self from the world around it. This rudimentary version of the ego is what Freud identified as the id, a self-structure focused on fulfilling needs and wants with little concern for anyone or anything else. We are attracted to power, and we want to be the people who appear to have the most power or prestige. Parents have generalized this developmental period as the "terrible twos."

During the time when the Red Meme is dominant, the child is exposed to parental limitations on behavior. Since the child is unable to think rationally (by adult standards), the limitations are internalized as a way to appease parental authority (to make Mommy and Daddy like me). This is the first development of the Blue vMeme.

As the child goes to school and learns a whole new collection of rules and expectations, the Blue vMeme becomes dominant, and along with it the ability to think rationally for the first time. This emergence varies from age five to eight, depending on a variety of factors. For the most part, the Blue Meme remains dominant until pre-adolescence, although the time line seems to be changing in recent years (the Indigo Child phenomenon, which is partly Green idealism and partly real).

As a child grows older and moves beyond Blue social structures and parental rules, the Meme is "transcended and included," which means that it is no longer dominant (transcended) but still a part of the child's "Meme stack" (included). If there were any "pathologies" in the Blue system as it developed, they will appear as rigid thinking, need for authority, or a tough inner critic, among other possibilities.

The Blue Inner Critic

I had a rigid father who used his authority to create behavioral compliance with the threat of punishment, and he usually followed through on the threat. It was "his way or the highway." In order to guarantee his love, I internalized his expectations and learned to anticipate his reactions to my behaviors. As I grew older, those rules and expectations (including his phrasing: "boys don't cry," "stop goofing off and get to work," "stop complaining or I'll give you something to really complain about," and so on) became my inner critic.

As a child, nothing is more important than parental love and affection. A child will do ANYTHING to guarantee that love. When children are learning rules and their relationship to them, a tolerant parent who can give a child space to explore boundaries is crucial. An authoritarian parent can create all kinds of trauma in the psyche.

It is important to understand that I am not assuming a victim mentality. All children go through differing degrees of this process, and some must endure unspeakable abuse (both emotional and physical). But it is important to understand that children are vulnerable and that they are sponges. No human being reaches adulthood without some form of pathology. This does not make us victims--but it does reveal the challenges parents face in doing the best they can for their kids and the results of failing to do so. As the world becomes more and more complex, with higher and higher possible levels of psychological development, it becomes increasingly crucial that parents get the early stages "right" so that children have fewer "issues" as they mature.

My authoritarian father created an authoritarian inner critic. The voice of that critic, because of the stage at which it emerged as a self-structure, is Blue. Until recently, I was unaware of this fact, but I knew that any manifestation of Blue in the world pissed me off (projection, as noted in Part One). Now that I have identified the source of my hatred for all things Blue, I have started cultivating an appreciation for the value of the Blue Meme, both culturally and individually.

Blue still disturbs me in a variety of ways, but I find myself defending the role of the Blue Meme when others attack it (especially Green). As I work to become more conscious of the inner critic and how it dictates my behavior, I become increasingly tolerant of Blue manifestations around me.

There are some good things about a tough inner critic, especially having a strong work ethic, loyalty, organizational skills, and so on. It's the bad things, such as intolerance of my weaknesses, fear of being "not perfect," rejection of emotions (partly an Orange issue), and a host of other things, that keep me from being the person I want to be.

Therapy and sitting meditation have been crucial in working on this, as has mindfulness practice. It's a slow process, but it is a process--not something that has an end.


Lyon said...

Very insightful piece. I can relate to this quite a bit. Actually, it has shifted my perspective of my own inner pathologies. Up until now, I have been working with having a underdeveloped red meme or an underdeveloped ego, which I think is true to a big extent. However, this othe piece of the blue inner critic never really was apparent to me until now. My father played these sort of games as well, though, it is something that I largely can't remember very well. Later in adolescence I repsonded to my inner critic and outer authoritianism with a regressive red flare up, using the 1960's model, which of course was just as much red as green. Anyways, thanks again for the insight; I already feel a little better, as this seems to be the source of a lot of stuff I've been working with in therapy and in practice lately.

Spiral Dynamics Workshop

william harryman said...

Hi Lyon,

Good to hear from you -- and glad the post helped clarify some things for you. It certainly has been a topic that I've been wrestling with.

One aspect of a Blue inner critic is that it can be difficult to activate the Red vMeme in healthy ways, such as asserting one's rights or needs. So it may look like Red is weak or underdeveloped when in reality it is the Blue inner critic forcing it to be remain hidden.

Thanks for reading and sharing your comments.