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The Nature of Psychological Maturity

Paul Rosenfels, 1978

This is a fascinating essay about submissive and dominant personalities and their corresponding challenges of psychological regulation in a frustrating world. Regrettably, his writing is challenging to understand, both because of use of undefined terms and the failure to give concrete examples. We have annotated this version with what we think he is saying, and added a glossary. See also Personality.

This editing is incomplete, so there isn't an entirely consistent indication of which is the original text. In sections that have been annotated, the original text is inset as a quote. In sections that haven't been annotated, the entire text is from the original. The topic headings are also additions here, not in the original (which had only the numbers.)

The concepts of submissive and dominant temperaments seems to be fairly widely recognized anecdotally to have something to do with sexual relationships, and Paul Rosenfels in particular seems to have been found a particular following the Gay community. However, it seems submission/dominance has gotten very little attention in any research literature that we have found. We find this puzzling because the concept of submission/dominance is much more general than sexual relationships or personality types, and seems to be very valuable for understanding the emotional foundations of cooperative social relationships in general.

This dominance/submission is not the same as sadism/masochism. Submissive people don't necessarily like to be ordered around, and dominant people aren't necessarily hungry for power. The key idea is the core motivation. Rosenfels' dominant person is a social engineer, trying to change the world for better by figuring out how to get people to work together. A dominant person has a vision for the future, and always needs to have a plan. A submissive person takes a more passive accepting attitude toward the world as they find it, sometimes working to understand the world, sometimes just doing their own thing. Submissive people make good followers because they don't bring a lot of conflicting visions along with them. In our American cult of individualism and dominance, leadership is highly valued, and there is little respect for followership.

When Carl Marx said that he didn't want to understand the world, he wanted to change it, that is a classic dominant motivation. We say that if you try to change the world without understanding it, you're setting yourself up for a lot of failure and frustration. But at the same time, real social change is such a big thing that nobody understands it, and actual progress has mostly come about through sheer persistence, trying things until you hit on something that works, then trying to figure out what you did right so you can do it again.

Though dominance/submission is not a dimension of the standard Big five personality traits, it is a coherent persistent personality dimension, as shown by the PAD temperament scale. In our opinion the PAD (Pleasure, Arousability, Dominance) dimensions make a lot more sense than the big five, being more amenable to intuitive classification and intuitive prediction. What Rosenfels refers to as dominance is also fairly similar to extroversion in the big five. is a more complete presentation of this personality theory. See also the Paul Rosenfels site

1: Introduction

Civilization takes its being from man's ability to pursue truth and right for their own sake. This capacity did not emerge in evolutionary history simply from man's higher cortical functions. A psychological change was necessary to bring this kind of fruitfulness into being. The psychological basis of civilization is to be found in the fact that individuals develop specialized personalities of two kinds, the one submissive and the other dominant. Submissive personalities develop much deeper levels of sensitivity than would otherwise be possible, and dominant personalities have consistent access to high levels of energy and vigor. These specially developed inner psychological resources bring complications in their wake. Along with the assets they confer in the form of great elaborations of conceptual analytic ability and manipulative skills, they expose civilized man to the recurrent threat of overstimulation. Submissive personalities must learn to regulate their sensitivity so they are not overwhelmed by feelings that build up inside them with nowhere to go, and vigorous personalities must find the inner resources to monitor their participation in the flow of experience so that they are not disorganized by energy that cannot find a home.

Dominance and submission is fundamental to social relations, and so to civilization. Submissive people are more sensitive and better at analysis, dominant people more vigorous, energetic and better at manipulation. Both types are prone to overstimulation [by frustration of their core motivation]. Submissive people are prone to being paralyzed by emotion, while dominant types tend toward compulsive disorganized activity.

2: Psychological maturity/self-regulation

The specialization of the personality has created a situation where mental health must be sought by the individual, and cannot be guaranteed by some automatic acceptance of socially imposed rules of feeling and conduct. Individuals with a strong sense of inner identity must deal with the consequences of the imbalance which accompanies their status as a submissive or dominant person. When the self-awareness and intensity of submissive personalities threatens to be overwhelming, they must find the ability to enter the flow of experience in such a way as to put aside intensity in situations where such submissiveness does not belong. When the self-confidence and vigor of dominant personalities threatens to become driven and automatic, they must find the inner resources to expand their feeling capacities in such a way as to cancel out vigor in situations that cannot sustain such energies. Mental health in submissive individuals hinges on their ability to find experience as a real phenomenon without sacrificing their submissive natures. Mental health in dominant individuals requires that they develop a rewarding life of sensibility and feeling which they can create out of their own inner resources without sacrificing their dominant status in the process.

Social institutions provide ways to help manage the challenge of emotional regulation, but psychological maturity demands that individuals take responsibility for their own emotional regulation. Submissive people must learn how to reduce their emotional intensity and self-awareness when their preferred submissive ways are not working. One way for them to do this is to learn to become less self-involved and theory-driven, and more willing to engage directly with the world at a surface level: direct sensory experience, direct emotional response to real external events. Dominant people must learn how to avoid compulsive activity when this activity becomes unproductive. They must develop their inner life so that their happiness is not so dependent on uncontrollable external events. In this way, each must find some of the strengths of the other type, but without compromising the integrity of their basic temperament.

3: Submissive personality

A submissive personality feels at home in an ordered life. Conceptual capacity hinges on the ability to use symbols and categories to reduce diffuse experience to orderly and logical arrays. It is through this capacity that truth at a scientific level can be discovered. The ability to find truth does not end with the reaching of any particular item of truth. However much the individual may know, his expanding understanding will always reveal questions he cannot yet answer. This ongoing quality of the search for truth is an essential element in psychological growth, and the acceptance of its incompleteness is necessary for the maintenance of mental health. The pursuit of human psychological truth can only be effective when it can be put aside temporarily when the individual has put in order all the data of experience which is accessible to him at that time. There can be no such thing as genuine human truth except in a world of expanding experience. It is impossible to welcome the simple flow of ordinary experience if there is a prior requirement that it must be understood in a secure order before it is experienced. The excessive need for contentment and security in submissive personalities leads to an artificial imposing of order on diffuse and ordinary psychological experiences which is compulsive in nature. This situation arises from an excess of submissive sensitivity and it results in an inability to allow the data of experience to become real. The driven need for order undermines the clarity of perceptions, and the meanings of things is established before they are experienced.

Submissive people feel secure when they understand their lives. They use symbols and categories to reveal the order in the world. In this sense, scientific understanding is submissive. Understanding can never be complete because each answer reveals new questions. We must appreciate that the search for truth never ends, so we must also accept that our understanding is always incomplete. When no relevant information is available we must be able to temporarily put aside our search for truth. In order to learn we must be able to accept experience that we do not initially understand. Demanding experience be comprehensible also deprives us of the grounding direct sensual appreciation of surface experience. If submissive sensitivity is excessive then an excessive need for contentment and security results. This need for things to seem orderly can cause us to force experience to fit our theories, undermining correct perception.

4: Dominant personality

A dominant personality lives in a world of process in which manipulations guide his existence. Mastery of an experiential flow hinges on the ability to use techniques and skills to reduce diffuse events to organized and smooth running sequences. It is through this capacity that engineering effectiveness develops, and in the human scene the development of what is right in interpersonal relationships grows out of such engineering ability.

To a dominant person, each moment is a unique never-to-be-repeated experience that offers the possibility of manipulating the world in desirable ways. Their primary concern is with the ad-hoc causal structure that resulted in the current moment and with the possibility of exploiting the causal relation between now and the future to shape the future. What is most important about now is its differences from other situations, though similarity to past situations might guide the choice of the right action.

A dominant person excels both in the identification of opportunities and the selection of desired outcomes. He wants to “do the right thing.” The moral connotations of “right” are intended, though the determination of what is right is an intuitive process driven by some sort of vision of the world he wants to live in, and some dominant individuals have effectively brought about outcomes that most find morally abhorrent. A dominant person excels in “the vision thing.”

Exploiting particular knowledge about the current situation to cause a desired event can be thought of as engineering rather than science. The goal is not insight in itself, but rather the identification of opportunities hidden in the current situation, the selection of which opportunity best advances the “right” outcome, and then bringing this about, either by his own action, or by recruiting others. The engineer analogy is confusing because engineers in the conventional sense tend to be submissive, perhaps because the feeling of effectively deploying things has a similar gratification to effective deployment of people that dominant people enjoy. Dominant people tend to be “human engineers” rather than conventional “thing engineers”, but highly successful scientists are often dominant, since success in science requires self-promotion and management skills that come more easily to a dominant person. The point is that it is a dominant act to identify possibilities and select one to work toward. The relation between the submissive and dominant modes of perception is analogous to the difference between science and engineering.

The capacity to find and adhere to the right does not end in the reaching of a particular example of what is right. However much the individual may be able to take responsibility for making things work, his expanding capacity for responsibility will reveal obstacles he cannot yet overcome. This ongoing quality in the search for what is right is an essential element in psychological growth, and the acceptance of its incompleteness is a necessity for the maintenance of mental health. The reaching for the right in human psychological affairs can only be effective when it can be put aside temporarily when the individual has used up all the information about the nature of obstacles which is accessible to him at that time. There can be no such thing as genuine human right except in a world of expanding information.

The struggle to “do the right thing” is never-ending. The dominant person must accept this incompleteness. He must learn to put aside his compulsion for right action when the information needed for productive action is unavailable. The world exhausts the dominant person by offering infinite opportunities and frustrates him by refusing to provide the means to achieve some desired ends. He must learn to let go when the exhaustion or frustration becomes overwhelming.

It is impossible to welcome the simple flow of ordinary awareness and sensibility if there is a prior requirement that the individual must take responsibility before he understands what he is manipulating. The excessive need for freedom and a sense of happiness in dominant personalities leads to an artificial imposing of a belief in the manipulability of situations which is obsessive in nature. This pattern arises from an excess of dominant energy and vigor, and it results in an inability to allow surface perceptions and feelings to become real. The pressured need for control undermines judgement about what really works, and the value of things is dogmatically established before they are clearly perceived.

If a dominant person feels that he must take responsibility for everything without regard for practical constraints, then perception and appropriate emotional response are distorted.

5: Social norms vs. Personal Responsibility

Primitive culture differs from civilization in the way individuals attain mental health. In primitive cultures inner identity is governed by social dogma and convention. Whatever submissive or dominant tendencies exist are brought into balance by society's dictates concerning what is to be believed and what is an acceptable mode of behavior. Individuals who develop an independence which becomes threatening to the stability of such a society are expelled or destroyed by it. In this way, the society is bigger than the individual, and the primary concern of each member is his conformity to it. Whatever he has of inner identity comes from his place in the social structure. In the civilized world there are many pockets which have the structure of primitive culture, but the main thrust of civilization over the centuries has been toward a psychological pattern in which the individual is bigger than the social structure into which he was born. This state of affairs hinges on the fact that inner identity comes from the submissive search for human truth and the dominant reaching for human right. The biblical statement “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” can be paired with an analogue “You shall find and do what is right, and then you will not need the endorsement or approval of any outside force.” The mere existence of a science of human nature and of human engineering sets the individual's feet on a path where he thinks and acts for himself. Under these conditions, the responsibility for the mental health of the individual shifts from a monolithic social structure to the capacity of the individual for self-understanding and self-control. Once truth is found, it belongs to anyone who can comprehend it, and right exists as a kind of know-how which is the exclusive property of no man.

If we compare primitive society and civilization, we see a trend away from rigidly prescribed social roles, meanings and interpretations as the foundation of psychological regulation toward an strong emphasis on self-regulation. The person has become bigger than the society. Seeing human nature and human engineering as sciences leads us to thinking and acting for ourselves rather than passively accepting dogma.

6: Self-development, weaknesses

It is only when civilized man approaches the problem of his own mental health with the resources for self-knowledge and self-control which psychological science and engineering confer that his mature independence can become real. The part of his psychic self which undertakes to guide him in protecting and promoting the quality of his life is defined as three dimensional. It is characterized by its serious character, its sense of importance, its residual quality in the sense that progress made in this area is never lost, and in its ability to bear harmonious stress. It is the job of the three dimensional self to monitor and regulate the two dimensional self, which is the part that rejects any stress which is not adaptively necessary and directs the personality toward simple pleasure and enjoyment. Without a full capacity to enter states of psychic rest, the serious pursuits of the personality can only exhaust the individual.

Psychological maturity demands conscious self-knowledge and self-control. This activity of self-development is different enough from our ordinary concerns of survival and pleasure that we can think of as a new dimension of functioning, a third dimension above our flatland life of thoughtless acceptance of social norms.

Specialization of the personality into submissive and dominant types brings a many fold expansion of the truth and right seeking functions, but this advance is accomplished only at a cost.

Humanity gains great benefits from the specialization into submissive and dominant roles, but each style has drawbacks.

There is no easy access to the simple flow of experience in sensitive personalities because their deep feeling levels lead them to find meaning in diffuse and ordinary things which cannot sustain such an investment. Warmth is easy for them to find in their two dimensional life, but their pride is brittle. They suffer from an overdose of security, and freedom tends not to be real to them.

Submissive people often lose touch with simple direct experience of reality because they over-interpret events in an attempt to understand them. They gain easy access to warmth by submitting themselves to other's needs, but their pride is brittle (they are easily shamed.) Freedom seems unreal (because they don't use it.)

On the other hand, there is no easy access to simple and ordinary feeling in vigorous personalities, because their high energy levels entrap them into finding value in surface feeling states that cannot sustain such commitments. Pride comes readily into their two dimensional life, but their warmth is fragile. They suffer from an excess of freedom, and security is difficult to find.

Dominant people often lose the ability to appropriately emotionally respond to events because of ??? They feel that their emotional regulation depends on their ability to make desirable things happen. If they are not happy they feel they must do something. Their warmth is fragile because their desire for freedom leads them to avoid warmth-giving experiences of acceptance and submission. The warm feeling of security is elusive (they tend to worry a lot?)


Independent access to simple diffuse experience in submissive personalities, and to simple sensuality in dominant personalities, is an absolute necessity if the individual is to monitor his own mental health. Socially established and reinforced patterns of feeling and behavior take over this function in the conventional world. The society sets up patterns of what is normal feeling and behavior, and in conforming to this structure the individual is guaranteed a tenuous and temporary mental health, depending on how well he effaces his own sense of independent identity in favor of social norms and customs. The difficulty with this situation is that individuals are exposed to conflicting influences which open them to a great inner need to think and act for themselves. A social system which treats truth and right as unimportant or dangerous is bound to accumulate a great backlog of ignorance and immorality, and these sources of corruption and violence periodically surface as human problems that can no longer be ignored, especially under the influence of the young. When individuals perceive in themselves and others that all the conformity they can muster has not spared them from disabling psychological stresses, the whole basis for trusting society crumbles. It is often at peaks of apparent success in conformity that individuals recognize that the quality of life has not reached that state of enrichment they have the right to expect. Individuals who have bought the whole conventional package cannot independently find alternate channels of relating to the life process, but they often attain the status of good critics, living with high levels of hate and anger in the personality, and this free floating oppressive stress must be covered up by artificial embellishments of their fun and pleasure life.


When the individual requires the high levels of zest in his two dimensional life which can be found in socially supported feelings and experiences, his independent access to the potential novelty of the commonplace and ordinary is undermined. The two dimensional life must bring psychic rest. Driven and pressured fun and pleasure activities become overstimulating in themselves. This is not apparent to individuals in the midst of the emotionality and excitement of such experiences. The overstimulation only shows itself in its aftereffects. It is as if the individual must live from one peak of enthusiasm and inspiration to another, and between the peaks are gaps of depression which threaten to overwhelm the personality. No matter how much the individual embellishes his life of feeling and experience, he cannot escape this discontinuity in the esthetics of living. It is a menace waiting in the wings which threatens to return with ever increasing intensity. It is only when the individual has independent access to the self-knowledge and self-control which are required for psychological growth that he can begin to identify where the problem is. Submissive personalities need to learn that they are underdeveloped in the reaching of simple experience. If they proceed always at deep intensity levels, they efface their ability to find the simple spirit of adventure in ordinary events. Since their pride in themselves has a brittle structure, they tend to discard as useless their ability to enjoy what is happening now, putting the emphasis instead on compulsively structured accomplishments. Dominant personalities need to learn that they are underdeveloped in the finding of simple levels of surface feeling. If they remain committed to high levels of manipulative energy, they fail to perceive the romantic potential of ordinary stimuli, and their sense of the beauty in themselves and their surroundings fades out of sight. Since their warmth for themselves has a fragile structure, they tend to ignore as meaningless their ability to find pleasure in whatever place they are, putting the emphasis instead on obsessively structured gratifications which can only be located somewhere else.

9: Submissive crisis

The compulsive imposing of order on the world of experience, which characterizes conventional submissive personalities, supplies such individuals with guaranteed outlets for feeling. These compulsive patterns are supported and reinforced by social influences.

It seems that he is using “outlet for feeling” in the Freudian hydraulic metaphor, where feeling must somehow be let out, either in a direct expression, or in some displacement behavior. This is then just a restatement that the submissive individual is motivated to understand, and that society somehow supports this. Two possible examples: Culture provides explanations for the world though myths and organizing theories, including science, in the modern world. Some forms of striving for truth are also socially rewarded. Priests and storytellers are traditional occupations of explanation and understanding, which have been augmented in modern times by authors, scientists, and so on.

When the need for psychological growth becomes real, either because of adaptive challenges which undermine the individual's security system, or because a need develops for a fuller capacity to contribute to the psychological welfare of other people, the individual finds himself subject to a demanding reality which threatens to be overwhelming. When his world goes out of order he readily becomes exhausted and helplessness takes over. To fend off the helplessness, the compulsive drives increase. The sensitive core of his personality becomes his enemy, and he must manufacture experiences in a reckless fashion. When growth becomes an absolute necessity, due to the accumulation of disabling symptoms of which anxiety is the leading edge, he cannot do otherwise than face the truth that he cannot escape from his feeling overload by a further attempt to elaborate his inner security. He is in a quicksand of excessive feeling, built up to phobic proportions by the absence of anything real to feel about. The only way out of quicksand is to find something stable outside its influence, and for the person entering a phase of psychological growth this overhanging branch must be the ability to go through a transition in which he temporarily rejects his need for order. Instead of perceiving disorder, he goes into a state of non-order, in which his simple pride in himself increases, and he finds the capacity to enjoy the simple flow of experience in a spirit of adventure. In this way there is a healthy balance between warmth and pride, and he is spared from intensity in situations where intensity has no work to do.

10: Dominant crisis

Conventional dominant personalities impose control on the world of which they are aware in a pressured way. They store and reinforce feelings in those areas that give them guaranteed outlets for experience. This process is obsessive in nature and utilizes automatic and dogmatic feeling states which are socially supported. When this kind of excessive need for freedom begins to fail because of a growing sense of impoverishment of the personality, the individual is precipitated into a world of psychological growth without the tools to make it work. This sense of impoverishment comes when adaptive circumstances reveal themselves to be different from the dogma of the obsessive system, and when the individual experiences challenges to expand his capacity in the human scene. If the effort toward psychological growth carries him always toward more and more need to exercise control, he perceives his world as out of control, subjecting him to exhaustion and recklessness. To fend off the recklessness, the obsessive drives increase. The vigorous core of his personality becomes his enemy and he must elaborate feelings in a helpless fashion. When he can no longer avoid the challenge to grow because of the pressure of disabling symptoms, of which disorganizing restlessness is the primary manifestation, he must face the reality that he cannot escape from his motor overload by further attempts to increase his sense of freedom. He is in a quicksand of experience for its own sake, built up to depersonalized proportions by the absence of anything meaningful to do. His branch out of the quicksand is the ability to reject temporarily his need for process and control. Instead of perceiving his world as out of control, he goes into a state of non-control, in which his simple warmth for himself increases, and he finds the capacity to accept pleasure in the flow of surface feelingfulness, and this has a romantic aura. Warmth and pride come into a healthy balance, and he is protected from excess energy in situations where vigor cannot find an outlet.


Conventional submissive personalities allow the dictates of society to provide them with guaranteed experiences, and conventional dominant personalities give themselves over to social influences which provide guaranteed feeling levels. Under these conditions the threat of helpless and reckless reactions is kept under control. Independent sensitivity and vigor in the human scene requires that the individual take responsibility for his own mental health. Such independence exposes the submissive individual to the buildup of phobic anxiety when large scale withdrawal takes place. The rejection of experience through withdrawal brings on crises when the external human world can no longer be ignored. At this point the individual is deluged with stimulation from a world in disorder, and intensity converts itself into anxiety. Psychological independence exposes the dominant individual to an accumulation of restlessness of depersonalized proportions when large scale indifference takes place. The rejection of feelingfulness through indifference brings on crises when the emptiness it generates can no longer be tolerated. At this point the individual is bombarded by an alien awareness of a world which is out of control, and vigor converts itself into uncontrollable restlessness.

To defend the self against phobic anxiety, the submissive individual enters driven patterns of experience which are reckless in structure. The overstimulation of feeling which has nowhere to go is counteracted by an overstimulated participation in experience in which the essential goal is to lose awareness of the self, utilizing a celebrative overflow in the process.

Flow Wild partying?

To defend the self against depersonalized restlessness, the dominant individual abandons himself to pressured and automatic patterns of feeling which are helpless in structure. The overstimulation of vigor which cannot find a home is counteracted by an overstimulated exposure to feelingfulness which floods the personality in such a way as to efface self-confidence, utilizing a sexual overflow in the process. This use of compulsive and obsessive defenses leads individuals to believe in what they are doing because they are protecting themselves from anxiety or restlessness. They see themselves as survivors, and they do not want to question the unreality of their relationship to their psychological world.


Submission and dominance can be protected from phobic anxiety and depersonalized restlessness if the independent search for truth and right is abandoned in favor of an unquestioning acceptance of monolithic social influences. Society offers magical and miraculous resources which confer absolute certitude and unalterable loyalties in the form of religion and patriotism. These socially established forces provide uncomplicated access to warmth and pride reactions, bringing the psychic rest and the sense of peace and spontaneity which is so necessary for the esthetics of living. When the individual can no longer escape from the impact of the ignorance and immorality of the human civilized community, he has the choice of withdrawing into a world of God's perfect love, or entering an indifferent relationship to society's chaos and violence by way of identification with the superhuman image of strength with which patriotic fervor endows the state. In this fashion the individual achieves a socially supported helpless or reckless position without the manifestations of ill health which accompany these reactions when they are formed out of a full scale exposure to human reality. The net influence of religion and patriotism, if men make the mistake of endowing these institutions with serious psychological purposes, is that the awareness of human truth and right fades out of the picture. Sanctimoniousness and smugness take over, and psychological mechanisms which were formed as emergency measures to overcome phobic panic and depersonalized running amok usurp the place which belongs to the long, slow, and constructive buildup of human understanding and responsibility.


The blotting out of access to human truth and right in the name of saving mankind from the threat of overwhelming anxiety and restlessness is a kind of emergency supportive psychotherapy which can be justified at any particular point in history on survival grounds. No man is required to look at facts or deal with realities which are fated to make him sick. On the other hand, to use this effacing of the awareness of truth and right as a tool for degrading or destroying those outside the monolithic system who have sufficient independence to search for human understanding and responsibility on their own is not in the interests of social progress in general. If all religion did were to bring peace and calm to troubled lives, and if all patriotic fervor and ethnic identity did were to offer men a kind of undiluted pride in themselves they did not have to earn by their own personal human accomplishments, these forces would remain rewarding but unimportant, secure from intrusion into the area which belongs to a legitimate search for human science and engineering. Men could have the relief from intolerable stress they desire, and at the same time the development of fundamental human capacities could go forward, outside the realm which belongs to poetry and drama. But religion is corrupted by the concept of sin and evil, which makes the comprehension of cause and effect for human difficulties unreachable. Patriotism is rendered immoral by the need to find enemies, and this distorts man's constructive mastery capacities in violent and reckless directions. This need to destroy truth and right gives testimony to the fact that the monolithic system is never secure, and that there is a pressure for man's human capacities to return out of their own inherent influence and power. When men find surcease from suffering through turning their backs on their creative human resources, they are in the Faustian position of having sold their souls to the devil to live temporarily in a world of artificial but guaranteed peace and comfort, but in the end the devil must be paid.


When the individual puts social supports aside in his search for truth and right in the human scene, he is using the inner resources which the submissive or dominant core of his personality provides. His ability to put the data of human experience into the kind of conceptual order which reveals truth to him, or his ability to organize manipulative processes in such a way that skills arise from the true nature of the thing being controlled, depends on his capacity to maintain mental health in the face of welcoming an ongoing and reliable submissive or dominant status. To be sensitive or vigorous as a basic precondition for facing life requires the capacity to select where and when those responses will be applied. It is impossible to search for truth and right everywhere without exhausting the personality. The only successful basis for this selection process must be found within the individual himself. He will know where his sensitivity is being misapplied because helplessness threatens, and anxiety will be the leading edge of this reaction. He will know where his energy and vigor is being misdirected because recklessness looms, and disorganizing restlessness will mark its coming. To protect himself from such feeling or motor overloads, or rescue himself from their oppressive consequences if they are already established, requires the psychological ability to declare a serious reaction to life to be false in those areas where seriousness has no function to perform. This does not mean the elimination of the submissive or dominant status of the personality. Instead the sensitive personality must find independent access to simple and ordinary experience in the situation which threatens overstimulation, and the vigorous person must find the independent ability to relate to events in terms of what is pleasant and feelingful in a surface way. Such psychic resources are capable of replacing the compulsive and obsessive mechanisms which society supports.


Psychological growth involves a changing image of mental health. As the individual learns step by step to put compulsive and obsessive mechanisms aside, psychological defenses which had an emergency importance in the past as protection from phobic anxiety or depersonalized restlessness are now seen as forms of disability which undermine the esthetics of living. The psychologically growing person finds himself amazed at the world he is entering. His old images of what makes life worthwhile cannot be used to guide him in the fulfillment of his present needs. He had accepted overstimulation and the high zest levels which accompany embellishments as defining the shape of a good life, and the periodic depressive crises which formerly beset this process were taken to be inevitable, calling on him to cope with the unreliability of human contentment and happiness. No matter how much suffering followed from his plunges into the vividness which embellishments provide, he accepted the challenge of being a survivor in a world not designed for the welfare of human beings. Since he could perceive no choice in the selection of human goals, his need for emergency reactions became a fixed part of his personality, and insight into his intimidated or seduced status could not emerge. The road to psychological growth starts with the determination to use self-knowledge and self-control as irreducible necessities in building the art of living.


The key to an increasingly independent psychological life lies in the refusal to accept stimuli from the human world as if they were fixed, inevitable, and automatic. The individual must be able to receive signals from his own inner self which warn him when helplessness or recklessness threatens. Adaptation to society must not include a willingness to trust that society to take charge of his mental health. A childish confidence that a monolithic system knows best ignores the symptoms of human suffering which come from within and which lie all about him. Such compliance gives great immediate rewards in various levels of adaptive success, but the loss of individuality sets the stage for the coming of the day when automatic social forces reveal themselves to be a ruthless and mindless juggernaut which takes no responsibility for the mental health of any one individual. The individual, and the individual alone, has the potential resources for guaranteeing the quality of his own personal life. In this sense, each man is the center of his own universe, and if he abandons this position because he cannot see how to protect and promote his own psychological growth, he alone pays the penalty. The social system is generous in the rewards it bestows for automatic compliance, but when clouds are in the sky and oppressive stress has settled on the individual's shoulders, society cannot remember that he exists.


If the models of normalcy which society establishes are cast aside by the individual, he exposes himself to the excesses of stimulation which the struggle to find human truth and right entails. Although he accepts exposure to a recognition of the unknown and the chaotic in human affairs, he must not allow these stimuli to become overwhelming. At any given moment in the life process he needs to be ready to proceed with what he knows, not with what he does not know, or with commitment to circumstances he can control, not to those things which are out of control. This ability to bear stress in facing the unknown and the chaotic without being exhausted by their potential menace rests on keeping such stress harmonious. The individual must be armed with internal signals which enable him to cut off his submissive or dominant response to those elements in his psychic environment which make the finding of order or control impossible. Submission is guided by the emotion of love, but to love that which leaves no room for the constructive influence of love can only lead to helplessness. Dominance is guided by the sense of power, but to take responsibility in situations where power is neither needed or wanted can only result in recklessness. The signal mechanism which warns the individual against love is hate, and the internal perception of anger lets the individual know that power is not an appropriate response.


The ability of submissive personalities to use hate reactions as an inner signal warning the self against further submission, rather than to dwell in a sea of hate, and the ability of dominant personalities to recognize internally perceived anger as a warning against a further effort at dominance, rather than to be caught up in a show of anger, constitute essential mechanisms for the monitoring of mental health. When sensitive personalities fail to use hate as a warning signal, or vigorous personalities fail to use anger in the same way, overstimulation becomes inevitable with its accompanying helpless and reckless reactions. If hate is to direct the individual away from a feeling overload, and anger is to guide the individual out of a motor overload, the personality must have somewhere to go where intensity and vigor are not being stimulated. This area is the simple pleasure and enjoyment compartment of the personality. The only cure for an intimidated submission to any given stimulus is the ability to maintain simple pride, converting the whole situation into a simple experience, guided by the sense of enjoyment of the flow of events. Similarly, to overcome a seduced or provoked dominance requires the ability to maintain simple warmth, moving into a different focus where the individual finds what is pleasing and attractive in the surface nature of the whole situation.


Hate and anger are biologically rooted reactions which are intended to protect the organism from noxious stimuli. The hate or distaste response signals the organism to withdraw. If the organism dwells in distaste, the value of the reaction has been lost. The anger or annoyance response signals the organism to regard the stimulus as alien, that is, to divest it of a feeling investment so that incorporating the noxious element into the organism's world ceases to attract. If the organism is trapped by the anger reaction its constructive value has been lost. The acceptance of hate and anger as ongoing inner psychological states brings corrupt and violent tendencies into being, which can only lead to emergency adaptive mechanisms, namely flight or fight reactions. Hate can only be a constructive asset for submissive personalities when it directs the individual toward a partial or selective withdrawal from the situation which threatens to overstimulate the sensitivity of the personality in an overwhelming way. Similarly, anger is an asset when it guides the personality toward a partial or selective indifference in situations which bring on an impending overload of energy and vigor. It is of the essence of this mechanism that the withdrawal or indifference avoid the flight or fight reaction. It is simply not true that hate calls for a retreat into a dark closet, or that anger requires the ruling of the offensive provocation off the earth.

If the submissive individual is to give up his excessive intensity toward a potentially intimidating situation and remain in a state of mental health, his withdrawal cannot be total, because then he has nowhere to go to find pride in himself and enjoyment of the surface of experience. The loss of the sense of a free access to the reality of experience damages his ability to live in a broadening world and brings on phobic mechanisms. If the dominant individual is to give up his excessive vigor in a potentially seductive or provocative situation without loss of mental health, his indifference cannot be total without undermining his warmth for himself and for the ebb and flow of pleasure in the life process itself. The loss of the sense of a secure access to feelingfulness for ordinary things damages his ability to live in a deepening world and brings on depersonalized mechanisms.


The ability of submissive individuals to make selective withdrawals while maintaining their access to the surface of experience is the key to overcoming helplessness. In the presence of this kind of independent ability to monitor mental health, the need for compulsive avenues of reaching a relationship with others disappears. Similarly, when dominant individuals can find selective indifference without losing feeling for pleasant sensual phenomena, the need for obsessive mechanisms disappears and recklessness ceases to be a threat. Submissive personalities cannot use indifference selectively, nor can dominant personalities handle withdrawal in a selective manner. A sensitive individual who assumes the mantle of indifference as a defense against a feeling overload deprives himself of the core of his identity. The capacity for withdrawal disappears and he finds himself in a reckless position, entering experience in an undiscriminating fashion, temporarily protected from anxiety by the numbing of his sensibility. He does not have the dominant personality's access to surface feelingfulness in this situation, because any return of feeling threatens to be overwhelming, creating a phobic reaction to a menacing world divested of living qualities. When a dominant individual withdraws as a defense against a motor overload, he loses access to the core of his identity. The capacity for selective indifference disappears, and he abandons himself to helpless and undiscriminating feelingfulness. He is temporarily protected from depersonalized restlessness by the discarding of his expectation of mastery. He does not have the submissive personality's access to the surface of experience in this situation, because any return of free vigor and energy threatens to be overwhelming, creating a depersonalized reaction to an entrapping world which is perceived as an impoverished wasteland.


Anger in a submissive personality cannot operate as a signal and cannot be kept internal. It wipes out the whole range of sympathetic feelingfulness for the frustrating situation. Indifference takes over the individual, expressing itself in irritability. All the individual remains aware of is the justification for his anger reaction, and it readily slips into mindless rage. The taking over of the personality by irritability underlies sadism and the socially supported compulsive patterns in general. The individual gives himself over to being out of control, but justifies this reaction by seeing only the frustration that provokes him. Irritability has a play acting structure because the individual ceases to be a whole person. It is as if he were an actor reading lines on a stage, portraying a part written by forces outside himself. Under these conditions guilt is neutralized. Similarly, hate in a dominant personality cannot be kept internal and therefore fails to act as a signal. It effaces the whole range of manipulative energy toward the frustrating situation. Withdrawal takes over the self in the form of self-righteous indignation. The only aspect of the situation the individual deals with is the justification for his indignation, and he is swept with intensity of feeling which readily overflows into irrational fear. The taking over of the personality by indignation underlies masochism and the socially supported obsessive processes in general. The individual gives himself over to intense awareness of disorder without a sense of control, accepting the situation automatically as an act of resignation to fate. Indignation has a dream like structure, and in this nightmare the individual no longer functions as a whole person. He gets no more information from outside himself, remaining in the grip of an internally structured perception. Under these conditions, choice disappears and shame is neutralized.

22: Self-knowledge, self-control, hate/anger of self

Hate can only maintain its constructive function in submissive personalities when it activates a partial withdrawal, and anger in dominant personalities gains its constructive nature by leading to partial indifference. The motivating drive toward using withdrawal and indifference in this way is nothing more or less than the protection of the mental health of the individual. He must make a choice which involves putting aside the obvious justification for submissive anger and dominant hate in favor of the recognition that such reactions undermine both his independent access to the esthetics of living and his ability to develop self-knowledge and self-control.

Hatred is an effective warning sign to a submissive person that they must withdraw from something which frustrates their will to understand, while anger is an effective warning to the dominant person that they must make themselves indifferent something that frustrates their will to find the right. This is a self-protective response. If instead a submissive person seeks to justify their hatred through a theory of the person's misbehavior (developing anger), or the dominant person becomes so pervasive and unreasonable in their anger that the frustrating action of the other becomes an intrinsic property (developing hatred), then this will make them miserable, and undermine their self-understanding or self-control.

The sensitive individual who needs anger to avoid helplessness and phobic anxiety cannot avoid turning this anger against himself. This is true because understanding the self brings the individual up against the unknown in a potentially overwhelming way. Self-knowledge is the key to the building of a science of human nature. If the individual is consistently overstimulated by his struggle for self-understanding, compulsive irritability at the self must enter as a defense against overwhelming anxiety. He cannot remain at peace with himself if he cannot accept the incompleteness of the truth seeking process. He must be able to read the signs of an oncoming state of psychological oppression, and use partial withdrawal from his own problems as a remedy.

The vigorous individual who needs hate to avoid recklessness and depersonalized restlessness cannot escape from hate for himself, because controlling the self brings him up against the chaotic in a potentially overwhelming way. Self-control is the arena in which human engineering is developed and expanded. If the individual cannot avoid entrapment in overstimulation by his struggle for self-mastery, obsessive indignation at the self must enter as a defense against overwhelming restlessness. He cannot remain in a natural and spontaneous mental state if he cannot accept the incompleteness of the reaching for the right. He must be able to perceive the oncoming loss of access to simple pleasure and enjoyment in the flow of the life process, and use partial indifference toward his own problems as a remedy.


When men undertake to define what is mental health for themselves, they must cast aside the socially supported compulsive and obsessive mechanisms which society has declared to be normal. The first step in this process is the reduction of the overstimulation by the human scene which takes the form of feeling overloads in submissive personalities and motor overloads in dominant personalities. At this point the individual must change his perception of what constitutes a psychological reward. To win peace of mind and spontaneity of spirit he must learn to value his independent access to the esthetics of living, turning toward the simple and ordinary surface phenomena of life with the capacity to endow them with pleasure and enjoyment. To do this he must understand what is underdeveloped in himself. When submissive personalities no longer have a compulsive access to zestful and embellished experience, they must face the fact that the ordinary flow of simple experience is not real to them. When dominant personalities give up obsessive access to falsely intense dogmatic feelingfulness, they find themselves in a place where pleasant and surface feeling is hard to find or value. The individual moves toward a better developed two dimensional life because he knows that in this direction lies mental health, but he cannot avoid the sense of psychological letdown which such growth entails. He perceives this phase as a minimal state of being, or as a limbo, or as a nothingness progressing into nothing special, and the key to passing through it successfully lies in his ability to minimize the suffering which it brings. If he resists the tendency to regard this greyness of spirit as an intolerable crisis, he is in a position to expand his acquaintance with his psychological world, bringing novel perceptions of the spirit of romance and adventure into simple and ordinary things. It is of the essence of this reaching for an expanding acquaintance with the commonplace that he be able to use withdrawal and indifference toward the hardships which growth brings.


Conventional individuals cannot tolerate the greyness which is an inherent phase of the growth process because they do not understand what is underdeveloped in themselves. The only solution of the problem they can find is to reinforce their compulsive or obsessive embellishments. Without access to psychological growth, there is no way to deal constructively with the suffering which greyness brings. The danger point in navigating through a grey period comes when the individual accepts a heavy burden of blame for his condition. Submissive personalities perceive a lack of order in themselves and instead of exercising partial withdrawal from that part of themselves which brings oppressive stress, a reckless anger at their own psychological nature is released. Burdened with irritability toward themselves, they can no longer experience the life process in an enjoyable way. Access to simple pride is lost, and conditions are set up for free floating anxiety and a potential phobic reaction to their own natures. Dominant personalities perceive a lack of control of their own psychological apparatus and instead of exercising partial indifference toward that part of themselves which is not working as well as they would like, a helpless hate reaction takes over toward their own inner natures. Burdened with an indignant self-righteous disgust with themselves, they can no longer face life with an assured capacity to find a pleasurable warmth in whatever place they are in. Access to surface acceptance of what is pleasant in the life process is lost, and they become trapped in free floating restlessness and a potential depersonalized reaction to their own natures, converting the inner self into an impoverished object.


The individual who undertakes to assume full responsibility for his own mental health must unmask society's pretensions to have access to human truth and right. Society's models of so-called normal and successful personalities are constructed out of the ability of these models to conform to social beliefs and authority, using these compulsive and obsessive mechanisms to increase their adaptive capacity in ambitious ways. Because they are recognized to be successful in reaping financial and prestige rewards, they are able to shift the attention of mankind from the independent search for self-knowledge and self-control toward the kind of conformity which supports their success. They manage to brainwash others into the belief that reaching a high level of social acceptance automatically means access to what is true and right in the human scene. The first step to be taken by an individual who seeks to make the pursuit of human understanding and responsibility the mainstream of his life is the refusal to accept the lies and pretensions of a monolithic social system. By this act he throws off the sense that his difficulties in dealing with the human world are his own fault. Instead he perceives the fact that he is ill equipped to be the independent person he wants to be, and undertakes to build the kind of self-knowledge and self-control he needs to emerge from the crippling defenses which growing up in such a society has imposed on him. Anyone entering an independent psychological growth process must recognize he bears honorable scars, and as he accepts this fact he learns to avoid irritability and indignation toward himself because he increasingly declares aspects of himself to be unhealthy. He cannot afford to confer a sense of equality on others unless they are similarly involved in a growth process. This does not mean that he takes a critical or polemic position toward the conventional world in general. His sense of the superiority of the quality of his life goals is not snobbish in nature. He maintains his capacity for surface warmth and pride interactions with others, but he also knows that his position is essentially revolutionary in the human scene and that if he allows conventional social forces to evaluate his personality he will automatically be put in an inferior position.


It is not enough to identify ignorance and immorality in the conventional world. The psychologically mature individual accepts the responsibility of finding human truth and right on his own, and the primary aspect of this search is the protection and promotion of his own mental health. There is no way to conduct this search without the ability to make a clear distinction between two and three dimensional phenomena. Beliefs which keep people comfortable are part of man's esthetic life and are quite different from the scientific pursuit of truth. In the search for truth there is always incompleteness which has the potential of bringing psychic exhaustion in its wake. Truth is not the personal property of the truth seeker. It is not something he brings into being, but rather something he discovers, and when it is recognized it becomes a fact that it has always existed. Truth cannot be found when the need of the thinker to reduce the data of experience to a conceptual order takes its origin in a defense against helplessness, because then the perception of order has a compulsive structure in which the expansion of experience loses its value and the only thing that counts is to quiet anxiety. Such compulsive structures seem to originate in the brain of the thinker, but their real source is the institutionalized belief s of society.

In a similar way, standards of acceptable and conventional moral conduct exist to keep people comfortable and are part of man's esthetic life, changing with the fashions of the day, and those who do not conform may be required to run the gauntlet of adaptive difficulties. At this level an act may be considered moral if the individual can get away with it. Human engineering requires objective techniques and skills of mastery which reach the status of the right no matter whose hands exercise the control. The reaching for the right is inherently incomplete, and the threat of exhaustion always exists. The right is characterized by its ability to exploit opportunities in such a way that the human materials being manipulated fulfil their own nature in the process of being used. Such control enriches everything that submits to its influence. The right cannot be found when the need of the leader for a smoothly operating process of control takes its origin in a defense against recklessness, because then the perception of information coming from the things he manipulates shrinks, and obsessive dogma takes over. The expansion of awareness loses its meaning and the only thing that counts is to overcome depersonalizing restlessness. Although the individual may think such fixed images of reality come from him, their real origin lies in the customs of a monolithic social system.


There is no way to find truth and right without overcoming the helplessness and recklessness which lurk behind the exposure to the unknown and the chaotic, and this accomplishment must be brought into being without the use of compulsive and obsessive mechanisms. If men are to purge their personalities of the irritability and indignation toward themselves and the human scene which undermines their ability to live in an expanding human world, they must first understand that they have an inner identity. Society would have them believe that they are no different from animals in a forest in that dominance is established in the self by biological forces operating in the male gender, and submission exists as a biological process inherent in the female gender. The inability to comprehend the kind of polarity which civilization has produced, in which males have either submissive or dominant personalities, and females likewise, has as its most fundamental cause the fear of the latent homosexuality which such mated potentials bring into being. It is not the mere existence of homosexuality which is feared the most, but rather the potentials for psychological independence which are inherent in the acceptance of an inner identity.

Polarity has its origins in the psychological structure of family life. Sons do not identify with their fathers except in surface characteristics, but rather interact in a polarized way, and similarly for daughters and mothers. This superior method of psychological interaction has the potential for a great enrichment of their mutually shared psychological life. Interlocking instead of competing helps both to expand their worlds. The parent who needs reinforcement in either simple experience or surface feeling can turn to his offspring of the same gender for this increase in the esthetics of living. Behind this strong attachment in the area of pleasure and enjoyment lies the potential for developing a sense of importance to each other as carriers of the highest levels of love and power sharing. This can only happen when there is mutual respect and acceptance of the difference between them. If the fear of the homosexual component drives the parent and offspring away from this enriched sharing, they move toward a futile effort at identification which undermines the quality of the relationship. It is unfortunate for a submissive son to abandon his access to selective withdrawal in favor of identification with his father's indifference, because he cannot use indifference selectively and recklessness takes over. A similar situation is found when dominant sons identify with their father's withdrawal and helplessness takes over. The same dynamics applies to the mother-daughter interaction. Freud's impoverished view of parent-child relationships as embodied in the Oedipus complex rests on the false expectation of father-son identification and the heterosexual competition that accompanies it. The actual identification which involves the core of the personality is between mothers and sons, and fathers and daughters. The channeling of polarity into same gender relationships makes it possible to explore the growth potential inherent in polarity without the contaminating influence of artificially established male-female social roles. Identification relationships, on the other hand, have a fraternal atmosphere, and can thrive on easy going sharing and cooperation without having to deal with the fullest expression of the vicissitudes of submission and dominance. Whereas polarized relationships invite the sharing of an expanding psychological world together, fraternal relationships elaborate the security and freedom already in existence. Family relationships fix inner identity firmly in the personality, but when the mated type of interaction they bring into being cannot be accepted and encouraged, the independence of the individual is seriously handicapped.


The guiding principles of an independent maturity can only be found through self-knowledge and self-control, based on the objective existence of a science of human nature and of human engineering. The pursuit of truth brings the individual face to face with the unknown, and the reaching for the right confronts the chaotic. The individual must monitor his exposure to that which is not yet understood or not yet subject to control if he is not to be overwhelmed by these forces. This acceptance of the incompleteness of truth and right runs counter to society's need for stability. In order to protect socially supported beliefs and conventions, society employs a complex system of prohibitions, backed up by ostracism and punishment. Society sets up a system of facading and posturing, directed toward substituting socially convenient beliefs for truth, and conventional patterns of behavior for what is right. The individual who chooses to live outside this system has a twofold task, to make his peace with society at an adaptive level, and to maintain always his own independent standards of what a high quality life is all about. To accomplish this end he must be able to see what is compulsive or obsessive in himself, working to reduce or eliminate these influences in his life without losing track of the wisdom and strength he already has. His motivation for doing this is the promotion of his own mental health. He must be able to avoid phobic or depersonalized reactions toward the crippled human condition he sees about him, and also avoid the same undermining reactions to the perception of his own psychological scars. As submissive individuals succeed in purging their psychological selves of anger, and dominant individuals of hate, they enter psychological territory where the esthetics of living is assured, and they no longer need to live from one crisis to another. Within the mainstream world they share with other growing people there are no prohibitions, only choices. There is no ostracism, only selective withdrawal, and no punishment, only selective indifference. Identity is carried by their devotion to the quality of living for themselves and others, and is not invested in career success, ethnic identity, or in their ability to survive through coping with recurrent psychological crises.

Society can only progress in human terms through the contributions of its social rejects. As more and more individuals demonstrate that crisis living is inferior to psychological states guided by self-knowledge and self-control, the influence of truth and right will take over territory occupied by driven and pressured social beliefs and customs. Society will learn to value the presence of independent deviants, secure in the knowledge that their influence will not alter social institutions until their superior value has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of the entire society. A social order which needs and wants human truth and right can devote itself to the contentment and happiness of its members, and this process will, in the end, produce the greatest stability of all, since true stability means the ability to change without disintegration. No system based on false models of normalcy can avoid the kind of crises which account not only for mental illness and criminality, but for the rise and fall of civilizations themselves. When the individual becomes the center of his own universe, the road to mental health will lie open to all, and the world can become a fit place for human beings to inhabit, free of helpless and reckless reactions.

papers/on_psychological_maturity.txt · Last modified: 2016/01/26 06:47 by ram