Webb Therapy Uncategorized What does human development mean to you? How often are we thinking about our own development? Here is a start (“,)

What does human development mean to you? How often are we thinking about our own development? Here is a start (“,)

Hello readers. I hope you are well. I imagine some of you are struggling and some of you are flourishing. Life consists of both. As humans, we relish pleasurable feelings and experiences and we tend to dislike uncomfortable emotions and experiences. I get it. I am just like you. We share this. I hope that provides some comfort.

What is human development?

Human development can be described as “systematic changes and continuities in the individual that occur between conception and death, or from “womb to tomb”” (Sigelman, De George, Cunial, & Rider, 2019, p. 3).

Human development involves the continuities (i.e., what remains consistent across time) and the systematic changes (i.e., patterns of change that are expected to come in order across time) that one experiences throughout the lifespan. Based on my education, there are three domains of continuity and change: 1. The physical and biological, 2. Cognitive (i.e., mind processes/thinking), and 3. Psychosocial and emotional. Let’s open these one at a time.

Physical development includes:

  • Physical and biological processes (e.g., genetic inheritance).
  • Growth of the body and its organs.
  • Functioning of physiological systems (e.g., brain).
  • Health and wellness.
  • Physical signs of ageing and changes in motor abilities.

Cognitive development includes:


Perception: the sensing of stimuli in our environment (internal and external), sending that information to the brain to be identified and interpreted in order to represent and understand our experience of the world and give it meaning. All perception involves signals that go through the nervous system.

Attention: the ability to actively (and often, involuntarily) process specific information in the environment while tuning out other details. Attention is a very interesting cognitive process because when we bring mindfulness to our thoughts we become open to the direction and attention of our mind. Remember this: where attention goes, energy flows.

Language: very broadly, Language is a communication system that involves using words (i.e., sounds arranged together) and systematic rules to organise those words into sentences and meaning, to transmit information from one individual to another. I was never very interested in language when I was studying at university however that has changed. We used language and concepts to talk to ourselves, about other people, and it is open to misinterpretation, error, and oftentimes language can be used as a means to hurt people or … bring us closer together.

Learning: very broadly defined as a relatively permanent change in behaviour, thinking, and understanding as a result of experience. Experience is everything from formal education to unique personal experience. We learn from each other, the world around us, books, movies, self-reflection and education etc. All of which are experiences.

Memory: Memory refers to the processes that are used to gather, organise, store, retain, and later retrieve information. I’m sure you’ve all seen a tv show or read a book about a person with Amnesia or Alzheimer’s disease. Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have the function of memory. I wouldn’t be able to type this very well, I don’t think. I wouldn’t remember my loved ones or what was dangerous in my environment. I know we all have unpleasant memories too and that may feel like a negative evolutionary by-product – however it is actually designed to protect us. Memory is finite – we actually forget a lot of stuff, or perhaps more accurately, we do not have the capacity to store and recall everything we experience.

Intelligence: I would like to reframe intelligence from what might be a common belief. Intelligence does not mean academically gifted as is considered valuable in Western society. I think Olympians and caregivers/parents have an intelligence that I do not because I haven’t learned their skills. Intelligence involves the ability to learn (i.e., sport, academics, the arts, swimming, survival, interpersonal skills), emotional knowledge, creativity, and adaptation to meet the demands of the environment effectively

Creativity: I consider creativity to be an evolutionary gift of our imagination, providing humans with the ability to generate and recognize ideas, consider alternatives, think of possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others. Creativity can be stunted when we are struggling or caught in reactivity to external pressures or perceived stress.

Problem solving: is a process – yes, a cognitive one but also a behavioural process. It is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing, and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution. Problem solving can be both creative or stress driven. I like to say whenever I am solving a problem I am also making a decision. A decision of mine is a choice. At university, our problem solving lessons were coincided with decision making which is why I think of it that way.

Psychosocial development involves:

Aspects of the self (i.e., your identity – which may change over time), and social and interpersonal interactions which include motives, emotions, personality traits, morality, social skills, and relationships, and roles played in the family and in the larger society. This is a huge area to be explored. I will endeavour to elaborate on our psychosocial development in later blogs.

In the late 1950’s, a German-American developmental psychologist named Erik Erikson created a theory for human psychosocial development across the lifespan. His theory suggests that human personality develops in a predetermined order through 8 stages of psychosocial development. See the table below:

Age or StageConflictExampleResolution or “virtue”Key Question to be answered
Infancy (0 to 18 months)Trust vs. MistrustBeing feed and cared for by caregiver.HopeIs my world safe? Will I be cared for?
Early Childhood (2 to 3 years)Autonomy (personal control) vs. Shame and DoubtToilet training and getting dressed.Will I would add self-efficacy here too.Can I do things for myself, or will I always rely on others?
Preschool (3 to 5 years)Initiative vs. GuiltInteracting with other children and asserting themselves in their environment e.g., during play.Purpose Taking initiative, leading others, asserting ideas produces a sense of purpose.Am I liked by others or do I experience disapproval by others?
School Age (6 to 11 years)Industry (competence) vs. InferiorityStarting formal education and participating in activities.CompetenceHow can I do well and be accepted by others?
Adolescence (12 to 18 years)Identity vs. Role Confusion (uncertainty of self and role in society)Developing social relationships with peers and sense of identity.Fidelity (loyalty) The ability to maintain loyalty to others based on accepting others despite differences.Who am I and where am I going in my life? What are my personal beliefs, values and goals?
Young Adult (19 to 40 years)Intimacy vs. IsolationDeveloping intimate relationships.LoveAm I loved and desired by another? Will I be loved long-term?
Mature Adult (40 to 65 years)Generativity vs. StagnationVocation and parenting, typically.Care Contributing to the world to demonstrate that you care.Will I provide something to this world of real value? E.g., children or valuable work, art, a legacy etc.
Maturity (65 year to death)Ego Identity vs. DespairReflection of your life. Feelings of satisfaction and wholeness.WisdomWas I productive with my life? Can I accept my life and have a sense of closure and completeness?

Related Post

Polyvagal Theory and Trauma – Dr. Stephen PorgesPolyvagal Theory and Trauma – Dr. Stephen Porges

Stephen Porges, psychiatry professor and researcher, on the polyvagal theory he developed to understand our reactions to trauma:

[Paraphrased] Polyvagal theory articulates three branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that evolved from primitive vertebrates to mammals. First, there is a system known as ‘freeze’, which involves death feigning or immobilisation. Second, the ANS has a ‘fight or flight’ system, which is a mobilisation system. And third, with mammals, there is what Porges calls, a social engagement system (SES), which can detect features of safety, and actually communicate them to another. The SES may also be referred to by some as ‘rest and digest’, which Porges theory suggests is a function of the Vagus Nerve – the tenth cranial nerve, a very long and wandering nerve that begins at the medulla oblongata. When an individual experiences feelings of safety (within an SES state), the autonomic nervous system can support health restoration. In terms of dealing with a life threat, an ordinary person will most likely go into a feigning death, dissociative state of ‘freeze’.

Polyvagal theory in psychotherapy offers emotional co-regulation as an interactive process between therapist and client which engages the social engagement system of both therapist and client. Social engagement provides experiences of safety, trust, mutuality and reciprocity in which we are open to receiving another person, just as they are.

The following extract has been retrived from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/02/stephen-porges-interview-survivors-are-blamed-polyvagal-theory-fight-flight-psychiatry-ace

Polyvagal theory has made inroads into medical and psycho-therapeutic treatment, but how should it inform how people treat each other?


“When we become a polyvagal-informed society, we’re functionally capable of listening to and witnessing other people’s experiences, we don’t evaluate them. Listening is part of co-regulation: we become connected to others and this is what I call our biological imperative. So when you become polyvagal-informed you have a better understanding of your evolutionary heritage as a mammal. We become aware of how our physiological state is manifested, in people’s voices and in their facial expression, posture and basic muscle tone. If there’s exuberance coming from the upper part of a person’s face, and their voice has intonation modulation or what’s called prosody, we become attracted to the person. We like to talk to them – it’s part of our co-regulation.

So when we become polyvagal-informed, we start understanding not only the other person’s response but also our responsibility to smile and have inflection in our voice, to help the person we’re talking to help their body feel safe.”

Clink on the link below to hear Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s leading experts on developmental trauma, explain how our long-term health and happiness can be compromised by prior exposure to violence, emotional abuse, and other forms of traumatic stress.

https://youtu.be/53RX2ESIqsM

Unhelpful Cognitions (thoughts) and DistortionsUnhelpful Cognitions (thoughts) and Distortions

Unhelpful Cognitions

Mental Filter: This thinking style involves a “filtering in” and “filtering out” process – a sort of “tunnel vision”, focusing on only one part of a situation and ignoring the rest. Usually this means looking at the negative parts of a situation and forgetting the positive parts, and the whole picture is coloured by what may be a single negative detail.

Jumping to Conclusions: We jump to conclusions when we assume that we know what someone else is thinking (mind reading) and when we make predictions about what is going to happen in the future (predictive thinking).

Mind reading: Is a habitual thinking pattern characterized by expecting others to know what you’re thinking without having to tell them or expecting to know what others are thinking without them telling you. This is very common, and most people can identify. Oftentimes, when we are telling someone a story about an interaction, we’ve had with someone else, we will make mind reading assumptions without actually having fact or evidence e.g., “They haven’t phoned me in two weeks so they must be angry with me for cancelling on them last week.”

Personalisation: This involves blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong or could go wrong, even when you may only be partly responsible or not responsible at all. You might be taking 100% responsibility for the occurrence of external events. It can also involve blaming someone else for something for which they have no responsibility. This can often occur when setting a boundary with someone and you take responsibility for their guilt or anger.

Catastrophising: Catastrophising occurs when we “blow things out of proportion” and we view the situation as terrible, awful, dreadful, and horrible, even though the reality is that the problem itself may be quite small.

Black & White Thinking: Also known as splitting, dichotomous thinking, and all-or-nothing thinking, involves seeing only one side or the other (the positives or the negatives, for example). You are either wrong or right, good or bad and so on. There are no in-betweens or shades of grey.

Should-ing and Must-ing: Sometimes by saying “I should…” or “I must…” you can put unreasonable demands or pressure on yourself and others. Although these statements are not always unhelpful (e.g., “I should not get drunk and drive home”), they can sometimes create unrealistic expectations.

Should-ing and must-ing can be a psychological distortion because it can “deny reality” e.g., I shouldn’t have had so much to drink last night. This is helpful in the sense that it communicates to us that we have exceeded our boundaries, however, saying “shouldn’t” about a past situation can be futile because it cannot be changed.

Overgeneralisation: When we overgeneralise, we take one instance in the past or present, and impose it on all current or future situations. If we say, “You always…” or “Everyone…”, or “I never…” then we are probably overgeneralising.

Labelling: We label ourselves and others when we make global statements based on behaviour in specific situations. We might use this label even though there are many more examples that are not consistent with that label. Labelling is a cognitive distortion whereby we take one characteristic of a person/group/situation and apply it to the whole person/group/situation. Example: “Because I failed a test, I am a failure” or “Because she is frequently late to work, she is irresponsible”.

Emotional Reasoning: This thinking style involves basing your view of situations or yourself on the way you are feeling. For example, the only evidence that something bad is going to happen is that you feel like something bad is going to happen. Emotions and feelings are real however they are not necessarily indicative of objective truth or fact.

Magnification and Minimisation: In this thinking style, you magnify the positive attributes of other people and minimise your own positive attributes. Also known as the binocular effect on thinking. Often it means that you enlarge (magnify) the positive attributes of other people and shrink (minimise) your own attributes, just like looking at the world through either end of the same pair of binoculars.

(CCI, 2008)