Stages of Ego Development

Loevinger’s “Stages of Ego Development” is a cognitively-oriented model that describes the variations in psychological maturity. The first stage, impulsive (I-2), identifies the typical manifestations as characterized by being impulsive, egocentric, dependent, and consciously preoccupied with bodily feelings, suggestive of the psychological maturity of an infant and child. The child is locked in an impulsive (I-2) stage, understanding good behavior to be simply and only that which is rewarded and bad to be that which is punished and avoided. If a child stays in this stage for too long, he or she may be viewed by others as “uncontrollable” or “incorrigible.” The previous stage gives way to the self-protective (delta) stage. The typical manifestations that characterize this stage are opportunistic, manipulative, wary, and consciously preoccupied with control and “trouble.” The individual of this stage incorporates an appreciation of the world’s rules and knows that it is to his or her advantage to play by the rules most of the time. The conformist (I-3) stage manifests respect for rules, cooperation, loyalty, and the conscious preoccupations of appearance and behavior. The child in this stage seeks interpersonal harmony, closeness, sharing, and identification with others and values cooperation, niceness, and loyalty to the group.

During adolescence, the transitional stage of conscientious/conformist (I-3/4) typically occurs. This stage manifests helpfulness, self-awareness, feelings, problems, and adjustments. This young person realizes the group that once defined all of his or her standards is impossible to live up to and begins to break away from the group to become more self-aware. The conscientious (I-4) stage manifests self-evaluated standards, self-criticism, intensity, responsibility, motives, traits, and achievements. An adolescent or adult in this stage has substituted internalized personal standards and the major elements of adult conscience have now become present: long-term, self-evaluated goals and ideals. The individualistic (I-4/5) stage manifests tolerance, mutuality, and is consciously preoccupied with individuality, development, and roles. Distinctions are made between inner reality and outward appearances; between psychological and physiological responses; between process and outcome. The autonomous (I-5) stage emerges with the capacity to cope with individualistic levels of conflicts. One at this level exposes his or her tolerance for ambiguity and a respect for the autonomy of others while realizing that emotional interdependence is inevitable. The integrated (I-6) stage, the one most difficult to accomplish, is when an individual reaches the full consolidation of identity while being able to cherish all individuality.


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