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Article 9

What Happens to Personality During the Post-Conventional Stages of Maturity

  • Ellipse 3

    28 Jun 2024

Many of us wander through life within the conventional stages of maturity, often shaped by group norms and familial influences. Dr. Julia Kukard, Chief Knowledge Officer at Aephoria, points out that, surprisingly, only 20% of people actually progress past conventional stages to exist within the post-conventional stages of maturity, often only later in life.

During the post-conventional stages, we evolve significantly. We deepen our self-awareness and relate differently to our ego, contribute more to the world, and expand our identity.  

Dr. Julia Kukard speaks with Lucille Greeff, Aephoria’s Chief Product Officer, about what happens to personality during these post-conventional stages of maturity.


How Individuals Can Progress From Conventional to Post-Conventional Maturity 

According to Lucille Greeff, advancing to post-conventional stages of maturity – Internalising, Strategising, Transforming, and Being – hinges significantly on openness to new experiences and the capacity to navigate adversity and pain. 

Dr. Julia Kukard expands on this, noting that true maturity often emerges from confronting our deepest fears and vulnerabilities. This confrontation, she explains, is essential for personal growth, as it challenges us to redefine success and identity on our own terms. Agency has to kick in. 

“We have to switch from the outer world shaping our behaviour and who we are to the inner world shaping who we are. We have to change what’s not working, realising this is our responsibility, so we’re going to drive this ourselves and commit to learning rather than just responding to things that happen to us in our lives.” – Dr. Julia Kukard. 


The Soul Journey: Personality at the Internalising Stage of Post-Conventional Maturity

In the first – Internalising – stage of post-conventional maturity, we “flip into our fixation,” as Dr. Julia Kukard puts it. This will look different for each Enneagram Type. Depression descends, we face internal world separation and separation from friends, and we’re forced to redefine identity and success as we face up to our fixation. We may fall out of love with our lives, and so we need to determine how to relate to the world in a different, healthier way. Soul-searching is required.

 

“The Internalising process is almost like the rejection of the life we’ve built. This leads to exploration, and we leave comfort and familiarity behind to find the Promised Land by travelling through the desert. When we return, we relate to the Promised Land differently because it’s no longer the Promised Land. It’s now just land.” – Lucille Greeff.  


Facing Your Fixation and Embracing Integration 

Each Enneagram type has its fixation – its deepest fear and Achilles’ heel. When we’re still in the Performing (conventional) stage of maturity, we try to avoid our fixation, to defend against it. To progress to post-conventional stages of maturity, that fixation “needs to shake us up a bit,” urges Dr. Julia Kukard. “It will feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get used to it and normalise it and gain perspective. You’ll integrate it. And you’ll realise that is how reality works.”

 

For Enneagram Ones, their fixation is anger at the imperfection of the world. For Enneagram Twos, it’s being rejected. For Threes, it’s failure. For Fours, it’s fitting in, being like everyone else. Fives, it’s being overwhelmed by humans. Sixes, it’s a lack of safety. Sevens, it’s pain. Eights, it’s vulnerability. And Nines, it’s conflict. 

 

“Carl Jung speaks about how if we’re avoiding something for our whole lives, at some point, it will bash into our lives. The longer we avoid it, the more dramatic the bashing. The solution is to get back into integration.” – Lucille Greeff. 

 

For an Enneagram Three, integration may mean facing your failures without trying to explain them away or ignore them. The Three then needs to integrate this into their identity by asking questions about who they are as someone who succeeds and fails. How do they hold onto their sense of value and self worth even when things aren’t going their way. Who are they as a human being, rather than a human doing?

 

“This new identity reorganises your criteria for success in your life,” says Dr. Julia Kukard. “You reorganise what’s important to you.” Success is still your motivation, but it will look different to you. Maybe you’re content to live off the grid selling homemade jam, instead of climbing the corporate ladder.”


The Cognitive Journey: Personality at the Strategising Stage of Post-Conventional Maturity 

In the second – Strategising – stage of post-conventional maturity, we become more rational. More certain. In this stage, we’re more aware of systems and models and start to use systems to drive our lives.

 

Unfortunately, a side effect of the Strategising stage is that “maturity is often expected not to look that emotional, but rather cognitive,” warns Dr. Julia Kukard. “We use cognitive model after cognitive model, and tend to get stuck in thinking cycles.” But that’s not all we need to watch out for in this stage of maturity. 

 

Within the Strategising stage, individuals typically fall into two categories:

  • The people who floated through the Internalising stage on meditation, breathwork, plant-based medicine, and even therapy without actually doing the work. Lucille Greeff compares these individuals to podcast hosts who comment on their lives, instead of feeling them. Dr. Julia Kukard describes this process as a spiritual bypass.
  • The other category is the individuals who are “rougher around the edges” and “grittier” because even though they might have taken longer in the Internalising stage, they’ve put in the hard work. 


The Self-Aware Journey: Personality at the Transforming and Being Stages of Post-Conventional Maturity

As we progress to the Transforming and Being stages, we become more open to conflict and increase our tolerance for difference. We start not only to accept but also actively seek out differences. We understand that embracing and synthesising diverse perspectives can lead to innovative solutions and deeper personal insights.

As we progress into the Transforming stage of post-conventional maturity, Dr. Julia Kukard notes a “return of personality in its early form.” She elaborates: “This time, we come in with awareness of the personality, but not necessarily an attempt to change it.” This can manifest in an existentially arrogant “take me or leave me” approach for some.

 

“In the Being stage, enormous existential humour can arise. There’s a different sense of time and space, and a sense of being valuable, not despite our faults, but because of them.” – Dr. Julia Kukard.

 

The Being stage is marked by a wide spectrum of emotions and experiences, akin to playing a piano with an expanding range of keys. This evolution doesn’t erase the personality but anneals it, exposing it to stress and ultimately polishing it into a more engaging and charismatic form. “It’s reborn,” says Dr. Julia Kukard. “It becomes more attractive because of the pain and stress it’s undergone.” 


How Life Experience Contributes to Personality Development at Post-Conventional Stages

Individuals in post-conventional stages of maturity tend to embrace a multitude of identities, contrasting with the narrower identities typical of conventional stages. We may identify as a mother, cook, and wife in the conventional stages. In the post-conventional stages, we add to this list and call ourselves “mother, cook, wife, dancer, aspiring screenwriter, and origami artist.”

 

According to Dr. Kukard, life experiences play a pivotal role in this identity development. Growing up in diverse contexts, such as bilingual environments, can give individuals a significant advantage by offering multiple perspectives and ways of thinking. This diversity fosters a broader outlook and facilitates the creation of complex identities. 

 

However, Dr. Julia Kukard does caution that too much diversity without a strong foundational sense of self can lead to identity fragmentation, potentially impacting mental health. She highlights how conditions like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) can manifest when identity cohesion is compromised. 

The Impact of Social and Cultural Context on Personality

Maturity was once viewed as one’s ability to fit into society. However, modern insights articulated by developmental psychologists like Jane Loevinger and others in the 1970s suggest a paradigm shift. They proposed that individuals can mature to a point where they no longer conform to societal norms. This perspective invites us to develop beyond the conventions of societal expectations and norms. celebrates individuals who may never have fit in or have consciously chosen to detach from societal expectations. 

 

Lucille Greeff adds a mythical dimension to this discussion, comparing the conventional princess archetype with the more gritty and wise crone archetype. She suggests that society often favours conventional roles and behaviours, making it challenging for those embracing post-conventional maturity to find acceptance. 

 

“ Say I want to quit my job, live in the hills, and be a crone, but I need to pay for my Medical Aid. The system is set up to keep us in a certain version of the conversation with the conventional. If we grow up in less privileged circumstances, that grip is even tighter.” – Lucille Greeff. 


Should We Aspire to Reach Post-Conventional Stages of Maturity?

“Seeking post-conventional levels of maturity is not necessarily a good thing. It won’t make you happier or richer,” says Dr. Julia Kukard. Focus on the version of yourself now, what you’re fostering now for the future you, and how that version will be more satisfying than the current version. Relax, don’t push or force anything, and let the process unfold.

 

“Build a great relationship with yourself and engage with yourself over the course of your life. It’s the most important relationship you have. Ask, how’s my relationship with myself? What depths have I still to explore? What version of myself can I help to emerge now? It doesn’t need to have all the maturity topology – that’s a map, and maps are not reality.” – Dr. Julia Kukard. 

 

Dr. Kukard’s words speak to the turbulence of our current society and circumstances. Reality is complex and unpredictable. The world we’re living in today is not the world we were born into, and as our world evolves, so must we, shedding old values and embracing new perspectives.

“If you’ve got the same values you had when you were 25, that’s nothing to be proud of, especially if you consider how much the world has changed in your lifetime,” says Dr. Julia Kukard. “At the end of your life, you don’t want to be the same person you’ve always been.” 

How are you coaching your clients through post-conventional stages of maturity? And what advice would you give to someone hoping to progress? Who are your clients becoming as they mature?

Contact us, and let’s continue the conversation.