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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

How we learn to hold onto our Power

Have you ever seen a toddler playing dress up? Or house? Have you ever wondered why kids universally pretend play to be grown ups? Wondered why this happens to ALL HUMANS throughout the world, independent of culture or race?

Nature sets us up for success is by instinctively getting us to practice/ rehearse to prepare us for our our next stage of development (aka our next challenge we have to master to remain healthy and well, also called a developmental task).

As humans we all go through the same process – we all move through infancy to old age in largely the same way, in roughly the same time-frames. The fancy term would be that we go through the same Developmental Trajectory. This just means that we go through the same pattern in life.

There are many different perspectives of developmental trajectories…

Erikson outlined our pattern of Psycho-Social milestones; 



Piaget described Cognitive Development (how our thinking develops);


and Kolberg described our Moral Development;


Here is the Developmental Trajectory of How we learn to hold onto our Power / our sense of worth, and why it is important…(note ages are approximate, as with all of the above developmental trajectories)

  1. Birth to about 2 yo–  our caregivers have all our power because if they don’t like us, they won’t feed us, shelter us and we would die.

  2. 2-4 yo- we start to recognize that we can have some power and we have a hayday with exerting the little bit we have by saying “no”, and “mine”, but when push comes to shove, our caregivers are still holding our sense of worth/ power

  3. 4-12 yo– we practice holding onto our sense of worth/ power in the face of peers. We are learning that we are ok, even when little Jimmy from down the street doesn’t want to play with us, or when Karen excludes us at school etc. At this stage, we are learning to tolerate disapproval or rejection from peers, but if our caregivers are upset wit us, we are still devastated!

  4. 12-20 yo-  at this stage, nature is preparing us for our next developmental stage, which is young adulthood where we will have to form our own community and separate from our family. That is why at this stage peers become HUGELY important, because we are learning to form our own community. So being rejected by Jimmy or Karen can suddenly seem like issues of quite literally life and death in some cases. This is all connected to that old evolutionary programming that tells us that if we aren’t navigating this stage well we won’t be safe soon! This is also the stage where we naturally start to push our parents away, disagree with them and practice learning that we are ok, even when our parents disapprove.  This allows us to enter the young adulthood stage having learned that we are ok even when our peers think we are not ok, and that we are ok even when our parents think we are not ok. This empowers us to be free to follow what is healthiest for us, even if others don’t approve.

The BAD NEWS is that when we don’t adequately complete one of the above stages, we get stuck there and don’t continue to follow the expected developmental tasks until we get unstuck. The GOOD NEWS is that if we are past the usual time frame to complete the task, once we are ready, we can zip through them pretty quickly! 

  1. 21-40 yo –  at this stage developmentally, we tend to pair up in intimate relationships, whether it is romantic or not.  The intensity and intimacy of our closest relationships increase as we pursue who we are while being true to ourselves and feel increasingly confident with sharing who we genuinely are with others (anxiety and/ or depression often happens at this stage if we have not navigated the previous stages well enough because we have not learned to be us, so we become anxious about being us around others and often feel indecisive and depressed – essentially because we are keeping our true selves under wraps).

  2. The big developmental task at this stage is to learn to hold onto our power/ sense of worth even with our partners and closest relationships, so we can learn to hold onto our experience and continue to follow what is healthiest for us. When we enter this stage, up to this point there has not been any relationship that rivals this degree of intimacy, other than our relationship with our parents. This means that any relationship issues with our parents that have not been resolved will surface in this context. So if we did not feel emotionally or physically safe with our parents for whatever reason, we will instinctively act that out with our partners in a variety of ways, by acting in ways to get them to reject us so we avoid the intimacy all together, or by being passive and not speaking up when we are upset etc. This is is true for absolutely everyone, whether you are the Queen of England, Barak Obama or Jennifer Lopez. We all go through the stage in our relationships when we start to really feel close where we become distressed and paniky when our partner is “off” or acts in a way we interpret as rejecting or disapproving…and we all have to learn to master this stage in order to be happy and healthy in our closest relationships.

  3. 40- 60 yo – At this stage we often end up having re-negotiate our roles with our parents (often needing to assume more of a parent vs child role) and if we haven’t already, we learn to more clearly hold onto our power and sense of worth even when they disapprove. This can be an especially difficult stage for us (often manifested though depression or anxiety, indecision etc) if we have not navigated this and we end up being their care-giver needing to make decisions they don’t agree with or are not on board with (ie. if they have dementia), because we are still needing their approval and don’t know how to reconcile doing what we know is healthiest for us and/ or them, but without their validation.

  4. 60+ – as our health changes, and what we are able to do stops matching up with what our social or cultural group values overtly (ie. good health, independence, mobility, earning an income or being in the work force, having a large social group that may be dying etc) our developmental task becomes holding onto to our sense of worth/ power even in the face of this, allowing us SHIFT what WE value the most to the things and ways we ARE able to contribute and function meaningfully. Some people are faced with this stage earlier due to circumstances beyond their control, the task is the same regardless of the age we face it at and rests on our CHOICE and MOTIVATION to shift our sense of worth from WHAT we can do for others to WHO we are intrinsically.

Hope this was as fun and interesting for you as it was for me. I love this stuff! We would love to hear from you. as always!

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