Are you experiencing dissonance? I provide mentorships for people that are discovering and self-authoring new maps/worldviews to manage significant changes using tools like the Theory of Positive Disintegration and Spiral Dynamics.
But first, let me tell you more about change.
It may be necessary to remind readers of articles about change that people hate change. Change is a big challenge. But why is that?
To understand, we need to look at our brains. Our brains are bicameral, with a clear cut in the middle. The two halves look different, as if they had been twisted. The right side emphasizes the frontal lobe, while the left has a more extensive posterior area. There are connections, but they inhibit rather than promote communication between the hemispheres.
Iain McGilchrist has revived the study of brain lateralization after previous attempts were dismissed as pop culture. It is not an analytical and a creative half.
Instead, the two hemispheres host something akin to two separate awarenesses that we experience as one. This can be seen in birds. Birds use their right eye, connected to their left brain, to distinguish food from pebbles, while their left eye, and therefore the right brain, is on the outlook for friend or foe. Without the first awareness, the bird would starve; without the second, it would become prey.
Similar observations can be made with humans, as Iain McGilchrist beautifully points out in his two seminal works, “The Master and His Emissary” and “The Matter with Things.” Considering the size of these books, it may become apparent that I need help to prove what I am about to say in an article. I must stand on the shoulders of giants.
With humans, the two awarenesses are “mapping the world to navigate and manipulate it” in the left hemisphere and “seeing the bigger picture and bringing order to chaos and the unknown” in the right hemisphere.
Of course, most of what we do involves both hemispheres, but these two tasks are lateralized.
People can overemphasize the left hemisphere and become rigid, detail-oriented, utilitarian, and closed or arrested in their thinking. It is as it is. Never change a working system, a winning team. We have always done things that way. The left hemisphere does not know what it does not know.
The right hemisphere is different. It knows it needs the left to make sense of its intuition, imagination, unconscious reasoning, the big picture, and the unknown.
The right brain knows it depends on the left because language synthesis can only be done in the left hemisphere. We struggle to express novel thoughts because we lack the vocabulary within our left-brain world model.
The right passes its thoughts to the left for examination against the world model and expects the enriched interpretation back for further analysis and rumination.
In left-brain-dominated societies, that will only sometimes happen because the left hemisphere acts immediately according to its model. It is convinced that it knows what it is doing.
We are currently living in a left-brain-dominated society. We can see it in the tribalization of social media and the political landscape. Everybody knows exactly what to do according to their worldview.
So what is change in this model?
Small changes can be made within the current configuration of the brain. If that were not possible, we would not learn and complete these minor adjustments to the map we have in our left hemisphere to navigate and manipulate the world more successfully.
Things get interesting when we experience significant changes. But what is a big change?
There are moments in our lives when the big picture we feel and intuit with our right hemisphere is no longer congruent with our representation of the outside world in our left hemisphere. Dabrowski would have called this a “psychoneurotic conflict”. This dissonance causes great stress.
There may be several reasons for these divergent interpretations. One could be the emergence of challenges we cannot solve with our familiar left hemisphere sensory tools. Another could be an ideal we want to achieve but must figure out how. The first is a significant change in the second factor, while the latter looks like a journey through the levels of TPD, especially level III, spontaneous multilevel disintegration.
How do we respond to such dissonance? We need to change the world map we use radically. There are two main strategies for doing this. Both strategies can deal with radical environmental change, but it prefers one. An emerging self-authored ideal allows only the other strategy.
What are these strategies?
- We adopt the worldview of our environment.
- We engage in a dialogue between the two hemispheres and gradually replace the left hemisphere’s map with the newly discovered map that results from this collaboration.
We have all used the first strategy many times in our lives. Think of puberty. It was hard, and you would never have admitted it, but you shed the childlike worldview that served you well in the previous stage of development and replaced it with the dominant worldview of your environment.
The second strategy is much less common. No one models the ideal for you. All you may get is company and tools. This is positive disintegration.
How do these strategies compare?
We now know the differences between the strategies, with one being externally motivated and the other self-created. But how are they similar?
First, let’s describe the Spiral Dynamics model of change as a model that describes change in general.
Spiral Dynamics calls a worldview a value meme because values are at the core of our sense-making, and memes are copied and can go viral. A value meme is a hierarchy of values that others can adopt. Even the name points to the first strategy, where we copy the worldview of others and make it our own. The result also reminds us of primary integration described in TPD: a worldview caused by nature and nurture.
Spiral Dynamics Change Model by ValueMatch
So how does this change process work according to the model?
First, we are in a value meme and feel very comfortable. Let’s call it α.
But after some time, there are the first showers of rain. Certain things are wrong now. It’s not so comfortable anymore. We call this state β. Minor adjustments or simple ignorance help to get back to α.
However, the storms become more significant at some point, and we cannot return quickly. γ is reached. But it’s not all forward, either. The old patterns of thinking and the misconceptions about the future block our way like a wall.
Now we have two options: we reject the new and fall back into patterns we have long since left behind: regression. We seek protection in value memes that we once found valuable. The world was okay then.
Or we break through the wall to the new: revolution.
After the breakthrough, we focus on the new value meme. We call this phase δ. It leads to a new α and thus to new stability.
There is a shortcut to change called flex. It leads directly from β to the new α without blockages, revolutions and the danger of a crash.
Can we force the change process on others? Or at least help it?
No, but we can create living conditions that help them start the process.
This process also describes small changes that do not create a new value meme. Flex is usually only possible in small changes that do not lead to new worldviews.
Here is a summary:
|Alpha (α) – order||Healthy dynamic tension to the prevailing living conditions||Primary integration|
|Beta (β) – doubts about the old||First, we try to do more of the usual. This reinforces the anxious beta phase.||Unilevel disintegration|
|Gamma (γ) – Chaos||Either we find the way out through a possibility of reform, or we are trapped.|
|Delta (δ) – Recovery toward the new system||But beware: just because I got rid of what was old does not mean I have grasped what is new.||Spontaneous and directed multilevel disintegration|
|Alpha (α) – consolidation in a new phase of healthy dynamic tension||The world is fine.||Secondary integration|
|Flex – the abbreviation||From β to the new α for those willing to change. If we look at the different stages in this model, they resemble the stages of TPD. They can be assigned as follows: α Primary Integration, β Stage II, δ Stages III and IV, and α Secondary Integration. γ represents the breakthrough from Stage II to Stage III.|
This led me to realize that positive disintegration is a particular case of change that uses the second strategy because it is intrinsically motivated.
What it takes to change
The theory of positive disintegration also explains the prerequisites for a journey through the levels, emphasizing the breakthrough from Level II to Level III. These make the significant difference between the two strategies for change. These prerequisites constitute a strong developmental potential.
A high developmental potential consists of the five overexcitabilities, special talents and abilities, and a high IQ.
These overexcitabilities (OE) are characterized by a small stimulus that triggers an above-average response, a firework. These are:
- Intellectual OE: the extreme urge for understanding, knowledge, and truth.
- Imaginative OE: strong associations and metaphors, fantasy, (lucid) dreams, and visions.
- Emotional OE: intense feelings, complex emotions, empathy.
- Sensory OE: intense experience of the stimuli of the five senses up to sensory overload.
- Psychomotor OE: enormous energy, urge to move.
Recent research includes Existential or Spiritual OE: spontaneous meditation, extraordinary intuition, spiritual experiences, perceiving the world as one, ‘peak experiences,’ feeling all-encompassing vibrating energy, connection with nature, people, and everything around you, wisdom, compassion, and grace.
OE is about intensity, not complexity. Thus, the intellectual OE is the urge for knowledge, but not intelligence per se, as measured by IQ.
In particular, the first three OEs (intellectual, imaginative, and emotional) strongly support the third factor.
I would include the multiple intelligences, or rather complexities, that have since been discovered and subsume them under “special talents.” Some examples are intellectual (IQ), creative, emotional, sensual, physical, and existential intelligence. Can you see the parallels to the OEs?
If these are the requirements for the particular case of positive disintegration, what are the criteria for worldview change in general? There are six.
Potential: open, blocked, closed – Openness refers to the willingness to take a new path of being. Being blocked is where I want to be open but shy away from the risks of what effects openness might have. In both states, openness and being blocked include the possibility of engaging with a new meme. The closed state has no such option and refuses change. We have learned that a closed state corresponds to left-brain dominance.
We can be in different states in different areas of our lives. We can be open at work, blocked in the family, and closed in faith. (We can also be in various value memes in different areas: professionally modern, tribal in family life, and religiously traditional).
This has nothing to do with an open or closed mindset. Open and closed mindsets are fundamental states of mind and do not depend on life domain and memes.
All problems of the current Value Meme have been solved. — If there are still open problems that can only be solved with the tools of the current meme, it is impossible to go further. Have I learned the great lessons this value meme has in store?
Dissonance — New problems cannot be solved with the current tools.
For example, the traditional tools of the church are no longer sufficient to meet the needs of people in modernity or postmodernity.
Understanding the causes of dissonance — What causes dissonance, and what new tools are needed to solve them? I need to know these new tools or at least have a qualified idea.
Remove obstacles — Obstacles that stand in the way of the new value meme must be identified, bypassed, eliminated, neutralized, or transformed.
Confusion — A transition to a new value meme will bring a period of chaos that must be endured and traversed.
And the application?
Are you experiencing dissonance? What can you do now?
It helps me to know what is going on. That is why I wrote this article, which may only be for some. But it tells me that what I am experiencing is normal, well understood, and has little to do with going nuts or being crazy. In most cases. Even if it feels that way.
A quick aside on this. Even specialists and professionals may misunderstand your challenge. Psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, and psychotherapists usually find it their job to bring people from the second level back into primary integration.
But back to the good news.
OK, you are experiencing dissonance. This means that you have already met one requirement for change. Now let’s look at this dissonance. What are areas of your life involved?
You can find out by listing the areas. Some examples are your personal situation (physical, emotional), relationships, job, organizations, living environment, and society.
Now ask yourself these questions for each of these areas:
- Am I satisfied with my situation? Is it stable and harmonious? \(\alpha\)
- If things are not going well, am I working hard to get back on track? \(\beta\)
- Do I feel stuck? \(\gamma\)
- Am I doing what is necessary and having fun amid the chaos? FLEX
- Am I hopeful because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel? \(\delta\)
- Has the storm calmed down, and is my life back on track? NEW \(\alpha\)
Once you have done this and identified the areas that need your attention (which are all those that are not in any of the (\alpha) states, but especially those in (\gamma)), ask yourself what is holding you back.
- What is causing the dissonance?
- Are there any outstanding issues I need to resolve before moving forward?
- Is there anything else in my way?
In areas that are in (\beta) state, you might ask yourself if you have the openness to proceed. If not, ask yourself what it will take to get back to the stable state you were in.
Make sure you understand that confusion is typical in times of change. Your hierarchy of values is in turmoil, which makes it hard to make sense of things, which makes it hard to act. But this, too, will pass.
And remember, this is easier to do in a community. The first strategy is only possible with a community because we copy its hierarchy of values and make it our own. The second strategy is used when there is usually no welcoming community, but we can find peers or mentors.
I would love to mentor you.