I’ve been AWOL for a while, but I figured I’d chime in. Thanks for posting this Michelle!
#soapbox: I highly, HIGHLY recommend reading the actual Spiral Dynamics book. Beck and Cowan cover this much better than Integralism does (and I’ll admit that my own Red bits of ego are a little annoyed that Wilber doesn’t give them credit where credit is due, he basically appropriated their system and then changed some colors around while losing a lot of the detail). Even Clair Graves’ original research on which Spiral Dynamics is based is more comprehensive and gives a better context on how the system came about.
Spiral Dynamics states clearly that every stage has healthy and unhealthy ways of expression, and also goes into great detail on what methods can be used to foster healing, IF that level is actually open. One of the biggest things (and this isn’t just Spiral Dynamics, but is a basic idea of psychology and spirituality) to keep in mind is that nothing can change if the person who needs to heal isn’t open. The United States has been trying to “orange” the world for almost a hundred years now, and we all see how that has worked out. The European colonialism before the US was founded is another great example of trying to “Blue” the “Red / Purple” savages. The only person who can evolve one’s self is one’s self, and there has to be a willingness there. And if there isn’t evolution or stability, life conditions can actually pull one down to the worldview that seems like it will “work,” and we can devolve.
Red, in short, is the ego. Purple prior has a hard time distinguishing itself from the rest of nature: the best evidence of this are the shamanic religions (which historians believe to be the very first religions), where the tribe doesn’t see itself as separate from nature around them, and literally believe that if they eat an animal (or are eaten by an animal), they gain that animal’s power and become that animal. Ancient shamans would put on the still dripping wet carcass of an animal they killed and the tribe would believe they became the deer, or the bear, or the wolf.
Red develops when we make it past Lacan’s “mirror stage” and recognize both who we are, physically, and how we are separate and different from the world. It’s the birth of a “subject / object” experience for us, psychologically speaking. This usually happens during very early childhood, but as we see with people like Donald Trump, the environment in which we’re brought up greatly influences whether or not we make it past Red egotism being the primary stage. I think one must be presented with at least a semi-healthy Blue society in order to see the benefits of upgrading one’s worldview while also better understanding where Red is limiting. Additionally, Red is very family oriented; the family tends to be an extension of one’s ego (again, take a look at Trump and his family). Maybe this is because it’s much harder to feel “separate” in the context of a family, and there might be some Purple going on (this is pure conjecture on my part).
The best example I’ve seen of healing unhealthy Red is in Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who almost single-handedly transformed the gang problems of Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s. He effectively created an incredibly healthy Blue community that became an alternative to the Red “every man for himself” gang mentality at the time. He wasn’t able to help everyone, but he transformed his community drastically and created real opportunities for the ex-gang members who found their way to his church. The book is incredibly moving, and clearly illustrates how love and acceptance are very powerful tools in helping to create an environment where Red can evolve.
John Bradshaw’s work with shame in the 80s and 90s is also an excellent reference on how to heal dysfunctional Red (I hesitate to mention Brene Brown even though I am grateful for her work in making shame as an issue known, but compared to Bradshaw her work tends to be very superficial and a little too self-helpy). Healing the Shame That Binds you is a book I think every human should be required to read, as it comprehensively teaches one where their blindspots are, where they came from, and how to heal them. Basically, most parents are pretty terrible at parenting since most tend to lack the self awareness to know when they’re projecting their unresolved issues on their children, and those issues turn into defenses that help prop up the unhealthy ego Red clings to to feel safe. Because of all the unresolved, unhealthy shame (there is, in fact, healthy shame–again, look at Donald Trump as an example of a man who appears to be shameless), unhealthy Red clings to their ego, their sense of self, at all costs. Anything that might disrupt that immediately generates cognitive dissonance and the person either shuts down or lashes out in defense. The ego quite literally believes it is going to die.
And so, the challenges with unhealthy Red in adults (because one should expect unhealthy Red in children while they’re still developing) are that typically the bad behavior becomes a defense mechanism to hide one from past trauma, likely experienced as a result of the first developmental expressions of the Red ego. When I’m a child and I act out as a fresh expression of this new ego I’m feeling, I may get smacked down (literally) by my parents. That creates shame and if the unhealthy behavior from the parents continues, I’m going to build all sorts of defenses to protect that Red ego from feeling that shame. If Red doesn’t develop past its blindspots, it turns into narcissism, or one becomes a psychopath / sociopath. Once a person reaches that level of automatic defenses, all bets are off because there likely isn’t much of a desire to change. The Red ego runs on autopilot and it’s very hard to actually get to any sort of authentic “self” behind all the bluster, and that self is where the healing lies (check out Jay Early’s book “Self Therapy” where he details the Internal Family Systems method and how one needs to get to their “witness” self before they can heal these type of defenses).
It can be very tempting to look at any one stage of development as the “problem,” but I don’t feel that’s Integral. All stages are valuable and have something to contribute, and we have to be careful in singling any one out as the source of the world’s problems (I’m preaching to myself on this one since I love to beat up Green and Blue!). There is plenty of responsibility to go around for Blue, and Orange, and Green, and even the Integral levels (after all, if we were truly being the “Spiral Wizards” that Beck and Cowan describe, would we be seen as such intellectual elitists, divorced from the world? Wouldn’t we find more effective ways to connect with the prior stages on the Spiral?). We all have these stages in us, and they all express to different degrees depending on the context. Our work, I think, is finding and healing our own blindspots, and then doing our best to create the environment and atmosphere to encourage evolution in others. That can’t happen with blame as Father Gregory shows, but rather happens with love, acceptance, and an authentic desire to understand those around us.