Sentio Ergo Sum: The Emotional Line of Development


Psychodynamic and developmental research amply support the idea that feelings and emotions complement cognition. What is lacking is a detailed description of stages set within the Integral framework. Integral Theory is described as a “nondual” developmental paradigm, where ontology and epistemology are paired constructively, and in which developing consciousness is sourced by thought, feeling, and states of consciousness. Emotional and cognitive development intertwine within ego development, and ego is defined by its coordinating and self-identifying functions. Following a review of the literature on emotions and emotional development, criteria are proposed for preconventional, conventional, and post-conventional levels of emotional development.

The suggested explanatory framework is called AQAL; its orientation is an integral overview of indigenous perspectives; its social practice is an Integral Methodological Pluralism; its philosophy is Integral Post-Metaphysics; its signaling network is IOS (Integral Operating System)—all third-person words for a view of the Kosmos in which first persons and second persons are irreducible agents, bearers of sentience and intentionality and feeling, not merely matter and energy and information and causality.
– Ken Wilber


The Integral framework describes not only the objects and events we experience, but also pairs how we see with what we see. Ken Wilber has formulated what can be called, if we follow his lead carefully, a nondual psychology, a psychology of perspective-taking and its results. It is not so radically different, nor disengaged, from traditional psychology, but it both organizes and adds to what is currently accepted as real. Looking at the world through integral eyes, we see more and feel more, because (at each level, but especially) around the vision-logic stage (teal and turquoise altitudes), we change our underlying operating paradigm to explicitly include subtle and causal consciousness states along with normative gross-waking states (Wilber, 1980, p. 40). There is much more to discover about self and other with each succeeding level of adult psychological development.

Wilber has said on multiple occasions, “Integral Theory needs further clarification and refining” (Wilber, 1986, pp. 158-159; 1998, p. 205; 2000a, p. xii). Those of us who study consciousness as states, and as lines and developmental levels, need to use the most accurate definitions available. For example, what do we mean by consciousness, which “always already is” (Wilber, 1998, Chp. 12), and consciousness that develops (Wilber, 2006, p. 65)? What are lines (and their levels) of psychological (Upper-Left quadrant) development, and how do they relate to multiple intelligences? What is the relationship of pathology to immaturity in this developmental model? Is an overall “center of gravity” or “Kosmic address” (Wilber, 2006, p. 248) determinable? Is one’s center of gravity most predictable through the ego/self-system line, and what do we mean by ego and self? Integral Theory and mainstream psychology will mutually benefit by a synthesis as we answer these questions. Integral practitioners will see what academic and clinical psychology has already established and need not reinvent it. Conversely, Integral Theory offers rational and transrational documentation for acknowledging “non-ordinary” states of consciousness.

In the first part of this article, I will illustrate that consciousness and its varying states are already accepted by academic psychology. Second, I describe the ego’s central role as organizer of subjective experience and the locus of individualized self-identity. With clearer definitions, we can track how our ego functions and self-identity changes with training in states of consciousness and spiritual (that is, beyond-self) practice. Finally, I firm up the definition of an important line of development, a non-linear way of knowing that complements cognition, and which everywhere needs clearer definition: the line of emotional development. Clinicians know, at least intuitively, that patterns of emotional processing and experiencing are different among children and adults. I synthesize theories of emotion and emotional development, from clinical and academic research as well as my own clinical observations, and extract what I observe to be markers of preconventional, conventional, and postconventional levels of emotional development. Wilber (2000a) describes a fourth developmental level (see Table 1): post-postconventional. He states, “If we allow for the fact that there might be yet higher or transpersonal stages of development… we simply call all of those ‘post-postconventional” (p. 29). Given the trajectory of Wilber’s developmental scheme, from a nondual perspective and according to his 20 tenets (Wilber, 2000b), it will take the resources of that developmental level to prehend it, although we can suggest some trajectories (e.g., that it will likely be highly spiritual, will show some new structures not yet existing today, and will include some aspects of our present structures and outdate some others). Elements of post-postconventional development might incorporate Wilber’s earlier descriptions of psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual stages (Wilber, 1993, 1986, 1980; also Maslow, 1971; Miller & Cook-Greuter, 1994; Vaughan, 1986).

I just got out of a meeting in which a question at issue was, “is there any such thing really as social media skills?” One point of views was not really, it’s just about emotional development. However, this was an IT-centric meeting, so we did not have any sort of shared vocabulary or framework around the notion of emotional development. Can Integral do better? What is a good point of entry for inserting the idea of an emotional line of development into workplace discussions?