‘Most children around school age…progress to the next stage, conformity’. Persons begin to view themselves and other as conforming to socially approved codes or norms. Teaching education as adult development. Theory into Practice, 17(3), p. 231 Loevinger describes this stage of having ‘the greatest cognitive simplicity. There is a right way and a wrong way and it is the same for everyone…or broad classes of people. One example of groups conforming together at this age is by gender—boys and girls. Here persons are very much invested in belonging to and obtaining the approval of groups. Behaviour is judged externally, not by intentions, and this concept of ‘belonging to the group (family or peers) is most valued’. ‘the child starts to identify his welfare with that of the group’, though for the stage ‘to be consolidated, there must be a strong element of trust’. An ability to take in rules of the group appears, and another’s disapproval becomes a sanction, not only fear of punishment. However rules and norms are not yet distinguished.
‘While the Conformist likes and trusts other people within his own group, he may define that group narrowly and reject any or all outgroups’, and stereotypes roles on the principle of ‘ social desirability: people are what they ought to be’. Behaviour is judged externally, not by intentions, and the concept of ‘belonging to the group (family or peers) is most valued’.
Loevinger considered the Self-Aware (also known as ‘Conscientious-Conformist’) Transitional Stage to be ‘model for adults in our society’, and thought that few pass the stage before at least the age of twenty-five.
The stage is largely characterized by two characteristics: ‘an increase in self-awareness and the capacity to imagine multiple possibilities in situations’… [was] a stable position in mature life’, one marked by the development of ‘rudimentary self-awareness and self-criticism’: however the closeness of the self to norms and expectations ‘reveal the transitional nature of these conceptions, midway between the group stereotypes of the Conformist and the appreciation for individual differences at higher levels’. Loevinger also considered the level to produce ‘a deepened interest in interpersonal relations’.
At progression to ‘the conscientious stage…individuals at this level, and even more often at higher levels, refer spontaneously to psychological development’.
By this stage, ‘the internalisation of rules is completed’, although at the same time ‘exceptions and contingencies are recognised’. Goals and ideals are acknowledged, and there is a new sense of responsibility, with guilt triggered by hurting another, rather than by breaking rules. ‘The tendency to look at things in a broader social context’ was offset by a self seen as apart from the group, but also from the other’s point of view; as a result ‘descriptions of people are more realistic…[with] more complexities’. Standards are self-chosen, and distinguished from manners, just as people are seen in terms of their motives and not just their actions.
The Conscientious subject ‘sees life as presenting choices; [s]he holds the origin of his own destiny…aspires to achievement, ad astra per aspera ‘ but by his or her own standards.
During this stage, persons demonstrate both a respect for individuality and interpersonal ties. Loevinger explains’To proceed beyond the Conscientious Stage a person must become more tolerant of himself and of others…out of the recognition of individual differences and of complexities of circumstances' developed at the previous level. The individualistic ego shows a broad-minded tolerance of and respect for the autonomy of both self and others. With a new distancing from role identities, ‘moralism begins to be replaced by an awareness of inner conflict’, while the new stage is also “marked by a heightened sense of individuality and a concern for emotional dependence”. Subjective experience is opposed to objective reality, inner reality to outward appearance; and ‘vivid and personal versions of ideas presented as cliches at lower levels' may emerge.
A growing concern for psychological causality and development will typically go hand in hand with ‘greater complexity in conceptions of interpersonal interaction’.
Loevinger described this stage as marked by the freeing of the person from oppressive demands of conscience in the preceding stage’. People at this stage are “synthesizers” and are able to conceptually integrate ideas. The autonomous person also ‘recognizes the limitations to autonomy, that emotional interdependence is inevitable’. The stage might also see a ‘confrontation with the limitations of abilities and roles as part of deepening self-acceptance’.
‘Self-fulfillment becomes a frequent goal, partly supplanting achievement’, while there may well be a wider ‘capacity to acknowledge and to cope with inner conflicts’, such as between needs and duties.
‘A high toleration for ambiguity…[and ] conceptual complexity' – the capacity to embrace Polarity, Complexity, Multiple Facets, and to integrate ideas – is a further feature of the Autonomous Stage, as too is the expression of ‘respect for other people’s need for autonomy in clear terms’.
According to Loevinger, this is a rarely attained stage. At the Integrated stage,”‘learning is understood as unavoidable…the unattainable is renounced”. The ego shows wisdom, broad empathy towards oneself and others, and a capacity to not just be aware of inner conflicts like the individualistic ego or tolerate inner conflicts like the autonomous ego, but reconcile and make peace with those issues. This ‘Reconciling inner conflicts…cherishing of individuality' are key elements of its Self-Actualizing nature, along with a fully worked-out identity which includes ‘reconciliation to one’s destiny’.
Possible tenth stage
As differentiation increases, the model of ego development has found broader acceptance amongst international researchers. Therefore, a new stage E10 has been mentioned in reference to “Ich-Entwicklung”, the German equivalent of Loevinger’s stages.
Susanne Cook-Greuter has further refined both Loevinger’s sentence-completion test instrument as well as definitions and distinctions among the stages of ego development.[self-published source?]
Some have maintained that ‘in general, Loevinger’s model suffers from a lack of clinical grounding’, and that arguably ‘like Kohlberg’s theory…it confuses content and structure’. Based as her research was on the assessment of verbalised material, because ‘the measure focuses so heavily on conscious verbal responses, it does not discriminate intelligent, liberal people with severe ego defects from those who actually are quite integrated’.
Nevertheless the wide extent of her research must give a certain weight to her findings. ‘Loevinger’s (1976) model of development is derived entirely from empirical research using her sentence completion test…The manuals contain hundreds of actual completions, organized by exemplary categories’.