transpersonal living thinking and living beyond the self

Psychospiritual Development

By Jessica Thomas

While psychological development primarily focuses on self-consciousness, personal control, self-determination, ego development and autonomy; spiritual development focuses on the formation of unity through love, compassion, vision, and the surrender of self (Fukuyama & Sevig, 1999). The distinct difference is how the self is portrayed. Psychological thought is concerned with the self in relation to self, while spiritual thought is concerned with the transcendence of self. Although psychological development differs from spiritual development in the sense of self, they are interrelated. You have to be somebody before you are nobody (Engler, 2003, p 35).

A sense of self in relation to self is what thrusts us toward spiritual development, “without this raw energy and quest for more we might have never embarked on a psycho-spiritual journey” (Rummet, 1997, p. 14). The process of building an ego solid enough to relinquish, demands attention to those parts of ourselves that become locked up in the unconscious; the unconscious must be made conscious. Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis model of the person, as described by Firman and Gila (2002), presents a structure of autonomy, a process of growth toward transformation that brings to light the role of the unconscious; it’s influence on personality, and the healing process. Psychosynthesis suggest that healing in the unconscious is not simply a healing of the past but a healing of the present. In this sense, it is in the healing of old wounds that growth, and transformation can be attained in the present.

The egoic-self is a determined construct dependent on worldviews, no matter where one is born and raised. However, psycho-spiritual development, and transformation take place only when these ordinary constructs are questioned while freedom, responsibility, loneliness, and authenticity are explored. Beautifully articulated in the Source Book of Ancient Indian Psychology (Kuppuswamy, 1993) is the understanding of self in relation to the whole:

Thus an individual’s life, as a member in the group into which he is born, and as a member of a group in which he grows up, is closely determined by the rules and regulations laid down in the Dharma Sutras and enforced by the parent, the social groups and political order (p. 55).

One must have accomplished what the culture and society told them would make them happy, find a growing emptiness inside, and look for something “more” to fill this emptiness (Rummet, 1997).  Reaching this internal space of emptiness is a psychospiritual development task that must be experienced before one can attain a richer worldview, and grows into transpersonal realms. Rummet (1997) describes this stage as the movement from the Egoic to the Aloha center: “an ongoing dance between love and power trying to move in harmony while both struggle to lead” (p. 15). This passage cycles around to finish old business that the ego has kept imprisoned, as to reach clarity, and prepare one for movement into transpersonal realms. According to Rummet, there is no way up and down, as much as one would like to dismiss old wounds as already “dealt with” it is pertinent that historical issues be reconciled, making growth possible.

Development over a life span occurs in different time frames: at the pace of species change, community historical change, individual lifetimes, and individual learning moments (Rogoff, 2003). From this perspective, sociocultural aspects can dictate the time frames in which psychospiritual development stages occur. Milestones and crises provide individuals with opportunities to question their existence (Comas-Diaz, 2012). Cultural crises such as oppression and war may provoke a number of people to collectively enter a state of being that precipitates psychospiritual growth. Asante (1984) writes:

We stand alone to hold back our personal crises; this is the most awesome knowledge confronting us. We handle this awesome crisis by maturing in a collective sense. This is the secret of African American spirituality, that is, while we recognize the individuality of the responsibility, we know that it cannot be carried out without others (p. 174).

According to Asante, the quest for harmony is better explored in the company of others. This collectivist perception of sudic ideal operates under the philosophy that self is only understood in relation with others, “If I run to the sea alone, my solitude finds me searching for new ways to come together with others” (p. 172).

The pursuit of personal meaning leads to growth in human beings, to form an increasingly well integrated, creative personality, which is more and more effective in the world (Firman & Vargiu, 1996). Psychospiritual development models, such as Helical and Psychosythesis model, suggest the development of self and ego as central to growth and transcendence. The perception of self that is in relation to the material world must under go a metamorphosis. Reaching beyond the world of illusion into the world of the spiritual, and only through confrontation of self can this transformation take place.

The efforts of individuals are not separate from the kinds of activities in which they engage and the kinds of institutions of which they are a part (Rogoff, 2003). While the material world might present ripe conditions for psychological growth, it is humanities intrinsic nature to create meaning, and reflect on personal experiences that become the cause of psychospiritual growth and development.



Asante, M. K. (1984). The African American Mode of Transcendence. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 167-177.

Comas-Diaz, L. (2012). Colored Spirituality: The centrality of spirit among ethnic minorities. In L. J. Miller, The oxford handbook of psychology and spirituality (pp. 197-206). New York: Oxford University Press.

Engler, J. (2003). Being somebody and being nobody: A reexamination of the understanding of self in psychoanalysis and Buddhism. Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An unfolding dialogue, 35-79.

Firman, J., & Gila, A. (2002). Psychosynthesis: A psychology of the spirit. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Firman, J., & Vargiu, J. G. (1996). Personal and transpersonal growth. In B. Seymour, Transpersonal Psychology (pp. 117-142). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Fukuyama, M. A., & Sevig, T. D. (1999). Integrating spirituality into multicultural counseling. Sage Publications, Inc..

Kuppuswamy, B. (1993). Source book of Ancient Indian Psychology. Delhi: Konark Publishers.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of spiritual development. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ruumet, Hillevi. (1997). Pathways of the soul: A helical model of psychospiritual development. Presence: The Journal of Spiritual Directors International, 3(3), 6-24.

Wilber, K., Engler, J., Brown, D. P., & Chirban, J. (1986). Transformations of consciousness: Conventional and contemplative perspectives on development. Boston: New Science Library.




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