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The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  366 ratings  ·  37 reviews
The Evolving Self focuses upon the most basic and universal of psychological problems--the individual's effort to make sense of experience, to make meaning of life. According to Robert Kegan, meaning-making is a lifelong activity that begins in earliest infancy and continues to evolve through a series of stages encompassing childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The Evolvi ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 15th 1983 by Harvard University Press (first published 1982)
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Taylor Pearson
Kegan spent his career at Harvard studying psychological development. The Evolving Self outlines his model for human psychological development. I found the model insightful and the writing tight which is an unusual combination (you usually get one of the two, at best). The book focuses on the process of meaning-making, a lifelong activity that begins in infancy and continues through adulthood, a contrast to Freudian understandings of psychology which tend to be more static and focus on childhood ...more
May 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have read this book about five times. It continues to influence my thinking and lead me towards integration, of ideas, theories and the practice of psychology with human evolution.
Sian Jaimi
Jan 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
I found this to be hard work but deeply fascinating.
Oct 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Read for my Adult Development class. Not a light read at all but thought provoking if you can get over rereading a paragraph three times.
Kyle Nelson
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, psych
Really powerful ideas about what it means to be human (to be one who makes meaning), how that process of development defines our maturation and psychology. Rather than a given mode of thinking, we are best understood by being in a state of change, evolution, growth. It’s not the specific or current content, but the process of meaning making that we all share and that defines our being.

I thought his stages of development, the idea of equilibrium, and the discussion of transition between states (
Savanah Gray
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is not a light read. The book takes awhile to get through but is worth the effort. Kegan presents evolutionary psychology as the outcome of Piaget's stages of development. He carefully constructs and describes the stages of the leaders of the field and then carefully pulls each stage together to describe them as a stage or transition a person is working through in their search to make meaning in their lives. Due to the subject of this book, it is not necessary to be in the field of psycholo ...more
Fiona McDonald
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I feel like running a victory lap. This was a really difficult book to read because it was so packed full of ideas and concepts. It’s a work of genus though and thoroughly worth it. So much of this work made a lot things make sense. Like why workplaces can be so dispiriting and why some people more than others are sooooo difficult to connect with. Let alone why personal troughs happen when and how they do. I would be fascinated to find out how much has been validated and how this connects to muc ...more
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant book merging the philosophical, psychological and biological ways of understanding human development. It will not be for everyone — its not a light read and particularly for those not already steeped in psychology it requires patience and some hard work. It was worth the work though as Kegan unveils a compassionate and engrossing look at how human beings grow in our ability to make meaning in the world and what it means to really 'meet someone where they are.' ...more
Jodi McMaster
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Reading the book is a slog for a non-psych major, but the insights are worth the work.
Ivaylo Durmonski
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you consider yourself a smart dude, you won’t like this book. Your grammar skills will be tested to the extreme by the sophisticated words used inside. I was personally challenged to understand what the author was trying to say throughout most of the text. On top of that, I often skipped sections and felt asleep. Not intentionally, but because I wasn’t simply getting what Rober wanted to say and my attention quickly wandered.

Yet, the elegant, but complex words and statements, were not enough
Nick Brown
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this book because David Chapman ( recommended it as:

Robert Kegan’s The Evolving Self is the most sophisticated explanation I’ve found of the ways we relate self and other, and the ways we relate to our selves.

The book strikes many readers as a major revelation. It’s not only intellectually fascinating, making sense of so much of our lives—it’s also useful in practice as a guide to radical personal transformation.

Other readers find nothing meaning
Tom Check
Would make a great textbook for psychologists/counsellors/therapists with lots of anecdotal examples of differing developmental stages. Never is there a concise or clear description of each stage to work from, instead the reader must draw it out of anecdotes and the prose of kegan. It's like kegan viewed this as more of a novel, needing to string the reader along and give only tidbits at a time so that the reader could stay engaged. Not what I like in my non-fiction books, especially if I'm read ...more
Christopher Brennan
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This book took a false start to be ready for but once I committed to it I was hooked. While previously unfamiliar with Kegan’s work and the constructive-development approach to psychology and development this book has reshaped some of my thinking but more importantly given me a language and framework to consolidate meaning I have already been making.
Dec 14, 2019 rated it liked it
the content is great, though hard for me to get through. He talks in a convoluted fashion that makes digestion difficult. Wishing there was a transcription easier to understand. I prefer reading articles on his discovery on 5 stages. Also curious about stages beyond 5 when we move to witness consciousness.
Jan 23, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting snapshot in the history of cognitive developmental psychology, of which I know very little. I'm not sure where this book lives in the development of this field, but it seems a little too old and a little to friendly with Freud to be up-to-date. I read it to better understand the idea of subject-object relationships, and for that it was helpful! ...more
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I know this book has been around a long time and I probably should have read it long ago...but I am glad I got to it eventually. It gave me lots to think about in terms of human development and how we evolve to make meaning as we work through the tensions between differentiation and connection.
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Challenging and dense read for those interested in adult development, and the process of meaning making.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
A seminole work though less practical than some of his others.
Nenad Ukić
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very hard to read, but worth the effort.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best ever about this subject.
Feb 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is dense and not very readable. That said, it is a fantastic and fascinating look at human development, mapping psychological stages over Piaget’s cognitive stages, and Kohlberg’s Moral stages. Each of Kegan’s stages represent a way in which people construct meaning for themselves, and they also represent holding environments in which people can find balance. When parenting or being with people in crisis it is helpful to consider what sort of holding environment is potentially benefici ...more
Sandy Maguire
Jun 19, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm very conflicted about this book. in the abstract, it's a fascinating study of human cognitive evolution as a continuous function -- though of its accuracy I'm not entirely convinced. In hindsight, it appears to explain a huge number of phenomena from my past relationships which at the time I considered almost inherently mystifying -- however, the strength of a theory is not how well it fits the past, but how well it predicts the future.

Unfortunately, Kegan seems almost enamored with Freud,
Mar 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I am so glad I came across this book. It is performing this crucial role in my life right now, providing exactly the ideas i needed to allow conversation between the stuff I worry about in my personal life and the problems I'm trying to work out in my writing. I think everyone should read it.

Kegan's topic is development, but unlike most developmental psychologists, he doesn't stop at adolescence. He breaks down all the data collected by his predecessors to build a convincing argument of what's g
Tony duncan
May 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
An excellent book by a very insightful psychologist. I have met him at Transformative learning conferences and he is both open and willing to acknowledge mistakes.

he is one of the psychologist who understadns the importanc eof childhood development. so that gives his view much more credence in my view

he focuses partly on the difficulties on getting people to really communicate honestly. How there coems a point where things get hard emotionally and someone decides it is not worth it.

The difficult
Jul 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a stunning work, not so easy to read (it took me reading it twice to really absorb the genius of it). Kegan re-contextualises Piaget, bringing out his passion for Human Emergence, and then goes on to build on that, in his wake showing why Freud's views are completely dated, and how we could revolutionise field of Psychology: from the science that explains how to 'fix' our lives by going back to illusory security, to understanding our lives as a process, driven by the mysterious drive we ...more
Apr 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book was a sustained argument for paradigmatic, developmental theory. Kegan draws heavily from Piaget's cognitive developmental stages (as well as Kohlberg's and others' contributions) to propose a life-span developmental theory in five stages. Each incorporates a manner of "meaning-making", a paradigm that the stage employs to make sense of the world. It is fascinating to read, though occasionally bogged down in psych jargon. ...more
Sidney Luckett
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Kegan discusses a broad range of developmental issues with profound insight, sensitivity and clarity. He is, in Ken Wilber's words, "everybody's favourite son" ...what more can one say

The Evolving Self is his first and in my view his best book.
Kevin Daum
May 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This may end up being the most influential thing I've read in my adult life. I feel drawn to this book in ways I can't even describe yet. It's so rich, I think I could read it many times and still be finding new wisdom. In fact, I plan to. ...more
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
what so many novels are about in psychological terms
Aug 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow. . . Kegan is my main reference for psychology, love his writing and his theory.
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“All transitions involve leaving a consolidated self behind before any new self can take its place. At the 4-5 shift this means abandoning - or somehow operating without reliance upon - the form, the group, standard, or convention. For some this leads to feelings of being 'beyond good and evil,' which phenomenologically amounts to looking at that beyondness from the view of the old self, and thus involves strong feelings of evil. Ethical relativism - the belief that there is no (nonarbitrary) basis for considering one thing more right than another - is, on the one hand, the father of tolerance; it stands against the condemning judgment; but it must also stand against the affirming judgment, and so is vulnerable to cynicism. Every transition involves to some extent the killing off of the old self.” 2 likes
“It is easy for us to delude ourselves into thinking that our notions of the healthy person are unbiased by our particular circumstances or partialities. It is comforting for us to think that, in totalitarian societies, where troublesome people are often psychiatrically hospitalized, the indigenous mental health professionals are themselves aware that their behavior is nakedly political and actually aimed at social control rather than the health of the person. Bus what is the possibility that American mental health workers are themselves vulnerable to what amounts to the goals of adjustment couched in notions of health, and which lead to equal - and probably equally unwitting - exercises of social control?” 1 likes
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