The Path of Human Psychological Development

Anne Redelfs, MD

The Path of Human Psychological Development

The transition from the false self (the ego, image, or trauma-induced identity) to Our True Self
Traumatic experiences when we are young divert us from the natural cumulative course of psychological growth, from infancy to adulthood. The more trauma we endure, the more we numb or hide away the human qualities that have experienced the trauma and felt the pain of their impacts. We lose our humanity as a result, descending the evolutionary ladder. For example, if our animal body motivates the majority of our decisions, we are in the Animal Stage. When the ups and downs of our environments control our lives, we function like a Vegetable. When we have evacuated so completely from our humanness that we no longer grow, change, or have choice, we exist as a Mineral. Minerals fiercely defend against their humanness or violently attack it, having concluded that it is to blame for our pain.

The Mineral Stage

Focus—”my” way! Theme—”There is no choice.” Someone who has been chronically traumatized beyond his ability to cope succumbs to this inanimate psychological stage. The grossly distorted inhuman identity that was FORCED upon him by his violent environments, the Mineral accepts as his own. As if his life were at stake, he fiercely adheres to the concocted storyline that his childhood caretakers with extreme post-traumatic stress demanded of him. Any “thoughts” and “feelings” a Mineral-stager might experience inside himself have been “programmed” or indoctrinated into him by other Minerals. The barely alive human psyche inside each Mineral, frozen in traumatic shock, automatically re-creates every trauma. He thereby forges endless hardships for himself and others.

The Mundaneness and Meanness of the Mineral (Although every Mineral has both of these traits, he often is not aware that he does!): Rocky is an example of someone stuck in the Mineral stage. He gets up at the same time every morning. On weekdays, he drives the same route to work to the same job he’s had for thirty years. After work, he stops at the same bar to have a few beers before going home. If anything hasn’t gone “his” way at work or if his wife doesn’t have a delicious meal prepared by “dinner time,” she is his whipping boy. (He may lash out at her physically, emotionally, or mentally.) If he is in good spirits after “roughing her up a bit,” he might stop there. But when she’s “particularly annoying,” he might slip poison into her nightcap. He complains the next morning about her keeping him awake with her “moaning” and trips to the bathroom. “A woman like that is hell to live with!” Rocky thinks to himself—the same words that his child and spouse-abusing dad used to say about Rocky’s mother. Viewing television is Rocky’s great escape. Boxing matches and horror films are his favorites. While these may seem like choices, he is compelled to watch scenes that resemble the brutality of his upbringing.

Minerals takes us back in time, as they always prioritize what is inanimate, whether objects, schedules, money, or their own traumatically-induced programming. Meanwhile, they scorn, exploit, or otherwise harm human life. They can be found running corporations where each worker is underpaid, overworked, and treated more like factory equipment than a human being. Minerals may be ministers who relentlessly use their congregations for their own gains. In whatever aspect of society they are found, Mineral-stagers consistently create personally profitable programs, in which they misuse and abuse their fellowman. They give these programs attractive names, however, such as “healthcare.”

Minerals can express their violent natures internally as well as externally and unconsciously as well as consciously. For example, a person may succumb to an excruciatingly painful and grossly debilitating disease, when a Mineral part of them is surfacing in their consciousness. When people regard their illnesses as “happenings” in which they have no choice, they are showing a Mineral mentality.

Those stuck in the Mineral Stage are extremely defensive about their devastated psychological condition. Their reactions to offers of genuine help are a verbal or behavioral, “No!”–the same response that their caregivers gave to meeting their psychological needs throughout childhood. Unfortunately, such reactions keep them stuck in the Mineral Stage. Only when they realize they have choice and budge from their fixed, traumatically-frozen stance, do they progress to the Vegetable Stage of psychological development.


The Vegetable Stage

Focus—”my” path! Theme—”I choose!” Vegetables believe, “I alone create my special destiny, and I am the star of my show. I choose the ‘good’—what gets me what ‘I’ want. I reject the ‘bad’—what interferes. What I choose is none of your business! But you need to…” As much as the Vegetable may think that she is making her own choices, she judges by appearances and largely acts from her environmental programming and conditioning.

Hiding under the grandiose and fanciful delusions of the Vegetable Stage are traumatized psychological infants. Since the vast majority of people are unaware of their “infant” parts, these parts remain in largely frozen traumatized states, which I refer to as Vegetables. While they received the basic physical nutrition they needed to survive, they were denied human psychological nutrition. Their caretakers fed them character roles and story lines rather than admitting the truth of their traumatic experiences and giving them what they needed to work through them, such as counseling from someone in a more advanced developmental stage.

Vegetables attach to people’s facades–the images they put forth. They are stuck playing character roles and telling stories of good and evil, or some other black and white theme. While they hold themselves in a positive light, the wounded human “infants” that they have pushed aside to keep up appearances act out the negative reality of their lives. With such polar restrictive movements, resulting from their own split minds, Vegetables cannot venture beyond their traumatic avoidance and reenactment patterns. They endlessly avoid what reminds them of their traumas, or they reenact these traumas themselves.

The Virtual Reality of the Vegetable Fern is a bubbly, energetic woman in her thirties who dresses beautifully. She spends a lot of time and money on making herself look good. She desires attention for her role as an “activist”—encouraging people to vote. In her mind, she delineates everyone into two camps. Voters are “good people” who love their country and care enough to act on their right to choose their leaders. Nonvoters cause all the problems, in Fern’s opinion. “When leaders feel that no one cares, then of course, they won’t do their best!”

Fern has cast herself as a patriotic person who is making real change in her district. In reality, she lives in a fantasy world. She believes that each individual’s vote counts when the computerized voting in her area is rigged. She is supporting a corrupt system and wasting people’s time. Her efforts could be better spent learning to stand up to the corruption, outside and within, rather than pretending the crooked system works and encouraging others to participate.

Because the Vegetable has no ability to see past the thin veneers of “help” and “healing” put forth by those in the Mineral Stage, she believes the pretty pictures they paint and the fictional stories they tell. She contributes to their pillaging programs, encouraging others to do the same, happy to be supporting a “worthy cause” (notice the “infant’s” limited vision and erroneous labeling based on superficial appearances).

Vegetables use a host of defense mechanisms which distract them from awareness of reality and shield them from those more evolved than they who speak the truth. All these learned defenses keep Vegetables from releasing their tight grasp on their characters and stories, which would give them the mobility of heart and mind necessary to enter the Animal Stage.


Jala ad-Din Rumi, The Masnavi, Book 3, STORY XVII, The Vakil of the Prince of Bokhara
“I died from minerality and became vegetable;
And from vegetativeness I died and became animal.
I died from animality and became man.
Then why fear disappearance through death?
Next time I shall die
Bringing forth wings and feathers like angels;
After that, soaring higher than angels –
What you cannot imagine,
I shall be that.”


The Animal Stage

Focus — “my” world! Theme— “I choose the physical realm as my playground, which I ably explore, engage, and enjoy. When threatened, I respond instinctively with fight, flight, or freeze reactions.”

Children who are deprived of the truth of heart and mind, or are punished for expressing these truths, become stuck in the Animal Stage. (Those who are chronically and ruthlessly tormented, are more likely to regress to the Vegetable or Mineral Stages.)

Comparable to psychological preschoolers, Animals take steps beyond role play and storylines, the mode of keeping up appearances. However, they are too pre-occupied with physical survival and pleasure-seeking to give the developing soul much attention. Animals prioritize their physical being, engaging life predominantly through physical means. They assign cause, whether what harms or helps, to the various aspects and events of our physical world, so they direct their efforts to physical activities.

The “Let the Good Times Roll” Animal: Rex is a fun-loving fellow—always finding something to laugh about, no matter what is going on. He greets everyone with a big smile and a strong hug, before he tells a few jokes. He makes fun of folks who take life “too seriously.” When they are disheartened by the crime, corruption, or any other “mischief” that people fall prey to, he pats the downcast on the back, saying, “That’s just the way people are!” He acts on his physical impulses, so he assumes everyone else does too. When these folks invite him to meetings that address community issues, he declines, unless food is served. “Life’s too short!” he states, while winking at his girlfriend and holding his martini glass high.

Animals tend to be social creatures. They bring gaiety and playfulness to any table. They are pleasant companions until you approach one of their wounds, when they may attack without warning or disappear without a word. Quick to forgive and forget, they usually return as if nothing happened. Although they can offer their comforting presence during your emotional ordeals, they cannot emotionally accompany a person through such challenges in every developmental journey.

Animals learn best through action, particularly when a game is made out of the information. They can be good workers, willing to contribute a lot of time and effort to a project, as long as they feel appreciated and are duly rewarded. They seek physical methods of relating and healing, unable to grasp how anything immaterial might work.

The Animal uses the workings of the physical world as a defense against human emotion and thought, which he largely ignores. Why look further than the obvious? Learning to pay attention to, admit, express, and respond to the subtle realm of the psychological would evolve him into the next developmental stage… if he were only willing!


More often than not, some devastating circumstance is required before Animals become motivated to leave the fun and frolic of the Animal Stage. Something must happen to convince them that the instincts and experiential learning that they rely on to keep them and their offspring physically alive are not enough. Something must draw their attention beyond the physical world. Something must startle them into realizing that their humanity encompasses so much more than the physical. Their human hearts and minds carry a power of which they have yet to conceive.


The Child Stage

Focus—”me” and “thee!” Theme— “I seek to grow while exploring, engaging, and enjoying both outer and inner worlds.”

The inner of psychological world becomes increasingly important to the growing Child, who is beginning to notice its reflection in the outside world. Self-discovery and inner development, profound feeling, and heartfelt relationships are the hallmarks of this stage. The Child looks inside everything and everyone to see how they work, fathoming the psychological cause for physical effects. He is eager to learn about psychology, applying his learning in remarkably resourceful ways. Finally aware of the enormity of his true needs, the Child is grateful to receive from anyone capable of meeting them.

The Tender Child: A deeply feeling individual, Stephanie is not afraid to show her emotions. She is always the first to cry at weddings. She says she can sense whether the marriage will be successful. At times, her tears are of joy, but often they are of sorrow. Before the binding nuptials, she may try to share what she feels in order to minimize the pain these folks will go through, but most don’t listen. Some have even blamed her for somehow cursing their blessed union. If she hadn’t brought up such “negativity,” by mentioning the serious nature of each person’s unresolved psychological issues, the marriage might have survived! These attacks and rejections wound her, but she tries to learn from each experience. She alters her approach accordingly so that she might more and more ease the suffering to which she is so sensitive.

Each Child is endowed with amazing gifts of help and healing which are likely to be dismissed by others. Because those in the younger stages of development are so threatened by the Child’s authenticity, flow of feeling, inspired thought, and creative, out-of-the-box methods of solving problems, they tend to blame him for any surfacing difficulties. Some badmouth him, and others avoid him, most preferring those who appear more “normal” and who support their colorful characters and storylines rather than challenge them.

The willing Child allows the bad press to move him into the unconscious mind. There he finds much that is worthy of blame, which compels him beyond his own characters and storylines. Gradually admitting the truth about himself and his life, he humanly responds with intense feelings of remorse. In his sorrow over his grievous mistakes, he welcomes guidance from anyone who might show him a more honorable way.

Increasingly aware of her own agonizingly painful inadequacy to meet the enormous need of so many around her and within her, the Child turns more and more to her Divine Parent for guidance.


The Stage of Woman*

Focus—ourselves as contained within each individual body and within our collective Self. Theme—”Moved by this collective Identity, I give whatever is required to grow each member of our human family, inside myself and outside.”

The Woman is mindful of the whole in every part and the parts in each whole. Through passionate rearing of each “young” family member and receiving the care of each mature adult, she herself matures. By fiercely championing and lovingly nurturing the spiritual life in every person, new Life is created within her. This collective spiritual Identity grows the more she values all as direct or inverted expressions of this worthy Self.

This is the psychological stage where men and women naturally become aware of their inner infants, their most primitive selves, and begin to care for them. You may be thinking, “Hardly anyone achieves this stage of development!” Yes, and yet the Woman still exists inside everyone, often locked away in his or her unconscious mind. We have banished her because she speaks the truth of our experience, and for most of us, this is not a pretty picture. She grieves the disaster we’ve made of our lives and the harm we’ve perpetrated on others. Most of us would prefer feeling “happy” or not feeling at all. If we allowed her presence, our inner Woman would be busy doing everything in her power to rescue us from our traumatic lives and to move us steadily on our developmental path. Many of us, in our “infancy,” would prefer staying where we are, psychologically speaking. And thus the “infant” rules our consciousness instead of this more mature aspect of our being.

The Wonder Woman: Juanita runs a community center for struggling moms and their families. She and her group of volunteers distribute free baby supplies and food. They offer parenting classes and counseling sessions. They have a 24 hour hotline where the operator answers questions about child-rearing and personal growth. They have posted signs and billboards all over their city to remind people of the destructive long term effects of child abuse and to give constructive alternative techniques of dealing with stress. Juanita is deliberate in tending to the children in her community as well as those in her own family and self.

The Woman consciously chooses her defenses, in order to defend the true Identity of those around her and within her. These defense mechanisms are therefore not ego-defensive, but Self-rejuvenating! As she rejuvenates this Self more and more in her experience, she progresses to the ultimate developmental stage, the Stage of Man.


*These stages have nothing to do with physical age or gender. Assessing largely in terms of the physical is a sign that we have not yet grown past the Animal Stage. The character traits of each stage can be found in both males and females. People must negotiate all stages within themselves and outside themselves, if they are to reach maturity and become fully human.

Note that our stage differs in the various aspects of our lives. For example, a woman may ignore household repairs, considering them “men’s work” and a distraction from her roles as wife and mother. She is in the Vegetable Stage in these specific areas (rigid roleplay and ignoring problems). But, she is progressing into the Animal Stage (stepping beyond rigid roleplay into effective action), when she calls a reliable plumber to fix a continually running toilet. She is in the Child Stage when she humanly relates to this plumber and expresses her genuine, heartfelt feelings of appreciation or her dissatisfaction if he doesn’t do a good job. A man who was reared to climb the academic ladder and a have successful career may have sacrificed the development of his emotional self. He may be stuck in the Animal Stage in the realm of feeling. Although he is in the Child Stage in his ability to enroll others in his innovative course of action at work, because of his emotional immaturity, he’s inappropriate with the women on his team.

Each part of us has its place within ourselves and our world. When a part is absent, what we experience, know, express, and do is incomplete. However, the more a part is present and developed, the more it contributes to our experience, knowledge, expression, and action. It is never too late to adjust our standards and receive attentive instruction and care, so each young pupil within us can catch up. And it is never too late to give this instruction and care to young pupils around us so they can also develop to their greatest potential. If we are abusing or neglecting any of these pupils, we are stuck in the paradigm of post-traumatic stress, still passing on to others the truth of our traumas from which we have yet to recover. The degree that we prayerfully receive and give help in each moment shows our current stage of development.


What is a soul gardener?

For much of my life, I’ve enjoyed growing fresh vegetables and herbs as well as plants that feed butterflies, hummingbirds, and nature in general. I find many similarities between gardening plots of land and tending the various aspects of our psychology that together comprise the soul. I call myself a soul gardener because I help you to get the soil of your psyche in good condition and to care for your plants that are in need. As the garden of your life becomes increasingly bountiful and beautiful, others will naturally follow your inspiration.