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In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life

Last updated Mar 7, 2022 Edit Source

In Over Our Heads is about the societal expectations of higher orders of consciousness that most of us do not have.

All of us will spend some portion of our adult lives overmatched by the demands of modernism, the compulsory “major” in our culture’s curriculum.

The book details Robert Kegan’s model of adult development – basically a series of increasingly sophisticated ways one can approach ethical reasoning.

Growth is a process of ’leaving home’. It is a process of leaving the mental homes they have furnished and made familiar.

# Stages of Adult Development

# Stage 2: Self

# Stage 3: Communal

# Stage 4: Systematic

# Stage 5: Fluid

Independence and love


Maslach describes the “burnout prone individual” as one who mostly yield to the other without adapting to their own capacity: “is often unable to exert control over a situation and will passively yield to its demands rather than actively limiting them to his capacity to give… faced with self-doubt this person tries to establish a sense of self-worth by winning the approval and acceptance of other people”

This is a very fourth-order consciousness of viewing burnout when in fact most people are not even fourth-order (majority is third-order!)

Culture-as-school: the poor school (our society) whose favourite students are the ones it does not have to teach


Our capacity to select, regulate, act upon, and make decisions about raw data

On the Self and being whole

Wholesomeness not in the aesthetic sense but as in the wholeness of the self

When American POWs from the Vietnam era were first released, nearly all performed the same two first acts after being flown to Wiesbaden, Germany: they took showers and called loved ones.

Interestingly, the men were far more likely to shower first and then to call loved ones. The women were more likely to call loved ones first and then to shower.

The difference is not necessarily that the men are more selfish and care more about their own bodily comfort than about their loved ones – in fact, they could have well thought what was most important was to talk to their loved ones but couldn’t do that in a ‘self’ that doesn’t feel cleansed or psychologically restored.

The difference is not between “selfish” and “altruistic” – both groups may have been doing first what they needed to do to restore the self – in that sense, could be said to be “ selfish”. The difference is in how the self is made whole. For some, the self is restored by itself and is not until then capable or fit for precious connection. For others, the self is restored in and through connection.

# On therapy