By Richard Kieninger


An individual’s growth toward psychological maturity is measured by his passage from an egocentric to a sociocentric outlook. An infant starts out totally self-centered. He is a bundle of needs which require satisfaction by sources outside of himself. As his first awareness dawns, he expects that his needs will be met by those persons he gradually identifies as gratifiers. He learns they do not necessarily respond to his inner needs until he does something to attract them. Of course, the infant is wholly and helplessly dependent on external forces in his environment to fulfill his body’s calls for relief of discomfort and his neurological needs for affection, cuddling and mental stimulation. As individuation normally proceeds to distinguish between his own body identity and that which exists outside it, the infant makes increasingly conscious and purposeful demands on his parents. His right to survival and to emotional health is assured by his parents’ prompt and loving attendance to his needs. But this arrangement between the infant and his parents cannot go on forever.


The infant gradually grows into childhood, whereupon he should be taught how to meet some of his own needs as he becomes able to identify them. The child is taught to handle his own spoon, how to pour his own glass of water, how to avoid the discomfort of wet training pants, and how to fetch a toy for his own amusement; and these simple skills are very gratifying to him in the sense of the control over his environment they afford him. Naturally, he would have continued to use his first-learned technique of crying to elicit service if his parents allowed him to. But adults recognize that the child’s voyage toward maturity would be un­naturally deferred by diminishing his opportunities for self-reliance. There are, of course, some things which no person can provide for himself—notably the need for physical and psychological stroking. Good parents provide a continuing source of loving acceptance and physical affection all through their child’s struggle to attain some measure of control over his life and acquire academic and socialization skills.


Going to school and trying to get along with many other children of about the same age introduces real challenges to the child in the 5- to 9-year age bracket. His need for acceptance, love and stroking from those around him are met with difficulty. If he makes outright demands on his peers to satisfy these needs, he is met with their literal inability to provide it, which is usually interpreted as a rebuff. Such young children have been only on the receiving end of affection even if they may have been attentive to a baby sister, who they definitely would not consider an equal. The young school children must begin the process of give-and-take in their bargaining for strokes. For many children this is a skill which is difficult to learn, particularly in the boy-girl exchanges. Some are sensi­tive to the cues given by others and learn these techniques rather quickly; and those who do learn tend to gather together happily while leaving the slower learners outside their society until they acquire acceptable modes of interaction. The slower learners tend to wear their needs and frustra­tions on their sleeve, but no one cares to be accosted by someone else’s needs, particularly if they become demanding. As Dale Carnegie points out in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, you must first propose to meet the needs of others if you hope to receive something from them. That complex connection is not automatically made in the minds of youngsters. Children need guidance as to how they can gracefully get the strokes they legitimately require for emotional health and social competence.


In our present society, the adolescent is thrown into a quandary as to how he or she may derive the affectionate closeness of a peer of the opposite sex without running afoul of our complicated moral, legal and social codes. The insistent sexual drives at that age are usually dealt with in unsatisfying ways which rob everyone concerned of the dignity and fulfillment human beings are heir to by nature. Tension, anxiety and self-suppression contribute to pent-up drives which cause teenaged youths to exhibit an over-eagerness to be attractive to the opposite sex. Their needs are so apparent that it is difficult for them to not hit the object of their desire over the head with the fact, and this comes across as a lack of concern for the needs of the other person. Indeed, that is usually the way it works out in actual encounters of young people.

This selfish hunger for the gratification of one’s own needs is reminiscent of the egocentric infant. The adolescent at this stage may regard people as merely things to use to satisfy his own ends. This subtle attitude is all too prevalent in society and can lead to lifelong habits of exploiting other people. One may become clever at disguising his abuse of others, but true sociocentric maturity will still not have been achieved. Growth toward maturity further proceeds as young men and women trade their needs in a marriage agreement which goes, “I’ll do that for you if you’ll do this for me.” Some of the strongest marital bonds are made by the spouses’ interlocking dependencies—weaknesses and needs matched by the other’s drives to nurture and fulfill. However, when one or both partners mature out of those dependencies, they may find there are no gratifications in continuing their clinging to one another. If they can restructure their relationship to allow each to be independent and strong, the marriage can be saved and its offspring provided with a continuing secure base.


Full maturity finally arrives when one finds his greatest joy and fulfillment in serving the legitimate needs of other people. Fortunately, mature people rarely allow themselves to be exploited by immature adults. The mature people of the world are the creators and the givers who are dedicated to the growth of those coming up behind them. Their Love maturely gives, whereas needs egocentrically demand. Self-esteem, free­dom, and lovingness all go together in a healthy individual, and these three traits grant and encourage the same in everyone else.