Zenho Chad Bennett
Deliberately Developmental Psychology, Principle of Non-Interference
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Non- Interference: “Leave yourself alone”
In the previous principle, Engagement, I defined “good interventions” as intentional disruptions of the status quo, those unconscious frames which the ego holds on to in order to maintain a sense of familiar homeostasis. The next principle, then, Non-interference appears to be the opposite. “Leave yourself alone”.
This polarity of Engagement and Non-interference is at the heart of deliberately developmental practice. Recall that Eric Erikson’s psychosocial development model is a series of polarities that must be resolved in order for a healthy sequence of development to occur. How does one fully engage agency and let go in surrender at the same time? I suggest that our polarity at hand may be one of the most advanced to resolve. Until then, a deliberately developmental move is to tussle with a formidable koan, “You are perfect as you are with much room for improvement”.
American philosopher, Ken Wilber, elegantly sums up evolution as Transcendence and Inclusion. In oversimplified terms, as growth occurs (transcendence), we must then include the lower levels of development within the new level. So it follows that we Engage practices to develop new capacities but we also embrace, integrate, and unify earlier versions of ourselves through Non-interference.
Interference in the course of psychotherapy is, simply put, the use of effort to shape a particular result, based largely on old self images and scripts. If you are interfering you’re failing to “include” some part of your experience. So where there’s nothing wrong with ambitiously aligning your intentions and effort toward manifesting your “best”, non-Interference accepts you as you are, embracing especially what you believe to be your “worst” (usually some of your lower levels of development which have been rejected or pushed out of consciousness).
I’m using the term Non-interference as the least active way of conveying inclusion, acceptance, permission, and embrace. Ultimately, Non-interference has no action or “doing” in it. But this is quite advanced and misses our point anyway. The aim in deliberately developmental psychology is to practice something and for now, anyone can practice reducing interference by “leaving yourself alone”.
Hence, this principle in practice turns out to include subtle forms of activity which includes care, empathy, and some aspects of compassion. These are all forms of love and without them we will have a very difficult time “including” the parts of ourselves which desperately need love to be integrated. But if we are going to use the word love to truly approach Non-interference, this by definition is love that includes absolutely everything, no exceptions. It is the “disinterested love” from the Christian tradition- loving for its own sake, not self-interested love. Otherwise it’s interference and there’s a frame worth investigating.
Another advantage of practicing non-interference in psychotherapy is that it quickly illuminates how much we are interfering. There’s usually a background tape, constantly monitoring, assessing, doubting, or even praising us for not being so despicable. The Inner Critic, or what Freud called the Superego, is perhaps one of the most challenging obstacles to our development and psychotherapy has contributed much more than the spiritual traditions to uncovering and directly working with it.
First, the bad news. If the ego is the part of you that just wants comfort in the familiar, to maintain homeostasis in how things are, the Superego is like the “super glue” that solidifies everything in place. It’s ultimately a defense mechanism, strengthening the frames of ego so that they are even more unquestioned and unbreakable. Indeed, the Inner critic attacks you most harshly for frames you’re convinced are the truest, an unfortunate result of the parental voices that may have initially come from good intentions. A deliberately developmental practice, then, will need to address the Superego.
Very briefly, when you were about two years old, your project of growing a better version of yourself looked like becoming more individuated from your parents. The nipple was no longer enough and you were discovering more agency. Tantrums likely ensued and to the horror of your parents you were no longer just a sweet surrendered infant. Good parenting, of course, allows for this while continuing to keep you safe. However, as you continued to develop, it became increasingly clear that you can’t simply throw a fit every time you don’t get what you want. Other people also have their needs and desires.
It is at this fulcrum of development- moving from appropriately and necessarily self-centered toward a more global frame of seeing there are norms for being a part of a family and society- that bulk of the Superego content comes from. There were punishments if rules were broken and to avoid them you gave up some of your power. Suppressed power, being put out of consciousness, was then projected onto objects like God and parents. Today, that’s still a frame. So the Superego appears to be more powerful than you, attacking you, constantly putting you in your place. (And in some cases it’s the opposite. The critic positively inflates you- you blame others instead- so you don’t feel the deficiencies underneath). Either way it’s super glue and your own split-off power is used against you.
But now the good news. Imagine that after the honest work of getting your shovel underneath the Superego, digging it up, disidentifying from it (as “not you”), you took on the project of growing up that critic to be the voice of conscience and a wiser version of yourself. How would you shape that in a way that the structure helps you make better choices, more loving actions and above all… to shape yourself into a deliberately developmental practitioner. All this without the abuse!
Perhaps the most common and accessible practice in developing non-interference is taking up a mindfulness practice. By cultivating the capacity to step back and observe your experience- your thoughts, emotions and sensations- you are literally practicing the reduction of interference. This does not, by the way, necessarily address the Inner Critic but can serve as a way to begin disconnecting from it, to individuate from it over time and loosen its grip by seeing it from a distance.
And why is mindfulness such a powerful deliberately developmental practice overall? For now, I will leave out the “spiritual” benefits with the caveat that true mindfulness practice was not designed to deal with integrating the ego as much as completely dismantle it, to “break global frames”. That said, on the journey to such discovery, you’re likely to encounter frames that are better suited to the healing of psychotherapy (Inclusion) than they are to transcendence. Transcendence without the necessary Inclusion is dissociation and there are far too many cases of individuals using meditation to deny deficiencies which furthers the fracturing of self rather than unifying it.
This is an extremely slippery topic and careful discernment is needed. But for now, I’m speaking of the therapeutic benefits of mindfulness as a deliberately developmental practice with therapeutic benefits. We’ll save the transpersonal benefits for another day although Non-interference, in principle, will serve the entire spectrum of development.
3 reasons mindfulness is key to becoming a deliberately developmental practitioner:
1) Beginning mindfulness instructions tend to focus on both concentration and calming or relaxation. Notice the polarity of engagement and non-interference is built in right from the get go.
2) Mindfulness meditation puts into practice the skills of both investigating and stepping back from experience, to see things more clearly (insight). Non- interference reveals inner spaciousness and has the therapeutic benefit of allowing more of the painful suppressed frames to surface themselves in ways not available to your everyday state of consciousness. You can then address this material therapeutically if appropriate.
3) Mindfulness practice is a near perfect template for what deliberately developmental practice is. Its lessons can be readily applied to other practices. For example meditation is very challenging (what I call “the right kind of hard”), develops humility, and seems to have massive effects on well-being over the long term rather than a “quick fix” of short term gratification. Mindfulness develops healthy discipline, patience, and commitment all of which build a strong and positive sense of self while slowly eroding the homeostasis and comfort seeking of ego.