The Cause and Cure of Human Struggle
Here is where the Vortex Model of Development derives its name. While we will not all face the same kind of problems or at the same time in life, we will all face challenges of some sort. These paradoxical life challenges can make our heads spin making us feel like we are caught in the vortex of an F-5 tornado, not knowing which direction to go, or where we should turn for answers.
What the Author Wants You to Know
What the Author Wants You to Know
The concept of the Vortex Model was first envisioned by the author in 2006 and has been a matter of continuous study ever since. As you will hopefully discover, this model finally connects the missing dots between what happened in the Garden of Eden, with Man's present problems. Consequently, this series of webpages is for educational purposes. They are intended to be an additional, professional courtesy resource for pastors, professional counselors, psychologists, theologians and others who are interested in gaining greater insight into the human condition. In addition, these series of articles are intended to contribute (as one of many webpages to follow), to the overall understanding of humanity and to creating a distinctively “Christian Psychology” for the 21st century church, whereby Biblical principles and scientific data are seamlessly dovetailed into a solitary voice. Many Christians understand that Jesus and His church hold the answer to life’s problems, but are at a loss as to understand why. This is even more difficult for the generation of Millennials and others who find little to no relevance in going to church. In a 2015 Scottish poll, 65% of nonparticipants failed to see the relevance of the church’s message. Presently there is a movement in America designed to integrate Mental Health and the Church. Hopefully this series of articles will help you to personally begin resolving those paradoxes, and debate, of what the Bible teaches versus science.
Chances are that you have landed here because you are seeking information about how to solve some life challenge yourself. If so, it is my additional hope that you find an understanding of where you are at developmentally in your stage of growth and phase of paradoxical challenge . While the goal of scientific developmentalists is to understand why people are the way they are, an additional goal of the Vortex Model is to explain why people will be what they will become in the future. Development is never static which makes change possibly the only constant in life. The truth is that people are ever-changing, and that change is based on how they navigate life challenges.
Hopefully you will appreciate how these webpages have been written in such a manner as to incorporate not only what God has to say on the subject of human growth and development but also the voices of many scientific experts, such that our understanding of development can be expanded to its fullest measure possible. What this series of articles intends to avoid being viewed as a theodicy, where it seeks to defend or vindicate God in some way, or traditional Christian beliefs for that matter, some of those will be challenged. Please decide for yourself what you believe is true or pertinent. As you contemplate these things, you will be following the pattern of development that is prescribed here.
Consequently, this discussion is arranged in a linear fashion of explanation. Simply read through this page, scroll to the bottom and click on the next page link to read this model in its entirety.
Following this brief introduction, our discussion begins in the Preface with a background description of THE major factor that influences paradoxical life challenges and growth the most. It then moves to a detailed Step by Step Specific explanation of each component of the model so that you can have as much detail as you like. This is followed with an explanation of the origins of life challenges and why we face them. Where more information is available for a given topic, links are provided to additional pages for in-depth discussion or explanation. It is recommended that you read this in the order that it is presented, so that you can develop the overarching concept of the model. It is important to do so because there are things you will need to know that are found in the latter sections that will help you to better comprehend what is written in the first articles. You will probably find that you need to read this material several times as it is a rather complex subject and one that has never been explained this way or to this depth before. Because this subject is so complex, this series of articles will remain “under construction” meaning that it will be revised periodically. Consequently, you may encounter some rough narrative sections at times. Please keep in mind however, that it is the author’s belief that there is enough good information presented, and written understandably enough, in order to be helpful, even though the work is not completely finished.
Activation of the Limbic System
It is important to briefly note that through Adam’s and Eve’s garden experience, activation of the limbic system (in particular the left amygdala) is what established a universal system of valuing and of devaluing life experiences for all humans. Their pre-fruit state and post-fruit state will be more fully explained in the Theo-PsychoNeurology webpage that follows. Consequently, as their heirs, and carriers of the genetic change made in the garden, people now generally interpret their life situations as either “good” or “bad.” Furthermore, humans tend to (both consciously and subconsciously) divide life experiences into either positive or negative and then rank them from “"good to best” and from “bad to worst”.
Because emotions are highly associated with experience, the subconscious then remembers how strongly those experiences were felt and subsequently stores them in the hippocampus part of the brain for cross-referencing later.
In new situations, the mind then compares present circumstances with past experiences to see if they are unique and novel or similar to something already experienced. If the experience is familiar, then the limbic system jumps into action in order to automatically activate a previous reaction without the person having to rationally decide to do so. These subconscious impulses work to prevent negative experiences from reoccurring, while at the same time trying to repeat pleasurable experiences. Pleasurable and painful experiences are remembered and accumulated to form subconsciously held beliefs as well as a person’s Values System. Values then determine what a person will pursue or else avoid.
Because of the synergy acquired from having a bipolar view of good and bad, both magnify each other existentially making good seem great and bad seem horrible. This is why the Scriptures first note in Genesis 2:9 that the difference seems more like good versus "evil" rather than just good and bad. While overly positive valuing can lead to obsessions and addictions, overly negative valuing is associated with emotional pain which we call stress.
As we become aware of stress, anxiety and mental anguish, which is referred to in the psychological community as cognitive dissonance, this is one of the first indications that we have an unsolved subconscious paradox. Learning how to effectively and healthily resolve our paradoxical problems then becomes a matter of lifelong development.
The Phases of a Paradox
Dissonance is the first phase of a paradox. It is the word used to describe that state of mental anguish that comes from confusion (which is accompanied by ruminating) and feeling lost. Our dissonance is telling us that there is some problem that we need to figure-out. Prior to Dissonance is a state of Ignorant Bliss where all seems right in the world even though it may not be. Often times we have dysfunction in our life, which is usually obvious to everyone else, but us. The problem is that we have this “blind-spot” where we remain unaware of our dysfunction because we have not yet been challenged to think or behave differently. In other words, we have not yet been posed with an adjusting paradox. In the stock market for example, crashes occur periodically. These crashes are called “corrections” because the market cannot sustain its tenuous state of growth. The same happens in or lives from time-to-time. Since there is no pain compelling us to do something different, we judge the way we are living our lives as “good” which lulls us into a sense of complacency and to plowing forward. In comparison to the highly acclaimed Prochaska’s Stages of Change, this state of life would be equivalent to Precontemplation where we are oblivious about living any healthier. In other words, we are in a state of Ignorant Bliss much the same as how Adam and Eve began life. In Noel Burch’s 4 Stages of Learning, Ignorant bliss would align with his first stage of “Unconscious Incompetence” where a person has developed some type of maladaptive thinking which is still subconscious and outside of their awareness. The Scriptures note, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12 — NIV. In other words, we can live our lives in a state of unhealthiness and not be fully aware of it until something confronts our comfort, and we go crashing and panicking.
Cows have five stomachs which would make you think that they have a highly efficient digestive system. That is simply untrue. Cows ruminate because their digestive system is not very efficient. They eat some grass or hay and then swallow it. Later, they regurgitate what they have swallowed and then chew on that some more. Humans do the same thing—not with food—but with thoughts. Thinking about our problems can be a good thing except when we can’t find a solution. At which point, our situation often starts to seem hopeless, which then makes us feel helpless. The problem for most people is that they focus their attention on the situations that have caused their stressful rumination but not on the subconscious mental conflict that causes them to have dissonance. Later in this series of articles, we will help you learn how to identify what your actual paradox is. Nevertheless, besides dissonance, stressful rumination is a sign that you have an unsolved subconscious paradox. Furthermore, the mind will ruminate subconsciously and continue to work on something apart from your awareness. Your clue that this is happening subconsciously, is a feeling of uneasiness or of general anxiety that is not explainable, meaning that you have no idea why you feel anxious. In addition, dreams are yet another kind of rumination that cause us to revisit unsolved paradoxes in parable fashion. The subconscious does this in order to prod us to solve unfinished business with others. Virtually all paradoxes are subconscious, meaning that they are rarely in our cognitive awareness. They will remain unsolved there until we pull them into our conscious awareness and deal with them somehow.
Nevertheless, stressful rumination is a sign that you have an unsolved subconscious paradox. Furthermore, the subconscious can work on something apart from cognitive rumination. Your clue that this is happening subconsciously, is a feeling of uneasiness or of general anxiety that is not explainable, meaning that you have no idea why you feel anxious. In addition, dreams are yet another kind of rumination that cause us to revisit unsolved paradoxes in parable fashion. The subconscious does this in order to prod us to solve unfinished business with others. Virtually all paradoxes are subconscious, meaning that they are rarely in our cognitive awareness. They will remain unsolved there until we pull them into our conscious awareness and deal with them somehow.
As mentioned, not everyone knows when they are ruminating about a life challenge. Oftentimes a person’s subconscious mind does this for them. In other cases, people attempt to escape from their rumination by way of distraction. People that employ distraction learn that focusing themselves on something else other than their problems can make the feelings of anxiety go away. Distraction in whatever form, is essentially classic denial and a practice in self-deceit. An especially effective tool of distraction is television. Many people learn quickly that TV is capable of providing distraction well into the night until the person falls asleep on the sofa involuntarily. Of course, this does not make the problem go away, and only defers the anxiety long enough for a person to fall asleep. Unfortunately, people who employ this method will stay awake until the early hours of the morning, before sleep eventually overtakes them, causing them to wake with a meager night’s sleep of only 3-5 hours. Practiced over a long span of time, this habit eventually places people in a sleep deprived state where the body is unable to restore itself. Furthermore, over prolonged periods of time, sleep deprivation may also induce narcolepsy or schizophrenia where the person either falls asleep involuntarily during the day or gets caught between being fully awake or fully asleep where the lines of imagination and reality get blurred.
While the cause of narcolepsy is not yet scientifically known, people with narcolepsy may act out their dreams at night by flailing their arms or kicking and screaming, as well as experiencing hallucinations, whether hypnogogic (as a person falls asleep), or hypnopompic (as a person wakes). The symptoms of narcolepsy indicate a remarkable connection with rumination and the presence of a serious unsolved paradox that they act out in their sleep.
Just like narcolepsy, there is no known cause for schizophrenia. A common theme among those diagnosed with schizophrenia is the presence of some major life changes, losses and transitions. It has also been attributed to double-binds where a person is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Even though schizophrenia has been observed in all socioeconomic groups, it is especially prevalent among the poor. Of course, this would include the group among us with the most challenging life paradoxes. Psychodynamic theorists tend to view schizophrenia as a severe form of extreme withdrawal and avoidance in which a person is coupled to a family or social environment that is harsh, punitive or toxic. Humanistic or existential theorists tend to see schizophrenia as a direct result of a person being in a highly conditional and performance-based environment along with extreme self-deceit and personal incongruency. Once again, there seems to be a strong connection with a person’s inability to resolve a difficult life paradox and the acquisition of schizophrenia.
How We Attempt to End Our Anguish
Imagining our F-5 vortex of life challenges as a funnel, people sometimes attempt to frontload their paradoxical problems with information. Furthermore, this is the aim of every good parent. Parents want to teach their children and prepare them for any and every eventuality. This stage is also indicative of experiment, study and research. Rarely however, does it include counsel. It is mostly accomplished in a trial and error fashion, sometimes using people as sounding boards or reading self-help books etc. to gain ideas of what has worked for other people. This stage is where we try-out new behaviors, and apply a multitude of possible solutions to our problem even though we do not know what the problem really is or truly how to solve it.
The old idiom goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” theoretically until you find something that works. Because people ruminate about the situations that cause their paradox rather than on how to solve the paradox itself, they sometimes settle for ways to soothe the discomfort of the paradox instead. This means that people may look to habit forming things like cigarettes, alcohol, food and drugs to comfort their mental anguish. These things work at soothing the anguish and distress but not for long. The side effects and accompanying relational difficulties sweep them back into the vortex for another go at resolving the original challenge. On a positive note, many eventually learn through trial and error what does not work. There is also a saying in the counseling profession that says, “Don’t take away someone’s method of coping without giving them something healthy to replace it.” Why? Because, without replacing it with something healthy, “they may turn to some other method of soothing that is even more destructive than what they are already doing.”
Because this phase is marked by so much confusion and such large amounts of stress and anxiety, people are at a loss as to what they should do. The confusion finds the person spinning up a multitude of possible scenarios in an effort to understand what is happening to them.
Since the brain gives more emphasis to negative possibilities than it does to positives, conclusions of what is happening are virtually always negative in nature. This person hates me or that person is mean we might conclude. The negative conclusions about circumstances then create significant emotional pain. Even though it is emotionally draining, this work involves cognitive thinking and the use of logic―both inductive and deductive reasoning, but mostly inductive that include inferences based more on assumption than in fact. In interpersonal situations, because of the lack of information shared, people more often than not draw conclusions based on probabilities instead of reality. Since the mind gives greater emphasis to the negative than it does positives, inductive conclusions often develop a belief of intended harm.
When dissonance becomes overwhelming and the paradox too strong, people will sometimes elicit the help of others in their search for understanding and resolution. This is part of Prochaska’s, Preparation stage and Burch’s stage of becoming Consciously Incompetent whereby a person comes to understand that something is wrong that needs their attention, but does not yet know how to fix it. The thing missing for them is often the “real” truth about the situations causing distress. Scripture tell us, “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6a — NIV.
Nevertheless, people will often choose to ruminate about something someone did or said to them rather than discover the motives of the actions of the person who they think has offended them. Because they get stuck in ruminating instead of reconciling, that means that they also get stuck in mental anguish. The pain of remaining in this state often causes people to experiment with new behaviors like minimizing the importance of hurtful people by devaluing the relationship, making angry confrontations or using some form of self-medication. Here is an important point, people will either attempt to solve their paradoxes or else succumb to them. All of Eric Ericson’s Psychosocial Stages illustrate this principle.
This could be no clearer than what is illustrated in his last stage which focuses on the paradox people face at retirement age. In Ericson’s words, they face a choice between Stagnation and Generativity. In other words, should a person succumb to aging—sit back and relax, or solve the aging problem (as best as possible) and remain productive? One of those choices succumbs to aging while the other seeks to continue the struggle against it. Unfortunately, not all paradoxes are as clear cut where a simple choice can be made. For some, when the paradoxical answer eludes them, and expert help is scarce, they take stabs at solving the problem themselves.
In trial and error fashion, people sometimes discover that their first choice doesn’t work, which may cause them to revisit their paradox and spiral around into trying something else. Thomas Edison once quipped that, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Edison did not succumb to his light bulb paradox, but kept pursuing the correct way to make one that worked. For others who succumb to their paradoxes, these choices often result in dysfunction, which remains for life. Take for example the person who uses alcohol to solve their paradox. Since alcohol actually solves nothing, and only masks the pain of the problem, some people die from drug overdose or alcohol abuse and never solve the real problem that caused their mental anguish.
Finding What Makes Sense
Sometimes we are deceived into believing that we have found the correct solution, only to find out later that it doesn’t work or is not true. This swirls us back into the vortex in order to refine our solution and belief systems, thus funneling us ever closer to the true answer, and into reality. Once we come to believe something is true, doubt is what precipitates a revision of current beliefs. Ontology, Doctrine and World View are words used to describe a person’s current beliefs or views about something. If we have faith in someone else, and trust that they will not intentionally deceive us, we may allow them to project truth and understanding into us.
Albert Bandura (1925-), a Canadian born Psychologist, developed a Social Learning Theory in which he believed that people not only actively try to understand what goes on in their world but also look to other people as a source of information. Sometimes we do incorporate understanding by watching others succeed or fail and can learn from them vicariously. Furthermore, M. Scott Peck once wrote that, “Learning can be passive or experiential.” He also believes that while experiential learning is more demanding, “it is also infinitely more effective.”
Some people refer to experiential learning as, “the school of hard knocks” noting the difficult process of learning new things whether passively or experientially. Experiential learning implies the arduous task of revising beliefs and behaviors that have not worked and which have been painfully discovered. As we experience the school of hard knocks, we are lead to a more and more sophisticated understanding of things, whether life, relationships, mathematics, chemistry or even psychology. Using the Christian concept of sanctification, the Bible posits the theological perspective of learning and growing as more positive where it describes that life journey as "passing from glory to glory" (see 2Cor. 3:18).
Most people hold incomplete understanding across a myriad of subjects. When a person's incomplete understanding is tested, they may begin ruminating once more about those issues while occasionally incorporating either a new truth or piece of false information. Sometimes people succumb to their paradoxes, never solve them and settle for ambiguity. Because it is impossible to know everything that can be known about any given subject, that means that everyone operates under some measure of ambiguity. Learning then becomes an ongoing process of gaining new and better understanding. A great example of this are the beliefs that adopted children often develop.
As a matter of mental self-preservation, adopted children often develop a dogma about self that results in a negative self-image. Dogmas themselves, are often based on complex compilations of one belief founded upon another. The Reactive Attachment and negative self-image that adopted children frequently develop, is founded on a belief of worthlessness which is based on a belief of being unwanted.
Children who discover that they are adopted, are placed into an adult level paradox when they discover that they have been adopted. Because they have been adopted that means that their biological parents were unable to keep them for some reason or another. This fact causes them to wonder consciously and subconsciously about WHY they were given up for adoption by their parents. Not satisfied with living in ambiguity, and since the parents are not available to answer that question, children usually conclude that it was because they were unwanted. The next paradox they face is, “Why was I unwanted?” Children reckon that if their parents really wanted them, then they would have found a way to keep them, which poses them with yet another paradox. The next question to answer is WHY were they not wanted?
Once again, because the brain is designed to focus more heavily on the negative over positive, the only reasonable answer in their mind, is that there must be something WRONG with them. Thus, through a series of false beliefs upon false beliefs, they develop a broken view of self that leads them toward Reactive Attachment Disorder. Subsequently, it becomes a matter of mental self-preservation whereby they conclude that they must not allow others to see their brokenness and undesirability. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As they hold people at arm’s length, they relegate relationships to shallowness. Shallow relationships devoid of intimacy are doomed to fail, which then reinforces the adopted person’s negative view of self. Of course, we recognize that adopted children who believe they have learned this about self, are incorrect. All people have inherent worth regardless of what their parents choose to do. A goal of counseling is to create doubts regarding these false beliefs so that a true view of self can be explored and adopted.
Problem Solved (Or At Least We Think So)
Once we think we have discovered some nugget of truth from our learning, like the gold miners of the California Gold Rush, we say Eureka! Aha moments such as these, cause us to accept what we have learned and assimilate or incorporate these nuggets into our belief systems. Sometimes these incomplete or distorted beliefs become dogmas that we cannot prove but continue to slavishly accommodate in our belief systems whether true or not. The person who gets to this phase in solving their life paradoxes has learned to use critical thinking in order to assess the truthfulness and relevance of the potential solution before them.
This phase is marked by the end of confusion and the displacement of stress and anxiety with feelings of relief. No longer is a person’s head “spinning.” The paradox has been resolved and the person has found comfort in knowing what the right thing for them to do is.
It is also important to note that just because someone figures out what they should do does not mean that they will implement it. A person here would be an example of Noel Burch’s stage of Conscious Incompetence. They know the solution but remain incompetent, because the solution has not yet been implemented or assimilated into their life.
In the process of assimilating new attitudes, beliefs and behaviors―people get stretched, grow and develop. When growth has been assimilated and a solution has been found to work, then comes a sense of relief along with a belief that if encountered by an experience like the one just navigated, they will no longer be daunted by it. They have constructed, according to Cognitive Development Theory, greater understanding and knowledge that equates to greater self-efficacy. Information-Processing Theory would add that the psychological process of paradoxical resolution becomes more efficient over much of the life span―the more people do it, the better they get at it.
In comparison to Prochaska’s Stages of Change, the Vortex Assimilation Phase incorporates, Action, Maintenance and Termination stages as well as Burch’s Learning Stage which implicates that in maturity, a person will return to a state whereby they have become Unconsciously Competent and no longer have to be deliberate about choosing healthy attitudes and behaviors because, through practice, those have now become a part of the person’s nature which means, they no longer have to think about doing the right kinds of things―learning is complete and healthy behavior has now become automatic.
The Assimilation phase of the Vortex Model temporarily completes the process of solving a paradox, but that is not what everyone does. Sometimes people regress and return to earlier or more immature stages of development where they return to less skillful and more child-like attitudes and behaviors.
Returning to an Earlier Phase of Development
One step forward and two steps back is the old saying that describes how we feel about our progress sometimes. We may wonder why we continually keep facing the same kinds of problems over and over. The Regression Phase may help to explain why. It happens when the limbic system of our brain attempts to (sometimes successfully) put into action an old, antiquated, outmoded reaction from our past that once worked for us. Children who learned that having a tantrum; throwing a fit or hitting someone else got them what they wanted are prime examples of this. They learned at an early age that these behaviors worked and their limbic brain remembered it.
Even though these behaviors are associated with childhood, adults who regress, may still allow their subconscious to employ these responses in adulthood. The limbic system will put those old responses into action automatically in split seconds if we do not intercept them. Often, it may happen so fast that it appears that we do not have a choice in the matter.
When triggered by new situations similar to the past, regression represents past poorly resolved paradoxes, while at the same time, presenting us with a new paradox. The new paradox is.... “do I want to continue acting this way or do I want to do something different?” When triggered, the new paradox essentially causes us to consider whether to succumb to the old way of reacting to paradoxes, and revert to an earlier belief or stage of development versus resolving the current paradox differently and assimilating the new understanding and way of behaving into our repertoire of attitudes and behaviors. In essence, succumbing to a paradox is a form of denial and of rejecting truth. Regression is not only succumbing to present paradoxes but is moving backwards to less effective ways of living. Regression is often typical of adult children when they return to their families of origin.
When Your Beliefs Match Closely to the Truth of Reality
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) considered to be one of the great minds of the 20th century and quite congruent in the disciple of physics.
Congruence is achieved when our version of the truth closely aligns with reality. A child by nature, knows very little about the world. As a person grows and matures, they learn about a great many things. As you will discover in our example of Santa in the Projective Level of development, that children who believe in Santa are Incongruent. Their belief does not match with reality. The Congruence Phase describes how we have been transformed, by the fact that we face paradoxes throughout life. We start out life by relying on others to help us resolve our life challenges but then grow in our ability to solve them on our own. We gain maturity in our efficiency to solve problems which grows our base knowledge of how to solve paradoxes, that then help us to get to the truth quicker and more reliably. Furthermore, we can develop Congruence in general, as well as in very specific areas of study. A person who has become an expert on some subject, has achieved a high degree of congruence in regard to that subject.
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 Year in Review: Barna’s Top 10 Findings in 2015, The Barna Group, Christian Counseling eNews, January, American Association of Christian Counselors, Forest Virginia, 2016. Retrieved 02/18/2016 from: https://www.barna.org/research/culture-media/article/year-in-review-2015#.Vsxy7nn2Ydl.
 Narcolepsy, Mayo Clinic, retrieved 3/7/2018 from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/narcolepsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20375497.
 Modern Psychopathologies: A Contemporary Christian Appraisal, Mark A. Yarhouse, Richard E. Butman & Barret W. McRay, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2005, (pp. 255-261).
 ‘Teacher's Manual’ Thomas H. Palmer and 'The Children of the New Forest', Frederick Maryat (1792-1848).
 Sage advice from a counseling professor, Dr. Tim Barber, Cincinnati Christian University, 2006.
 Quote, Thomas Alva Edison, AZ Quotes, Retrieved 1/5/2018 from: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/520129.
 Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States: Wadsworth. (p.20).
 The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck, Touchstone, New York, NY. 1987. (pp. 84-85).