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Professional Christian Counseling

                Emotionally Focused...Solution Driven Counseling

  Bulding Healthy Marriages and Strong Families

Paradoxical Man

The Cause and Cure of Human Struggle

Transforming Levels of Maturity

Projective Level

Accepting What Others Say is True

Posted 12/31/2017

Revised 2/19/2020

This level is typified by young children who know very little about the world and rely on adults to teach them much of what they need to know. “Jean Piaget (1896 - 1980) believed that children naturally try to make sense of their world and that in their efforts to comprehend their world, they act like scientists to create theories.[1] The Vortex Model would agree with Piaget on that point but would say, in contradiction to Freud, Ericson and Piaget, that this process does not end with the achievement of psychosexual stages, adolescent stages or psychosocial stages of development, but rather never ceases until death. The scientific pursuit of trying to understand one's life never ends until life does. The Projective Level is also indicative of adults who are intellectually impaired or who generally know very little about a particular subject and rely on the knowledge, skills and expertise of others. For example, most all of us could be considered neophytes when it comes to rocket science.

Someone with greater insight and knowledge of rockets could easily convince us what to believe about how they operate or how to build one. If infants have navigated well Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of Development paradoxical stage of Basic Trust vs. Mistrust, then they are likely open to assimilating what other people tell them is true. Why? Because they have learned that people can be trusted to give them correct information. This is why children after they accomplish the paradox of Communicate versus Remain Silent (which means that they have learned to talk), ask all kinds of questions. Indeed, research has found that “Infants in an unfamiliar or ambiguous environment often look at their mother or father, as if searching for cues to help them interpret the situation, a phenomenon known as social referencing.” [2]

Until people develop congruence, whereby new experiences match with what the person might be able to predict will happen, most people will usually have multiple opportunities to revise faulty beliefs. From Erikson’s simplistic perspective, there are only a few issues that face us in life, and we periodically return to them in order to reach higher resolutions of them. Consequently, we revise our beliefs based on newer and better information that has become available to us. [3]

From this perspective, it becomes imperative then, that parents should make sure that what they teach their children is correct so that trust will not be broken, so that later when the child’s beliefs and the parent's word gets tested, the child will still be able to look to others for insight. What parents teach should be found to be accurate otherwise children may feel deceived thus harming the relationship. In the same way, counselors must be trustworthy to provide accurate information as well. There is a danger in remaining in the Projective Level however. It could lead to dependency on others.

Never leaving this level of development might cause a person to trust others too much; rely on them for understanding and remain easily impressionable, or even gullible as an adult. The Scriptures tell us, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6 — NIV. 

Because most people look to respected individuals for enlightenment, there is another inherent danger attached. People can develop dogmas and believe things to be true apart from discovering it to be true on their own. When beliefs are projected onto people, there is the potential for deception through fine sounding arguments. The Apostle Paul warns all of us, “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:6-7 — NIV. People who remain in this stage of development can be gullible or naïve in nature and subject to believing myths, superstitions and engage in “magical thinking.” As an example, the history of the church includes those who have held incorrect theologies and have believed fallacies and heresies of how God truly interacts with humans based on man made doctrines. 

In one such example, the debate over the heliocentric (sun-centered) model of the solar system offers two high-profile instances of the Church’s unfortunate misinterpretation of Scripture, thus causing them to land on the wrong side of truth. The first instance involved Copernicus who was among the first scientists to suggest that the earth revolved around the sun. Upon hearing this new idea, Martin Luther denounced his theory assertively. He stated, “This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the Earth and the trees were moving.”[4]

In a second instance, it was Galileo who was persecuted for his insistence that, once again, it was the sun, not the earth, that was the celestial body which occupied the center the universe. Galileo was twice hauled before the Roman Catholic Inquisition to explain his theory. Although he wasn’t executed or tortured by the Inquisition, he was ordered not to teach his heliocentric model of the solar system as fact; thus, his science was suppressed by the church if not outright denied by it.[5] Who knows how many individuals have been labeled heretics, imprisoned, tortured, killed or burned at the stake for being “correct” but in opposition to what church leaders wanted to believe? While a healthy skepticism is good to have, dogmatism and naivety hold inherent dangers as well. It is good to determine wherever possible, where the truth lies. 

Pastor Daniel J. Lepley in his book On Our Origins writes, “Ever since Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, there has been an uneasy tension between the church and the scientific community.”[6] He goes on to observe that whenever we demonize either faith or science, we are held back from achieving a fuller understanding of either.[7]

According to the Law of Diffusion of Innovation, about 13.5% of people are Early Adopters, who seem willing to quickly accept the ideas of others.[8] Does that mean that they are super intelligent and can discern truth easily, or are they overly trusting individuals?

Skeptic Level

Questioning What Others Say is True

Posted 12/31/2017

Revised 1/8/2018

The second level of Vortex development is the Skeptic Level. At this level of maturity, people have learned that everything they hear and read may not be true. Finding out later that the information told them was incorrect, may cause them to develop skepticism, thus forcing them to revisit and modify their beliefs of whether, either certain people, or people in general, can be trusted or not. Furthermore, as people repeatedly experience the same or similar paradoxes, they continuously revise their beliefs for ever more sophisticated interpretations of their world, or else, cement more solidly, their previously held beliefs. Many psychologists agree that “As with real scientific theories, when the predicted event does occur, a child’s theory grows stronger. When the predicted event does not occur, doubt enters the mind and the child must revise its theory.”[9] Once presented with a paradox, the mind automatically goes into action so that life can become more predictable, thereby alleviating fears of the unknown.

Using the example of belief in Santa, if a young child witnesses’ mom and dad placing presents under the tree on behalf of Santa, and combines that experience with the comments of friends and siblings who deny the existence of Santa, this often creates a doubt in the child’s mind about whether or not Santa is actually real. Researchers LeMare and Rubin have discovered that as children have more experiences with friends and peers, who assert their own perspectives of the world, children come to realize that their view is not the only one. [10]

Since contradiction comes at unpredictable times in a person’s life, which means that a child’s belief in Santa for example, may be extinguished early in life as a toddler, or perhaps not until school age. This indicates that development is dependent upon biological and social cues for prompting, which makes the speed of development variable for everyone. At whatever point contradiction comes, it then helps a person to create more sophisticated beliefs. 

Piaget also believed that as children experience these critical points in development, that they begin to construct knowledge in new ways. For example, transitioning from a projective stance to a more skeptical approach, causes children to revise their theories of how to process the information they receive in a radically new way. He further thought that sometimes these changes are so profound that the revised theory is, in many respects, a brand-new theory. Piaget claimed that these changes occurred three times in development: once at about age 2 years, a second time at about age 7, and a third time just before adolescence. This would indicate that children go through four distinct stages in their cognitive development.[11] As a child emerges from Piaget’s Concrete-Operational Period of thinking (where it often confuses appearances with reality), and then enters into it’s Formal-Operational Period (at about age 11), the child becomes able to think more abstractly. [12] Consequently, the growing child then becomes able to accommodate belief in a fictional Santa who exists in their imagination only.

Furthermore, in regard to when a child is presented with the abstractness of imaginary characters like Santa, children without the ability to think abstractly but only concretely, may come to think they are being duped. Concrete thinking relies on experience and a preponderance of evidence to form belief, which can come to outweigh the trustworthiness of parents and their ability to project truth into the child. Events like this in a child’s life may become important to the child’s capability of distancing itself from parents, and eventually pressing toward autonomy and independence.

Transformational Levels Page

Mikel Kelly, MA, LMHC


The Vortex Model 

Of Human Growth & 


Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 

1Corinthians 13:9-12—NIV

Vortex Model of Development


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Heading Quote:

[1] Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 18).

Survival Level

You Have Enough Truth to Survive

Posted 12/31/2017

Revised 2/19/2020

The third level of the Vortex Model is represented by the Survival Level. At this level, people have assimilated enough knowledge into their understanding of the world to allow them to survive even though the beliefs they hold may not be optimum for living an abundant life as an adult. They are skeptical enough to avoid being taken advantage of yet, they only add new or greater understanding by having to react to pressing events of life. Otherwise, they seem complacent. Their limited understanding of the world precludes them from planning for future events. 

While life challenges naturally provide contradictory information that should challenge a person’s belief system from time to time, it does not always result in growth and development. People who give up on trying to resolve the paradoxes settle for a post-modernistic or relativistic stance in which they encourage others to believe what they want to, while allowing the Survival Level person to preserve their own views. These people succumb to the psychological conflict of contradiction by accepting the belief that everything is relative and that absolute truth does not exist, which causes them to actively stop looking for it, or accepting it from others.

Frequently, people experience delayed development, or “get stuck” at a certain level of development because of trauma. Yet others deliberately halt personal development at the Level of Survival. Deliberately stunting development now appears to be in vogue. Dr. Alex McFarland, Director of Apologetics and Christian Worldview at North Greenville University, writes that there exists today a phenomenon among millennials called Intellectual Skepticism, whereby college students are encouraged to accept such platitudes as “life is about asking questions, not about dogmatic answers.” He says that claiming to have answers is now considered “impolite.”[13] This of course would cause someone to live in a perpetual stage of ambiguity where they would be unable to build new knowledge on top of foundational beliefs.

As mentioned earlier, in the Projective Level of Development, that according to the Law of Diffusion of Innovation about 13.5% of people represent perhaps the Projective Level of developmental maturity and are referred to as Early Adopters. They seem willing to quickly accept the ideas of others. More reticent people comprise another 34% who slowly accept innovation as they see that the idea is working. This larger group of people willing to receive the innovative ideas of others are referred to as the Early Majority. An additional 34% who appear more skeptical accept innovation after a longer period of investigation. They are generally referred to as the Late Majority. The final 13.5% are called Laggards and generally never accept innovation. They seem content to remain as they are and remain unaffected by what others believe and accept.[14] This appears to be true of the stage where adolescents often reject the views of their parents.

Deborah Tannen writes, adolescents must above all, separate at some point from their parents. If they see their parents as perfect, they may feel inadequate by comparison thus making them want to cling. Seeing their parents as inadequate would then make it easier to let go, thus causing them to feel more competent and willing to leave the nest.[15]

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 14:12 & 15:25 — NIV

Investigative Level

You Voluntarily Seek New Understanding

Posted 12/31/2017

Revised 2/19/2020

In the Investigative Level, people have recognized the value of the Searching Phase. Because they have encountered the pain associated with the Dissonance Phase, they have come to understand that through actively employing the Searching Phase, they may find answers that could prevent some of the negative consequences attached with merely reacting to life situations. In other words, this group has learned the value of planning ahead. People advancing to the Investigative Level have become proactive learners.

For adults, this may mean reading books or taking courses in subjects they are unfamiliar with. Many times, it is difficult if not impossible to assimilate all information available at one time. Jesus acknowledged this for His disciples when He told them in John 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” Indicating that truth and understanding often can only be absorbed in small doses through progressive revelation. Practicing a skill or progressively taking more difficult courses allows a person to achieve to higher levels of understanding. How well a person is educated on any given topic often determines their competency in dealing with it. Formal education, various traumas, and all kinds of social experiences determine to a great extent our values, outlooks, and behavior. And since life is a topic to be understood, we need these in order to live it well.[16] The more experiences a person has, like rings in a spiral, the deeper is a person’s understanding of what they believe and have come to know to be true. Progressive study allows people to revisit previous stages of unfinished development thereby refining understanding and competencies―here practice really does make perfect.

As mentioned earlier in the Projective Level of Development, that according to the Law of Diffusion of Innovation about 13.5% of people are Early Adopters who seem willing to quickly accept the ideas of others thus indicating that many more people are reticent. Another 34% slowly accept innovation as they eventually see the idea working, and are referred to as the Early Majority. An additional 34% seem even more skeptical and accept innovation after a longer period of investigation who are referred to as the Late Majority. [17] While the Investigative Level person may see the value in planning for eventualities or of solving some problem, this person may also be trying to avoid the pain of being blindsided or of being ill-prepared.

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown.” Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Proverbs 4:5-13 — NIV

Integrative Level

Reality Matches Your Version of It

Posted 12/31/2017

Revised 1/1/2018

When a person reaches the Integrative Level, they have assimilated more knowledge about a particular subject than most others. Accumulated knowledge, and continued active searching have validated their beliefs, thus making them more congruent where their assimilated beliefs align closer to reality. Because these people know things that others do not, they may react differently to life than the crowd. They can appear to be like salmon swimming upstream. For example, what if you knew the dangers of cigarette smoking in regard to how it contributes to heart disease and cancer, but others around you did not? They might embrace smoking while you shunned it. Psychologist Albert Bandura argued that gaining experience gives these people a sense of self-efficacy, which refers to an accentuated belief in their own abilities and talents.[18] This elevated self-confidence could result in an emotionally volatile crisis of belief, as some can be quite sincere in what they believe, but because of inaccurate biases or dogmas may later discover great contradiction. Conceivably, a person at this stage, as well as previous stages, may discover new truth that dispels what they believe that swirls them back into the Vortex searching for congruence again.

We, as humans, are the sum of all of our paradoxical life challenges, as well as our reactions to them. Those challenges make us who we are presently, yet point us to who we will become.

Wisdom Level

You Correctly Apply Knowledge and are Able to Impart it to Others

Posted 12/31/2017

Revised 2/18/2020

King Solomon engraving by Gustave Dore

The most secure level is called the Mature Level. Through many validating life experiences, technical knowledge, study and searching, this person has formulated a belief system that truly aligns closely to reality. All new experiences are easily explained with what they understand to be true about the world in which they live. These people are able to predict what may happen and thereby avoid the negative consequences that befall other less sophisticated people.

These specialists recognize that others are floundering in their ignorance and actively seek to impart knowledge to them. At this level, security in one’s beliefs and altruism become evident. In order to help others, the mature person is able to pose paradoxes to other people so that they can discover truth on their own. Paradoxes are the way that God speaks to us and causes us to grow. “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” Deuteronomy 30:19 — NLT.

The Wisdom level describes how we are 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 and base knowledge of how to solve paradoxes that help us to get to the truth quicker and more reliably.

A word of caution for those who may be wise in their own eyes and think they have arrived here. It is true that people can develop an extremely mature understanding on various topics, but still lack important understanding and knowledge simply because people are not omniscient and cannot know and recall everything that can be known. That means that human growth and development never ceases.

Professing to be wise they became fools... Romans 1:22-32

Don't Give Up Yet. There's More to Know.

Go to the Milestones of Development Page....

Milestones of Development

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Works Cited:

[1] Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, United States, Wadsworth, 2000, (p. 21).

[2] Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, United States, Wadsworth, 2000, (pp.175-176).

[3] Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, United States, Wadsworth, 2000, (p. 18).

[4] Luther’s works, Vol. 54, Martin Luther, J. J. Pelikan; H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann (Eds.) Table Talk, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, (p. 359), In Daniel J. Lepley (Ed.) On Our Origins,, Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2013. P. 6.).

[5] On Our Origins, Daniel J. Lepley, Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2013. (p. 6).

[6] On Our Origins, Daniel J. Lepley, Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2013. (p. 7).

[7] On Our Origins, Daniel J. Lepley, Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2013. (p. 10).

[8] How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek, Retrieved 10/13/2014 from:

[9] Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p.21).

[10] Perspective taking and peer interaction: Structural and developmental analyses, L. J. LeMare and K. H. Rubin, Child Development, 58, (pp. 306.315), 1987., Eds. Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, 2000, United States, Wadsworth, (p. 205).

[11] Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth (p. 21).

[12] Piaget and measurement II: Empirical validation of the Piagetian model. T. G. Bond, Archives de Psychologie, 63, (pp. 155-185), 1995., Eds. Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, 2000, United States, Wadsworth, (pp. 204-205).

[13] My Once Devout Child No Longer Believes in God…What Do I Do?, Alex McFarland, Christian Counseling Today, Vol. 22 No. 2, 2017, (p.40).

[14] How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek, Retrieved 10/13/2014 from:

[15] That‘s Not What I Meant!: How Conversation Style Makes or Breaks Relationships, Deborah Tannen, Harper, New York, 1986, 2011. (p. 162)

[16] He Gave Us Stories: The Bible Student’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives, Richard L. Pratt, Jr., P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ., 1993. (p. 52.

[17] How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek, Retrieved 10/13/2014 from:

[18] Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 20).