Independence & Control

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Indpendence and Control
Psychological Implications for Applied Technology
J. Michael West, PhD
The Developmental Center
Carolinas Hospital System

In attempting to understand the relationship between independence, control, and Applied Technologies, my work at the Training and Counseling Center in Oslo, Norway has been invaluable. The Training and Counseling Center, a center for persons with low frequency diagnoses for evaluative and therapeutic services, was formed to help in coordinating all areas of medical healthcare for these individuals. The Center is based on a life span perspective from infancy to death. It is through this perspective that one becomes aware of the problems patients face in becoming independent and exerting control in their own lives. Being allowed to observe the entire life span of a disabled person was an excellent opportunity for observing the uses of Applied Technology and how it can help alter and create control, thus increases the quality of life and the independence of the person.

The psychological mechanisms behind this movement toward independence and control using Applied Technology has been explored through interviews with young adults and teenagers. It was interesting to note that there were similar reactions regardless of the disability, with the main complaint being, "My parents sometimes just don’t understand."

A good definition of "life" is the physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences that constitute one’s existence. The question then becomes, What is the relationship between Applied Technology and psychological functioning that helps to provide independence for the disabled? Could improving the quality of life mean helping that individual gain experience in not only the physical, but the emotional and spiritual aspects of his or her existence? Research shows that use of Applied Technologies helps to provide experiences. One means of helping a disabled person increase these life experiences is by helping to separate the child from the parent, thus helping the child gain control of his own existence by gaining control of his own personality.

To understand this process of separation, one must first understand personality and how it is related to interpersonal relationships. One way to describe personality is to use a relational model (Schibbye, 1988). This can be represented by a circle.

Diagram 1

Personality can be thought of as containing three separate entities: the unconscious, containing the unconscious desires, feelings and experience; the me entity, which contains the person’s wants, inner thoughts, and inner desires, which are in awareness for the individual; and lastly, the I entity, which contains the facade one exposes to the outside world. Every individual possesses these three relational personality entities. Within a relationship, the personality of one individual meets the personality of another individual with some slight overlap within this personality model. Within this personality interaction, one is allowed to transfer emotions and feelings. Bowen calls this principle the "projection process."

The projection process is the act of two personalities relating to one another. This can be visually seen as two congruent circles coming together where all three personality parts are in communication with another person’s three personality entities.

Diagram 2

The congruent area between the two circles makes it possible for the movement of emotions, feelings, and even thought processes from one person into the conscious and unconscious awareness of another person. For example, remember back to the last time you came home and knew something had happened, such as your wife had wrecked the car or the child had gotten an F on his report card. Something in the atmosphere in that home lets one person know that something has happened. The potential for focusing is an unseen emotion. This is possible because of the congruent area between the personalities of two different individuals. This is a normal process and a process that occurs in all humans.

When a child is born, the congruent area between the child and its primary caregiver, normally its mother, is large. This large congruent area is normally due to the child’s total dependence on the mother for food and protection. As the child ages and starts to become independent, the congruence begins to lessen. The child begins to develop its own desires and wants, and begins to differentiate personality where thought processes control his or her own behaviors which allows the congruent area to become smaller. The mother must help to foster the growth of independence. This movement towards independence normally comes from the physical as well as emotional growth of the child. As the child matures and becomes physically independent, movement away from the mother allows the child to gain experience. This helps to supply the child with the cognitive tools necessary for independent thought. Child Psychiatrist Margaret Mahler classifies this movement of the child away from the parent as a stage called "symbiosis and individuation." (Mahler, 1975.) She states that a child becomes independent by first going out as maturity allows to gain experience. The child brings this experience back to the mother to be shared between the child and the mother. This sharing allows the child to develop its own thoughts about this new experienced, and to begin processing and categorizing this experience.

By understanding the principles of the congruent area between personalities, or "relationship," it is possible to understand what Bowen calls the projection process. The projection process is where an emotion experienced by one individual has the psychological ability to move through the congruent area to another individual. This movement normally is seen as one sensing another’s feelings. The receiving person becomes aware of an emotion, and must consciously and cognitively begin to process that emotion. This is often seen as one person beginning to feel an emotion, and confronting the other person with that emotion. It is through the discussion between these two individuals, or relationship, that one can become cognitively aware of what the emotion is and help to categorize that emotion. This helps to remove that emotion or aid in understanding what is being felt.

This is a very difficult process to understand; however, it can be easily seen if one takes the following example into consideration. A man has a particularly bad day at work and becomes very angry at his boss. He has no way to vent this anger at work and allows his anger to collect within himself. When that man comes home, non-verbal clues, short-temperedness, or the man’s lack of desire for conversation makes the wife become acutely aware that something is wrong. If no discussion occurs at that point, the normal process is for the emotion to begin invading the congruent area between these two persons. This can be seen in small behaviors later in the evening when the couple has an argument or conflict. It may be only small, routine behaviors which cause the conflict. Behaviors that normally would be no problem on that particular night do become a problem and the individuals become irritable. Not only is the man irritable, but the wife becomes irritable because of the change in the man’s behaviors or the way that he approached the wife. The wife becoming irritable shows how emotion that was once only part of the man has now been transferred into the wife. She is now angry.

The wife, not having any cognitive label to place on the emotion because of not being in direct conflict with a boss, has loose emotion within the "me" part of her personality. As this anger gains strength, the inevitable result is that it must be dispelled by the wife. Therefore, two options became possible. Without interaction or discussion, the wife probably became angry with the husband over some small conflict which produced a label to place on the transferred emotion. For example, she might have said, "If my husband would only learn manners, then I would not become so angry." This enables her to dispel the emotion. The second option is that the woman, when sensing an emotional change in the husband, may ask him what has happened in his day. This would allow the woman to cognitively label the emotion that she was feeling. She could think, "This is not my anger, but my husband’s anger," pushing the anger from the congruent area back to the husband. Hopefully this strengthens the husband’s own cognitive awareness of the emotion, allowing him to move that emotion and dispel it. To finish the scenario, he could decide to go back and talk with the person who made him angry, or classify the anger in another way to remove the emotion. This is Bowen’s projection process.

One may now ask, What does the projection process, relational personality, and emotion have to do with Applied Technology in disabled persons? It can be theorized that as infants gain independence and control, the congruent area between the child and mother decreases in size. However, disabled persons have a lengthened time during which the parents must be concerned with the daily activities, the physical needs, and/or the emotional needs of the disabled child. The ability for these congruent areas to decrease is therefore lessened. Many disabled adults report that the congruent area never diminishes, thus compromising quality of life for the disabled person. The disabled person reports deficient coping abilities for dispelling transferred emotions as well as decreased coping strategies. First understanding personalities in relationships and the disabled person’s choice for increased congruent areas with the primary caregiver can help one understand difficulties that the disabled person must overcome in experiencing independence. Therefore, any means of using Applied Technology to promote the separation and individuation process, i.e., Mahler’s psychological birth of the human infant, will become of vital interest and importance in helping the disabled become independent.

In addition to "personality," another important word when discussing Applied Technologies is "movement." Movement in this perspective can be defined as not only a physical movement from place to place, but also a psychological movement from a stagnated physical existence into a more improved mental and even spiritual existence. It is through this movement that one gains the understanding of limitations and thereby learn coping strategies. The necessity of knowing to ask when, where, how, why and what becomes the answer. Psychological movement in terms of disabilities and Applied Technologies can be explained through the following scenario. The disabled person may have limited abilities to increase language function and physical movement which can work detrimentally by limiting the experience the person may have. It is lack of growth and experience, or stagnation in accepting new challenges and responsibilities, that helps to decrease self-esteem. As a child ages, if he is stagnated and his peers begin to move and experience the outside world, this sets him apart, not only physically but also psychologically. This person can no longer share the new experiences or richness which only experience can provide. This decreased self-esteem will eventually decrease the coping skills a person exhibits. As one ages, one needs to learn new coping skills which in turn must be tried and proven. Without increasing experience, new coping skills will not be gained. The person will have to rely on the skills that were once learned in early childhood. With decreased coping, social ineptness may become evident. This helps to decrease the social network that individual possesses.

"Social network" is defined as the number and quality of the relationships which an individual possesses. It is through increasing one’s social network that one can also gain new experience and have the luxury of gaining new coping skills, which fosters self-esteem. A smaller social network may foster learned helplessness in the individual, causing even fewer relationships to be made as a person ages. This in turn decreases the life quality for that person, who is left dependent and often depressed. Depression in this scenario can be termed "loss." This is a functional loss which not only includes missed opportunities due to physical limitations, but also a functional loss psychologically, that of not having the experience to cope and the ability to make relationships.

Without the use of Applied Technologies, one finds that this scenario is often the picture for the disabled. It is through the use of Applied Technologies that one can begin increasing language skills and movement, including physical movement. Through this increase in language and movement, one begins to increase experience which increases self-esteem and coping. Increased coping can foster the growth of the social network and increase the total life quality of a person. It is through this process that the person can be classified as independent and self-controlled—and proud of it.

Thinking back to Bowen’s projection theory, one can visualize what is meant by psychological movement being necessary for forming relationships. It is through this movement that one becomes acutely aware of the psychological self. It is through understanding that one gains control of his own self which fosters independent movement and control in the life of the individual. This normal process is fostered and aided through Applied Technologies for the disabled person. The congruent area between the disabled person and primary caregiver is allowed to shrink, and the person becomes independent over a larger area of personality.

Applied Technologies not only fosters psychological movement, but aids in coping as well. Coping, through use of Applied Technology, helps the individual to change the situation in which he may find himself. This can be seen in increased experience and communicative abilities. The person is no longer isolated and helpless, but now can enjoy a greater sense of autonomy. Through use and experience of having control, one also begins to take responsibility, which in turn feeds back into the self-esteem process.

Looking back, research noted that helping parents of the disabled child may begin by helping the parent to understand that the disabled child has the possibility of becoming independent. Independence begins with parents understanding the limitations of the disabled and accepting the resources the disabled will need to redefine the situation, become independent, and thereby experience control. Practically this can begin by helping the disabled person to discuss their feelings and how they may differ from their parents. This discussion, through augmented language function, aided through Applied Technologies, can help the psychological "selves" of the disabled become integrated and free from outside influences. This allows for a basis for experiencing a real sense of independence. Beginnings will come through making the disabled person aware of independence and control, and the possibilities that Applied Technologies offer. The person can gain new experience, gather information needed to define alternate ways for problem solving, increase the quality and quantity of social network, and thereby enrich the quality of life! This must begin for the disabled at a most fundamental position through increasing language abilities and physical movement at the earliest possible age. This will offer help for the individual to become independent and control his personality.

Applied Technologies is a simple term, but one that offers unlimited possibilities. Clinicians, state officials, parents, and even siblings who have contact with the disabled should actively help in providing these technologies for the disabled and build a more equalitarian lifestyle for all persons.


  • Schibbye, Anne-Lise Løvlie (1988): Familien: Tvang og Mulighet, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, AS.
  • Bowen, M. (1960): The family concept of schizophrenia. I. Jackson, D.D. (red.): The etiology of schizophrenia. NY: Basic Books.
  • Mahler, M.S., Pine, R. and Bergmann, A. (1975): The phychological birth of the human infant. Symbiosis and individuation. Basic practices. NY: Brunner/Mazel.
  • Dyregrove, A. (1989): Sorg hos ban, en håndbok for voksne. Oslo: Sigma.

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