I’ve sometimes wondered what a theory of human personality and psychotherapeutic intervention would look like if contemporary psychodynamic theory was based on a theory of human evolution that embraced sexual selection, Lamarckian principles and the influence of social structure on societal transformation. Freud was a recapitulationist. Freud believed in a threefold relationship between childhood developmental states, human evolutionary stages and a contemporary societal hierarchy of cultures. Freud hypothesized that a child recapitulates or re-enacts our recent evolution. For example, he estimated that there might have been an actual prehistorical event where a son killed a father that correlated with the oedipal stage in early ontogeny. Freud’s perspective was Victorian and male-centric.

Humans may have evolved according to a dynamic where females picked males for their ability to evoke an experience of feeling part of something larger than the self, part of a matrifocal, dance-driven tribal culture where a craving for this aesthetic drove the exponential increase in our brain size. Females picking neotenic or cooperative males choose maturational delayed males whose brains grow bigger over generations as infant features (such as fast growing brains) prolong into the characteristics of adults. Female brains capable of interpreting the nuanced exhibitions of males on aesthetic overdrive also experience selection for big brains. This process was runaway sexual selection in a matrifocal social structure.

The not particularly complementary opposite is patrifocal social structure evolution, which was Freud’s and Darwin’s world. Combative males partner with cooperative females. It has been estimated that this trend may have started as early as our departure from Africa, picked up speed about 25,000 years ago when the fossil record shows brains starting to decrease in size, accelerating 6,500 years ago with the advent of the Indo-Europeans (and brains grew even smaller) and peaking over the last 300 years. In the 20th century, mate choice began shifting back to the female, with a woman choosing a mate according to her personal criteria for what she seeks in a mate.

Developmental models, derived from Freud, have mostly been stripped of their evolutionary origins. The contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber integrates Freud’s developmental model with a more contemporary, recapitulationist frame, but a frame that still does not take into consideration the influence of social structure and sexual selection on human evolution. I am proposing that the examination of a runaway matrifocal sexual selection model for human evolution correlating with individual developmental stages reveals personality “disorders” representing stages in our recent (last ~100,000 years) evolution.

In other words, in the way that autism is an evolutionary condition, not a neurological disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorders, obsessive compulsion tendencies, etc., may have far less to do with mental diseases demanding intervention than they may represent evolutionary stages or conditions demanding context re-orientation.

I’m re-orienting psychodynamic theory to accommodate evolutionary theory. Understanding ourselves outside the context of our evolution is a little like conducting psychotherapy without exploring a person’s personal past. Our evolutionary origins are integral to understanding our personal journeys. As we walk a person back through childhood to re-engage the resources left behind, we must also be cognizant of the resources natural to their social structure inclinations. Bridging a client to health involves knowledge of what health looks like for that particular person. A domineering, commanding female may fit all the criteria for matrifocal matriarch. Interpreting her behavior as borderline personality disorder may make less sense than seeking a context where her behavior complements her experience. It might be easier for a narcissistic male to achieve a less self-centered, more compassionate perspective if his experience is contextualized by an understanding of his evolutionary origins and an understanding that, for him, the narcissism is natural, not a defect.

Note that personal trauma compelling the freezing of assets in developmental states also manifests features of the correlated evolutionary stages in the behavior of adults. The thawing of the assets may release attachment to those evolutionary stages. In other words, the manifestations of evolutionary conditions may be contingent upon contemporary influences. That being the case, psychotherapeutic intervention might result in a radical shift equivalent to a 50,000-year jump in evolution–psychotherapy as time machine.

We need diagnostics able to parse out when a person is experiencing mostly an evolutionary condition in a society uncomplimentary to his or her neurology vs. a person suffering from an inability to ontologically progress because of threats in childhood. There are those that suffer both.

The diagnostics might include a complete hormonal work-up. High testosterone females and low testosterone males comprise the matrifocal social structure. High testosterone males partnering with low testosterone females fit the patrifocal paradigm. There are profound brain differences between these two groups that are only now beginning to be understood. Physiologies differ.

To my knowledge, there has been no comparison of dream theme differences between the two social structures, personality “disorders” and conditions characterized by maturational delay such as autism. That’s actually what got me started writing this essay. I want to know how people naturally adhere with one of the two social structures when they dream. How do the dreams differ? Dreams might be able to tell us where we are living in the larger arc of our evolution.

To understand Freud is to understand that he believed that understanding our evolution is integral to understanding personality and personality disorder intervention. Shifting from a patrifocal focus to a perspective that embraces both social structure orientations provides a deeper understanding of our origins. From this vantage point, we might discover that many human mental maladies may be less about defect, but about how to discover where we live in time.


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