What Do You Know?

Bill Abbate

How do you know what you control and what controls you? You realize you are not in complete control of yourself, don’t you?

While you would think we would know more about what has power over us as we age, most don’t.

Let’s look into our lives to learn more about what controls us and what we can do about it!

Adult Development

Why do so many of us ramp down our learning once we graduate? No, I don’t mean all learning. Everyone learns what to do to get and remain employed, along with some rudimentary relational and other skills. Yet beyond those, most people severely lack in their ongoing development.

How about getting to know yourself better? Of the many types of personal development, overlooking this will certainly be to your detriment. After all, if you don’t know yourself well, who can?

One of life’s most important things is how a person develops as an adult and continues progressing. Are you aware of the essential truths that allow you to grow? They are easily overlooked but necessary to understand if you wish to live a worthwhile life.

I believe we must not neglect the dictum given by Socrates more than two millennia ago:

“The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates (399–470 BC)

Are you familiar with the well-researched Constructive Developmental Theory or Adult Development Theory — Erikson, Levinson, Keagan, et al.? Adult Development can open your understanding in remarkable ways. If you want to learn more about growing, you do not want to pass over this subject.

Instead of laying out the entire theory, let’s look at one of the major revelations it provides to those who study it — Subject-Object Theory. Understanding this theory will significantly enhance your ability to “see the unseen” and to take control of yourself and your life.”

Subject-object theory

An easy way to look at the terms subject and object in this theory is:

  • When you are subject to something, it has you.
  • When something is object to you, you have it.

In a nutshell, the premise of subject-object theory is that if you are subject to something, you are unaware of it, but when that same thing becomes object, you are aware of its existence.


When you are subject to something, it is such an integral part of you that you cannot see it. It’s hidden beneath your consciousness.

Sometimes, this can be good. For example, you are subject to the process that allows you to breathe. That’s a good thing, as you usually don’t want to think about breathing and prefer it just happen. Like many bodily functions, your autonomic nervous system controls your breathing. Most autonomic functions are beneath conscious thought. However, you can make some of them object and control them by focusing your awareness on them.


When something is object to you, you can see it, think about it, and examine it. Because you are aware of it, you can objectively look at and understand it. You can stand back, reflect, and ask questions about it.

In the example of breathing, you are generally subject to it, yet you can make it object. When I run hard, I pay attention to and control my breathing. When I’m under stress, I catch myself breathing shallowly and correct it by taking a few deep breaths. I can create a great calm within myself by breathing mindfully. This is possible because of bringing a usually subconscious act into conscious awareness.

Making the invisible visible

To further elaborate on subject-object theory, you can say:

  • When you are subject to something, it is in your unconscious mind, unseen, and controls you.
  • When something becomes object to you, it is in your conscious mind, can be seen, and you can control it.

It goes from being invisible to visible. You move from being blind to it to becoming enlightened about it.

Example 1

When I started learning freestyle swimming, I had to consciously focus on controlling my breathing. Water in the lungs isn’t fun. Eventually, I could swim and breathe more automatically, but this did not happen without concentrating on my breathing, technique, and much practice.

I went from my breathing controlling me to controlling my breathing.

Example 2

Before I understood a profit and loss statement, I was at the mercy of the business. Because I did not realize what was in a P&L, I had no control over it. But once I understood the P&L line item by line item, it became an invaluable tool (an object) that allowed me to control the business and no longer be blind to it.

I went from the business controlling me to controlling the business.

Example 3

Do you have a personal budget? You can control your spending, making it object to you by creating one. Or you can let your spending control you, making you subject to it. If you ever ask, “Where does all my money go?” you are subject to your spending. It is better to have a budget to see where the money is going instead of being blind or ignorant of where it all goes!

Does your spending control you, or do you control it?

Subject-object theory can open new worlds

Two of the many opportunities to open new worlds to yourself include habits and skills, along with internal voices and beliefs. While there is far more to study in Adult-Development and Subject-Object Theory, these can significantly affect your understanding and life.

Habits and skills

Habits and skills are a world unto themselves. They are invaluable to growing, and there is a great deal to learn about them. Much of this learning will translate into what you can or cannot see.

Habits, for example, can start as object and become subject (automatic and unconscious) over time. This can be good or bad, depending on the habit. Skills are similar.

Playing an instrument takes great concentration initially but becomes second nature with enough practice. The same is true for practically any habit or skill you develop. It can move from object to subject to object again.

Unfortunately, this applies to bad habits as well. Most addicts are subject to the drug that controls them. To escape being subject (controlled) by the addiction, they must make the addiction object. Until they can see they are addicted and admit it, what hope is there for them?

“If you want to change the fruits, you will first have to change the roots. If you want to change the visible, you must first change the invisible.” T. Harv Eker (1954 — present)

To learn more about habits and how to use them to your advantage, check out this article: Make Your Habits Work for You

Internal voices and beliefs

Think about the many parts of yourself — internal voices and self-defeating, self-imposed, self-limiting beliefs. Perhaps you have never thought about or heard of them before. In this case, you are subject to them.

Once exposed, you can see them, think about them, and make them object (put them under your control).

Wouldn’t you be better off moving from unawareness to seeing these internal voices? To act on them, rather than them doing their act on you.

For years, I had no clue how invisible things like my beliefs held me back. How they significantly affect my behavior, the amount of stress I put on myself, my confidence, and more.

When my eyes opened to the concept of making the invisible visible through subject-object theory, I began to change dramatically. For the first time, I started seeing things I had no idea existed.

For example, as I thought about my critical inner voices and came to understand them, they ceased to control me. Many of my thoughts, to which I was once subject, became object.

As these voices and beliefs became object, I could finally take control of them and change my behaviors.

As said earlier, when things become object to you can see/understand, reflect, think, question, and act on them. The more you make object, the more you can change your results. Is it worthwhile? You bet!

“The most dangerous prisons are those with invisible bars” Tariq Ramadan (1962-present)

To learn more about internal voices, check out this brief article: Do You Listen to Yourself?

Final thoughts

Why not learn more about Adult Development and Subject-Object Theory today? It will astound you to find how little we see and what controls us in this world. You will make the invisible visible and take control of your life in a way you never could otherwise. If you take one thing away from this article, take this:

When you are subject to something, it controls you — but when you make it object, you control it.

Why not take your personal development seriously and have fun studying and learning about yourself? There’s no telling what you might uncover!

I challenge you to give Adult Development Theory and Subject-Object Theory serious thought. You can find an abundance of information online to study them further. Why not put some time on your calendar to learn more about them? I promise you, if you develop some curiosity about the subjects, you will not regret what you can learn!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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