“Implicit in this worship of individuality is the assumption that the best way to find yourself, to control your destiny is on your own” (Vudin, 2015).
Recently, I came across an article online titled “The Psychological Cost of Being a Maverick”, Essentially, this article cites research which debunks a common American myth of individuality as the key to personal freedom and control. Since I was curious, I decided to download the research paper this article referred to (Greenway, et al, 2015). After reading it, I felt is was worthy of a blog post on two unique fronts. Firstly, in a older post I discuss the notion of personal identity as a hot-air notion. In this post, I question the notion of identity as an abstract construct that exists as a self-fulfilling prophecy:
“From a symbolic interactionist perspective, the self’s Achilles’ heel is the constant possibility of losing trust and self-confidence. We are blown-up balloons and it is always possible for the air to come out….It’s [an] emperor-has-no-clothes problem. Culture in general, selves in particular, are based on ‘hot air’ – shared belief.” (Wiley, 2003, p507).”
After re-reading this post, I feel there is much more to say on the subject if identity. Where are the grains of truth? What role does identity play in our lives? By doing this I hope to achieve a second goal and expound upon a comment I made about my sister in the last post, the nature of belief systems:
“ISFJs are usually stable, certain, reliable…But if unbalanced, they are likely to treat any point of view other than their own with a kind of cold dismay, and if pressed hard will tend to shut out the existence of problems caused by others differing attitudes…(personalitypage.com, n.d.a.).”
…and the pot calls the kettle black
As an INFP personality type, I have found it useful to use extroverted intuition independently. I call this the “devils advocate stance”. Seeing the world from a perspective that is uncomfortable & unfamiliar is much like the build-up of anticipation before someone rips off a band aid. As the initial sting subsides and the shock wears off, a renewed sense of calm takes over.
After completing the last post, I decided to go back to personalitypage.com and read the description of INFP areas of growth. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels in the description when compared to my sister’s. So what things do I do that annoy others????
COMPLAINT #1: I am stubborn….
“The main driver to the INFP personality is Introverted Feeling, whose purpose is to maintain and honor an intensely personal system of values and morals. If an INFP’s personal value system is threatened by external influences, the INFP shuts out the threatening data in order to preserve and honor their value system. This is totally natural, and works well to protect the individual psyche from getting hurt. (personalitypage.com, n.d.b.).”
COMPLAINT #2: I am a freaky oddball…
“However, the INFP who exercises this type of self-protection regularly will become more and more unaware of other people’s perspectives, and thus more and more isolated from a real understanding of the world that they live in. They will always find justification for their own inappropriate behaviors (personalitypage.com, n.d.b.).”
COMPLAINT #3: I am selfish…
“If the INFP uses Extraverted iNtuition only to serve the purposes of Introverted Feeling, then the INFP is not using Extraversion effectively at all. As a result, the INFP does not take in enough information about the external world to have a good sense of what’s going on. They see nothing but their own perspective, and deal with the world only so far as they need to in order to support their perspective. These individuals usually come across as selfish and unrealistic, (personalitypage.com, n.d.b.).”
My sister is a pragmatist, who prefers to think along the lines of conventiality. In contrast I have always been an individualist with a natural aversion to conformity. Underlying these differences are surface which mask a deeper truth. We appear to be engaging in very different forms of identity formation. This insight is best summarized in the following quote:
The benefits of being a “crowd-follower”
With this long-winded preamble out of the way, I’d like to touch upon some insights from an article online titled “The Psychological Cost of Being a Maverick”, Essentially, this article reviews research which shows that following the crowd can increase one’s perception of control. The research paper it refers to is titled: “From “We” to “Me”: Group Identification Enhances Perceived Personal Control With Consequences for Health and Well-Being.” This research shows that group identification and social identity increase an individual’s level of happiness and well-being. Additionally, a perceived increase in “control” is associated with greater well being due to group identification.
Underlying theory: “a looking glass self”
According to various theories on social identity, when we identify with a group, part of our self-perception becomes interwoven in group affiliation. Our social identity becomes a shared construct as we “shift from thinking in terms of ‘me’ to ‘we'” (Greenway, et al, 2015, p. 1). In this sense, the self is a byproduct of how understand ourselves. through identification with others, (Greenway, et al, 2015).
….and the question which naturally arises in my mind is, why would anyone hand this power over to others? Greenway, et al, (2015) indicate that group affiliation provides a sense of “meaning, security, comfort purpose (p. 2)”, and self-efficacy. As a result we feel more in control of our lives. As this article describes the concept of social identity, I’m reminded of Cooley’s notion of the looking-glass-self:
“social reference takes the form of a somewhat definite imagination of how one’s self…appears in [others] mind[s]….A social self of this sort might be called the reflected or looking glass self (Cooley, 1902).”
“a perception of personal control”
As a result of a series of studies Greenway, et al, (2015) state: “The findings reveal that the personal benefits of social groups come not only from their ability to make people feel good, but also from their ability to make people feel capable and in control of their lives. (p. 1)” With these findings in mind, it is worth noting how they define control:
“We define control as the perceived ability to alter events and achieve desired outcomes” (Greenway, et al, 2015).”
In other words, the control they speak of is a personal perception of control: subjective feeling. Whether they actually have more control, as a matter of objective fact, is another story. The point is they feel empowered….
“Groups are a potent source of agency and control. Where an individual may have no hope of accomplishing a goal alone, interdependent action by a group of individuals can overcome obstacles and achieve otherwise impossible ends (Greenway, et al, 2015, p. 3).”
In this respect, social identity is the glue which binds us together. It seems what this study suggests is a symbiotic relationship. Societies and groups benefit through the commitment and participation of its members. Individuals are able to meet their needs through group identification in a social world…
My Sister’s Successes Are My Greatest Personal Failings…
When I read this insight I was immediately reminded of our childhood. My sister was the popular girl in high school. She had lots of friends. Elements of her temperament were naturally conducive to this sort of success. It is in this sense that the above description of social identity is clearly beneficial. I didn’t experience social identity in this normative fashion. For an array of reasons to long to list here, I was literally the girl with the cooties. I had no friends after my best friend Ruby Stricker moved away in sixth grade. From this point on, social identity was like a horrific hall of mirrors. Consistently distorted messages of a person I didn’t recognized filled all my interactions. Ironically, in time I embodied them. In this respect, my emotions betrayed me: the hurt was overwhelming….
These early experiences have had a profound impact on every element of my life – often more than I’m willing to admit. To this day, I struggle with insecurity when it comes to opening up to others. Maintaining and establishing friendships, are not areas I’ve experienced great success in. My skepticism of the benefits of social identity can be explained by this personal history. If the complete ostracism I experienced was a social death, how does one factor this into things? Is there a way of understanding my experiences and my sister’s from a bigger picture perspective???
Getting the bigger picture…
The American Peychiatric Association (2013) defines identity as an “experience of oneself as unique, with clear boundaries between self and others (p. 823)”. Additionally, while it reflects ideas external to ourselves, we experience it as an internal subjective impression of who we are (Greenway, et al, 2015; Vignoles, et al, 2006; Vignoles, et al, 2008). In other words, while identity is a created as social construct, (in a “looking-glass-self” sense), it is experienced as a psychological construct. Identity is the tie which binds us to the social world. The symbiotic relationship created by society and its members appear to start at identity construction, (at least to some degree).
What I want to understand now is the structure and function of identity in a general sense. How does it drive our existence in life? Admittedly, the specific content can vary according to individual experience, temperament, and even sociocultural background (Vignoles, et al, 2006; Vignoles, et al, 2008). How do these messages gravitate from our social world into a “sense of self”???
As a graduate student, I have tons of research articles downloaded on my computer. When I searched them for the term “identity”, two interesting articles popped up. The first one I’d like to discuss is titled: “Beyond Self-Esteem: influence of multiple motives on identity construction.” It describes identity motives as key components in the formation of our identity:
Identity motives are, “pressures toward certain identity states and away from others, which guide processed of identity construction (Vignoles, et al, 2006, p. 309)”.
Since motives represent our reason for doing something, they can be thought of as a precursor to action. They act as a guiding force in the construction of our identity. These pressures function unconsciously as byproducts of our interactions with others (Vignoles, et al, 2006; Vignoles, et al, 2008). In this article is a list of six identity motives (Vignoles, et al, 2006):
THE SELF ESTEEM MOTIVE – We are driven by a desire to feel good about ourselves. (Vignoles, et al, 2006).
THE CONTINUITY MOTIVE – We are driven to create an identity that is consistent with our life history, “across time and situation” (Vignoles, et al, 2006, p. 310).
THE DISTINCTIVENESS MOTIVE – This motive “pushes [us] toward the establishment & maintenance of a sense of differentiation” (Vignoles, et al, 2006, p. 310.
THE MEANING MOTIVE – This existential drive urges us to seek a deeper purpose from our lives. (Vignoles, et al, 2006).
THE BELONGING MOTIVE – We are driven to feel a sense of acceptance and validation from others, (Vignoles, et al, 2096).
THE EFFICACY MOTIVE – Reflecting a desire of perceived control, this motive urges us to experience a sense of competence, (Vignoles, et al, 3006).
As a result of their research, Vignoles, et al, (2006), state that our identity has cognitive, behavioral and affective components. Identity motives play a different role in these domains:
Cognitive Domain of Identity
The cognitive domain of identity describes those characteristics that play a central role in what we think about ourselves (Vignoles, et al, 2006). “Self-esteem, continuity, distinctiveness, and meaning” (Vignoles, et al, 2006, p. 1167), influence the cognitive domain and provide a form of self-verification regarding who we think we are.
Behavioral Domain of Identity
The behavioral domain, pertains to the research earlier on perceived control, (Greenway, et al, 2015). This domain of identity reflects how we are acting, on a moment-to-moment basis. Since it pertains to the external world, feelings of efficacy and belonging exist as central motivating factors (Vignoles, et al, 2006; Vignoles, et al, 2008)
Affective Domain of Identity
The affective domain reflects how we feel about ourselves. In this study, participants reported feeling better about themselves when they satisfied the motives of “self esteem, continuity, efficacy, and meaning” (Vignoles, et al. 2008, p. 1667).
Actual & Possible Selves…
Finally, in another article published just a few years later, Vignoles, et al, (2008), follow up with another concept, “desired and feared possible future selves” (p. 1165), He defines this concept as follows:
POSSIBLE FUTURE SELVES: “[a person’s] concept of who they might become, and who they are afraid of becoming, (Vignoles, et al, 2008, pp. 1165-1166).”
This concept is an estimation of possibility based on interpersonal interactions, cultural perspectives, personal values and temperament. It is a byproduct of interactions in the social world and guided by a desire to maximize the chance we feel good about ourselves, and minimize the possibility we feel like shit. Vignoles, et al, (2008) state: “desired and feared selves…directly reflect motives to maximize self-esteem…meaning and…continuity, (p. 1189).” Belonging, on the other hand only affects our future predicted self indirectly (Vignoles, et al, 2008, p. 1191). The mediating factor underlying these indirect effects, is self esteem…..
So what insight best pertains to my childhood as an explanation for it???
Group identification is beneficial because helps us adapt to the social world (Greenway, et al, 2015). As a result we feel more in control of our lives. Of relevance to my own life story, is the fact that belonging & efficacy greatly influence the behavioral domain. These motivational factors are useful in assessing the utility and effectiveness of our efforts in the social world. On the other hand, belonging only indirectly influence our future predicted selves (Vignoles, et al, 2008; Vignoles, et al, 2006). I find this last fact interesting. While it reflects normative identity development, it doesn’t resonate with my own life. When you’re bullied and socially ostracized as a kid, not belonging is an overarching concern over all other matters.
In my case, belonging was a primary identity motivator throughout my preteens and high school years. My self-esteem acted was an emotional radar that picked up on all these blows to my sense of self. I received a consistently negative message of “who I was” through this experience. I responded by isolating myself. This self-imposed isolation was a form of survival. As it pertains to Eriksons Psycosocial Stages, I was definitely “role confusion”. Unable to find a place for myself, I belonged nowhere. My self-esteem was shattered and all other elements of identity development were at a standstill. I’m definitely an “outlier”, for exactly this reason (((More on this later)))