contrarian

PART TWO: Understanding “Unseen Things”

This post is part two of a series: It continues with a line of thinking that began in a previous post: 

So how is it that things which seem so obvious are easily ignored in our day-to-day existence?

This is a question that has burned in my brain since I was a kid.  I recall as a kid marveling at how adept everybody was at colluding with one another to perpetuate the most idiotic bullshit ideas for the sake of some abstract social rules that made no sense to me.  It was as if, I was living in a world which is unseen to others and I was forced to pretend bullshit is truth.  It  starts with personal fears, needs, beliefs and insecurities. It continues with a desire to deny certain unpleasant aspects of ourselves.  It ends as we collude with one another to create an idealized self in an idealized life situation that edits out critical aspects of reality.

As a social outsider, I didn’t understand the random logic of the social politics of high school.

For example, I recall overhearing a conversation my sister had with some friends at our house one evening.  I was in high school and she was about 12-13 at the time.  As the dorkus, I butted heads with her popular-girl ways, (although I’m happy to report we’re doing well today).  At one point, everyone started to give this one girl a hard time for being in band commenting at how dorky it was.  I recall everyone asking her “how could you hang out with that crowd of people?!?”  I marveled at the idiocy of that logic and wondered silently why band people were dorks and according to whom?  I became angry at the fact that nobody called “BULLSHIT” on that thinking.  Why were they so scared?

At school the next day, I usually received more of the same.  There was this “Breakfast-Club-Ish” mentality at the time (it was the 80’s), in which everybody was in the clique.  By the time you hit high school the reputations begin to stick, you are your label and nothing more.  I walked through the school with the intention of remaining unseen.  As the bullied kid, this was my safest strategy.  I spent my days, watching individuals, (who I interacted with on a personal level), transform themselves into a fictional and socially-acceptable version..  These airs were put forth for the sake of “fitting in”.  The rules that guided these fictitious selves were abstract social rules that were also random I saw no logic to it.   These rules dictated who to hang out with, what to be interested in and how to dress.  As I look back on this experience today, the concept of pluralistic ignorance immediately comes to mind:

PLURALISTIC IGNORANCE – “a socio-psychological phenomenon that involves a systematic discrepancy between people’s private beliefs and public behavior in certain societal contexts” (Bjerring, et al, 2014, p. 2445).

At home, there was this strange and stifling culture based on my parent’s preferred defense mechanism: “intellectualization” …

They are college professors who met in medical school.  My father, a quiet nerdy type, was an INTP personality type who lived in a world of logical analysis.  He was passionate about his work as a neurphysiologist who related to emotions as byproducts of neurochemical actions in the amygdala.  My mother, is from the Philippines, and grew up during WW2.  In her culture daily life centered around the family.  Concepts such as harmony and duty took precedence over individuality, pride, or our personal values.  Her way of being was quiet and stoic.  She held herself in this way as a matter of survival, putting outside her awareness those things that were difficult.  Overall, this tendency toward intellectualization in my parents, developed into what (Goleman, 1996, p. 129) describes as character armor:

CHARACTER ARMOR: “Defensive style is a character armor. In therapy, it leads to a typical mode of resistance…Defenses are…attentional ploys…The person’s entire mental apparatus…is shaped in part by his defense strategy….Character armor is the face the self turns to the world.” (Goleman, 1996, p. 132).

Together, they built a familial culture based on personal idiosyncrasies such as these.  My home life was one in which emotions were not expressed.  The goal was to present yourself as intelligent, logical, and pragmatic.  Emotions were managed quietly and we dealt with them by “trying our best to hold it together”.  If you ask them about how they feel, they would say, “doing well”, in their formal and polite manner.  Ask them to describe emotions they get technical and describe how it begins with the intake of sensory information when the limbic system works to assess its emotive relevance.  It continues in the hippocampus which stores memories of emotional events that trigger the amygdala to initiate the fight-or-flight system.  The moral of this story is to utilize your prefrontal cortex….

Hearing explanations like this leaves me saddened by their inability to understand that emotions have an intelligence all their own.  They are what make us truly human and add color to our life experiences.     In his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goleman (1996) notes that “The family constructs a reality through the joint schemas members come to share.  The family’s self-image is one subset of shared schemas, the some total constitute the family’s paradigm.  The topography of the family’s private universe is implicit in routines…in how members take in, interpret and share…information” (p. 173).    As I look back on this familial reality construction, I am reminded of R.D. Laing’s  (1978) Happy Family Game in which he describes the rules which guide our efforts to deny certain aspects of shared experiences:  

  1. RULE #1:  Don’t do it! Don’t Say it! Don’t Acknowledge it!
  2. RULE #2:  Don’t Acknowledge Rule #1!!!
  3. Rule #3:  Do Not discuss existence of Rules #1 & #2!!

 Bullshit is infectious & needs to be treated as a dangerous contagion

In the previous section, I provide examples of unseen aspects of social experience. When you examine these unseen things closely you find that self-deception can become shared.  Others’ bullshit ideas, when unexamined, can become our bullshit ideas.  Bullshit is infectious and needs to be treated as a dangerous contagion.  What do I mean by this?  Here’s my personal theory on how we inherit the bullshit of those around us and consume it blindly….

It starts when we bullshit ourselves.

Self-deception involves the acquisition and maintenance of a belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, (plato.stanford.edu, 2016).  The goal is to create a self-perceived reality that we wish to uphold.  Goleman, (1996) states:  “There are, it seems, vital parts of our lives which are, in a sense, missing – blanks in experience….our failure to experience these aspects of our lives…results in an incapacity to bring attention to bear on certain crucial aspects of our reality” (p. 15). In a post titled “Twisted Self-Deception” I make the following comments on the nature of unseen things:

It continues when bullshit creates unseen things in our lives…

Self-deception, is defined by those things that produce anxiety.  Various aspects of who we are and what we experience are too painful to face, so we create a zone of blocked attention.  For example, my sister and her friends were motivated by desire for acceptance.  By focusing only on wanting to fit in, my sister’s friends failed to question the logic or morality of these random social rules that guided their efforts.  In their desire to present a specific image to the world, my parents failed to develop emotionally.  As is the case with all of us, the reality they experience is based on what they attend to.  “Perception is selection” (Goleman, 1996, p. 21)….

We pay a price for repression with a self-fulling prophecy based on this bullshit.

So its clear, based on this description that self-deception is an emotional hot potatoes.  We find unseen things unpleasant and try to pretend they aren’t there.    In a post titled “stages of change” I provide an excellent example of what emotional hot potatoes look like.   If (hopefully) you read this link, you can see that my emotional hot potato was a desire to avoid re-experiencing the ostracism and bullying from my childhood.  Rather than experience this again, I entered a relationship with promises of more in the midst of more of the same.  I was so overwhelmed by unresolved trauma that it became a missing piece in my understand the world.  I became what others said I was and developed relationships with others based on this skewed self-perception.    You can’t solve a problem with the same mindset you had when entering into it.

Finally, blind spots in our thinking infect the relationships we have with others…

There’s definitely more than a grain of truth to the whole idea that like attracts like.   The key to being a bullshit magnet is failing to sort through your own crap.  Its impossible to see and perceive others with any sense of clarity if you’re wearing shit-stained lenses.  The following quote comes from a book “Secrets in the Family”:

“I will attempt to be some of the many important things you want of me, even though some of them are impossible, contradictory, and crazy, if you will be for me some of the important, impossible, contradictory, and crazy things I want of you.  We don’t have to let each other know what these things are, but we will be cross, sulk, become depressed or difficult if we do not keep up with the bargain” (Pincus & Dare, 1978).

References

Bjerring, J. C., Hansen, J. U., Pedersen, Nikolaj Jang Lee (2014). On the rationality of pluralistic ignorance. Synthese, 191(11), 2445-2470. doi:10.1007/s11229-014-0434-1
dictionary.com, (n.d.) Suspension of disbelief. Retrieved from: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/suspension-of-disbelief
Dostoevsky, F. (2014). Notes from the Underground. Broadview Press.
Epstein, L. (1982, October 10).  Roundup of the Usual Suspects.  Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/1982/10/10/books/roundup-of-the-usual-suspects.html?pagewanted=all
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.
Goleman, D. (1996). Vital lies, simple truths: The psychology of self deception. Simon and Schuster.
Pincus, L., & Dare, C. (1978). Secrets in the Family. Pantheon.
Plato.stanford.edu. (2016, November, 7).  Self-Deception. Retrieved from:  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-deception/
Laing, R. D. (1971). The politics of the family, and other essays (Vol. 5). Psychology Press.
Schreber, D. P. (1955). Memoirs of my nervous illness. New York Review of Books.
Shapiro, D. (1996). On the Psychology of Self-Deception.  Social Research, 63(3). Retrieved from: http://www.communicationcache.com/uploads/1/0/8/8/10887248/on_the_psychology_of_self-deception.pdf
Images: 1, 2,

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PART ONE: I am a “Seer of Unseeable Things”

I’ve been mulling over the purpose of this blog lately. Realistically, I suspect it will reflect the state of my mind’s inner workings & what I’m focused on at the time.  Since I’m completing a graduate degree, my posts have had an academic focus.  However, over time I hope to do much more with it….

I am a “seer of unseeable things”

One experiential thread woven throughout the fabric of my  life is a feeling of living in opposite-land.  In this frustratingly unique life position I am a seer of unseeable things which others are blind to.

Truth becomes bullshit and bullshit becomes truth…

Throughout my life, I have struggled with the existence daily experiences that I know as matters of fact and others perceive as blasphemous bullshit.  Instead a slew of social rules (i.e. bullshit) are presented to me as a preferred and/or desired way of being.  I am to tow the line or suffer the consequences.

I attribute this two three factors:

Firstly, I am an INFP

The above video provides an excellent visual depiction of the introverted feeling function from an “insider’s perspective”. The view from inside the fizzy pop can is different than others might be lead to believe based on outside appearances.

Sometimes I wonder if my experience made me how I am or if I make my experiences through how I perceive them.  The Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator provides excellent insight into this “chicken-or-egg-question”.   I process information based on extraverted intuition.  This perceptual function has boundless curiosity, preferring to synthesize seemingly disparate perspectives into a multifaceted perspective based that carries greater truths not otherwise really see.  I make decisions and judgments based on deeply felt values that reflect the sum total of my life experiences.  I know this respect I’m a “lone wolf” who marched to the beat of my own thumb.

I seem to naturally gravitate toward a contrarian view of things: profoundly am aware of the idiot bullshit that underlies convention.

Secondly, I grew up a bullied & ostracized oddball.


I was always on the outside looking in.   The social universe of peers, friendships, and cliques was always foreign to me as a scary and mysterious universe!   For whatever reason, (an innate predisposition toward dorkiness), I was always the girl with cooties that nobody wanted to play with.   I did my own thing & retreated into my own world.  These early socialization experiences left their mark upon me as an adult incapable of faking normal.

You see, we all utilize our childhood as a developmental reference point experientially.  The coping methods we use & level of success we encounter in handling developmental tasks leave their mark.  I was fearful of social situations as a bullied child, had zero sense of self-efficacy. And adapted by retreating into my own world.

It’s, therefore, not really surprising that I am an introvert who is reluctant to open up to others. I have difficulty establishing friendships & trusting others…

Finally, I’m a biracial

Click here for a bill of rights for people of mixed race heritage


There are four abstract constructs which together are effective in developing a basic understanding of a biracial individual’s experience of race.  Together they explain what it is like to live within an unclear “in-between” space. These constructs are: (1) genotype; (2) phenotype; (3) identity; & (4) culture.  Understanding how they converge within an individual’s life can help quite a bit in explaining their racial identity.  They are useful in understanding the diversity of experiences amongst biracial experiences, as well as the issue of colorism…

Genotype vs. Phenotype…

Genotype refers to the DNA you carry within you.  You get half from your mother and half from your father.  For example, at geneaology.com they studies of populations around the world.  When individuals are isolated historically these populations tend to share genes for traits that are conducive to survival in that area.  When you submit a test at genealogy.com, they tell you what subsets of the human population are present in your genes.

Phenotype has to do with your physical features, how do you look?  What is the color of your skin, your face shape, and hair color?  The point is, you can have the same set of parents, but inherit different subsets.  Therefore, two genetically biracial individuals can have very different appearances.

I have a genotype / phenotype mismatch problem…

What is Identity?

The DSM-5 Manual defines Identity as follows:  “[the] experience of oneself as unique with clear boundaries between self and others; stability of self-esteem and accuracy of self appraisal; capacity for, and ability to regulate, a range of emotional experience.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p823).  As a biracial individual the experience of how others see us diverges from the inner knowing of who they are.  Regarding how others’ experience, I feel as if I’m a man inside a monkey suit wearing upon my being the preconceived notions of others.  I wait for somebody to see within to the real me, but it happens rarely.  R.D. Laing (1990), summarizes this experience succinctly in his book “The Divided Self”.  In contrast, the description of our inner sense of self is best described in my old course textbook (Corsini & Wedding, 2013).

I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience is man’s invisibility to man. Experience used to be called the soul.” (Laing, 1990, p18).
“The usual sense of the self as being who we ‘really are’ and as being continuous and consistent over time seems to be an illusory construction of imprecise awareness….similar to the ‘flicker fusion phenomenon’ by which photographs projected successively on a movie screen…we suffer from a case of mistaken identity. We are not who, or even what, we thought we were. What we take to be our real self is merely an illusory construct” (Wedding & Corsini, 2013, p467).

What is culture?

Culture provides another set of mental programs relevant to a society (Chung & Bemak, 2002). It consists of a shared system of meanings within society that define modes of expression and communication, (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). It influences how we view the world around us and sets the normative standards for behavior (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). As a form of “mental programming” (Chung & Bemak, 2002, p282), it defines our value systems and preferred ways of thinking and feeling.

So what does it mean to see unseen things?

**As a biracial individual I am unable to take sides and am provided a unique view of the social world that mono-racial individuals cannot conceive.  I am not what I am perceived to be. 
**As an INFP, it means I live in a rich inner world filled with uncommon yet-valid truths unrecognized to the majority as contradictory to conventional thinking.
**As a bullied child I was never provided an insider’s view of the social world.  I stood outside the social world.  I wanted in but never gained access.  I did my own thing and can’t handle the idea of having to “fake normal”…

believe it or not there’s actually a point to all this pissing & moaning 🙂

On the one hand, I find myself doubting the validity of my own experiences.  Was it real?  If it was real then the world is filled with idiots who prefer to engage in pluralistic ignorance in the name of Santa-Clause-Like bullshit notions.  Or, am l the crazy person filled with irrational & delusional thoughts?  If so, should I be locked away somewhere?   How do I filter through the reality of my experiences and manage the disparities between my inner and outer worlds?

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Chung, R.C.Y. & Bemak, F. (2002) The relationship of culture and empathy in cross- cultural counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development. (80) pp154-158.
Coplan, A. (2004). Empathetic engagement with narrative fictions. The journal of aesthetics and criticism.62(2)
Dictionary.com (n.d.). Suspension of Disbelief.  Retrieved from: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/suspension-of-disbelief
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City. Doubleday.
Laing, R. D. (1960). The divided self. New York: Random House
Nazir, A, Enz, S, Lim, M.Y., Aylett, R., & Cawsey A. (2009). Culture-personality based affective model. AI & Society. 24(3) pp 281-293.
Wedding, D., & Corsini, R. (2013). Current Psychotherapies. (9thed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

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…the go-it-alone mentality

image“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:

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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…

imageWhen 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…

78HThe 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”???

Identity Motives…

image

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):

  1. THE SELF ESTEEM MOTIVE – We are driven by a desire to feel good about ourselves. (Vignoles, et al, 2006).
  2. 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).
  3. THE DISTINCTIVENESS MOTIVE –  This motive “pushes [us] toward the establishment & maintenance of a sense of differentiation” (Vignoles, et al, 2006, p. 310.
  4. THE MEANING MOTIVE  – This existential drive urges us to seek a deeper purpose from our lives.  (Vignoles, et al, 2006).
  5. THE BELONGING MOTIVE – We are driven to feel a sense of acceptance and validation from others, (Vignoles, et al, 2096).
  6. 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)))

References…

American Psychiatric Association, (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.  Washington, DC: Author.
Cooley, C. H. (1902). The looking-glass self. O’brien, 126-128.
Greenaway, K. H., Haslam, S. A., Cruwys, T., Branscombe, N. R., Ysseldyk, R., & Heldreth, C. (2015, May 4). From “We” to “Me”: Group Identification Enhances Perceived Personal Control With Consequences for Health and Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology.
Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000019
personalitypage.com (n.d.a.). ISFJ Personal Growth. Retrieved from: http://www.personalitypage.com/html/ISFJ_per.html
personalitypage.com (n.d.b.) INFP Personal Growth.  Retrieved from:  http://www.personalitypage.com/html/INFP_per.html
Vignoles, V. L., Manzi, C., Regalia, C., Jemmolo, S., & Scabini, E. (2008). Identity Motives Underlying Desired and Feared Possible Future Selves. Journal of Personality, 76(5), 1165-1200. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00518.x
Vignoles, V. L., Regalia, C., Manzi, C., Golledge, J., & Scabini, E. (2006). Beyond self-esteem: influence of multiple motives on identity construction. Journal of personality and social psychology, 90(2), 308-333.
Vudin, D. (2015, July, 4). The psychological cost of being a maverick. Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-psychological-cost-of-being-a-maverick/
Wiley, N. (2003). The Self as Self‐Fulfilling Prophecy. Symbolic Interaction, 26(4), 501-513.

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The Nature of Belief Systems

FIRST, some commentary on a few cognitive aversions from an INFP perspective…

imageAfter completing a series of posts on the INFP personality type, I’d like to provide some thoughts on the nature of belief systems.  It’s a subject matter which illustrates a cognitive aversion I attribute to my temperament-based preferences.  As I mentioned in this series, the MBTI is a “mental food log” which describes what the mind is drawn to.   It describes how you take in information, and what you do with it.  As it applies to my own life, I’m naturally drawn to “outside-the-box thinking”, authenticity, and my imagination.  I also have natural cognitive aversions.  As an INFP I’m easily bored by the inane details of life and I need “alone time” to recharge after a long day.   These preferences are in opposition to my husband’s who is an ESTP.  His “puppy temperament” is a stark contrast to my cat-like independence.   Right now as I type this on the living room sofa lost in my thoughts, my husband prepares dinner.  Its worth noting that these natural cognitive aversions also produce strong feelings of annoyance and aggravation.  Understanding this, has been very useful in working through areas of miscommunication in relationships….

INFP rebellion vs. ISFJ conformity – when cognitive aversions conflict…

GULL TALKAs an ISFJ, my sister naturally gravitates toward conventionality.  She desires to follow the rules and was always the “good girl”.  In retrospect,  this reflects a set of natural temperament-based preferences in her ISFJ personality.  Until I understood this, we had trouble seeing eye-to-eye.   What follows are quotes from a resource that summarizes key aspects of my sister’s temperament that can rub me the wrong way at times:

“ISFJs have a very clear idea of the way things should be, which they strive to attain…They tend to believe that existing systems are there because they work. Therefore, they’re not likely to buy into doing things in a new way, unless they’re shown in a concrete way why its better… (personalitypage.com, n.d.a.)”  

“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.b)”  

Growing up, I found these characteristics infuriating.  We’re doing much better today, and I consider our relationship healed.  However, in our youth, I was often greatly hurt by our her refusal to listen to my perspective on matters.  This was especially painful in a familial culture that made me a “definitive minority”.  With my mother’s temperament in opposition to my own as an ESTJ, I consistently displayed a natural inclination toward rebellion.  This wasn’t intentional.  In fact, I constantly doubted myself and what was eager to please her.   “Why couldn’t I just fall into line?  What was wrong with me?”…

…Against this personal backdrop, I have many thoughts on the shortcomings of belief systems, that I feel are worth discussion here….

Characteristics of Belief Systems

Belief systems are socially constructed

bSocieties and cultures are a byproduct of belief systems, which provide a means of constructing the “stories we tell ourselves to define our personal sense of reality” (Usó, 2015, p. 1).  In this sense, they are meaning paradigms that define the nature of our lived experience.  Societies benefit because belief systems create a mutually agreed-upon reference point for all its members.  When everybody complies, belief systems carry social consequences that allow it to develop a surface appearance which mirrors “objective truth”.  In this respect, their existence is not dependent upon a believer, but society as a whole.  It remains an integral component of our culture, woven throughout our history until we as a society begin to question it.  Only then can systems of belief loosen their definitive hold upon our daily lives.

Belief systems are comprised of mutually supportive tenants…

puzzle-1152794_640Systems of belief contain a mutually supportive “set of tenets or convictions that support each other, such that the whole system governs individual beliefs.” (closertotruth.org, 2016).    Essentially, the components of a belief system become woven together into a network of supporting “truths” for believers that allow the experience of internal consistency (closertotruth.org, 2016).  As a consequence, believers think they have an answer or inside understanding on “truth”, when in reality they’re taking the entire system on faith (Usó, 2015).

Belief systems require personal commitment & blind faith from its followers….

monkey-557586_640Belief systems require personal commitment from believers in order to provide “strong social consequences” (Usó, 2015).  Without these social consequences, belief systems would not be able to provide followers with a perception that they hold  “truth or understanding”.  This is due to the fact that belief systems are constructed out of a set of complex components that together become internally consistent and “logical” (((as long as you stay within system))).

Belief systems provide a means of explanation & evaluation for followers….

Human beings are meaning makers.  Our experiences become what they are, in part, due to how we choose to define them.  In this respect, systems of belief are woven throughout our thought processes, perceptions, and experiences.  “Reason cannot prove the beliefs [they] are based upon.  Beliefs arise through experience.  Experiences needs previous beliefs and reason to be assimilated, and reason needs experience to be formed, as beliefs need reason as well” (Usó, 2015, p. 1).  If you think about it, this explains why people vigorously defend systems of belief. Once removed, it can feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under you.

Nonconsensual, ever-changing, & varying in certitude…

Finally, regarding the specific nature of belief systems, there are a few more characteristics worth mentioning. Uso, (2015), notes that they are “nonconsensual” (p. 1), in the sense that not all followers agree 100% with all aspects of it.  For example, while my mother is devoutly Catholic, she disagree’s with the church’s view on abortion and birth control.   My sister, who considers herself a “bible-banging” evangelical, often butts heads with my mother’s Catholicism on assorted religious matters.  As the agnostic, my perspective holds “no value whatsoever”, since I’m going to hell.  Religious debates in my family often result in hurt feelings.

On the basis of these observations, it is worth noting that followers are aware of the presence of alternatives.  They have heard the rhetoric of detractors.  They respond with a passionate commitment in varying “degree of certitude” (Usó, 2015, p. 1).  These variances in commitment, present with a passionate assertion of faith.  It is in this respect that knowledge appears very different from belief.  As it pertains to knowledge, we simply state facts. “One would not say that one knew facts strongly” (Ableson, 1979, 366). Beliefs are presented as matters of trust and faith that some fact or idea can be accepted or held in confidence.  Implicit in this commitment are varying degree of emotion and feeling from believers (Usó, 2015).

  Consequences for Believers

So with these characteristics in mind, what are the consequences of committing to a belief system? What follows is a list of personal observations, as an “outsider looking in”…..

A Perceptual Bubble

20150405_083325A series of interesting videos on belief can be found an www.closertotruth.org.  In one of their videos, it is noted that belief systems create a perceptual bubble around which we create our reality (closertotruth.org, 2016).  This pertains to an insight from another resource I quoted earlier which notes that beliefs are essential components of the stories we tell about our lives (Uso, 2015).  By fully committing to a belief system on faith, you’re adopting a Perceptual Bubble of sorts. This can create an internally consistent experience of life.  When a group of people all hold a belief system on faith, it carries a series of social consequences for members.  This shared experience of “understanding” and “truth” can create systemic distortion, coloring everyone’s experiences holistically.  “Seeing outside” is difficult, if not impossible.

Disabled Critical Thinking

columboClosertotruth.org, (2016) also notes that it is easy to fall into a trap of assuming a rationality in our thought processes, when in fact, they reflect beliefs, (at least to some extent).  Technically, it is impossible to step outside ourselves and see how we see.  We are all inevitably bound by the subjectivity of our day-to-day experiences.  However, taking time to practice critical thinking is essential in order to: (1)  understand reality based on factual evidence, (2) observe it in manner not colored by emotions, and (3) make decisions in a manner that includes elements of logic and reason.   Mind you, I’m certainly no “guru” on the matter of thinking critically 🙂 .  However,  my attempts have provided me much to reflect upon.  As I’ve stated before, life’s problems are often simply d/t how we’re look at a situation.  The solution, often involves considering an alternate perspective we may have previously ignored.  The problem with systems of belief, is that they “short-circuit” thought processes. Becoming a believer is an “all or nothing” deal.  Acceptance requires an act of faith, wherein you unquestioningly adopt a set of propositions without examining the facts.  This logical jump requires adopting the entire system, since it is built to maintain an internally consistent life perspective in favor of “greater truth”.  For some, this is convenient, since it allows us to create an experience of “objective truth” without the effort of thinking for ourselves.  In reality this “objective truth” is a mutually shared self-deception.

Commitment-Based “Objective” Truth

Finally, many things we accept as “objective truth” are actually matters of faith.   From within the system, contradictory evidence is concealed and often goes by unnoticed.  Until something anomalous comes along to rock one’s boat all seems “okay”.  For many, letting go of a system of belief is scary, because it means letting go “everything you know” for something else – as yet undetermined…..

References

Ableson, R.P. (1979). Differences between belief and knowledge systems. Cognitive science, 3(4) 355-366).
closertotruth.com  (2016).  How Belief Systems Work.  Retrieved from: http://www.closertotruth.com/series/how-belief-systems-work
personalitypage.com (n.d.a.) Portrait of an ISFJ – Introverted Sensing Feeling Judging  Retrieved from: http://www.personalitypage.com/ISFJ.html
personalitypage.com (n.d.b). ISFJ Personal Growth. Retrieved from:  http://www.personalitypage.com/html/ISFJ_per.html
Usó, J. L. (2015). What are Belief Systems?. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Josue_Antonio_Nescolarde_Selva/publication/270569207_What_are_Belief_Systems/links/55e8497808ae21d099c17009.pdf

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On Being Contrarian…

As a mother, therapy student, and healthcare worker, it seems the majority of my time is spent in the care of others.  As a Healer INFP personality type this endeavor suits me for the most part. However, as time has progressed, I’ve come to the realization that I’m becoming an adaptive reaction to others’ needs.  I have so little say in who I am becoming.  Everybody’s “baggage” tends to pile up after a long week.  When I review the endless needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires of those I provide care for, an “F’d” up hall of mirrors presents itself.  Within each individual’s worldview are a set of perceptual distortions That I become lost in.  I am unseen behind what is projected upon me….

EmperorCumulatively, these experiences are much like “The Emperor Has No Clothes”  fable.  What I like about this story is it represents effectively the notion of pluralistic ignorance: “a socio-psychological phenomenon that involves a systematic discrepancy between people’s private beliefs and public behavior in certain societal contexts” (Bjerring, et al, 2014, p. 2445).  This aggravates me to no end.  As I see it, pluralistic ignorance is the perpetuation of bullshit.  It requires us to pretend the king is not naked.  Effectively, in the context of the social situation, truth becomes bullshit and bullshit becomes truth.  A part of me feels compelled mention that the king is naked.  However, memories of ostracism  hold me back.   I stay quiet while my thoughts scream at me from inside.  Underlying a plastered smile, is a mind filled with aggravation.

I have to admit, by doing this I’m denying my true nature.  As a contrarian individual, I tend to see things in a manner which is counter to the norm.  Part of this has to do with my own temperament-based preferences, which I will discuss at another time.   Here,  I would like to examine a few interrelated concepts from psychology that can explain pluralistic ignorance.  Why is it we tend to collude with one another in order to perpetuate bullshit in this manner?

Piaget’s Schemas

Developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget studied cognitive development and believed it emerged in stages (i.e. sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, formal operational).   In his theory, is the concept of schemas, defined as building block of knowledge that allow children to interact with their environment  (Piaget, 1952). Schemas provide mental representations of the world and help us make sense of what we encounter.  Through a process of assimilation and accommodation, we incorporate new information in order to refine our understanding of the world. (Piaget, 1952).  Žvelc, (2009), also notes that since they provide a representation of ourselves and others, they have a profound affect on our interpersonal relationships.

What I find interesting about this concept, is it mirrors insights from Thomas Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (Kuhn, 2012).   According to Kuhn, academic fields tend to operate on an implicit set of beliefs and assumptions or “paradigm”.  Paradigms are explanatory models of belief systems that guide the progression of knowledge within a scientific field.  New insights are utilized to expand the prevailing paradigmatic explanatory model – until something unique is encountered.  This anomaly produces a crisis – and eventually a new paradigm, (much in the same manner as Piaget describes with schemas).  These views of cognitive development and scientific discovery both provide a Hegelian dialectical perspective of progress.

Goffman’s Frames

In his book, “Frame Analysis”, Erving Goffman seems to describe social frames as constructed schemas of interpretation (Goffman, 1974).  They provide a socially constructed agenda-setting framework, that give us a background for understanding social interactions.  This allows us to engage in impression management.   Much of this occurs outside of our awareness, at a subconscious level.  For example, personal experiences are imbued with social meaning in ways we are often do not realize.  Goffman’s theory is very dramaturgical in nature and provides a convenient way of examining our daily interactions as “performances”.  Essentially, as his theory asserts, our experiences are organized on the basis of social constructs which provide us meaning.   In order to function in the social world, we must frame our experiences within this meaning system.

Berne’s Scripts

In his book “Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy”, Eric Berne, (1961), provides a theory which is useful in analyzing social interactions.  His theory uses the concept of life scripts to describe a set of “unconscious relational patterns” (Erskine, 2010, p. 24).  Developed in childhood, they are relational patterns that reflect our attachment history and are repeated throughout life.  Scripts exist within limbic memory and influence our thoughts, perceptions and behaviors.  Finally, they provide “a generalization of specific experiences and an unconscious anticipation…that will be repeated throughout life” (Erskine, 2010, p. 22).  Berne uses the term “transference phenomena” (Ereskine, 2010, p. 15) to describe this repetitive nature reflected through our relationship history.

Concluding Thoughts…

Schemas are building blocks we utilize to understand our world in early childhood.  Goffman’s frames exist as an adult corollary, providing a means of impression management.  Finally, Berne’s scripts tie these two concepts together by allowing us to understand how our interactions are influenced by early childhood experiences.  Much of what we understand about the world, are assumed to be matters of fact. We expect others to see as we do with socially relevant meaning systems that can act as a guide for our interactions with one another. We expect others to comply behaviorally with this system of meaning regardless of whether it contradicts that individual’s true nature or lived experience.  We are disappointed when they do not comply for failing to validate this perceptual construct.  Kuhn calls contradictory evidence an anomaly (Kuhn, 2012).  Piaget (1952), asserts it is either assimilated or accommodated.  Berne (1961) uses script analysis to understand how social constructs influence our understanding of these relational anomalies. Overall, these concepts describe effectively how pluralistic ignorance is self-perpetuating.

As a contrarian, I feel it is important to note that “objective fact” and “common sense” are terms that often do not mean what we think they do.  They also happen to be highly overrated.  What is often perceived as “common sense” is instead a requisite deference to a schema-oriented social framework.  Objective facts frequently constitute lying by omission, when you consider their presentation edits out the fact that our experience of reality is Inherently subjective.  As a biracial individual, I have a lifetime of experiences with cultural relativism to back up this idea.  Things are never what they appear to be and we need to dig deeper…

What about the radical notion of thinking for myself and to hell with what others think?  There is something to be said for honoring my unique experience rather than bowing down to the bullshit perpetuated by “conventional wisdom”.

References

Berne, E. (1961). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry.
Bjerring, J. C., Hansen, J. U., Pedersen, Nikolaj Jang Lee (2014). On the rationality of pluralistic ignorance. Synthese, 191(11), 2445-2470. doi:10.1007/s11229-014-0434-1
Erskine, R. G. (2010).Life scripts: A transactional analysis of unconscious relational patterns. London: Karnac.
Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harvard University Press.
Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.
Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children (Vol. 8, No. 5, pp. 18-1952). New York: International Universities Press.
Žvelc, G. (2009). Between self and others: Relational schemas as an integrating construct in psychotherapy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 39(1), 22-38.

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