As a kid, I learn about the world by listening to the people around me: my parents, peers and caretakers. I have to listen to them, simply because I hardly know anything about Life. In order to learn about Life, I listen to what they have to teach me and I trust that they will teach me the right stuff. Being naïve and gullible is a necessity, as I can’t think for myself properly yet. As a result of this, my self-schema is filled out for me by the people around me and the way I process, label and interpret the world is purely the result of external conditioning. As I grow older, I can start to rely on myself more in order to determine my own views on Life. The time to build my own identity (to evaluate and redefine my self-schema) is adolescence. At this point, I want to be more independent and make my own choices in Life. It is the final developmental stage of childhood and branches into adulthood. There is a shift that takes place from accepting external suggestions to determine what my Life is about for myself (from the inside out).
Regardless of my age, external suggestion will probably always have an influence. The tendency is however, that as I grow older, I’m determining what my Life is about more and more by myself (based upon internally driven choices, rather than external suggestion).
Because of this fact, it can be useful to examine what kind of external suggestions and conditioning my parents, peers, caretakers and surroundings have taught me.
As a grown-up, I can take a fresh look at those things they have taught me and see whether I still think they are useful. The common tendency is to say: “No, those were MY OWN ideas, I thought about all of this myself. I was the one who figured this stuff all out.”
This is simply not true. It’s wiser to examine the beliefs and ideas you’ve been taught and see whether or not they are helpful and appropriate. If they are not, they can easily be replaced by better fitting concepts and beliefs about myself and about the world.
Let’s examine a couple forms of externally suggested ideas, beliefs, norms and values that are present in today’s society.
In today’s society, money is the token that is exchanged for things we value. Because of this, profitability and selling has become the only requirement for businesses to run and for any person to employ himself. As long as something sells and makes a profit (and as long as a business is legal), it survives and may even thrive.
So profitability and being able to sell have become the top priority. The highest value is:
Can we make a monetary profit by conducting this business?
This is an open door for exploiting and misleading people.
People have a natural tendency to seek for the quickest and most simple solution to any problem. This is an evolutionary advantage when you want to secure resources in the wild.
By nature, we seek to be as efficient as possible and don’t waste our time and energy on long-term strategies, when a short-term strategy is available and can produce the same result. It’s called instant gratification and it’s a good tendency to observe in oneself.
Advertisement plays into this directly. Good advertisement is taking a need that human beings have and associating it successfully with a certain product, brand or service.
Equating results with the Self
Off course, business people are not to blame for this, they just want to get buck (make money). The more they can get people to associate basic human needs and positive emotions with their brand or product, the more they can sell (which means more profit). And people fall for it because it seems easy, it’s really the consumers that are to blame, not the business people. In reality, meeting human needs and having positive emotionality takes a bit more work than just buying a product or service. In the meantime, there is a main theme that is being conditioned by this instant gratification driven type of consumer behaviour. That is: What I am worth is determined by what I got, how good I look and how well I’m doing, not who I am as a person.
This conditioning makes the experience of positive emotions and self-esteem a direct result of acquiring external status symbols (like money, a nice car, cool clothes and fame, praise and approval from other people). If I buy into these societal values, it means that I will constantly be chasing more status tokens, feeling good for a while when I get them, but never feeling fully satisfied. Every time I attain something that is external to myself (be it a product, a new house, a new education, a new friend or partner), I think to myself:
“This is going to solve my problems, take care of my needs and make me feel great about myself and my Life.”
Unfortunately, these expectations never get realized and I start seeking for the next thing that will finally make my Life work and make me feel complete.
Owen Cook (2007) once stated: “The best consumer is one walking around with a hole in his/her self-esteem.”
If I have unresolved hurts from the past and I am unaware of these because I’m in self-deception and denial about them, it would not occur to me go do some work on the hurts and instead I will go compulsively act out my short-term mood altering addictive behaviours. I will go buy those new stylish clothes, so I look cool. I will go get that big car so that my neighbour will be jealous. I will go seek out the latest information course about how to solve my Life’s problems. I will go do 10 hours of intense cardio exercise to show how much of an athlete I am. I will go buy and take those pills, which the doctor prescribed to me and told me that was going to fix me.
I will go seek a new co-dependent relationship with a guy/gal that will finally make me feel loved and complete. I will go work for 10 hours a day, so that my co-workers and boss will be impressed. Or perhaps I should just grab another beer.
“Why don’t you just get a needle and jab it in your arm,
at least it won’t be absurd.”
~ Pook ~
Shaky Sense of Self-worth
By buying into these mood altering addictions, I can’t help but like myself less. Also, my own sense of self-worth and confidence becomes intimately linked with how I stack up in terms of how good I look (in terms of status tokens like possessions, approval, etc.).
As I stated before, external conditions can change at any time, and when my sense of self-worth is invested in these, I will constantly walk around anxious that they may fall away. This is often seen in celebrities that achieve a lot of fame. They can’t handle all the approval that’s flooding their way and it becomes an addiction. It is not uncommon for them to then cross-over into other types of mood altering addictions (like drugs).
Getting approval and validation from other people can become an addiction. This quest for social acceptance can become a real hindrance to me living my Life the way I want to and it can also negatively impact how I feel about myself. When I am very concerned about gaining other people’s approval, the way I feel will become dependent on gaining other people’s validation.
In this way, I will only feel good about myself when other people approve of me:
“For people who erroneously identify with their ego as who they are,
how they feel will only be as good as the feedback they get.
Their state and the way they feel is a product of what people project onto them.
They are always fighting an uphill battle to keep everyone happy.”
~ Alex Treasure ~
Real self-esteem, which comes from the inside, is characterized by valuing the self and this means: taking great care of myself.
It includes not allowing anyone to hurt, abuse or take advantage of me. It includes making sure that my needs get met. It involves being compassionate towards myself and healing any wounds or hurts that I may have. It means eliminating habits that are self-limiting and destructive (like any mood altering compulsive addictions I may have).
The reality is that when self-esteem issues are not dealt with, it is highly unlikely that I will go after what I want. And if I were to receive what I want, I’d find a way to sabotage it, as me getting what I want is inconsistent with my own sense of self-esteem and level of deservedness.
“People don’t get what they want. People don’t get what they need.
People get what they truly feel they deserve.”
~ David Shade ~
When hurts to self-esteem are not dealt with, this shows up in a lack of deservedness.
I will meekly wait in the hopes of receiving what I want, rather than confidently taking it. Sometimes people may even seek out and stay in relationships that are abusive to them, because they feel they deserve it.
The truth is, that in any experience I have, there is always a Self that is experiencing. When that self doesn’t feel good about itself, there is no experience in Life that I can truly enjoy.
Let’s examine a couple more ways that my need to look good may be holding me back in bringing about self-change.
Not investing all efforts in order
to minimize failure
In a casino, you can either play relentlessly (place all your chips) or you can play it safe. If you play it safe, your chances for loss are lower, but your chances for winning are lower as well. In psychology, this is called Conservation of Resources theory (Hobfoll, 1989).
It refers to the idea that people with a lot of resources risk investing what they have while the people with few resources hold onto what they have. As a general rule, the more people invest resources, the more they gain (win) resources. As a result of this, those with plenty of resources can increase their amount of resources, while those with little stagnate because they invest too little. Another way of saying this is playing to not lose (the resources that you have). By focusing on avoiding loss, it is that much harder to actually win and gain more resources.
In a social context, self-enhancement and looking good plays largely into this. People like to set low goals and not work too hard to make a change, because that way, the chances of failure are much smaller. Attempting a hard goal involves risking failure and thus looking bad and losing approval if anyone happens to notice. By ‘playing a small game in life’ (in the words of Werner Erhard) I can save face and avoid failing. It also means that I won’t get disappointed if I set a hard goal and fail to accomplish it. Playing it safe has a lot of secondary payoffs.
Social pressure for a static identity
Going along with the crowd means that I won’t stand out. To stand out from the rest and be an unique individual implies that people will take notice. Being like everyone else helps me to go unnoticed; it’s a way to avoid uncertainty about how I will be judged. This can be a very strong motive for me to stay the way I currently am. If I were to change there is the question of whether or not people will accept the new (changed) me?
People that stay the same don’t like to see other people change. It messes with their cognitive dissonance. If I change, then the people around me have to re-adjust their mental schemas about me in order to alleviate their cognitive dissonance. Furthermore, they would also have to examine and re-evaluate their concepts and beliefs about change itself. It would be much more convenient if I would just stay the same. Again, this goes mostly for people whose lives are already challenging enough as it is. Also, people like to relate to others, to have other people verify (agree with) what they already believe.
This results in a social pressure for staying the same and thus, creates a static identity for most people.
The kick-down-the-next-man syndrome
Furthermore, people also like to self-enhance. I like to compare myself with others and see how I’m better than them. If someone else excels more than I do, I can’t feel superior. People do not like it when someone else excels when they do not. This is also referred to as the crabs-in-a-bucket syndrome, because crabs in a bucket pull each other back into the bucket when one is close to escaping the bucket.
“If you put crabs in a barrel to ensure your survival, you’re gonna end up
pulling down niggas to look just like you.”
~ Jay-Z ~
It sounds harsh, but it’s what we like to do when someone else is getting ahead, while we are the ones that want to get ahead. It’s almost like when someone excels too far out of the pack, we view it as a violation to the rest of the pack. Instead of admiring that person, taking a closer look at them and learning from them and also being thankful for the opportunity of showing what is possible, we would rather hate on them and call them back to where the pack is at. This may seem a bit far out, but I think it’s why Jesus was nailed to the cross; the rest of the pack simply wasn’t ready for what he had to share.
The next book piece drops at Friday February 3rd on the topic of Obedience, Social Hierarchy and Blaming externals…
Subscribe to Identity is Dynamic if you would like to receive free updates on the online book series. Fill out your name and emailadress below to receive updates and new free articles in your mailbox: