Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Real and the Ideal Self: Let’s Drop The Act

This week, inspired by the This I believed Media Project, I decided to write about a core belief that helps to explain why I have chosen to go into the field of psychology. I have always been a very shy, intrinsic person. I do much more observing than I do speaking and sharing my own feelings and experiences. It is due to this, my biggest flaw that I began to see that the mind is truly a powerful mechanism. That people act in ways they think are appropriate, expected and acceptable without realizing that in doing so, they often times create a false persona. It is due to this that great mental turmoil lurks in our society. The fixation people seem to have on creating a perfect image in the eyes of others disables many to pursue a life of happiness and draws some to commit malevolent acts towards themselves and/or others. Yet, I believe that the majority of people are inherently good and that if surroundings, peers and society did not play such a significant role in shaping a persons behavior, there would be less crime and less mentally unstable people.

I believe that people can avoid stressful situations and mental dispositions like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other psychological problems if they were to let go of their ideal self and focus on their real self. Psychologists Carl Roger’s theory of personality states that there is incongruity when a gap between the “I am” and the “I should” exists in a person’s mind. He introduced what he called, conditions of worth, which are social influences that affect ones self-concept. Rogers writes, “We begin to like ourselves only if we meet up with the standards others have applied to us, rather than if we are truly actualizing our potentials.” Analyzing the theory closely reveals that were it not for the influence other individuals impose on a person, the world would be a different place. If people would realize that merely being themselves is a beautiful thing and that no other being should have any influence on their life decisions, there would be more blissful and fulfilled people with reduced levels of stress. Satisfying others would no longer be a top priority.

As an early teen I witnessed one of my closest friends loose herself in a dangerous battle between the real and the ideal. I was her neighbor, her companion, her “best friend forever”. However, the beautiful innocence of childhood quickly passed us by. The bubble that was our world soon burst into a reality that is all too known by most but that is often impossible to avoid. High school brought about more peers and external influences to what seemed to be an unbreakable friendship. She began a quest for popularity, which in turn meant meeting up to the expectations of the in-crowd by engaging in deviant behavior. Our decision making lead us to completely different paths and interests and drove us to loose touch. Yet, it is hard to believe that a person you have known for years can from one instant to the next completely change. Hence, there was always a sense of connection between us upon encounter.

At the time, I did not know I was dealing with what could have been an Oscar winning performance. On the outside she looked so healthy, cheerful, full of poise and esteem. I never realizing the truth was the complete opposite, it was all an act, a farce. My beloved friend was hurting on the inside. The behavior that others applauded and reinforced was not at all something to be proud of. She was ashamed and filled with guilt for breaking morals she greatly valued. Her screams and cries for help were disguised with a smile. How could I ever have known that she needed my help? I could have talked to her, knocked some sense into her, made her realize that life is a lot more than gaining the acceptance of others. You must first accept and be comfortable with yourself. Maybe I could have prevented her from cutting herself, from undergoing repetitive self-mutilation, like the one seen on the picture to the right, which almost took her life.

I am an observer, I look at people and wonder what their true intentions are. I continuously find myself questioning whether it is all a performance and if so, why? What ideal is to be reached? In the case of my friend, who in trying to please others found herself lost in a web of behaviors that went against everything she believed, approval becomes an obsession. I have applied this example to theorize about many other areas in the realm of psychology and the human psyche as it relates to criminals and controllable mental disorders. It exemplifies the extent to which people are willing to go to reach an ideal sense of self, to the extent that ones own life becomes expendable.

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