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Identity Management and the Self

Well it was about time that we wrote another blog about psychological topics. I believe we published the last one several months ago. Although a psychological and pedagogical process analysis is indicative for our daily work. Since we already discussed topics like Impression Management and Perception, we will focus on self reflection this time. Now, some of you might think: "Self reflection? I know myself pretty good already!". While this certainly is true, there is also more to an adequate self reflection than just 'knowing' oneself. 

This blog tries to answer questions like: What is the self? How do I manage my different selves in certain situations? And moreover: when does it become necessary to reflect the self? As always, we will consider (social-)psychological literature as well as give vivid examples to loosen things up. 

First of all, I hope I don't get lost in this incredible wide field of self descriptions and philosophical analyses. Well, let's start at the beginning.

Who am I? or: what is the self?

Now, I'd presume that everybody does know a decent amount of information about herself / himself. We are usually aware of our self, know what we are capable of and what our 'basic' personality is like (although our self-perception might differ from the external perception). We just do. But how do we gain this information? How can we know all of this?

  1. The introspection could therefore be a method to analyze oneself. By taking-the-inward-turn, we ask ourselves who we truly are. But can that alone really enable us to figure out essential details about our personality, behaviour, etc.? Do we really know why we did something in the past or how we will feel about some event in the future? Social psychologists say: it depends on our emotional stability as well as the subject of our self-analysis. In order to gain a more reliable and consistent picture about ourselves we could then try... 
  2. ... to 'consider' ourselves from an observing perspective. For instance, an experiment has shown that this form of analysis can strengthen the self-description of certain traits (Pronin & Ross 2006). 

However, there is more to know than the fact that one likes to eat pasta, prefers a good book over television or picks her / his nose when feeling unwatched. So it doesn't come much as a surprise that we seem to contain of various versions of ourselves. Each one developed for a specific role.   

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Social psychology wouldn't be social psychology if they didn't consider the situation of the individual. The social life is not only a highly complex area, but also is it filled with (informal) rules and behavioural expectations. Those who don't know this usually get left behind. It's a common fact that we act and perceive (us) differently depending on the situation we're in. Thus it seems logical that the knowledge we have about ourselves is not consistent, but varies quite often

»U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney supports Republican Party policies that are widely perceived to be antigay; they would bar marriage or civil unions between members of the same sex. Yet he is loyal to and supportive of his daughter Mary, who is a lesbian. Mr. Cheney simply refuses to publicly discuss the clash that exists between his two social identities as a father and a Republican. « (Vgl. Baron et al 2008, S. 124)

It's no mistery that dilemmas like these can evoke strong identity crises. But how can we manage the variety of our identities, so that our perceived traits and characteristics are more consistent and we don't need to worry about developing serious identity problems?

Identity Management?!

We did talk about eg. the importance of a good first impression in an earlier blog. Nonetheless, I would like to emphasize (again) that it is only beneficial to be informed about several ways of self-presentation. Impression Management, Power Posing or Enclothed Cognition are just some of the effects connected to this topic (they might be discussed in following blog posts). Regarding our subject we can generally say that it should be the goal to not deviate too much from your 'core' personality. Admittedly, it is possible that even when faced with a crisis (like above), behavior and personality might coincide sooner or later, so that cognitive dissonance can be prevented. And in the mean time, you can certainly try to switch between roles like an actor/actress. But the 'healthier' way would be to stick to one's values or at least to not try to suppress the 'true' self. No matter what, it sometimes comes in handy, when we also reflect ourselves.

Self-reflection as the key

Frankly, we speak A LOT about self-reflection and their benefits in business and daily life. But the truth is, it cannot be stressed enough. It is the key competence that not only gives us the ability to rethink certain processes in general, but also enables us to change perspectives. With reference to the self, it allows us to analyze and evaluate our behavior and actions, through which we gain more insights about our self-concept

Unfortunately, only few people implement such methods into their habits (may it be work-related or not). Whereas the simple instruction (to reflect, meaning to think in a certain way) may appear as easy, it in reality requires time, patience and most of all concentration. Especially time is a factor, which has become very rare in today's society. Although in terms of preventing identity crisis, it really is an essential skill.

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