The psychology of self
is the study of either the cognitive and affective representation of one's identity or the subject of experience. The earliest formulation of the self in modern psychology derived from the distinction between the self as I,
the subjective knower, and the self as Me
, the object that is known.
Current views of the self in psychology position the self as playing an integral part in human motivation, cognition, affect, and social identity
A social identity is the portion of an individual's self-concept derived from perceived membership in a relevant social group. As originally formulated by Henri Tajfel and John Turner in the 1970s and 80s, social identity theory introduced the concept of a social identity as a way in which to...
. It may be the case that we can now usefully attempt to ground experience of self in a neural process with cognitive consequences, which will give us insight into the elements of which the complex multiply situated selves of modern identity are composed.
How Maslow developed his conception of the self-actualized person.
Maslow interviewed people he both knew and admired.
He would :
1. Interview a sample of people he thought were self-actualized.
He would write down a list of traits he felt each person possessed. (Common traits)
2. He would use the trait list from 1 and then see how a second sample of self-actualized individuals matched up with the key traits.
By refining his trait list again and again, he eventually came up with what he felt was a stable list of attributes which would define the self-actualized individual.
Famous People which Maslow felt were self-actualized :
Heinz Kohut was an Austrian-born American psychoanalyst best known for his development of Self psychology, an influential school of thought within psychodynamic/psychoanalytic theory which helped transform the modern practice of analytic and dynamic treatment approaches.-Early life:Kohut was born...
initially proposed a bipolar self compromising two systems of narcissistic perfection: 1) a system of ambitions and, 2) a system of ideals.
Kohut called the pole of ambitions the narcissistic self
(later, the grandiose self
), while the pole of ideals was designated the idealized parental imago
In biology, the imago is the last stage of development of an insect, after the last ecdysis of an incomplete metamorphosis, or after emergence from the pupa where the metamorphosis is complete...
. According to Kohut, these poles of the self represented natural progressions in the psychic life of infants and toddlers.
Kohut argued that when the child's ambitions and exhibitionistic strivings were chronically frustrated, arrests in the grandiose self led to the preservation of a false, expansive sense of self that could manifest outwardly in the visible grandiosity
Grandiosity is chiefly associated with narcissistic personality disorder, but also commonly features in manic or hypomanic episodes of bipolar disorder....
of the frank narcissist, or remain hidden from view, unless discovered in a narcissistic therapeutic transference (or selfobject transference
) that would expose these primitive grandiose fantasies and strivings. Kohut termed this form of transference a mirror transference
. In this transference, the strivings of the grandiose self are mobilized and the patient attempts to use the therapist to gratify these strivings.
Kohut proposed that arrests in the pole of ideals occurred when the child suffered chronic and excessive disappointment over the failings of early idealized figures. Deficits in the pole of ideals were associated with the development of an idealizing transference to the therapist who becomes associated with the patient's primitive fantasies of omnipotent parental perfection.
Kohut believed that narcissistic injuries were inevitable and, in any case, necessary to temper ambitions and ideals with realism through the experience of more manageable frustrations and disappointments. It was the chronicity and lack of recovery from these injuries (arising from a number of possible causes) that he regarded as central to the preservation of primitive self systems untempered by realism.
By 1984, Kohut's observation of patients led him to propose two additional forms of transference associated with self deficits: 1) the twinship and, 2) the merger transference
. In his later years, Kohut believed that selfobject needs were both present and quite varied in normal individuals, as well as in narcissistic individuals. To be clear, selfobjects are not external persons. Kohut and Wolf, 1978 explain:
"Self objects are objects which we experience as part of our self; the expected control over them is, therefore, closer to the concept of control which a grownup expects to have over his own body and mind than to the concept of control which he expects to have over others. (p.413)"
Kohut's notion of the self can be difficult to grasp because it is experience-distant, although it is posited based upon experience-near observation of the therapeutic transference. Kohut relied heavily on empathy as a method of observation. Specifically, the clinician's observations of his or her own feelings in the transference help the clinician see things from the subjective view of the patient—to experience the world in ways that are closer to the way the patient experiences it. (note: Kohut did not regard empathy as curative. Empathy is a method of observation).
D. W. Winnicott distinguished what he called the "true self" from the "false self" in the human personality, considering the true self as based on a sense of being in the experiencing body: 'for Winnicott, the sense of being is primary, the sense of doing an outgrowth of it'. As he memorably put it to Harry Guntrip
Harry Guntrip was a psychologist known for his major contributions to object relations theory. He was a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and a psychotherapist and lecturer at the Department of Psychiatry, Leeds University, and also a Methodist minister. He was described by John D...
, 'You know about "being active", but not about "just growing, just breathing"'.
Nevertheless, Winnicott did not underestimate the need as well for a false self, seeing indeed 'the False Self...as a necessary defensive organization, a survival kit, a caretaker self, the means by which a threatened person has managed to survive'.
'Winnicott postulates that there is a continuum of false self development
',, distinguishing indeed five levels of organization of the false self:
- 'At the pathological end of the continuum the false self acts as if it were the real person' - the true self remaining concealed, only a virtual possibility. However, the false self always lacks "... something essential": socially, the person is perceived as false.
- Less severely, the false self protects the true self, which remains unactualised - for Winnicott a clear example of a clinical condition organised for the positive goal of preserving the individual in spite of abnormal environmental conditions of the environment.
- Closer to health, the false self supports the individual's search for conditions that will allow the true self to recover its well-being - its own identity.
- Even closer to health, we find the false self "... established on the basis of identifications".
- In a healthy person, the false self is composed of that which facilitates "... a polite social behavior, good manners and a certain reserve". It is this essential courtesy that makes possible life in society: 'the false self acts to allow smooth passage through the world by inducing appropriate and socially acceptable ways of expressing love and hate'.
As for the true self, 'Winnicott's conception of the self became increasingly that of a "hide and seek self"', in his growing concern about the possibility of 'thefts of the child's or the patient's creative ownership of their own knowing, in their own time'.
Winnicott believed that 'in health
there is a core of the personality which corresponds to the true self', and which 'must never be communicated with or be influenced by external reality. The question is: how to be isolated without having to be insulated?'.
Vaknin: the narcissistic self
'Abstracting ideas from many theoretical perspectives - including concepts from Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...
, Melanie Klein
Melanie Reizes Klein was an Austrian-born British psychoanalyst who devised novel therapeutic techniques for children that had an impact on child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis...
, Heinz Kohut and the school of object relations
Object relations theory is a psychodynamic theory within psychoanalytic psychology. The theory describes the process of developing a mind as one grows in relation to others in the environment....
and self-psychology' - Sam Vaknin
Shmuel Ben David "Sam" Vaknin is an Israeli writer. He is the author and publisher of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited , editor-in-chief of the website Global Politician, and runs a website about narcissistic personality disorder .Race, Tim. , The New York Times, July 29, 2002, p...
emphasises the self-made nature of the narcissist's self, stressing how narcissists 'create an inner dialogue to maintain consistency with their grandiose
Grandiosity is chiefly associated with narcissistic personality disorder, but also commonly features in manic or hypomanic episodes of bipolar disorder....
Omnipotence is unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of whichever faith is being addressed...
self'. This inner dialogue takes precedence over external input in self-formation - 'just carrying on a dialogue within a narcissistic structure'.
The narcissistic personality - still according to 'Vaknin, an expert on this personality type' - attempts to 'protect the vulnerable self by building layers of grandiosity and a huge sense of entitlement'. He sees the roots of the condition as lying in childhood self-formation: 'the child represses
Psychological repression, also psychic repression or simply repression, is the psychological attempt by an individual to repel one's own desires and impulses towards pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one's consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious...
his needs and develops the protective grandiose image or false self rather than his true self' - hence the reason 'Vaknin comments on the importance of early detection and treatment'.
Failing intervention, once the narcissistic personality is established, 'a narcissist will always prefer his false self over his true self. No one can convince the narcissist that his true self is far more lovable and intriguing than his grandiose, inflated false self (Vaknin, 2006)'.
Berne: ego states and self
Eric Berne was a Canadian-born psychiatrist best known as the creator of transactional analysis and the author of Games People Play.-Background and education:...
distinguished the personality's ego states - Parent, Adult and Child - from what he called 'the real Self, the one that can move from one ego state to another'. Berne considered that 'the feeling of "Self" is a mobile one. It can reside in any of the three ego states at any given moment, and can jump from one to the other as occasion arises'.
Nevertheless, Berne saw the Self as the most valuable part of the personality: 'when people get to know each other well, they penetrate into the depths where this real Self resides, and that is the part of the other person they respect and love'
In Jungian theory, the Self is one of several archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...
s. It signifies the coherent whole, unifying both the consciousness and unconscious mind of a person. The Self, according to Jung, is realized as the product of individuation, which is defined as the process of integrating one's personality. For Jung, the self is symbolized by the circle (especially when divided into four quadrants), the square, or the mandala. The Wise Old Woman/Man
The Wise Old Woman and the Wise Old Man are archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. 'The "wise old woman"...[or] helpful "old woman" is a well-known symbol in myths and fairy tales for the wisdom of the eternal female nature'...
can also serve as 'a symbolic personification of the Self'.
What distinguishes Jungian psychology from previous iterations is the idea that there are two centers of the personality. The ego is the center of conscious identity, whereas the Self is the center of the total personality—including consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego. The Self is both the whole and the center. While the ego is a self-contained little circle off the center contained within the whole, the Self can be understood as the greater circle.
The Self besides being the centre of the psyche is also autonomous, meaning that it exists outside of time and space. Jung also called the Self an imago dei. The Self is the source of dreams and often appears as an authority figure in dreams with the ability to perceive the future or guide one in the present.
Critiques of the concept of selfhood
'Selfhood' or complete autonomy is a common Western approach to psychology and models of self are employed constantly in areas such as psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is a general term referring to any form of therapeutic interaction or treatment contracted between a trained professional and a client or patient; family, couple or group...
and self help. Edward E. Sampson (1989) argues that the preoccupation with independence is harmful in that it creates racial, sexual and national divides and does not allow for observation of the self-in-other
The Other or Constitutive Other is a key concept in continental philosophy; it opposes the Same. The Other refers, or attempts to refer, to that which is Other than the initial concept being considered...
The very notion of selfhood has been attacked on the grounds that it is seen as necessary for the mechanisms of advanced capitalism to function. In Inventing our selves: Psychology, power, and personhood
, Nikolas Rose
Nikolas Rose is a prominent British sociologist and social theorist. He is currently the James Martin White Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and acting director of LSE's BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society.-Life and work:Before...
(1998) proposes that psychology is now employed as a technology that allows humans to buy into an invented and arguably false sense of self. In this way, 'Foucault
Foucault can refer to:People:*Jean-Pierre Foucault , French television host*Léon Foucault , French physicist*Michel Foucault , French philosopher and historian...
's theories of self have been extensively developed by Rose to explore techniques of governance via self-formation...the self has to become an enterprising subject, acquiring cultural capital
The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets; they may be educational or intellectual, which might promote social mobility beyond economic means....
in order to gain employment', thus contributing to self-exploitation
This article discusses the term exploitation in the meaning of using something in an unjust or cruel manner.- As unjust benefit :In political economy, economics, and sociology, exploitation involves a persistent social relationship in which certain persons are being mistreated or unfairly used for...
It is suggested by Kohut that for an individual to talk about, explain, understand or judge oneself is linguistically impossible, since it requires the self to understand its self
. This is seen as philosophically invalid, being self-referential, or reification
Reification generally refers to bringing into being or turning concrete.Specifically, reification may refer to:*Reification , making a data model for a previously abstract concept...
, also known as a circular argument. Thus, if actions arise so that the self attempts self-explanation, confusion may well occur within linguistic mental pathways and processes.
As for the theorists of the self, 'Vaknin has his detractors. Some people have criticised him for recreating narcissism in his own image': - his "narcissistic self" is only his own self writ large. Winnicott too has his critics, suggesting that his theory of the way 'the False Self is invented to manage a prematurely important object...enacts a kind of dissociated regard or recognition of the object' is itself rooted in 'his own childhood experience of trying to "make my living" by keeping his mother alive'.
One view of the Self, following from John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...
, sees it as a product of episodic memory
Episodic memory is the memory of autobiographical events that can be explicitly stated. Semantic and episodic memory together make up the category of declarative memory, which is one of the two major divisions in memory...
. It has been suggested that transitory mental constructions within episodic memory form a self-memory system that grounds the goals of the working self, but research upon those with amnesia
Amnesia is a condition in which one's memory is lost. The causes of amnesia have traditionally been divided into categories. Memory appears to be stored in several parts of the limbic system of the brain, and any condition that interferes with the function of this system can cause amnesia...
find they have a coherent sense of self based upon preserved conceptual autobiographical knowledge, and semantic fact
Semantic memory refers to the memory of meanings, understandings, and other concept-based knowledge unrelated to specific experiences. The conscious recollection of factual information and general knowledge about the world is generally thought to be independent of context and personal relevance...
s, and so conceptual knowledge rather than episodic memory.
Both episodic and semantic memory systems have been proposed to generate a sense of self identity. In this personal
episodic memory enables the phenomenological continuity of identity, while personal semantic memory generates the narrative continuity of identity. "The nature of personal narratives depends on highly conceptual and ‘story-like’ information about one’s life, which resides at the general event level of autobiographical memory and is thus unlikely to rely on more event-specific
Symbolic Interaction, also known as interactionism, is a sociological theory that places emphasis on micro-scale social interaction to provide subjective meaning in human behavior, the social process and pragmatism.-History:...
stresses the 'social construction of an individual's sense of self' through two main methods: 'In part the self emerges through interaction with others....But the self is a product of social structure
Social structure is a term used in the social sciences to refer to patterned social arrangements in society that are both emergent from and determinant of the actions of the individuals. The usage of the term "social structure" has changed over time and may reflect the various levels of analysis...
as well as of face-to-face interaction'.
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behaviors include all...
acknowledges that 'one of the most important life tasks each of us faces is understanding both who we are and how we feel about ourselves'. However, rather than absolute knowledge, it would seem that 'a healthy sense of self calls for both accurate self-knowledge and protective self-enhancement, in just the right amounts at just the right times.'
Self as an emergent phenomena
In dynamical social psychology as proposed by Nowak
Andrzej Nowak – Polish psychologist, one of the founders of dynamical social psychology. He is a pioneer in applying computer simulations in social sciences....
, the self is rather an emergent property that emerges as an experiential phenomena from the interaction of societies of psychological perceptions and experience. This is also hinted in dynamical evolutionary social psychology by Douglas Kenrick et al. where a set of decision rules generates complex behaviour.