Sunday, April 08, 2007

Clarifying the Reflection on Reflection

Some of the comments on the Teachable Moment post gave me food for thought, and I'd like to respond to them.

The comment from Tom Allen will be my starting point:
What's the difference between a reflected sense, and getting a reality check by objective observers?

I'm asking because to me there's a grey area.

I think the grey area can be delineated pretty well by addressing the context in which the term reflected sense of self is used.

All of us have this inner sense of whether we are OK. The driving force behind it varies from person to person. Usually it is a mixture of both rational and emotional influences. The OKness, or validation, has a huge influence on the choices we make.

I don't think it's entirely possible for one to squelch out the emotional influences, because that's what makes us feel truly alive. But emotions unchecked can be destructive.

Bowen family systems theory, one of the major influences of Schnarch's ideas on marriage and sex, looks at relationships with others as a source of emotional dominance.

We know from experience that peers and relatives can influence the thoughts of an individual. Bowen's theory characterized this influence through the notion of differentiation of self.

What does it mean to be differentiated? Consider this moderately abstract situation: You might believe in idea A, but are you resilient enough to hold onto that belief and act on it if friends and family respond in disagreement or disapproval? If you do hold onto that belief, can you do so without engaging in hostility or avoidance? Your capacity to do all of these things will depend on the quality of your differentiation.

Quoting further from some introductory material at Georgetown Family Center (emphasis mine):
People with a poorly differentiated "self" depend so heavily on the acceptance and approval of others that either they quickly adjust what they think, say, and do to please others or they dogmatically proclaim what others should be like and pressure them to conform. Bullies depend on approval and acceptance as much as chameleons, but bullies push others to agree with them rather than their agreeing with others. Disagreement threatens a bully as much as it threatens a chameleon. An extreme rebel is a poorly differentiated person too, but he pretends to be a "self" by routinely opposing the positions of others.

A person with a well-differentiated "self" recognizes his realistic dependence on others, but he can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotionality. Thoughtfully acquired principles help guide decision-making about important family and social issues, making him less at the mercy of the feelings of the moment. What he decides and what he says matches what he does. He can act selflessly, but his acting in the best interests of the group is a thoughtful choice, not a response to relationship pressures. Confident in his thinking, he can either support another's view without being a disciple or reject another view without polarizing the differences. He defines himself without being pushy and deals with pressure to yield without being wishy-washy.

In the second quoted paragraph above, I've italicized the portion that addresses Tom's question.

The dependency on a reflected sense of self is that region on the differentiation scale where the dependency upon the approval of others is so strong that you are willing to compromise your core beliefs or lash out in anger. Your emotions override the best in you.

When that sense of OKness is tightly coupled to others, you will not weather difficult periods well. The inability to land a job from an interview gets inflated into a global referendum on yourself. Get the job, and you're on top of the world. Don't get it, and you feel worthless.

Someone with a higher level of differentiation can look at the full picture and realize that the outcome of an interview has a much more limited scope. He or she can look back at what happened and learn from the experience, realizing that filling a job is more like a matching of compatible parts rather than the molding of Play-Doh into some novel shape.

Try answering karma's rhetorical question:
Why would you believe Mr. Singer's comment to be a true statement in the first place? It seems to me that his statement cannot be taken to be a fact, because it's an opinion. There's no way to prove the worth of a blog, statement, comment, what have you. It's subjective, you assign the worth yourself.

This is the voice of differentiation speaking, pure and simple. Why so? The reason I might take peter singer's comment to be true would be a poor level of differentiation.

This blog is the chronicle of my attempt to elevate that differentiation, so it is worthwhile for me to be mindful of potential pitfalls. Strongly critical comments are prime invitations to regress. By forcing myself to self soothe my defensiveness away and stand my ground in a respectful manner, I grow a little bit closer to the mature person I seek to become.
blog comments powered by Disqus