The Cumulative Impact of Failure to Define a Self on a Life Course

Presented at the 19th Annual Georgetown Symposium, 1982.

The life course of an individual will reflect the interplay of two major forces those for togetherness and those for individuality.  Forces for togetherness center on pulls to: belong, to be similar, and to have the approval of important others (of the flip, to be opposite to important others).  Forces for individuality center on pulls to: be oneself,  to be accurate about self to others, and to think and act for self rather than to do the same as others.

As an individual moves through day-to-day life, he will be required to respond to functioning decisions from minor tasks to major issues.  At such times, the individual will act on the basis of forces for togetherness (acting in response to emotions in the relationship system) or on the basis of individual forces (actions determined by facts and personal principle regardless of the emotionality of important others).  One force or the other will dominate.

Several factors will govern the interplay of the two forces.  First, an individual’s quantity of emotional solidness free of the emotionality of important others will be a major factor.  The greater the quantity of differentiation, the greater the likelihood that forces for individuality will dominate.  The smaller the quantity of differentiation, the greater the likelihood that forces for togetherness will dominate.

Second, levels of acute and chronic anxiety will be a major factor as well.  The greater the quantity of anxiety, the stronger the pull will be from togetherness forces regardless of the quantity of differentiation.  The same impact will be true for the duration of anxiety.  The level of anxiety will be influenced by: the emotional solidness of the person, the emotional solidness of the system, the functioning of society, and the presence of nodal, anxiety producing events.

Defining self in the midst of emotionality.  Defining a self has to do with the process an individual goes through when confronted with a situation.  The process includes: thoughtful observation of the situation, awareness of patterns in the system, awareness of the pulls in self towards others emotionality, and focus on personal principle.  On the basis of the knowledge derived from this process of thought, and individual can define self to the system in spite of the felt pulls to do other wise.   This process of defining a self has been well documented in the literature as have the potential impacts of such efforts.