At the risk of becoming a bit too ‘academic-y’, I thought I’d post another theory that struck a chord with me over the past week (thanks to Anna!). It’s called “Self-Discrepancy Theory”, developed by Tory E. Higgins in the 80s. What it all boils down to is, essentially, that we are in a constant tension between:
1) The actual self: who we ‘actually’ are in reality. So, I think I have certain attributes, and these may or may not be important to me. I’ll not get into the specifics of what the actual self is, but suffice it to say that there are many things that make up who we are: the groups we’re part of, our individual personalities, hobbies, interests, roles, etc.
2) The ideal-self: who I ideally want to be. We all have aspirations for what/who we ideally want to become, and the attributes we want to have one day in the future. These aspirations can be self-driven (e.g. you really want to become a famous actress one day), to ones that your significant others bestow on you (e.g. your parents always wanted you to become a lawyer, but in actuality, you’re a musician).
3) The ought-self: who you should be. Oh this one is really the challenge – these are all the things you feel you should be, based on responsibilities, duties, or obligations. Again, you can develop these yourself or others can bestow them on you. For example, “I should be an upstanding philanthropic citizen because my partner is some big fancy rich famous person” (not a problem I personally suffer from!), or “I really should become a shoe-salesmen since it’s the family business”.
The many tensions between these three categories can create some real problems for us as individuals. And the tensions aren’t the same for us all. For example, some of us totally ignore the ‘ought’ – it doesn’t matter. Others ignore really just aspire to be the ‘ought’, without paying heed to what they’d ideally want for themselves.
With the various different tensions come different mental (and physical) issues. In Higgins work, for example, she found that large discrepancies between our actual self and our ideal self led to feelings of disappointment, dissatisfaction and dejection from perceived lack of self-effectiveness or self-fulfillment. Ouch. Major discrepancies between our actual self and ought self led some to spells of terror or panic, shame, and lack of pride. Even worse!
So, all in all, it’s probably a good thing to have a think about who we are, who we want to be (and who others want us to be), and who we think we ought to be. Then, we can make a conscious decision as to the realism of these ideas (e.g. Do I ideally want to be a ballerina, when in reality I’m a management PhD student?) and make an informed choice. I know that I’m definitely in for avoiding a spell of terror or panic!
Here’s a representation of Higgin’s theory. I’ve deciphered it and interpreted it and it’s not a perfect academically-sound representation, but it fits the purpose.
If you click on it, I believe it will get bigger.