Fleeing An Identity Crisis

I guess I forgot to post last week  so this is a two for one blog–this one and the one below.

Here is a small list of ways people flee an identity crisis. Tension-arousing circumstances are uncomfortable, sometimes so uncomfortable that they force a person to question their own identity and values. However, a person can be flexible and consistent when forced to choose between alternative, and, at times, conflicting value systems.

When A Crises Of Identity Causes Ambivalence-Induced Distress, A Person Flees

Giving Up Faculties Of Critical Judgment In Exchange For The Convictions Supplied By An Authority Whose Rules Cover Most Aspects Of Life, Is A Reasonable Alternative For Some People

In reflexive self-awareness, when a person becomes aware of the simultaneous presence of positive and negative affects, these incongruities or inconsistencies, according to Rosenberg and Abelson (1960), “are ‘tension-arousing’ – ‘they set in motion processes directed toward their removal’, because ‘if the ambivalences are not removed, they continue to be unpleasant, even painful, to the subject so long as he continues to think about the concepts at issue’” (Billig, 1987: 147). When a crises of identity causes ambivalence-induced distress, this distress is temporary because a person tends to flee ambivalence.

There is more than one way to remove ambivalence. Ambivalences, for the most part, according to Freud, are consciously or unconsciously repressed. When ambivalence arises as a result of the parent/child relationship, according to Adorno, the child may flee ambivalence by identifying with closed-minded authority figures. In a like manner, a person may escape the burden that comes with “the freedom to choose” by identifying with a person in authority. “[Giving] up faculties of critical judgment in exchange for the convictions supplied by an authority whose rules and provision cover most aspects of life,” is, according to Giddens (1991: 196), a reasonable alternative for some people. Also, we have all had the experience (I presume) of turning to consumption (for at least as long as it takes before our “practical consciousness” returns) in order to lesson the severity of an ambivalence-generating emotional crisis.

For some individuals, in particular, individuals who have invested a great deal of time analyzing questions of the existential variety, –questions like, “What is, Being, non-being, self-purpose, freedom, etc.?” — the question of identity has been pushed aside and, accordingly, so has the possibility of an identity crisis.

[Footnote. Existential questions concern the defining boundaries of human life, and are answered by the way we “go on” in the contexts of social activity. They presume, according to Giddens (1991: 55), the following ontological and epistemological elements:

Existence and being : the nature of existence, the identity of objects and events.

Finitude and human life: the existential contradiction by means of which human beings are of nature yet set apart from it as sentient and reflexive creatures.

The experience of others: how individuals interpret the traits and action of other individuals.

The continuity of self-identity: the persistence of feelings of personhood in a continuous self and body.]

These individuals, rather than identify with a self, have reduced the “self” to the existential proposition that takes the human condition to be in a state (at its most fundamental level) of dread (Angst). According to Flew (1979: 14):

“…[dread is] occasioned by man’s realization that his existence is open towards an undetermined future, the emptiness of which must be filled by his freely chosen actions. Anxiety characterizes the human state, which entails constant confrontation with possibility and the need for decision, with the concomitant burden of responsibility.”

For those of us who are less likely to philosophize about the human condition (or, perhaps, entertain a more worldly philosophy) an identity crisis usually ends up with a reassessment of personal values. Fortunately, a crisis of personal identity is not a necessary condition before a reassessment of values can take place.

In The Struggle For Synthesis A Person’s Self/Non-Self Boundaries Shift Continually

It Is Through Evaluative Juxtaposing Of Collective Voices Of Generalized Others That Allows James To Maintain A Stabilized Set Of Values; That Is, Stabilized Only For As Long As It Takes Before He Finds Himself Listening To A More Powerful And Persuasive Collective Voice

Values tend to get reassessed in the critical juggling of collective voices of generalized others when they are reflexively juxtaposed one to another. According to Hermans and Kempen (1993: 120):

“In the course of development, however, the growing child and adult learns not only to incorporate an increasing variety of opposing and conflicting positions in the self, but is also challenged to synthesize them in such a way that he or she learns, more or less, to live with a complex mixture of positive and negative self-valuations. In this development, the developing person finds himself or herself somewhere between splitting and synthesis and, therefore, the struggle of synthesis is always associated with a continuous shifting of the self/non-self boundaries.”

The mental juxtaposition of collective voices of generalized others, in addition to teaching a person how to live with a complex mixture of positive and negative self-valuations, also makes possible the development of the kind of autonomy that permits a person to stay the course in the midst of the push and pull of many collective voices.

The self (biography and negation) exerts its autonomy by selecting (differentiating) the collective voices that are to be juxtaposed one to another. Collective voices, though they are products of society, are still accountable, as Billig pointed out (1987: 5), “to the inner deliberations [or] silent arguments conducted within a single self.” It is through the distinguishing and opposing of collective voices that the autonomy of the self gets expressed. For instance, if we return to the example of James’ reference to opposing me-self voices (1890: 295): “As a man I pity you, but as an official I must show you no mercy; as a politician I regard him as an ally, but as a moralist I loathe him,” it can be assumed that preceding these value judgments, James, had to have a pretty good idea of what it meant to be a man, a judge, a politician, and a moralist. In order to come up with an answer to the question: “What is a man?,” it is reasonable to assume that James, in posing the question to himself, had to chew on the meaningful content of the answer for a considerable length of time. Mead, of course, told us that a person encounters meaning by taking the roles of others, but, by actively pursuing the meaning of roles in terms of the collective voices of generalized others (reflexively in the form of interrogation and reply), we find that role meanings must be considered from a level of meaning which includes the concept of consistency.

When a person juxtaposes collective voices one to another a loci arises wherein the discovery of consistency becomes possible. In this respect, me-self autonomy is expressed in the consistent fixing of collective voices to their respective social roles (as opposed to fixing a desired object to a convenient collective voice). For example, James fixes the opposition of the collective voice espousing the imperfect character of human beings to the collective voice of the responsibility of a judge to uphold the law. In this case, James is fitting the collective voice of law and order to the case specific situation of the violation of law and order. If a judge on odd days were to act true to the maxim “to error is human, to forgive is divine” and release lawbreakers, while on even days imprison lawbreakers, it would not take long before the disapproval of society would pressure the judge into reassessing her/his sense of justice. If the judge, on the other hand, by fixing the collective voice of “law abiding citizen” to the social role of “good citizen” and then, based on this linkage, chose to consistently sentence defendants, then community pressure would cease and the judge would not feel the need to reevaluate her/his sense of justice. It is this type of evaluative juxtaposing of collective voices of generalized others that allows James to maintain his sense of values in the midst of conflicting collective voices, and it is this type of evaluative juxtaposing of collective voices that allows the rest of us to maintain a stabilized set of values, stabilized that is, for only as long as it takes before we find ourselves listening to a more powerful and persuasive collective voice.


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