• Jacqueline Denice Pedersen
4. term, Psychology, Master (Master Programme)
The aim of this master’s thesis is to understand how individuals maintain their identities and how this strategy may result in harmful consequences. The purpose of this investigation is to consider how far mental mechanisms can be dysfunctional and harmful despite their naturally selected functions. The term ‘harm’ refers to the negative value of the condition and ‘dysfunction’ refers to failure of internal mechanism to perform function for which it was biologically designed. This investigation is based on two premises. First premise is that identity is constructed by the individual’s own interpretation of itself and that identity maintenance happens by avoidance of discrepancy between an idealized and an actual self. Second premise is that the self has three interrelated capacities which perform several natural functions including environmental conditioning, personal development and accurate perception.

From this view the hypothesis of this master’s thesis is that maintenance of identity in some cases might inhibit the natural functioning of the self. Since construction, protection and maintenance of the identity all originate from the same self which function is to ensure adaption, development and proper perception one must consider the possibility of a counteract among these functions. A counteract which inhibits the functions from doing their natural purposes.

Firstly, an examination of how individuals are constructing and maintaining their identities is presented. Research of ‘The Dunning-Kruger Effect’ shows that ignorance of an individual is a dominant factor for interpretation of oneself. In general, we share a profound conviction that we actually know more than we know. Due to this fact we tend to estimate our own abilities as better than average. Although there is a correlation between estimated and actual ability results show strong overestimate tendencies among the incompetent individuals. This finding illustrates that these individuals have deficits in their expertise which cause them poor performances and no recognition of this. Receiving constructive feedback will not increase the self-insight of these individuals.

This phenomenon is strongly related to the theory of ‘self-enhancement’ which is an important part of identity maintenance. The theory assumes that the aim of the individual is to protect, maintain and even enhance its self-esteem through self-deceptive and Machiavellian strategies. The purpose of these strategies is to keep a positive self-view without any discrepancy thus identity appears consistent. In addition to this theory there is a consideration of a possible costly pursuit of self-esteem. This consideration assumes that striving towards a positive self-view and enhanced self-esteem might inhibit the ability to regulate and control oneself which is important for personal development. Prioritizing the idealized self and its short-term gains over the actual self and its long-term goals might prevent the individual from learning and making progress. Thus, identity maintenance might cause harm for the individual.

The case study in this master’s thesis intends to evaluate the predictions of the above-mentioned theories. Moreover, it presents a detailed examination of how identity takes place in actual practice and how this activity is affecting life circumstances. This case study is an illustrative example of how identity maintenance can be inappropriate and affect the life of an individual in a negative manner. The investigation of the case study shows how ignorance in the first place involves constructions of fables which reflects the individual’s own desires and intentions. Moreover, the examination shows how these fables provide a basis for a new construction of an idealized self which becomes a new point of view. Since ignorance, fabulation and identity construction all are considered as common parts of our everyday lives, this particular behavior may seem ordinary and normal. In comparison, a detailed examination shows how prioritizing maintenance of the idealized self results in repeatedly personal crises due to an impaired self-regulation.

This leads to the discussion of how we must classify such mental condition when it’s considered as both normal, dysfunctional and harmful. One might classify the condition as pathological and fail to acknowledge its prevalence. Another might ignore the dysfunctionality and its harmfulness when classifying the condition as nothing but normal. Both cases are considered as misclassifications which prevent individuals from getting the appropriate intervention. In conclusion, this master’s thesis argues for an expansion of diagnostic criteria and methods which includes classification of dysfunctional and harmful normal behavior as well
Publication date31 May 2019
Number of pages79
ID: 304802860