Friday, 4 January 2013

Changing an Addicted Identity

Who Chose My Identity?

One area of psychology that has a profound effect on all psychology students is identity construction, and the discovery that humans can construct their own identities. What is more amazing is the discovery that identity construction is never completely finished. We can choose to carry on developing ourselves into a new improved version for as long as we want. We can even choose to construct a completely new identity if and whenever we feel like it. Although we have to be prepared to work hard to make it a successful identity or it will be just as messed up as the first one. My first thought was if humans construct their own identities, why do many of us (me included) construct ones that they are so unhappy with?

Of course, it is because people don’t realise that there is any choice, and when they do find out they are not prepared to work at it hard enough. They grow up believing that who and what they are is determined at birth or even conception and is thereafter set in stone. This is false, all you really need to do is decide who and what you want to be, and then start becoming that person (and don’t let anyone tell you that ‘you can’t’ because it is entirely up to you). You might need to fight to overcome both nature and nurture (genetic and environmental influences) in order to achieve your goals but with enough determination it is possible.

Change of identity is achieved by doing whatever that new identity would do; and by not doing whatever the new person would not do (this might require the breaking of some bad old habits and cultivating better ones). Next, get qualified to do a job you love, (no GCEs, join the Open University they can lead you into a new life, it is what they do) and then take the necessary steps to reach achievable goals. Learn to deal with failure by trying again, only much harder until you succeed. Each goal will take you nearer, until you realise that you have become the person you always wanted.

Identity is initially constructed through the guidance of parents and family. Small children see themselves through their parent’s eyes. Then in later years identity is further shaped by our friends, teachers, books, television, music, fashion and wider society all add to the influences that construct us. By adolescence we should have developed enough independence, self-discipline and confidence to allow us to take over the job of building an identity. It is at this point we can do a complete overhaul facilitating major changes, or simply add the finishing touches. On the other hand we might do nothing at all and just let ourselves grow into whatever shape life and the environment dictate, like the man in Metamorphosis by Kafka, who awoke one day to discover that he had turned into a cockroach.

First, there is the ancient question of how much free will humans actually have. It has been debated for thousands of years by philosophers whether all our actions are the result of freewill and reasoned choice or forced on us by circumstances. Then there is the deterministic viewpoint that claims all our actions constrained by a combination of internal and external forces. The internal influences on behaviour are such things as emotionally triggered chemical or hormonal responses, like fear, hunger, or sexual arousal. External influences on behaviour and choice are physical environmental factors such as climate and food resources; social environmental factors such as the rewards or punishment imposed by parents, and teachers. Later on there is peer-pressure, followed by puberty; then in the teens and adulthood there is social status, and career requirements. ( )

This issue of free will has recently been reopened by psychological and neurological research by Baer, Kaufman, and Baumeister (2008): ( ).

Humans certainly have more free will than other animals, whose actions are controlled almost entirely by hormones, instincts, and environmental conditioning. However, according to 'determinism', humans have much less freedom of choice than the Bible promised. Determinists claim that everything is predetermined by whatever happened before. An off-shoot is compatibilism, and its opposite incompatibilism. Compatibilists believe that with compromises it is possible to accept both free will and determinism.

A neuroscientist called, Libet, performed experiments in the 1980s that support determinism. He claimed that conscious actions are preceded by unconscious signals that occur in the brain before any conscious decision is made. However, in Libet’s time there was only the electroencephalograph (EEG) to examine the activity inside a living brain. I believe that Libet misinterpreted the readings. Cognitive neuroscience has shown that the unconscious brain knows things of which the conscious brain is unaware. It is possible that the experimenter was unconsciously giving a signal, ‘a tell’, to which the participant’s brain reacted. The spikes could have been the unconscious brain preparing itself to be ready for the signals that the participants knew were coming, even if they did not know exactly what or when.

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