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May 2nd, 2018
Identifying with certain traits, habits, work, preferences and beliefs is a very human thing to do.
“I am an artist.”
“I am a Lawyer.”
“I am Catholic.”
“I am a Marxist.”
Many of these identities come complete with communities, philosophies, codes of conduct – all sorts of things that weave their way throughout the mental structures of a person and reinforce that identity.
Giving up an identity is often seen as either freedom (say from a particularly secluded religious sect with practices far different from most of society) or as betrayal (think of a Marxist group of friends hearing the news that one of them has become a diehard capitalist.) or even just uncomfortable: you no longer consider yourself an artist? Who’s ever even heard someone say that?
There is implicit bias inherent in these identities.
All this means is that the identities we associate with tweak and bend our view of the world.
Does holding on to any identity too tightly increase this skew and tweak when it comes to our view of the world? If so this might lead to severe and long reaching limitations that may stunt potential and possibility.
A little foray into implicit bias research:
Even black people take a longer time to pair ‘black’ with things that are considered ‘good’ (check out the IAT – Implicit Association Test for more info)* Does this indicate that black people can have a bias against black people. Yes. Both black doctors and white doctors have been found to prescribe less pain medication to black people given identical reports of pain to other white patients.
If people can have implicit bias against those of a similar group to themselves…
Can we have an implicit bias against ourselves?
“I suffer from Depression.”
The medical establishment has done us a lot of good, but the way it had to go about it’s work in the most basic way – that of identifying things and creating names - presents a trap for human psychology.
Depression. ADHD. ADD. Anxiety. All of these were once a hazy set of symptoms that were set on the backdrop of an enormous spectrum of human behavior. Then they were singled out, grouped, and given names.
Names that people could identify with.
What's the difference between that statement and this one:
Names that people could adopt as identities.
If such a juxtaposition evokes strong emotion, then that in itself is an interesting fact worth unpacking.
Would anyone get upset if they came across someone saying the statement “Gravity makes things repel each other” ? Probably not. Because it’s clearly wrong. But implying that someone has adopted depression as an identity puts the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the depressed person. This can easily sound like "It's your own fault." Which is a dangerous direction of logic. The problem is that it is not sound logic. It is an emotion fuelled conclusion that starts with some logic. The better conclusion is not: "It's their own fault". The better conclusion is far more nuanced: Knowing what we do about human psychology, how can the developmental processes of depression be used as a framework to reverse the direction of the mindset?
Usually... the best conclusions are simply better questions. Not cocky definitives about reality. A love of certainty is perhaps the root of problems regarding identity, and a question is a conscious curious adventure away from the safe bubble of certainty.
Whether depression is an identity that someone has integrated (unintentionally) into their personality or if it is a fact of their nature is a question worthy of controversy and touching nerves.
Recent thought and research on emotions has concluded that emotions themselves are concepts that we as humans have constructed.
Traditionally, emotions are seen as happening to you…
But emotions are not genuine reactions to the world. (Though this is how they feel) Emotions are simply: useful concepts for constructing and interpreting our experience of reality. (Check out Lisa Feldman Barrett’s work)
And if they are constructs. They can be deconstructed.
Or simply swapped out.
Let’s look at another concept. 2+2=5.
Is that a useful concept? Not really. So you trash it.
It may seem flippant to say that you can trash an emotion. But, if you can have an incorrect thought, which feels certain, what can we say about that feeling of certainty?
The party was at 8:00 and a friend misinformed you, telling you it was at 7:00. What can we say about the feeling of certainty about the time of the party, before you uncovered the mistake? Before you knew there was a mistake in your information, you assume you are correct and therefore adopt a feeling of certainty. This might seem like a harmless example, but it's implications are powerful.
We can say that the emotion of certainty was false.
Now there is an interesting concept. A false emotion.
Here’s one of the simplest rubrics that can be applied to any given emotion that is occurring.
Is this emotion useful?
It’s a strange concept to identify with. The idea that you can decide which emotions and thought patterns are useful and relevant and therefore valid. And which emotions and thought patterns are detrimental, useless and therefore irrelevant and decidedly in – valid.
It’s a radical perspective. Which means it takes time not just to wrap one’s head around, but to fully embody. It’s not like a t-shirt you can throw on tomorrow and wear forever.
Like anything else, it requires time, patience, awareness, and slow work. and curiosity.
Is curiosity something you identify with?
The better question:
Which do you choose to identify with more, depression or curiosity?
*since the writing of this post the IAT has come under considerable scrutiny and it's clear there are very real problems with the test. However, the examples used in the post in conjunction to the mention of the IAT are real and still stand to bolster the point being made.