Thoughts and Feelings
In this post, self-concept = identity = model of yourself.
Some people would like to think of themselves as rational beings. They believe that they dictate their life according to reason and a relatively impartial evaluation of the evidence at hand. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Even the most cerebral person is a fundamentally emotional creature. In the mind, emotions are first class citizens and thoughts are second-class citizens. Emotions are the primary agents of action and thoughts are simply servants who do the bidding of their masters.
The premise of Psychoanalysis is that the mind prioritizes emotional congruence with one’s self-concept over all else, and in the process of maintaining this congruence, uses defense mechanisms to handle anything that could disturb this (see: Narcissism). According to Psychoanalytic theory, thoughts, feelings and experiences that someone is defending against show themselves in dreams but are distorted or misinterpreted when told consciously by the patient. The psychoanalyst is responsible for interpreting the dream that patient is misinterpreting. There are other techniques, too, like free-association. All of these techniques try to peer into the unconscious somehow, since that’s where the problem (and the solution) lies.
There is a fundamental conflict between thoughts and feelings in the human mind. Your thoughts and feelings are often incompatible. Since the mind prioritizes emotional congruence with self-concept over everything else, this means that everything else, including potentially upsetting thoughts and information, gets hidden or distorted via defense mechanisms.
At this point, you can give up on ever being “objective”. Your brain was built to find food and fuck, not to reason for reasoning’s sake.
Psychoanalysis treats a patient’s dream as information from the unconscious that gets consciously misinterpreted by the patient when he or she describes it to the Psychoanalyst. The memory of the dream is consciously misinterpreted in order to maintain congruence with one’s self-concept, and it is the job of the psychoanalyst to reinterpret the dream the correct way. This would probably straightforward if the psychoanalyst had direct access to the dream experience, but unfortunately, all they have is the story that the patient is telling them, the way they tell the story, and their subjective knowledge of the patient’s self-concept. With that they must take a guess at the intended meaning of the dream (as intended by the unconscious) and serve as a messenger for the patient’s unconscious.
This is already a tricky process as it is, but it becomes trickier once you realize that the psychoanalyst is a person too with their own self-concept. Now there are two possible sources of distortion — one from the patient when he or she tells the dream to the psychoanalyst, and one from the psychoanalyst when he or she attempts to interpret the intended meaning of the dream.
There are several things that we can take away from this chain of reasoning:
- Nobody is objective, not even scientists. Scientists are just more effective at finding patterns, verifying them, and replicating them than you are, which is another way of saying that they are more disciplined in their dealings with information.
- You can triangulate your self-concept by talking with other people about shared experiences. Since the main distorting force in conscious interpretation is one’s self-concept (i.e. identity is the main distorting force in the interpretation process), it follows that the difference in how people’s accounts of shared experiences can be attributed to differences in self-concept. Once you gather enough of these shared experiences and talk with enough people about them, you will start to understand (in relative terms) how you think of yourself.
- Your self-concept, believe it or not, is not something that is consciously accessible. Your verbal account of your self-concept is subject to the same distorting forces as your verbal account of your dreams.
- Since maintaining emotional congruence with self-concept is your brain’s primary drive, you can induce action in someone (including yourself) by manipulating the environment and/or manipulating someone’s self-concept in a way where the desired action helps reinforce their self-concept or helps them avoid information that conflicts with their self-concept. This is why ads nowadays are aspirational, not inspirational (manipulating identity works better than a direct call to action, think of the former as induction and the latter as conduction).