Saturday, 4 January 2020

Self-verification theory: The motive shaping your reality, well-being and relationships

Woman covering her eyes and ears with hands
Photo from Pixabay

When it comes to mental health and well-being, you happen to be biased to confirm your self-views, even if they are incorrect or critical. It's likely that you are not even aware of this.

This is not your fault, people have evolved to behave this way. If you are struggling with depression or other mental health difficulties, you may be stuck in a cycle of negativity due to your self-verification striving.

It's important to recognize damaging habits and work actively on your mind, in order to overcome mental challenges. Let's face it, we all need to actively attend to our thoughts and feelings. Your growth depends on this.

This post will teach you about the self-verification concept in social psychology and how it applies to your well-being and mental health.



What is self-verification? 


Self-verification is a phenomenon in which people want to be seen by others as they see themselves.

For instance, people with depression are often convinced that people around them hate them or think that they are a bad person. In reality, this is a reflection of their own self-views (opinions, ideas, views, beliefs that you have of yourself).

Isn't it strange that depressed individuals appear attracted to negative information, even if it makes them feel bad? Self-verification explains why negative information is sought after or even created by the mind.

You may be convinced that you are flawed even if you are not, craving negative feedback. Research has described self-verification as a 'vulnerability to depression theory' (Joiner, 1995). Self-verification influences the way you perceive and interpret information in the environment. It also affects how your attention is attuned to positive and negative information.


Related post: Examining the internal conflict of self-beliefs: Self-discrepancy theory, humanism and body image 


What is the purpose of self-verification?


The purpose of self-verification is to provide you with clarity and coherence. Simply put, people want to confirm their self-views to feel more stable. We have this natural wish to be right, and this extends to our opinions of ourselves. Observation is a key facilitator of self-views, your self-views are formed and reinforced through observing others. 


When your views are supported by others, it makes you feel good. Consequently, this positive feeling motivates you to look for more information that confirms your self-views. In addition, self-verification can help you to predict social interactions or give you the impression that people are easier to predict. 


This behavioural tendency to self-verify is dangerous (if you have negative self-views) it limits your perception - you only see/believe what you want to believe. Self-verification can also be problematic if you view yourself in a positive way, as it can lead to an inflated perception that does not recognize healthy criticism.


What is the effect of self-verification on your perception? 


Self-verification affects how you perceive the world around you, in other words, it shapes your social reality. Interestingly, psychologists have found that people who are prone to negative self-views tend to remember more negative statements compared to people who view themselves positively (Swann & Read, 1981a). This supports the idea that self-verification affects how your attention is attuned to information. 

Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions that are symptomized by negative self-views can alter your memories. If you view yourself negatively, you may be prone to remember events that support your beliefs. As a result, there is a risk for positive memories to be buried and forgotten. 

What is the role of self-verification in relationships? 


Self-verification has a significant role in social relationships. For example, if you view yourself critically, you will be motivated to seek partners who confirm your views. Research evidence supports the idea that people prefer self-verifying evaluations. 

Self-verification can also affect the way you interpret information in relationships. Murray et al (2000) report that participants with low self-esteem were more likely to perceive their partners' feedback more negatively than it actually was, basically they exaggerate the extent in which they confirm negative self-views. 

Another way that your motive to self-verify can impact your social relationship is by influencing/changing how other people think. Basically, if you feel like people do not confirm your views, for example, if they don't view you as a disorganized person - you may act in ways to change their opposing views.


Related post: The impact of others' expectations on identity: Idealism, insecure striving and self-compassion 

What are the origins of self-verification? 


When you first think of the motive to verify negative self-views, it doesn't make sense. I mean, why would you want to attend to negative information? Sadness, harsh criticism, anxiety - why would you want to seek for this? Surely, the most natural thing is to avoid negativity? Why do we end up stuck in this negativity cycle?

As I have mentioned previously, coherence and predictability drive self-verification. However, there is a deeper cause for self-verification. It is ingrained in our evolutionary nature. Self-verification (both for negative and positive self-views) serves an adaptive, functional purpose. You could say that in the past, self-verification helped your ancestors to survive and form predictable relationships with others.

This emphasizes that the motive to confirm your negative self-beliefs (even if it appears a bit non-sensical at first) is not your fault. You should not feel guilty that your mind is compelled to be right or to have a stable and coherent construction of the self. It's in your evolutionary nature.


Genes
Photo from Pixabay


What you should do to maintain your well-being in spite of the self-verification motive?  


It's clear that the implications of your natural motive to self-verify are great. If you view yourself negatively, self-verification can make your world a harsh, critical place. It can divert you from positive change.

Here are some useful steps that you could take to maintain your well-being. Research related to minimizing self-verification is quite limited. After all, self-verification in itself is not the problem here - your views are. Challenging your negative self-views can also be extremely helpful!

As always, take my advice with a pinch of salt, these tips are here to give you ideas not accurate answers.


1. Be aware of self-verification. I mean, you are reading this post, hoorah! Awareness can help you recognize your motives to seek for negativity. When the world seems like a negative place, you may stop and think - am I the one creating the impression that this is the case?


2. Keep questioning your self-views. Why do you view yourself the way you do? Get to the bottom of it. Break negative views apart, try to challenge them with rational evidence.


3. Ask people questions about the opinions that they hold of you. Let them create a solid perception of you that is harder to misinterpret or inflate.


4. Try to pay less attention to your self-identity. For instance, think less about who you are and what you are like, dedicate your energy to what you do and your life goals.


5. Engage in things that make you happy. Cheesy, I know, but you will get nowhere if you isolate yourself.


6. Recognize when your self-views cause problems, for example, if they limit your opportunities or make it harder to achieve certain goals. This can make it easier to change your views.


7. If you are struggling, get professional help or speak to people that you are close to. If you are stuck and can't help yourself, it's okay to seek help. It doesn't make you weak. 


Related post: The journey of self-worth: 11 habits for feeling good within yourself 



So here you have it, this is what self-verification is and how it can influence the world around you, your well-being and relationships. I hope that learning about self-verification will help you with getting out of the negativity cycle, as change often comes with increased awareness and understanding. What do you think about self-verification? 


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5 comments :

  1. Wow, this post has really opened my eyes. I do pretty much everything mentioned here: tend to think people dislike me based on little or no evidence, only remember bad things that happen, etc. Thank you for bringing to my (and everyone's) attention. I'm so glad that I know about it now. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hmm, self-verification is something I do as well; there is nothing I like more then verification, and I loved having my eyes opened on ways I can reduce that, and at least be aware of it.

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