Self at the Intersection of Drives and Norms

Self is the apparently unified entity that has conscious awareness of one’s actions and experiences- it is both an agent who is acting in the world willfully and an entity that is absorbing experiences passively.

By some accounts self is socially constructed- it is to be found in the web of relationships and consensual meaning and attributions. By other accounts self is innate and unfolds over developmental time frame.

To me there are at least two aspects of the self- we are born with a hodgepodge of inner drives and instincts, and over the developmental period learn to control or regulate those instincts in the service of our future self. We intuitively construct a continuous self that will exist in future too and for whose sake we need to regulate our drives and instincts so as to maximize benefits to our overall continuous self.

For this to really succeed, we need to bring the inner drives and instincts to conscious awareness, and once we are aware of what is driving us, we can then take a conscious call of whether to continue giving expression to that urge and rive or to retrain and regulate it. The efforts are thus to make unconscious material conscious and accessible. One can think of this as controlling the id.

The other aspect of self is that due to socialization we are exposed to various norms and expectations of the society and being a social creature are supposed to honor those norms/ implicit contracts. Initially this takes the form of conscious adherence to group norms as deviation from these could be deadly for survival. A social self develops that is sensitive to these nuances and regulates its behavior accordingly. Slowly however a better alternative is to internalize these social norms and make them unconscious or part of ones habitual repertoire. The movement here is from explicit conscious awareness to implicit unconscious internalization. A movement from social roles to personal responsibility. On can think of this as being controlled by the superego.

While at one frontier the self is being squeezed from promiscuous inner drives expression (where we give expression to all our inner urges ) to more responsible inner drive suppression (when the inner drives do not serve the future self ) , constantly moving the unconscious inner cauldron into conscious awareness; on the other side the self is being squeezed from conforming and complying to all social norms to a more value guided selective internalization, constantly moving the conscious to unconscious.

Thus while the self itself is mostly conscious it is constantly balancing between allowing expression to drives versus self-regulating them and also between complying with social conditioning versus self-surrendering to values that it holds dear. Both the processes of self regulation / self determination and internalization/ self-surrendering are important in having a solid and functional sense of self. The former can also be conceived of as a drive towards autonomy while the latter a drive towards homonomy.

If all our behavior was instinct or inner drive driven, we wouldn’t really need to invent something like a self – however as we do regulate our impulses and behavior we need to posit a self that is in charge. Similarity, if all we did was as per a social script, role playing what society expects us to , we wont have a need for self; precisely because we internalize selectively as per our value system, we need to posit a self who wants to act in concordance with itself.

A similar extension can be made about our understating of the world. The world exists (in our minds) at the intersection of experimenting and theorizing. We manipulate in the foreground to either learn about the world, or to operate upon it for our purposes. The idea is to control the environment. Each such interaction is a mini experiment either confirming or nonconforming our model of the world. Here we show a task focus and are more focused on a specific aspect / part of the world.

We also understand the data gathered by either assimilating and making sense of that data using existing schemas; or when we are not able to make sense, we overhaul our schemas by accommodating new information. In the former case we are on lookout for patterns that match our models and in the second case we are on lookout for detecting new patterns (and models) altogether. Familiarity detection and novelty detection being the mechanisms of note here. Here we are concerned with the overall context or the background or the gestalt.

Lastly one can note that while self -regulation aspect of self is closely related to autonomy need of SDT, self-surrendering aspect of self is related to relatedness need of SDT. Similarly, experimenting mode of world interactions, is related to mastery/ competence need of SDT while theorizing mode is related to meaning/contribution need of SDT, as extended by me.

What else do you think makes up the self? Or is it just a balance between self -regulation and internalization? Do share your thoughts and atart a conversation!

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