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How Do I Matter to Thee, Let Me Count The Ways!

I recently came across an article by Andrew Reece, Martin Seligman, Roy Baumeister, Barry Schwartz et al on Mattering which argued that in work/organizational contexts, action-based mattering is the way to go and it is more associated with feelings of self-efficacy rather than self-esteem. That made me look up the sparse literature on Mattering and I spent a few happy hours down that rabbit hole.

What I am proposing below, however, is my own classification of how someone can matter, after taking into account existing concepts and frameworks.

Why is mattering important? Unless we have a sense that we matter, we may not have any desire to live life fully, or to live life at all. So its very important that we ensure that each person on this planet has a sense of mattering.

What are the different ways one can end up with a feeling that one matters? We can start with action based mattering, a feeling that our actions have impact on the world around us, the form of mattering that Marty et al emphasize in their article. This type of mattering is more associated with the domain of WORK or TASK. If one has healthy forms of this mattering then one believes that one can successfully accomplish tasks and that ‘I have some impact‘; if one lacks this type of mattering then the thought is that ‘I don’t have any impact‘. While the former thought leads to self-assurance or confidence or agency, the latter thought leads to helplessness. On the other hand excessive forms of this mattering, including thoughts like ‘Only I have a vast impact‘ lead to dominance/ dictatorship. While the outcome of this sort of mattering is self-assurance, the process involves having and demonstrating self-efficacy.

The second way one can matter, as per extant literature is feeling based mattering. This type of mattering is more associated with OTHERS and how they perceive us. If one has healthy forms of this mattering, then one believes that others recognize and have respect for him/her and believe he/she is a person of importance. He/she has thoughts like ‘ I am recognized by others‘ ; if one lacks this type of mattering the negative self talk is that ‘I am not recognized by anybody‘. The former leads to feelings of self-esteem while the latter leads to feelings of invisibility/marginalization/ being ignored. Excessive forms of this mattering however are pathological and one has the thought that ‘Only I am recognized by all‘. This has the signature of Narcissism, entitlement and spoiled brats written all over it. While the desired outcome is that of a healthy self-esteem, the process by which this is achieved is by receiving (unconditional) regard by others.

The third way that one can matter is by what I call motive based mattering. This is associated with the domain of WORLD or our LIFE as a whole. The important thing here is whether others are dependent on us or expect some things form us and whether that tenuous link by which others depend on us can provide us with a sense of mattering. This will be most apparent in contexts where people depend on us for some help, say our children, who may, or may not, be technically our dependents. In the healthy forms the self-talk goes that ‘I am needed by someone‘; while in the case where this form of mattering is absent, the talk goes ‘I am not needed by anyone‘ ; the former leads to feelings of being self-responsible, the latter is likely to be associated with feeling useless / redundant. Excessive forms will have the self-talk ‘ Only I am needed by everyone‘ and will have a sense of weariness and delusion associated with it. while the desired healthy outcome in this form of mattering is having a good sense of self-responsibility (responsibility internalized and not conceived of as external like duty), the process by which this is achieved is recognizing that others depend on us.

The last way, as per me, that people, can still feel that they matter is by belief based mattering. This type of mattering is associated with SELF or more specifically how healthy is our self concept. We all have various conceptualizations of how we are as a person. This is independent of whether we are contributing in the external world, whether others respect us or whether others depend on us. Some of us believe in the self-talk ‘ I am worthy, no matter what‘; while others believe ‘I am not worthy at all or was ever‘. The former will lead to mattering characterized by having self-worth, while the latter is characterized by thoughts of inferiority. Excessive mattering of this sort however will be of the form ‘Only I am worthy forever‘ and will be associated with feelings of superiority. The desired outcome of course is believing that you have self-worth, but the process by which you arrive there is self-acceptance.

Again, why is all this important? As you can easily see if anyone loses his sense of mattering and starts believing that he/she is either helpless, ignored, useless or inferior and these feelings accumulate over time and persist than bad outcomes like sub-optimal flourishing are a given and drastic steps like suicide are a possibility. Thus, our immense responsibility to ensure that people around us feel as if they matter.

Make other people matter. Period.

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Posted by on December 2, 2019.

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Categories: positive psychology

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About The Mouse Trap

This blog is an effort of Sandeep Gautam (sandygautam on most social web services) to learn, and at the same time document his journey, and share his knowledge, of psychology and neurosciences, with like-minded folks – a rider is in place at this point: He used to be primarily a software professional (a computer science […]
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