Competing to be valued and loved and losing

As we emphasised, human relationships provide an array of valuable resources to individuals in the form of protection, care, support, and opportunities for reproduction (Buss, 1999; Gilbert, 1989). They are also physiologically powerful, including effects on the immune system (Cacioppo et al., 2000). It is worth remembering that viruses (and other pathogens) have played a large role in human evolution; the mortality rate was often high in early hominids. The influenza epidemic of 1918, at the end of the First World War, killed more people than died in that war. If access to affectionate, supportive relationships aids the immune system, survival from illness, and disability, and offers advantages of cooperative activity and sharing, then abilities to secure these relationships will be key drivers in evolution. Hence, we would expect humans to be highly attuned and responsive to them (Cacioppo et al., 2000), to be affected by their presence or loss, and to compete for them.

Barkow (1989) suggests that human competition has evolved from aggressive conflict into competing for 'prestige' and being seen as attractive and useful to others, and such competition is clearly linked to PA. Similarly, Gilbert (1984, 1989, 1997) suggested that not only do people compete to be seen as attractive/desirable but they also develop internal working models of their relative attractiveness/desirability to others (laid down in the first instance via relationships with siblings, peers, and parents), and from this derive confidence to engage in competing for social resources. Not only do signals of being valued and cared for raise PA but also raised PA is generally attractive to others. Those who feel relatively inferior and place themselves (or are placed) in unwanted, subordinate positions are likely to experience or perceive reduced control over valued social resources and more defeats in trying to obtain them. Keep in mind, though, that such perceptions are always impersonally linked. Feeling inferior to others who are seen as accepting, benevolent, and helpful will be quite different from seeing oneself as inferior to those who are hostile or rejecting, or to whom one has to 'prove one's worth' to be accepted. In fact, Gara et al. (1993) found that depressed people have negative views of themselves and others.

In fact, control over social resources is often exercised in social contexts in which others are seeking the same resources. Thus, as Tooby andCosmides (1996) suggest, in successfully engaging in many forms of social relationship, such as eliciting parental investment, sibling rivalry, developing supportive peer relationships, and attracting desirable mates, there is an underlying competition. This is because investing in relationships is not cost free, and participants in roles will exercise some choice over whom they form a relationship with (whom they will invest their time and energy in, value, and support). Generally, people want to form relationships with and invest in people who are in some way useful to their own interests. Knowing this, people track their place in 'the competition' by social comparisons and opinion tracking (how much others value and support them in comparison with how much others criticise, reject, or ignore them) in whatever domain is important to them, be it physical beauty, intelligence, or popularity (Gilbert, 1997; Gilbert et al., 1995). However, as noted above, by the time children enter the world of peers, ready to compete for resources and find their place in a group, they will already have a history of being able (or not) to create PA in others. This history (in combination with genes and temperament) will have partly 'set the system' to move forward with relative confidence to seek affiliative relationships, or to be highly attuned to social rank, power issues, and threats.

Given that we have to compete in social arenas to 'prove our worth' (stimulate positive feelings in others) in order to engage them in helpful roles, Santor and Walker (1999) found that having qualities that one thinks others will value is especially related to self-esteem. Leary et al. (1995) suggested that self-esteem is a form of internal tracking of one's attractiveness to others and sense of belonging. In other words, it is what one thinks others will value about the self that is often key to self-esteem and confidence. It is the competitive element which tells us much about why depressed people are often so focused on rank evaluations of self-worth and self-esteem (Price, 2000), typically think about themselves in social comparative terms, and see themselves as inferior to non-depressed others (Buunk & Brenninkmeyer, 2000). Herein lies a link to the subordination and defeat strategies we discussed earlier.

The self-conscious emotion of shame is the human archetypal experience of put-down and rejection—of involuntary subordination (Gilbert, 1998a, 2000d). People who have a deep sense of shame feel unattractive to others; feel unworthy (do not deserve) or feel unable to win love, affection, or respect; and think they will lose in competitions for friends, sexual partners, affection, and help from others. They are also very sensitive to the signals they emit and the things they reveal about themselves. There is good evidence that shame is linked to negative social comparison, beliefs that others see the self as inferior, negative self-evaluation, submissive behaviour, and depression (Gilbert, 2000c; Tangney et al., 1992). If shame and needing to compete for social recognition are salient in depression, one would expect to find these themes in the recall of parenting in patients. Indeed, Gilbert and Gerlsma (1999) found that recall of being shamed as a child and being a less favoured child (that is, seeing oneself as inferior to one's siblings) was highly associated with psychopathology, even after controlling for warmth. Shame was also linked to hostility. There is little research here, but, clinically, it is not uncommon to find depressed people who feel their families were highly competitive (rank orientated) for attention and care, and/or feel they have lived in the shadow of a sibling, or were regarded as the 'black sheep' of the family. The common theme is that they see life as a competition and that they have lost in the competitions for place and recognition in the family (and later in wider social groups).

Hence, it is not only that depressed people have negative thoughts about the self and their futures (as, of course, they do) but also that the sense of self is associated with low PA, shame, and, at times, high NA (such as self-dislike or even self-hatred). Moreover, they often believe that 'it is because of their personal deficits' that they will be defeated (or are defeated) in their efforts to compete for and raise their social standing or attractiveness. For example, Kay had a major weight problem and had been bullied at school. She had tried many diets but had made one big effort with a new diet she had found on the Internet. When that, too, failed, she slipped into a serious, suicidal depression. She felt both trapped in, and defeated by, her body, ugly, and of very low rank in regard to her attractiveness. I suspect that any therapy that is helpful for depression, be it by challenging negative thoughts or via drugs, must change the affective orientation to the self. I will return to this shortly with a discussion of compassionate mind work. I suspect that many people need a certain amount of positive signals to keep the PA system toned up (stimulated), although, as in all these processes, there are likely to be individual variations.

Power Of Positive Thoughts In The Post Modern Age

Power Of Positive Thoughts In The Post Modern Age

The Power Of Positive Thinking In The Post Modern Age Manifest Positive Thoughts In This Fast Pace Age. Positive thinking is an attitude that admits into the brain thoughts, words and pictures that are conductive to development, expansion and success.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment