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Self_and_Identity_Paper__IWM_ - 1 Self and Identity Brian A...

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Self and Identity Brian A. Griffith, Ph.D. Vanderbilt University In our current sociocultural environment, undergraduate education provides a holding environment that allows individuals the opportunity to develop the beliefs, goals, and strategies necessary to live a productive and meaningful adult life (Erikson, 1980). The college classroom is one of a long line of learning communities within which to develop a sense of self-in-the- world. Through early and ongoing relationships (attachments) people construct working models of self and others that define who they are and how they function in the world. Internal working models are cognitive frameworks that include strategies and coping mechanisms used in the pursuit of meaningful goals (Collins & Read, 1994). Built upon past experiences, internal working models operate as perceptual grids useful in “perceiving and interpreting events, in forecasting the future, and in constructing plans” (Bretherton, 1991, p. 8). A well developed internal working model produces a sense of coherence that includes a comprehensive understanding of the world, the motivation to pursue meaningful goals, and a belief in one’s ability and resources to handle the challenges and opportunities of life (Antonovsky, 1987). A strong sense of coherence provides the stability to embrace life with optimism and hope and is a strong predictor of psychological as well as physical health and well-being (Antonovsky, 1987). This chapter will present a model of personality based largely upon Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1969; 1973) that may be useful to both inform and provide theoretical direction for a developmentally based undergraduate curriculum. The core beliefs embedded in internal working models influence how situations are perceived and appraised. Appraisal is the process by which we determine “whether or not what is 1
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happening is relevant to one’s values, goal commitments, beliefs about self and world, and situational intentions” (Lazarus, 1999, p. 75). Life experiences are filtered through working models and evaluated; inferences are extrapolated from existing beliefs about self, others, and the world. When goals such as the desire for success or belonging are threatened or thwarted, individuals experience stress and anxiety; coping mechanisms such as relaxation or social support seeking are activated to manage negative affect until more effective goal-striving strategies can be devised. When situations are appraised as permanent as in the case of terminal illness, professional limitations, or death of a loved one, grief and loss are experienced (Bowlby, 1981; Kubler-Ross, 1969). Traumatic experiences may even challenge core beliefs to the degree that the coherence and equilibrium of one’s internal working model is disrupted, thus producing severe and somewhat enduring emotional symptoms (Janoff-Bulman, 1992). Emotional pain such as anxiety and depression creates a feedback loop that provides the motivation to reconceptualize working models by developing more complex and accurate beliefs, more realistic goals, and more effective strategies. Undergraduate education can provide a similar
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