Listening to: Jonsi: Go
She explains that we all have ‘self-schemas’ through which we interpret our experience. They are: “cognitive generalizations about the self, derived from past experience, that organize and guide the processing of self-related information contained in the individual’s social experiences” (Markus, 1977, p. 64).
So to be “To be schematic (as opposed to aschematic) for a particular trait is for a person to consider themselves on either extremes of that trait, and to consider that trait as personally important.”
For example, to be schematic for weight is to be quick to evaluate food on its health benefits, quick to remember times when your weight was different, to evaluate comments about yourself as to do with your weight (e.g. ‘you’re looking well’), but to be resistant to information which challenges how you feel about your weight (e.g. NHS charts say you’re underweight, but you disagree).
We all have three different selves:
- Actual self – Who I actually am
- Ought self - Who I ought to be (Ought-Own) / Who I think other people think I ought to be (Ought-Other)
- Ideal self – Who I would ideally like to be (Ideal-Own)/ Who I think other people would like for me ideally to be (Ideal-Other)
When our ought and ideal selves do not match our actual selves then serious problems result. We despair of ourselves.
Psychology offers three possible solutions to the problem of discrepancies between our actual and ought/ideal selves:
- Self-awareness - Helps us to understand the cause of our problems, important but doesn’t fully deal with the problem.
- Minimising the difference between our actual and ought/ideal selves - This would solve the problem, but is very difficult. As we are ‘slaves’ with bound wills we struggle to change who we actually are. Lowering the standards is equally difficult. Many ought/ideal selves are written into what it means to be human so we can’t deceive ourselves that they are different. Some ought/ideal selves are social constructs, but it is hard to block out what our society is telling us.
- Increasing self-complexity - This means seeing ourselves in different ways (e.g. as intelligent as well as thin). This means that when there is a discrepancy within one schema (‘I feel I ought to be thin but I’m fat’), then others can hold me up (‘but at least I’m intelligent’).
What difference does Christianity make?
1. The law (in Moses, Christ or elsewhere) show us how humans ought and ideally should be. As such it strengthens and heightens many of our ought/ideal selves making the discrepancies between selves more extreme. However, it does devalue many of our ought/ideal selves – e.g. looking beautiful is not as important as our society says.
The law (in the history of Israel’s failure, direct statements of our guilt, e.g. Rom 3, experience etc) shows us how we actually are. As such it further depresses our opinion of our actual selves making the discrepancies between selves more extreme.
The law therefore helps us with point 1 more than secular psychology: self-awareness. The Bible encourages confession. However, it is not enough because it has also made the problem worse (sin is made sinful beyond measure, Rom 7:13).
2. In the atonement of Jesus Christ where we are given a new actual self which matches the ought/ideal self of the law. There is no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus because we are who we ought to be and who God’s would like us to be. By the Holy Spirit this new reality is breaking into our lives as the old actual self wastes away and the new actual self grows (2 Cor 4:16).
3. The Gospel also gives us a host of different schemas by which we can relevatise other schemas. I may not be thin, but I am a child of God. I may not have a successful career, but I am human being with dignity made in the image of God. I may not have a functional biological family, but I have the family of the church. Etc.