Transcribing and Transcending the Ego: Reflections on the Phenomenology of Chronic Social Comparison
Journal of Humanistic Psychology
Format: Journal Article
Publication Year: 2012
Pages: 321 - 349
Source ID: shanti-sources-109621
Collection: Mindfulness Studies and Undergraduates
Abstract: A humanistic and transpersonal approach to personal growth necessitates careful inquiry into the often pathological world of egoistic functioning—where the psyche is engaged in a continual, defensive, and ruminative effort to assert the uniqueness, power, and positivity of an independent symbolic self. This article describes narrative research, conducted at the beginning of several undergraduate courses in personality theory, in which students (n = 229) were encouraged to introspect into the process of objectifying and evaluating the self. After undergoing brief mindfulness training, individuals spent 1 week journaling about salient upward and downward social comparisons, with particular attention to those experiences that triggered strong feelings of inferiority and superiority. Prototypic journal passages are quoted to illustrate central findings. Participants expressed a remarkably intense array of self-evaluative episodes, particularly along the dimensions of physical appearance and intellect. Discussion focuses on the very high frequency of social comparisons reported, the cyclical nature of self-evaluation and its implications for persistent suffering, and the spontaneous experiences of insight into ego transcendence and deeper levels of self-awareness. This work advances the humanistic project by detailing a novel mechanism for facilitating self-realization in an educational context.