Self discrepancies

The April 2018 issue of “Emotion” (American Psychological Association) included a paper by Shai Davidai and Thomas Gilovich. Their research study found evidence that:

“People are quicker to take steps to cope with failures to live up to their duties and responsibilities (ought related regrets) than their failures to live up to their goals and aspirations (ideal related regrets). As a consequence, ideal related regrets are more likely to to remain unresolved, leaving people more likely to regret not being all they could have been more than all they should have been.”.

The Viennese/American psychoanalyst Annie Reich wrote: “The ego ideal expresses what one desires to be, the superego what one ought to be.”. British psychoanalyst Tom Main observed “how in an inpatient setting one can detect ego ideal pathology in patients who try hard to become favourites.”.

Gurmeet Kunwal MD explains in “Some Comments on the Concept of the Ego Ideal”:

“…one has to learn to live with being less than perfect. The “core omnipotence” though, always remains sacred and untouched. Winnicott in his paper on the transitional object (1953), discusses the experience of omnipotence that is allowed the infant by the mother’s adaptation in letting herself be under the baby’s magical control. With onset of the inevitable disillusionment, and the perception of external reality, the illusion of omnipotence is permitted to continue unchallenged in what Winnicott has termed, “the intermediate area” between the subjective and that which is objectively perceived. Derivatives of this perhaps find expression in the enriching experiences of play, creativity, love, our deep rooted beliefs of immortality, and of eternal hope.”.

Davidai and Gilovich  give their research paper the title: “The ideal road not taken: The self discrepancies involved in people’s most enduring regrets.”. The reference is to Robert Frost’s poem of 1915, “The Road Not Taken”, to which there is a rewarding guide by Katherine Robinson on the Poetry Foundation site.

She recounts how Frost wrote the poem in jest for his friend, the British poet Edward Thomas: “The joke rankled; Thomas was hurt by this characterisation of what he saw as a personal weakness- his indecisiveness, which partly sprang from his paralysing depression.”.

Gavin Jones, Professor of the Humanities at Stanford University, published in 2014 “Failure and the American Writer”. His publisher, Cambridge University Press, summarises:

“Reading textual inconsistency against the backdrop of a turbulent nineteenth century, Gavin Jones describes how the difficulties these writers faced in their faltering search for new styles, coherent characters and satisfactory endings uncovered experiences of blunder and inadequacy hidden in the culture at large.”.

Professor Jones told Kevin Eagan in an interview of June 2018:

“I don’t think (Henry) James ever sought to enact failure in his style, but he offers an important theorisation of the ubiquity of failure as a normative state of being- one that lies at the base of the pragmatists’ theory of fallibilism as a way of being in the world, the necessary conditions of perception and understanding.

“Failure, then, failure!” James wrote, “so the world stamps us at every turn. We strew it with our blunders, our misdeeds, our lost opportunities, with all the memorials of our inadequacy to our vocation. And with what a damning emphasis does it then blot us out! No easy fine, no mere apology or formal expiation, will satisfy the world’s demands, but every pound of flesh exacted is soaked with all its blood. The subtlest forms of suffering known to man are connected with the poisonous humiliations incidental to these results.”  

Nice, huh?”.

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