Behavioral Psychology And Identity
From the behavioral point of view there is no such thing as a unitary identity, there are only reactions based upon the type, strength, frequency, and timing of reinforcements in the controlling environment. In this sense any totalizing description about someone is necessarily incomplete if not flat out wrong because it’s based upon the current setup of reinforcements not on some internal trait. Changing these reinforcements would change the behaviors and the description of that person’s identity would change right along with them.
You can use this idea in tandem with narrative therapy as a way to free yourself up to consider some of the negative totalizing descriptions that have been foisted upon you. These negative descriptions make facets of your behavior, one response from a repertoire of responses, become who you are in a global sense. ‘Clumsy’, ‘inept’, ‘lazy’, ‘mean’, ‘boring’, from the behavioral point of view these descriptions don’t consider that the primary mover is the controlling environment, that these descriptions represent responses.
When you understand what a totalizing description really is, which is a diagnosis of personality based upon the observation of discrete behaviors which are themselves responses to the presence or absence of certain reinforcements, you can deal with the situation in a different way. From the behavioral point of view, the question to ask yourself is “What type of reinforcements cause the behavior that has become a problem for me and what can I do to either change these reinforcements or start responding to them differently?”
We don’t subscribe to the extreme behavioral position that there is no such thing as identity but it is certainly much more flexible and adaptable than our Western culture has indoctrinated us to believe. Actually in progressive psychologies like Feminist therapy having concurrent identities is a sign of mental health not mental illness! We all experience this in our own lives whether we recognize it or not, we don’t act exactly the same in front of our work colleagues as in front of our friends as in front of our parents as in new social situations as in job interviews and on and on. The reinforcements change and we change in an attempt to adapt to them. So you see you don’t have to let yourself be pigeonholed by a totalizing description, you certainly shouldn’t be fooled into believing this description is who you objectively are when it can only ever represent a fraction of you.