Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why ignoring the pecking order is better than trying to get to the top of it

People who feel insecure and unsafe in their personal relationships can feel under pressure to try and avoid feelings of inferiority associated with being overlooked or rejected. In contrast people who feel more secure do not fear inferiority or mistakes as they see people as essentially accepting and helpful rather than rejecting and shaming. Researchers have developed a scale to measure these feelings which ranges from insecure striving - where people feel they must compete for their social place and avoid mistakes and inferiority - at one end to non-secure striving at the other. Researchers from the University of Derby studied 62 people diagnosed with depression and measured their:

  • striving to avoid inferiority
  • fears of missing out, being overlooked and active rejection
  • attachment style (the way in which people form relationships which is thought to stem from our very early relationships with our mother our 'primary caregiver')
  • perception of their social rank
  • and mental-health problems

Striving to avoid inferiority was highly correlated with shame and moderately associated with feeling inferior to others and submissive behaviour. It was also associated with anxious and avoidant attachment, self-harm, anxiety, depression and stress. The researchers concluded that when people feel insecure in their social environments it can lead them to focus too much on a heirarchical view of themselves and others with a fear of rejection if they feel they have been too inferior or subordinate; something which may increase their vulnerability to depression, anxiety and stress.

Gilbert, Paul ... [et al] - The dark side of competition: how competitive behaviour and striving to avoid inferiority are linked to depression, anxiety, stress and self-harm Psychology and Psychotherapy: theory, research and practice June 2009, 82(2), 123-136

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